Media coverage of two events -- both related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- demonstrated why Israel's image has suffered so grievously in recent years.
And there can be little doubt that it has. Not long ago, Israel had the support and sympathy of most of the world. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was viewed everywhere -- in Europe, Africa, and Asia as much as America -- as one of the world's great leaders. His funeral in 1995 -- only 15 years ago -- brought as many heads of state to Jerusalem as JFK's brought to Washington in 1963.
That was only 15 years ago. But what a long, dismal 15 years!
Writing on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) website on June 8, Gary Wexler, one of the most successful public relations professionals in the world and a passionate Israel supporter, says that Israel is losing the PR battle worldwide. He writes that the Palestinians are masters at media manipulation while the Israelis, and their supporters, just don't get it.
Israel is now perceived as the pariah nation and the Palestinians and its supporters are the cause of good.
This enormous, growing international accomplishment is a marketing professional's dream. As one of those professionals, I want to know everything I can. I want to duplicate it for my clients...
More than anything, I want to know how their big brilliant ideas evolve and understand the insights and capabilities of their implementation teams.
Whoever these people are, they should be the agency that wins all the awards, is focused upon and hired for every new venture. They are superstars.
I agree that Israel is losing the PR war but I do not believe it is happening because the other side is so masterful at selling their "product." In fact, I doubt that one could find a single Palestinian on the planet who believes that Palestinians come close to the Israelis on matters of public relations. And they don't.
Some of the best PR people in the world -- Gary Wexler among them -- have offered Israel their expertise for free. And what the Israeli side cannot get gratis, it easily pays for. The Palestinians -- in contrast to, say, the Saudis and the other oil-rich Arab states -- have no team of PR professionals working for them at all. They are winning anyway.
Wexler suggests giving the Palestinians' ad agency an award. But that can't happen because no such agency exists.
As for the Israeli PR guys, they don't deserve Wexler's criticism.
That is because it is not their message, but the product they are selling, that is terrible.
And by that, I do not mean Israel. Israel itself has always been an easy PR sell. A country built by the survivors of the Holocaust as a refuge for their children and their descendants was bound to be popular, especially in the West.
But that is not true of the occupation that began in 1967 and continues 43 years later. It is the occupation that cannot be sold and which, if allowed to continue, will destroy the standing of Israel as well.
Look at what happened over the last few weeks.
The Gaza flotilla raid was a disaster for Israel (not to mention for the victims of the attack). Other than in the United States, where opinion was divided, the entire world reacted with horror to the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla.
The reason is obvious. The flotilla story was, and is, all about the occupation. No matter what one thinks about how the Israelis handled it, the flotilla was designed to break a blockade of Gaza (an area occupied by the Israelis in 1967 and whose borders -- land, sea, and air -- are still under Israeli control).
Israel was bound to lose the PR war over the flotilla because that battle was not about Israel but about the occupation. And that battle it cannot win.
But, when the battle shifts to Israel itself, it does.
And that is why the pro-Israel side won the propaganda battle over Helen Thomas (although, God knows, the Thomas story was blown all out of proportion).
When Helen Thomas said that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to Poland and Germany, she was not calling for an end to the occupation but an end to Israel. She knows that the settlers are not from Poland or Germany but from Israel (and sometimes the United States).
If she had responded to the question by saying that the settlers should "go home" to Israel, her remark would have been ignored. If she said, "the occupation of West Bank and the blockade of Gaza are illegal and should end tomorrow," no one would have noticed.
But what she said can be interpreted as -- and is interpreted by me as -- "all the Israelis should get the hell out of Israel."
Once she said that, she was doomed.
And that is why the Helen Thomas story was a PR triumph for the pro-Israel side. She did not limit her attack to the occupation but to the existence of Israel itself.
There is a lesson in this for the Israeli government:
It is the occupation that is destroying Israel's image throughout the world, not some kind of innate anti-Semitism or deep-seated hatred against Israel. End the occupation -- establish the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem as a viable, secure Palestinian state -- and Israel will be as easy to defend as it was when the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took the hand of his former enemy and, just before the end of his life, declared him to be his "partner."
I understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about more than public relations. If the occupation was necessary for the survival of Israel, it would not matter whether it was popular in London, Paris or Chicago.
But it is the occupation itself that is the biggest threat to Israel's survival as a secure and democratic Jewish state. Until it ends, Israel will be fighting an uphill battle -- not just on the public relations front but on every front (including military).
Supporting the occupation is supporting Israel's demise, which is why the "pro-Israel" lobby and its acolytes in Congress are anything but. Supporting efforts to end it, once and for all, is the most pro-Israel action anyone can take.