Transcript of Barry Shaw’s address to the Haifa University Conference on “Rethinking the Challenges of Israel’s PR.”
A warning! I don’t come from an academic, media or political background. My grounding is in business. I tend to see things in stark black and white reality. I also originate from Lancashire in the north of England where we employ straight talking. It’s where we call a spade a “bloody shovel.”
I’ve been asked to talk about rethinking Israel’s PR and the establishment of an independent advocacy body and they’ve only given me fifteen minutes. That’s like mission impossible, but I’ll give it a shot.
This conference would have a missing heart if we didn’t talk about you and your valuable contribution to Israel’s hasbara.
It is because of you we had to move this event into a larger hall.
You came because you live and breathe defending Israel on a daily basis.
You do it because you expect the government to protect and defend us. This includes protecting and defending us from the accusations, the slanders, the demonization and the intimidation that threaten us.
They have failed to do that.
This has led us to pick up the weapons at our disposal and lead the fight back against the Israel bashers. We do that on various battlefronts – law, diplomacy, academia, media are just some of them.
They have failed us, and they have failed our friends abroad, the ones who have been on the frontline of this battle for decades.
We have to ask ourselves why?
In fairness, I think it’s because government is there to deal with diplomacy.
Diplomacy means government to government, government to governmental institutions, UN and EU, inter-parliamentary bodies.
They’ll be the first to tell you, if truth be told, that they are not there to dabble in other countries internal affairs.
That would be undiplomatic.
As such, they abandon our supporters who are left alone, relying only on us to help them.
The government is nowhere to be seen when the editorial line of much of the western media is perpetually pumping out anti-Israel imagery and lies that favor Hamas over IDF, or Palestinian lies over Israeli truth.
The government is not there when demonstrators take to the streets and we see our supporters rally to counter the hate, or to counter the BDS activists demonstrating outside stores selling Israeli products in Europe and in South Africa.
The government was nowhere to be seen when we warned them about the coming EU labeling of Jewish products and how it was possible then to prevent it.
I brought a team from UK Lawyers for Israel to sit with government officials a year ago. Each presented ways to tackle boycotts, sanctions and even labeling. The officials did nothing and look where we are today with the EU labeling sanctions.
They weren’t there to deal with the rise of BDS, or the anti-Israel hate machine being generated on campuses.
We have a government that does little to protect our students and campus supporters who are struggling against well-funded, well organized intimidators and slanderers who feel they own the campus.
They are not there to prevent or challenge annual Israel Apartheid Week rituals or boycott resolutions, or when our students or our diplomats are intimidated and prevented from speaking.
And when they do step out of their formal environment of governmental diplomacy, they do it badly.
A couple of weeks ago we saw Yair Lapid handing out leaflets at Ben Gurion airport to Israelis flying abroad.
What on earth was that about! It’s was a gimmick, a publicity stunt.
Here’s what he said to the press;
“We can no longer abandon this battle to the haters of Israel. The time has come to answer them.”
By his saying that “we can no longer abandon this battle” indicates that they had abandoned the battle.
In truth, the world has changed. In our advocacy work we see what I call called ‘the uberization of public diplomacy.’
What is the uberization of public diplomacy?
Today, the public is attracted to the Uber initiative of choosing private transportation over conventional taxi and bus services. They are also prefer the advocacy of independent groups to government or more convention leadership. We are seeing have linked up to anti-Israel messaging transmitted on the campus, in the media, and elsewhere, by less formal groups.
So it’s private diplomacy, not government diplomacy, which sways the hearts and minds of public opinion. It is the hyper-active group initiatives that are driving the messaging against us - of which BDS is the one that most readily grabs our attention.
Professor Irwin Cotler spoke eloquently about incitement to genocide being an international crime. BDS is conducting a benign genocide when it calls for the elimination of Israel.
It takes a network to defeat a network - and we don’t have a network.
To prove my point, in the UK, the National Union of Students just produced a 92 page BDS campaign booklet. The foreword includes the following;
“The campaign for BDS will not be won in NUC meetings. It will not even be won at national conferences, despite the importance of these bodies. The BDS campaign will be won when across the UK when institutions refuse to collaborate with Israeli institutions.”
In stark terms this is the battle we must fight and win!
We must abandon conventional methods that have failed to dent the attacks against us. We need to be creative. We need to think out of the box.
So this is where you have your say. My vision is derived from what you have told me and from what I see from my own experience.
We must create a new central advocacy body, outside of government, to vastly improve and coordinate our advocacy efforts to better effect.
This center must empower the many NGOs and groups with proven track records already doing excellent work. They need our help and can do even better with the right resources and with a central coordination to integrate and accelerate their work.
Yair Lapid called for an organization to fight the Israel haters. He’s right. We should take him up on that demand.
We have people like you fighting our cause, fighting for us on various battlefields on a daily basis.
Lapid spoke about a battle. He was right. We are in a war for the future of Israel. We are individuals doing amazing work on various battlefronts such as those selected here – media, academia, law, diplomacy.
We are under-staffed, under-resourced, but we are ideally positioned to win important battles, battles than the government shouldn’t get involved in. They are the daily public opinion, person-to-person, group-to-group battles that sometimes must be fought undiplomatically.
We need to go on the offensive, to take the fight to our enemies - and those who misguidedly support our enemies – in a more coordinated way.
To fight against those who are harming us in the media, academia, and even foreign governments that finances much of the campaigns against us.
We have to censure a media that presents us in a way that we hardly recognize ourselves.
We need an organization that can build a network that can win the battles in the hubs of delegitimization.
It takes a network to defeat a network and this cannot be done at government level.
In military terms, our problem is that we are fighting as individual warriors or small specialist teams, each fighting our own battles independently against a well-funded, well-coordinated enemy with an integrated message.
We are alone on the battlefield while they have captured valuable territory – campus, media, even influencing their governments.
The weapons of our arguments are the right ones but we, as separate units, are simply overwhelmed, out-gunned by the growing fire power ranged against us.
Our individual efforts can be far more effective if we are united and coordinated into one control center – an advocacy command and control center, if you will.
The IDF is made up of an army, an air force, a navy. People are recruited to serve in different units but all come together under a central command that deploys the various units, whose job it is to improve the effectiveness of these elite fighting units, to coordinate their use according to battle conditions to achieve victories that will defeat, deplete or demoralize the enemy.
Let me give you a few examples of where a coordinated response wins battles.
I have seen the effective application of law help students who felt isolated and defeated win counterclaims on campuses in the UK and in South Africa.
I have seen where lawyers have forced the media to back down and publicly apologize for false reporting.
I have experienced where information brought in by students at IDC Herzlia as part of their work in the advocacy room fighting against the 2011 Gaza flotilla prevent a BDS plan to fly hundreds of anti-Israel activists into Israel to cause disruptions at Ben Gurion airport with demonstrations.
They called it the “flightilla”. The BDS plan utterly failed.
Why did the ships in the 2011 flotilla fail to leave port and sail to Gaza?
Time doesn’t permit me to give you the details. The short answer is that UK Lawyers for Israel and Shurat Hadin prevented the Gaza flotilla ships from leaving the Greek port of Pireaus. Compare that to the Mavi Marmara PR disaster of the previous year.
These are just a few instances where effective coordinated actions have won major battles for us.
I know that many of you have similar stories to share.
Think how much more effective we could be if we had a fully functioning advocacy body manned by proven leaders with successful track records, organizational and communication skills, motivational and logistical support abilities, and with influential global connections.
This surely has to be the way forward.
Can this model succeed? Yes. This is the model we must aspire to, led by talented men and women of action dedicated to Israel and not to personal vanities.
It should be headed by an elite honorary board made up of global figures who share a strong affirmative love of Israel.
It should be manned by an executive branch that will coordinate a plan of action to create an integrated support system in the fields we are discussing today.
This executive will lay the foundation and appoint directors and managers both in Israel and abroad who will work with existing NGOs and set up new ones where there is a need.
Basically, we should copy the best examples of global corporate structures. That’s why, with respect, business executives are better placed to succeed than politicians and academics. They know how to raise capital & operate corporate structures efficiently.
We must be everywhere, every day – a constant multi-headed presence.
It takes a network to defeat a network.
Haifa must be the first step on the road to achieving the goal of establishing a much needed independent advocacy central organization.
Today’s conference cannot be a stand-alone event. It’s too important an issue. This has to be the beginning and we need your help.
We need more of you to have your say on how the future of our public diplomacy & advocacy should look going forward.
You put your heart and soul into our efforts and i for one value your contribution.
So there you have it, how to face the challenges and create a better advocacy future in fifteen minutes.
Barry Shaw is the Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is also the author of ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism’ and ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’ www.barrysbooks.info