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Last uploaded : Saturday 12th Jan 2002 at 01:54
Contributed by : The Editor


Israel has descended into a morass of bad public relations when it should have been regaining credibility following the December atrocities in Jerusalem and Haifa. In an article entitled ?Israel?s hasbara (PR) failure after PA boat capture? ?Ha?aretz? of 7th January devotes substantial column inches to a discussion of the lacklustre world coverage given to the capture of fifty tons of ammunition aboard a ship in the Red Sea.

What the Israeli government does not grasp is that the story of Yasser Arafat being prevented from attending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem was sexy. Around the world newspapers and television, with no other headlines coming in, milked the story for all it was worth at a time of year of immense significance to even the most secular of Christians; from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany, in importance it is their Passover, just as Good Friday and Easter are their High Holy Days.

It follows that the images of Arafat?s empty seat in the Church of the Nativity, draped in his legendary black and white keffiyah, had such a profound impact on audiences around the world at their most tender festival, that it would have taken wild horses to drag world opinion to Israel?s side just two weeks later. The story of Arafat?s banishment from Bethlehem dovetailed neatly with the various television networks? ?End of the Year? round-ups. The year started with images of Palestinian child stone-throwers being shot dead in battles with Israeli soldiers (or, as some would assert, in crossfire from Palestinian gunmen), and the year ended with images of a grieving procession of priests walking in a slow procession without Arafat, into a sombre, miserable and deserted Bethlehem.

2001 saw the Durban Conference, where a well-meaning assembly devoted to anti-racism degenerated into a circus of militant Israel-bashing. 2001 saw the rise and rise of the Boycott Israeli Goods campaign. Because of the spiralling cycle of violence tourism to Israel and the Palestinian autonomous regions is virtually nil.

Never in living memory has Israel?s image been so negative, and never have the movements to discredit Israel had such burgeoning support; the most extreme of this support being the alarming wave of attacks on Jews in France.

Along comes the Karine A, a ship alleged to have been owned by an Iraqi and at times registered in Iran and Lebanon, turning up after Christmas in the Red Sea laden with tons of lethal weapons, at its helm a Palestinian Master who provides a genial interview with network television. (Much as one would wish to be appalled by this threat to Israel?s security, one cannot help feeling a tiny bit of sympathy with a Muslim colleague?s observation that the demeanour of the Captain was ?so relaxed and forthcoming as to be bizarre.?)

At the time of this writing, Israel is enmeshed in an ugly and very public dispute about words used by Knesset member Zvi Hendel amounting to a near-obscenity to describe US Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer. To illustrate the mercurial nature of hasbara, this story gets front banner colour coverage in 'The London Jewish News,' whilst the Karine A story is relegated to a page well inside that newspaper.

To add salt to Israel?s wounds, the ban on construction of a mosque in Nazareth ? at the behest of an angry Vatican ? has been banner-headlined outside the Jewish State as ?Israel Forces Mosque Construction to Stop,? making one wonder if the Christian world has framed a gullible Israel. (Please feel free to call us paranoid.)

To wit, it is mind-boggling to read of the Vatican?s ?fury? at the construction of the foundation of a new mosque in Nazareth, of sundry Christian authorities? ?outrage? and of ?international condemnation of this provocation.? These condemnatory cries emanate from the pillars of organised religion. To many observers it is difficult to comprehend why a mosque ?desecrates? Nazareth?s nearby church. (Equally, many secularists were puzzled by the perception of Sharon ?desecrating? the Temple Mount on his fateful visit in September 2000 that sparked the Al Aqsa Intifadah, but considering the impact of the Bethlehem ban on Arafat, the emotional consequences of these events cannot be underestimated .)

As Catholics and Protestants renew their tragic conflict in Northern Ireland outside a little girls? school, one is moved to imagine how Jesus would perceive the world were he to return in 2002.

Ha?aretz reports that an Israeli army spokesperson said ?I don?t know what got screwed up? in response to questions about the lack of premium, front-page coverage of the Karine A?s lethal cargo.

Israel is losing the PR war. Yasser Arafat sits in a room under siege in Ramallah. He need do nothing more to garner the world?s sympathy. The demolition of houses in the West Bank and Gaza is seen by the world outside Israel as needless destruction. Even the fiercest of Israel?s supporters would acknowledge that a radically different approach is needed: though some, if not many, see Oslo as dead and buried, an end to violence on both sides and the re-engagement of Syria in peace talks is vital now, or the twin numbers of the secular New Year could symbolise even worse atrocities than those that befell the twin towers.


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