The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee`s Subcommittee for Foreign Policy, headed by MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), met on Wednesday to discuss Israel`s public diplomacy (hasbara) efforts amid the boycotts and the BDS movement`s activities against the country. Representatives from all the government offices which deal with Israel`s PR efforts took part in the meeting.
Yarden Vatikai, the head of the National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister`s Office, is in charge of coordinating Israel`s public diplomacy efforts. ”Our budget is limited, as is the workforce at our disposal. This has frequently hurt our ability achieve our goals, mainly with regards to long-term projects,” he explained, adding that one of the main problems is the shortage of Arabic speakers in Israel`s public diplomacy activities.
(Archive photo: Mohamed Ouda)
Foreign Ministry representative Noam Katz told the subcommittee that some 1,000 foreign journalists work in Israel at any given moment – the third most in the world. Most of the global media coverage of Israel is negative, he said, while Israeli missions abroad are understaffed and therefore cannot adequately support the country`s public diplomacy efforts.
Katz revealed that the Foreign Ministry`s operational public diplomacy budget is NIS 14 million per year, and this sum is distributed among all 106 Israeli missions overseas. ”This is a miniscule budget that does not allow us to carry out significant projects,” he complained. ”For example, Israel`s annual budget for public diplomacy in Sweden is $19,000.”
Nir Amsel of the Finance Ministry said the Foreign Ministry`s budget is more than one billion shekels and it cannot be claimed that only NIS 40 million are directed towards public diplomacy efforts, because many of the Foreign Ministry`s activities are indirectly related to these efforts, ”such as the salary of an Israeli representative abroad who gives an interview to a foreign news network.”
Subcommittee Chairman MK Oren concluded the meeting by saying, ”You cannot seriously combat the delegitimization of Israel phenomenon and the BDS movement with an advertising and marketing budget of NIS 14 million (which comes out of the Foreign Ministry`s public diplomacy budget) when, for the sake of comparison, the advertising budget of the Israeli company Osem is NIS 110 million. How can the State of Israel fight the boycott movement in Sweden when its advertising and marketing budget in that country is $19,000 per year?”
”Moreover, a report prepared at my request by the Knesset Research and Information Center showed that the budget designated for Israeli public diplomacy is not fully utilized, and despite the fact that there is cooperation between the various bodies, there is no one body which concentrates all of Israel`s public diplomacy activities,” he added.
”The international boycott phenomenon is a threat of the highest level on the State of Israel`s national resilience. We must budget the public diplomacy array accordingly and ensure that the budget is [allocated properly]. We are far behind in the battle for the State of Israel`s image. We must roll up our sleeves and fight in the international public diplomacy arena.”