what Israel is saying to the world and what the army and settlers are doing in the occupied territories.
"Israel has been routed, and even the Israeli government is finally coming to realize that its defeat in the media battle may well decide the ultimate outcome of its war," said Liebes in an article published in the right-wing Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post.
Moreover, just recently, Israeli cabinet minister Tommy Lapid has warned that Israel is losing “the public relations battle” with the Palestinians.
He warns that world opinion was turning against Israel because of the disparity between
Lapid, who heads the right-wing but ultra-secular Shinui party, cited a “credibility gap” between Israel’s “words” and “deeds”.
He observes that while Israeli officials have been speaking for weeks about plans to dismantle “illegal settlement outposts” in the West Bank, nothing has really happened on the ground.
According to PR experts, such inconsistency, coupled with graphic images of Israeli repression of Palestinians, is undermining Israel’s image around the world.
Graham Usher, a veteran British journalist based in Jerusalem, agrees.
“There is no doubt that Israel is losing in Europe where (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon is viewed as a hardliner, an extremist, even a war criminal.”
Usher attributes Israel’s “image problem” in Europe to two main factors.
First, Israel’s abhorrent repression of the Palestinians generates anti-Israeli feelings (and a modicum of anti-Semitism) among ordinary people and second, the very character of Ariel Sharon.
“If (Labour Party Leader) Shimon Peres, not Sharon, were in power, European criticisms of Israel would be minimal,” he said.
Many consider Sharon to be a
Notwithstanding, Usher notes that while Israel’s image is suffering at the street level, Tel Aviv has incurred virtually no political damage.
He points out that the recent Euro-barometer survey, which showed 59% of Europeans viewed Israel as posing the greatest threat to world peace and stability, has had no tangible effect on EU policy towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“On the contrary, Israel made significant gains and was able to convince the EU to classify Hamas’s political wing as a terrorist group.”
This is not to say that Israel is unaffected by the often scathing criticisms directed against its policies and practices.
Indeed, Israel is perceived in many countries as an aggressive and warlike bully ganging up on a poor and helpless people struggling for freedom and national survival.
Nearly two years ago, when Israeli forces destroyed the Jenin refugee camp, British Jewish MP Gerald Kaufman declared, “Sharon made the Star of David look like the Swastika of Hitler”.
And earlier this year, when Israeli forces bulldozed and dynamited much of the Rafah refugee camp, rendering thousands of civilians homeless, many newspapers around the world called the Israeli army “Jewish Gestapo”.
One Israeli peace activist affiliated with the Peace Now Movement told Aljazeera.net “if what we have done to you had been done to us, we would have called it a holocaust from day one”.
Even in the United States, where Israeli supporters have a strong influence on US public opinion, many Americans are increasingly affronted by Israeli repression of the Palestinians.
"They (Israel) only have themselves to blame. If they want to enhance their image, they must stop behaving like Nazis. They can’t behave like the Gestapo and at the same time complain about their image"
This message was voiced recently by Brian Lurie, a Jewish community activist from San Francisco, during a Jewish conference in West Jerusalem.
“At this point, America is pro-Israel. But other currents are bubbling below the surface and telling Americans that Israel is an occupier and an oppressor.
"This idea is not fully rooted yet, but another five years of graphic images from the territories, and we’ll start feeling it, as American Jews.”
Salah al-Naami, a Gaza journalist and expert on Israeli affairs, agrees that “Israel’s savagery” against the Palestinians is Israel’s worst PR.
He said: “Well, they (Israel) only have themselves to blame. If they want to enhance their image, they must stop behaving like Nazis. They can’t behave like the Gestapo and at the same time complain about their image.
“This is not a question of failing propaganda on Israel’s part. It is a question of criminal behaviour. Israel can’t fool all the people all of the time.”
However, al-Naami criticises the Palestinian Authority for “failing to communicate reality to the outside world”.
“I am convinced that if the Palestinians invested 10% of what Israel and global supporters are investing in public relations, we would achieve miracles.”
For their part, Israeli officials charge that most Israeli critics are motivated by a combination of anti-Semitism, prejudice, misinformation and malice toward Israel.
“We are a democratic country, we grant journalists and reporters full freedom to report on events in Israel and the territories, we have nothing to hide,” said Lior Ben Dor, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Ben Dor accuses many foreign journalists of “distorting the facts and reporting out of context”.
“The moment they arrive at Ben Gurion airport, they act as if they have become experts on the Middle East and the Arab Israeli conflict,” he said.
“We are a democratic country, we grant journalists and reporters full freedom to report on events in Israel and the territories, we have nothing to hide”
Lior Ben Dor,
Israeli Foreign Ministry
The Israeli official also accused the Palestinians “of not telling the truth and of intimidating foreign journalists”.
“Our only problem is terror, when terror is over, the Palestinians will see how generous Israel will be.”
Ben Dor’s remarks are readily dismissed as “obscene lies” by Palestinian spokespersons.
“Israel is not really a democratic country. A truly democratic country doesn’t practice apartheid, occupy another country and rape another people’s right to freedom and human rights,” said Yaqub Shahin, Director-General of the Palestinian Authority Information Ministry.
Shahin also noted that Jerusalem was refusing to accredit foreign correspondents unless they obtained security clearance from Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Shin Beth.
And he said that Israeli occupation troops had killed “knowingly or deliberately” ten Palestinian and foreign journalists during the past 40 months.
“How can they possibly claim to grant journalists full freedom when they are killing them?”
Shahin cited the case of Italian photojournalist Raffaele Ciriello, who was killed by Israeli troops In Ram Allah on 13 March 2002.
“First, they claimed they thought he was carrying an RPG, then when it became clear that Ciriello was not carrying a video camera at all, but a small pocket-size ordinary camera, the Israeli spokesman changed the entire narrative and claimed the victim had violated the curfew.”
And on 2 May, British cameraman James Miller was shot and killed by Israeli troops in Gaza while filming a documentary on the impact of Israeli violence on Palestinian children.