Arabs should thank Israel for lesson in propaganda

From the archive (legacy material)

Editorial | Daily Star, Lebanon | 1 July 2003

The Israeli government and its apologists are expert in the art of playing the martyr, especially when it comes to castigating any and all media outlets that fail even briefly to fawn over the Jewish state like lovesick teenagers. The latest target of the world’s most fearsome “David” is the British Broadcasting Corporation, which recently re-aired a documentary about Israel’s weapons of mass destruction programs. The Israelis cannot refute any of the BBC’s reportage, but there is no need to do so when they can accuse the company of being “anti-Semitic” in the manner of the Nazi
press of 1930s Germany.
For this the Israelis deserve nothing but the admiration of the entire Arab world. How can one not be impressed by the success with which a tiny nation like Israel navigates the turbulent waters of international diplomacy and media coverage? It is this magnificent skill that allows the Jewish state to escape virtually unscathed when its “righteous indignation” is followed by debacles like that of Monday, when The Associated Press revealed the existence of a secret Israeli detention facility that, by its very nature, violates the Geneva Conventions.
It is not magic that shields Israel from the consequences of its behavior. Nor is it solely US influence that keeps it from being the object of scorn for engaging in activities that cause other countries to be isolated by the international community and/or invaded by the United States. Their “Westernism” is not enough to explain the protection the Israelis enjoy, nor is their faith. What makes their strategy work is that simple fact that they work diligently to implement it. They study their audiences, their allies and their enemies with equal diligence, then craft a flawless message.
The typical Arab version of such endeavors is to ignore genuine grievances that might have real propaganda value for the sake of sensationalistic but unsubstantiated accusations about everything from depleted uranium to the so-called “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Until the Arab world learns to play the game, it will always come out the loser. Luckily, there are rays of hope in this uneven contest. One of these is the recent decision by a Saudi billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, to endow a chair in American studies at the American University of Beirut. Since so much of the region’s fate revolves around the United States, it only makes sense to know more about that country ­ especially when its own institutions of higher learning are positively brimming with Middle East studies programs.
If imitation is the sincerest from of flattery, Arab countries would do well to pay Israel a high compliment by adopting its approaches to both diplomacy and the media. Only then will such tragedies as the plight of the Palestinians be brought fully into the light. Only then will the court of world opinion be able to make an informed decision about all aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Only then will Israel itself have no choice but to deal realistically with its Arab interlocutors or suffer the consequences. Until then, the Arab world will not succeed in making its case because those who refuse to do their homework will always fail the most important tests.