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The problem with playing defense

Given past performances, I'd say that Israel and its supporters are doing a better-than-average job of quickly beating back the international lynch mob that loves nothing more than propagating lies about Israel. The key weapon in this fight for truth has been this particular video of the IDF commandos descending onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara and into a hornet's nest of murderous "peace activists."

This kind of after-the-fact truth-telling is good as far as it goes, but it actually doesn't go very far: it is restricted to responding to lies, exaggerations, and accusations. Israel is on the receiving end of a viciously negative political campaign, and as any campaign strategist knows, you don't respond to a negative campaign by expending all your energy trying to explain why the lies aren't true -- you go negative and play offense in return.

What would it look like if the Israeli government played offense? First and foremost, this would require some serious criticism of the Islamist government of Turkey, which masterfully created this crisis and is now denouncing Israel for it. Turkey's thuggish prime minister certainly understands the benefits of being on offense. He says that Israel committed a "massacre" and is guilty of "state terrorism," "piracy," has struck "a blow to world peace and against international law," threatens that "if Israel does not immediately free all the detainees and wounded, the rift in relations with it will widen," and thunders that "Israel will not be able to show itself in the world until it apologizes for what happened and undergoes self-criticism."

Quite a performance! Wouldn't it be remarkable if the Israelis had gotten ahead of the story by making their own accusations and demands? Here are a few ideas of the kind of concrete action the Israelis could take -- if they had the stones to really take a stand.

1. Expel the Turkish ambassador and declare his return contingent on a full, credible, and public Turkish investigation of the terrorist organization that planned and funded the "aid flotilla."

2. Publicly demand reparations from Turkey for the costs of the operation, including the medical bills of the thugs and Jew-haters who have been given such lovely medical care in Israeli hospitals.

3. Demand a UN investigation of why Turkey is funding terrorist organizations that are involved in attacks on Israel.

4. Fund a Kurdish human-rights NGO in Israel -- there are lots of Kurdish Jews who I'm sure would be happy to help -- that raises awareness of the plight of Kurds in Turkey. (Short answer: they are treated horribly.) This organization must publicize the apartheid conditions of Kurdish life in Turkey and churn out op-eds, studies, videos, and press releases denouncing Turkey's brutal and racist treatment of its own minorities.

5. Fund a Turkish-language documentary on the Armenian genocide, upload it to YouTube, and promote it heavily in Turkey. If Erdogan wants to call Israel a criminal and a murderer, there's no reason why Israel shouldn't return the favor on this most sensitive of issues.

The model of hasbara, or public diplomacy, that Israel has employed for decades is premised on the persuasiveness of reason, evidence, context, truth, fairness, and apology. Anyone who has been following events in Israel over the past few years understands how profoundly this strategy has failed. For obvious historic reasons, many Jews have internalized the dangerous belief that the best way to respond to condemnation and lies is to show how unthreatening and willing to criticize and investigate themselves they are. The problem is that not only doesn't this work; it actually invites further attack by rewarding those who defame and incite against the Jewish state.

Israel's hasbara strategy must shift to one that is based on power, self-confidence, and an eagerness to vigorously condemn its defamers. This is the difference between driving the debate and reacting to it, refuting lies and validating them, offense and defense, setting the agenda versus being on the agenda. If the Israelis wish to see a good model for how to set the terms of a controversy, they need only look at the Turkish prime minister's brilliant performance this week.

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What a great article. Please, Netanyahu, take this advice.

Posted by Ruth on 2010-06-07 09:41:51 GMT

For the last four years I have been watching Turkey..Expecting it to become the largest threat to Israeli security in the entire region. I now believe this process is complete. The next conflict with Hezbollah will involve Turkey. Israel better have a good offensive game plan.

Posted by Reed W. Conaway on 2010-06-03 16:43:44 GMT

The comment preceding Roberta"s pretends to be pragmatic, when it is merely the traditional stance of the dhimmi. Stand tall and proud or else earn the contempt of the liar and the bully. Pollack is perfectly right: throw the lie back into the face of the liar. And what none have picked up yet: the propaganda war is but one half of the battle, putting democracies on the defensive. The other half is lawfare, tying up state resources investigating fraudulent claims and limiting action in case the claim had a basis in fact.

Posted by paul2 on 2010-06-03 05:27:01 GMT

GMT"s comment below does not reflect the current situation in Turkey. The radical, fanatical Islamists are now in control. Of course good relations are vital - but ignoring onslaughts invites more. Noah Pollack"s basic idea, that Israel should "tell it like it is" is a valid one. Israel needs to get its story front and center. The Arab/Leftist version of Everything is echoed in the public media. Israel must speak its own truths, not be blackmailed into silence.

Posted by Roberta on 2010-06-02 15:39:33 GMT

Mr. Pollack is preaching from the comfortable surrounding of the USA. Typically the talking heads pontificate to others about matters that will barely impact them. He should get into his head that Israel tried very hard to maintain working relationship with Turkey over the years and will do everything not to give them an excuse to break the relationship. One of the "missions" of the Jewish State is to care, assist and support Jewish communities and when the diplomatic relationships are severed it is more difficult. Israel cannot take hostile actions against Turkey, regardless of how justified it is. Everyone knows about the Armenian Genocide and the massacres of the helpless Kurdish minority, yet this is not Israel"s priority, it is too small and and vulnerable to play this game. Just because Israelis are upset it does not mean that they can throw their weight around with a country that is well equipped with the biggest armed forces in the region. Noah Pollack, I grew up nest to the first Turkish Embassy in Tel-Aviv, as kids, we walked by it feeling that we were passing by a hostile, most unfriendly entity, few like them, yest, we have mutual interests and need to keep a line open. Get real, this is not America, being right is not enough, one has to be able to do things in a way that will produce positive results. Your suggestions, as attractive as they may be, could make things worse. Please don t take it personally!

Posted on 2010-06-02 05:02:49 GMT

Kudos to Noah Pollack. He has added his voice to so many other voices that have begged, beseiged, cried out for better Israeli p.r. Israel needs clear English speakers, attractive, quick on their feet - and well rehearsed. Facts exist - going on the offense and identifying these facts, exposing hypocrisy, and getting an immediate spokesperson out front is critical.

Posted by Roberta on 2010-06-02 03:18:37 GMT

I"m not sure whether I am making too much of the Turkey connection, but this seems to mark a transition in history, where a nation-state, a hitherto well-behaved UN member has officially crossed over into non-state operations. Syria and Iran havent pulled such a stunt. Lebanon maybe?

Posted on 2010-06-02 02:23:08 GMT

Yes, a pre-emptive PR campaign attacking Turkey seems like an excellent strategy.  However does tiny Israel really have the resources to do all that is necessary? On another tack, it was sad to see that Egypt succumbed to the pressure and opened its borders to Gaza.  So the bad guys won after all.

Posted by T on 2010-06-02 02:18:14 GMT

Here"s a great comment from a poster at Jiahd Watch: Israel needs to respond like this... Turkey"s blatant act of deception, in trying to ferry jihadists into Gaza, and reopen shipping lanes that Iran, and other Moslem nations have used in the past to smuggle arms into Gaza, is an act of state sponsored genocide, and a declaration of war against Israel. Any ships that attempt to breech Israeli defenses will NOT be considered activist"s, they will be considered enemy combatant"s and dealt with accordingly, by Israelis Navy.

Posted by copied and pasted by Gabrielle on 2010-06-02 02:17:09 GMT

I agree with this one hundred per cent. Attack is the best defence -- Sun Tzu knew that, so does any smart party in a domestic argument! Israel must start attacking the jihadis ranged against them in Islam nations.

Posted by Gabrielle on 2010-06-02 02:12:58 GMT