‘Public diplomacy gives us time, legitimacy’ in army ops, deputy FM tells activists

Foreign Ministry holds webinar for ‘hasbara’ activists, says it is focusing on getting information out on social media to apply pressure on conventional media

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll gives a webinar on effective hasbara, or public diplomacy, to activists following the end of Operation Breaking Dawn, August 8, 2022. (Courtesy Office of Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll)
Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll gives a webinar on effective hasbara, or public diplomacy, to activists following the end of Operation Breaking Dawn, August 8, 2022. (Courtesy Office of Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll)

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll told Israeli “hasbara” activists and organizations on Monday that their work, together with the government’s own public diplomacy efforts, was critical in helping Israel’s security services fulfill their operational goals during military conflicts.

Hasbara is the Hebrew term given to pro-Israel advocacy efforts.

Roll was speaking against the background of the IDF’s three-day Operation Breaking Dawn in Gaza which ended late Sunday, during which the Foreign Ministry, the IDF, and other government agencies conducted a broad operation to positively present Israel’s narrative to the world.

Speaking during a webinar for the activists, Roll underlined how the formal organs of Israel’s public diplomacy took the initiative to disseminate information about controversial incidents during the conflict and urged the participants to use social media to present life in Israel “authentically” in order to convey the country’s narrative.

The online briefing was attended by some 100 participants, including independent activists, social media influencers, and representatives of pro-Israel and hasbara organizations with whom the ministry has partnerships.

A group of independent public diplomacy activists who recently participated in a two-month training course at the ministry also attended the webinar.

“Effective hasbara isn’t marketing, it is national resilience,” Roll told the activists. “Good hasbara gives our security forces time and support from the world to act and achieve their goals.”

The deputy minister said that when Israel begins a military operation, one of its biggest challenges is to fulfill as many operational goals as possible and as quickly as possible before “gradually increasing” international political pressure requires the country to halt its campaign.

A ball of fire and smoke rises during Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis, in the Gaza Strip, on August 6, 2022. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“This determines how much breathing space the world gives us to continue hitting our targets and this is where hasbara comes in. Hasbara gives us time and gives us legitimacy to act and protect ourselves,” said Roll.

He lauded the efforts of the Foreign Ministry and the IDF in quickly locating and disseminating information to back up Israel’s account of events, such as an incident in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza in which seven civilians, including four children, were killed.

Despite claims emanating from Gaza that their deaths were caused by an Israeli strike, the IDF and Foreign Ministry released video footage showing a rocket fired by Islamic Jihad misfiring and falling back into Gaza.

“Islamic Jihad tried to push a false narrative that Israel killed these children, but we acted quickly to release the information and explain to the world on the operational level exactly when the IDF attacked and with what means, to show it didn’t match the time of the [Islamic Jihad] attack, and also through the video to refute the fake news,” said the deputy minister.

Screenshot of an IDF video showing a misfiring Islamic Jihad rocket falling onto the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza where it killed seven civilians, including four children (Courtesy IDF)

Roll added that the ministry was focusing on influencing the narrative on social media, as opposed to previous efforts when a greater focus was placed on the traditional news media.

“That’s why we need you, because fake news takes hold very quickly.”

Deputy Director General for Public Diplomacy at the Foreign Ministry Emmanuel Nahshon underlined how important the realm of social media has become for the government’s public diplomacy efforts.

He said it was easier to utilize social media to effectively convey Israel’s narrative than working with the foreign media, in part because working with the latter alone could result in the message being “censored” by the international press.

He said that when information, pictures and videos are released to social media it “becomes harder for traditional media to ignore,” adding, “It’s an instrument to apply pressure on conventional media. That’s the name of the game these days.”

During his briefing, Roll also insisted that Israel’s hasbara efforts must not just refute false claims but must build its own narrative.

“In addition to combating fake news we need to generate legitimacy,” said Roll.

He urged the activists to take pictures and videos of themselves with their families in safe rooms and bomb shelters, show kids at summer camps during rocket attacks, and “show happy moments of a strong nation with national resilience.”

Children who moved into a municipal shelter in Ashkelon during Operation Breaking Dawn, August 7, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn / The Times of Israel)

He asserted that the life story of a 17-year old girl in southern Israel was more interesting to people on social media than government messaging.

“Your personal stories are interesting. Open up the camera, take a video, vertically, and show your lives.”

Said Nahshon, “Instead of explaining we are telling Israel’s story, we are presenting to the world Israel’s diversity and are allowing the world to see how much our story is authentic, true, and correct.”

Both Roll and Nahshon said the public diplomacy efforts in this latest, albeit brief, operation had been successful, pointing in particular to the Jabaliya incident where Israel’s assertions that the civilian casualties were caused by Islamic Jihad were well covered by the international media.

“The hasbara succeeded in this operation, but now we need to ensure that this narrative will get established. If we succeed with your help, to ingrain in the world not just that the operation was justified but that Israel has a moral army, that Israel is a country that desires life, that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, then we will get a lot more out of this operation,” said Roll.

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