I was ten. My grandfather held me close. He told me a story. It was a story of his youth, when life was simpler and people understood less. He spoke to me of a time when he had to fight for my people. A time when he had to fight a physical fight; one of pain, sorrow, loss and war. One of rollercoaster rides of debates with the enemy. One of a confused world, an under-informed world. A time when the world had affirmed that nations needed states to ensure their safety. He then told me of the sixty plus years that had passed since that time, and how drastically the world had changed. Yes, our people were still hurting, but not in the physical sort of way. My people were hurting from a different sort of war: a war of words and rhetoric. He then told me it was my job to make sure all the hurt my people had endured until this point would not be for naught. That there was indeed a purpose to all this suffering, and that it would end at some point. My war was not to be of the physical sort; it was to be a fight of words, because I was made to be an advocate for the Jewish state of Israel.
Growing up a Jewish Israeli American, you get exposed to the world of international policy and affairs at a young age. However, whereas most of the world is exposed to this knowledge through the media, you are exposed to it through stories from friends, family as well as your own personal experiences. That’s what leads you to the understanding that the world’s media might misinterpret moves by a government or military entity. The proper context may not be stated or addressed, the fact checking standards may be different for the specific medium or news provider, and the sources may be funded towards a certain bias. You realize from a young age that nothing from the Middle-East region is ever black and white.
By the time Israel pulled out from Gaza in August 2005, I was fourteen. I had heard all the stories about how my grandfather had fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, and I had taken an Israel and Media history class. So I was already writing and forming my own analysis of the current events in Israel. Upon entering high school, I started publishing my writing through “The Jewish Week” in their high school section, “Fresh Ink.” That’s when I started to see and understand how the process of the media acquiring content wasn’t so black and white either. Editors had people to answer to, and those people were advertisers and people with lots of zeros in their bank accounts. In other words, people with agendas.
The problem was that I kept noticing that a lot of these funders were not comfortable with the state of Israel existing. They felt as if the UN Mandate of 1948 was somehow unethical and should be reversed. Therefore, they ensured that within whatever media they funded, Israeli actions would constantly be criticized, over-covered, over-analyzed and taken out of context. For the editors to retain their jobs, they had to listen to that which was dictated to them by those who signed their paychecks. Therefore, media funding played a huge role in what was published which is then what shaped public opinion. And for such a small country-Israel is about the size of New Jersey-to still have such extensive coverage, something just wasn’t adding up.
I knew all this yet I didn’t know how to fix it. It bothered me that the proper context was being ignored, yet a distorted one was being created in almost all Israeli situations covered by major news outlets. As I grew older and realized that a career in journalism was not my designated path, I started involving myself on the other side of journalism, public relations. That’s when I noticed that PR professionals were just as affective at garnering an agenda and reaction within the media as the events that occurred. It seemed as if they were the ones forming the context. In Israel especially, I found the Palestinian PR and their supporters were very good at creating a context that the media would latch on to.
Since 2005, there have been two wars in Israel. There have been countless rockets shot at the little country, endangering thousands of its citizens, including its Arab population. Yet, the media still stuck with the pro-Palestinian PR context. This all culminated in 2010, during the raid on the Freedom Flotilla. The coverage that surrounded that, even though there was clear military footage of the beating of Israeli soldiers, was so completely distorted, media ethics were starting to be called into question. There was a clear problem if Israel had the footage of what had really happened on the flotilla, yet the pro-Palestinian context was the one being presented by the media. Israel had to recognize that they were missing a basic element of every successful government: a PR team. What the Palestinians had was one that did wonders for media coverage, while Israel’s did little to nothing. They were years behind having a say in their own world image and public opinion.
Two years later, they still face this problem. The flotilla incident is still being debated, and the newly formed PR team is trying to catch up on years worth of work. Interning for a PR firm right now, 5W PR, as well as being the current Israel Campus Coalition intern and Hasbara Campus Coordinator for the New York City region, I feel like I can fully analyze the current Israeli PR situation the country now faces, starting with the Gaza Flotilla Raid, until the present. Yes, Israel is now trying to get a fair fighting chance in being presented fairly in the media, but the work to be done is still monstrous. And the flotilla incident is just a drop in the bucket that I like to call a definitive call to action.
My grandfather trained me from a young age to speak up. To right the wrongs I saw, and to advocate for the people who couldn’t speak. There may be a language barrier between much of the media and Israel, but if anything good can come out of the wrongful coverage surrounding the flotilla, it can be the revamp of Israeli PR once and for all. Then, and only then, will the tiny Jewish state surrounded by the bigger Arab nations have a fighting chance at positive world image, and a fair shot at survival and true independence.
In this thesis, I plan on researching why the PR surrounding the flotilla incident was so effective by the pro-Palestinian side and so ineffective by the Israeli side by examining the media before, during and after the event. I also plan on using the flotilla incident as the turning point to come up with a solution to fix the Israeli PR once and for all.