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October 26, 1990 - Image 45

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-10-26

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

FOCUS

1

Is Israel's
Problem PR Or Policy

Some experts say Israel needs to make her
--- case in a better way. Others suggest she
needs a better case to make.

IIMIN•11111111!1

■ 1

JAMES D. BESSER

Washington Correspondent

A

s relations between
Washington and
Jerusalem traverse
another diplomatic
minefield, a familiar ques-
tion is re-surfacing in the
pro-Israel community: why
can't Israel do a better job of
presenting itself in the
treacherous arena of Ameri-
can public opinion?
But the question is more
complex than it appears.
Some Jewish activists, con-
cerned about eroding sup-
port for Israel, are asking a
more fundamental question:
is the problem the salesman,
or the product?
The answer may involve a
little of both, according to
Steven Cohen, professor of
sociology at Queens College
and an expert in public opi-
nion analysis.
Israel's image problems,
Mr. Cohen said, are the
result of a number of factors
— including the way the
Israelis approach American
public opinion, but also the
policies of the Jerusalem
government itself.
"The truth may be that the
current Israeli government
is offering policies that are
very difficult to sell in this
country," Mr. Cohen said.
"Nevertheless, there's little
doubt that given that fact,
these policies could be sold
better."

Needed: PR

CP

The basic question is a
matter of heated debate
among Israel's supporters: is
Israel's eroding image due to
inept public relations,
American media bias or har-
sh policies by the Israeli
government?
The widely held perception
that Israel is a country in

need of a good PR team was
vigorously supported by
Howard J. Rubenstein, pres-
ident of Howard J. Rubens-
tein Associates, Inc., a major
New York public relations
firm whose clients include
Leona Helmsley, the highly
unpopular hotel owner.

PR exec Howard Rubenstein:
Israel could benefit from sawy
public relations.

"The Israelis are definitely
not spending enough time or
intellectual energy on public
relations," said Mr. Rubens-
tein, who is also a longtime
Jewish activist. "If they
made public relations a
prime target or goal, they
would improve dramatically
in terms of public opinion."
Good news coverage, Mr.
Rubenstein stressed, does
not happen automatically.
"You don't get good
coverage if you don't seek
good coverage. Some people
think that hiring a public re-
lations firm creates a

negative impression. But the
Israelis have a negative
image already. They have to
understand that."
Public relations firms, Mr.
Rubenstein stressed, provide
a kind of crisis management
that could serve the Israeli
government well in the high-
stakes game being played
out in the electronic media.
"Israel has a serious
perceptual crisis, as well as
well as other crises," he said.
"They should deal with it as
any major country, or any-
one with a major concept to
project, should deal with it:
bring in a good advertising
agency, some good public re-
lations professionals."
A number of Arab coun-
tries have already taken this
step, Mr. Rubenstein said —
a fact reflected in their in-
creasingly sophisticated ap-
proach to the American
media.
But the Israelis, Mr.
Rubenstein said, seem to re-
ject the entire notion that
public relations is something
that needs special attention.
"They seem to think that
public relations is not
substantively important to
them. But in reality, it is;
the attitude of the American
public and of world opinion
has a great deal to do with
the support that Israel has
received and will receive in
the future."

"It's a mistake to think
that the decline in Israel's
image from the peaks it has
enjoyed in the past is the
product of a failure of public
relations," said Milton
Viorst, the New Yorker
writer whose reporting on
the Middle East has won
both high praise and intense
criticism from some of
Israel's supporters.
Mr. Viorst disputed the
popular notion that Israeli
officials are inept when it
comes to handling the press.
"There is no better public
relations structure in the
world than Israel," he said.
"I say this with respect and
esteem. It's a joy for a jour-
nalist to go to Israel; all the
information is available,
everybody is anxious to get
you by the lapels and tell
you their opinion."
Part of Israel's image prob-
lem, he said, reflects a reluc-
tance to face up to the
difficult issues posed by the

Problem:
The Product

the status of the West Bank
and Gaza.
"When the facts are not
pleasant to deal with, you
pay a price," he said. "Israel
would like to change image
without changing policy. It's
a lot of kvetching over the
wrong thing; it's not going to
get Israel anywhere. There
are no shortcuts."

At the other end of the
debate are activists who
argue that Israel's slipping
image is purely a function of
the hardline policies of the
Shamir government. In
other words, the problem is
the product, not the pitch.

The Israeli mode of
political discourse
does not translate
well in this
country's electronic
media.

Michael Walzer, a political
scientist and social theorist
at the Institute for Advanced
Study at Princeton Univer-
sity, agreed that Israel's
public relations problem is
really a policy problem.
"I remember during the
first months of the intifida,
when people thought the
crucial problem was that
cameras were watching the
action," Mr. Walzer said. "I
felt the problem was what
was happening on the
streets, not the image. What
Israel needs. to understand is
that cosmetic changes in its
image will not have a major
affect on American public
opinion."
Mr. Walzer rejected the
often-repeated charge that
the negative image is a
natural function of a strong
anti-Israel bias in the mass
media.
"I don't accept the notion
that Americans are being
showed the worst side of
Israeli policy by a group of
hostile journalists," he said.
"Most of the journalists I've
met identify much more
with the Israelis than with
the Palestinians. I'm sure
there are some hostile
reports. But when I hear
right-wing Israelis complain
about the New York Times, I
wonder what they really
want in the media. They are
so defensive and so frighten-
ed."
Mr. Wafer also suggested
that the recurrent interest
in improving Israel's public
relations policies is used by
some American Jews as an
excuse for ignoring the
dilemmas posed by Israel's
policies.
"There's no doubt that

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

45

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