OPINION: Israel's spokespeople are losing the PR battle

Why has Israel, a country born with so much goodwill behind it, become so despised?

Last week I interviewed a spokesman for the Israeli government - not a politician but a professional PR man. What staggered me was how badly he presented the case for his country. It was as if he didn't care what the rest of the world thought of what they were doing to the Palestinians.

When the United Nations endorsed a two-state solution in mandatory Palestine in 1947, the emerging Jewish state had the full support and sympathy of everyone outside the Arab world.

That support even extended to the Six-Day War in 1967 and occupation of Arab lands. The main reason for this support was the guilt that the world feels for the Holocaust. The idea of a Jewish homeland seemed only right and Israel quite naturally has continued to refer back to the darkest days of world history to defend its actions today.

Israel's other trump card is, of course, the full support of the US government.

This stems from the strength of the Jewish lobby in US politics whereby every presidential candidate from left and right goes out of his way to win the Jewish vote.

This means unconditional support for the state of Israel. Just as no candidate would go into an presidential election without supporting capital punishment, no candidate would go in without pledging support for Israel.

For once, US patience with its naughty little child has run out. Even the US could not condone Israeli troops shooting at peaceful Western protesters and BBC journalists. You know when someone has lost the plot when they start blaming the press for everything, but actually shooting reporters is going a little over the top.

My Israeli spokesman actually claimed that all the media were doing was acting as propaganda mouthpieces for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) so their exclusion was justified. It never occurred to him that such actions were bad PR.

The so-called 'terrorists' do, however, seem to realise that in order to get a good press you have to work very hard at it. The Palestinian Authority spokespeople manage to get their message across better than the Israelis.

Some may ask, does this matter? The answer must be 'yes' because George Bush has only been forced to bring Israel into line because of public opinion at home - and that has been molded by what the public see on TV and read in the papers. Israel itself cannot survive as a state without the support of the US.

The Israeli equivalent of Alastair Campbell need look no further than these shores to see how important media relations are in a conflict.

The IRA, which was responsible for atrocities every bit as bad as the Palestinian suicide bombers, managed to present its case through its political wing Sinn Fein much more professionally than the Ulster Unionists.

The IRA was helped by Margaret Thatcher's ban on Gerry Adams' voice from TV, making him look like a victim of censorship. But more recently the IRA has developed an even more sophisticated PR operation than New Labour's Millbank machine. Eventually the British government was forced to negotiate with the 'terrorists', just as the Israeli government will be forced to recognise a Palestinian state.

Its standing in the eyes of the world would be far higher if it presented its case in a more professional way.

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