ISRAEL: Netanyahu’s government reaches out in Arabic
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau is upgrading its public diplomacy efforts with the appointment of an Arabic-language spokesman. Ofir Gendelman, formerly the Arabic media spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign affairs, will from now on be entrusted with getting Israel’s message out in Arabic too. A news release from the prime minister’s office last week said the appointment was important in order to deal with ‘recent media developments in the Arab world and especially in light of global developments regarding Arabic language television stations.’
In recent years, Israel increasingly has recognized the importance of public diplomacy and that the occasional interviews by officials and academics on Al Jazeera are good -- but not enough.
In a recent report, Israel state comptroller judge Micha Lindenstrauss prodded the government to take action to stop the ‘intolerable foot-dragging’ and address the need for better Arabic-language ‘hasbara’ (a term used in Israel to denote public diplomacy), a vital component in achieving the country’s strategic, diplomatic-security objectives. Israel’s failure in this department, he wrote, was especially evident during the Second Lebanon War.
Israel made efforts to improve its Arabic outreach in recent years. The statement delivered in Arabic by Capt. Avichai Edri on behalf of the Israeli army during the Gaza operation and his appearance on Al Jazeera have nearly a million views on YouTube, suggesting that Arabic-speaking messengers are an effective tool, even if people don’t like the message. And the foreign ministry launched an Arabic website a few years ago; those with questions about Gendelman’s language skills can test him here.
-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.