The night before 7/7, I was in Liverpool Street with a dear friend who was then No2 at British Transport Police. I vividly remember standing on the corner of the street opposite the Station, taking money out of the cash point and telling her she needed to clear the area. That something very bad was going to happen. Liverpool Street and London were in danger. The following day, I cancelled my taxi to catch the tube into Central London to lecture in PR at Boston University British Programmes. I should have been on one of those trains. When the world speaks of ‘terrorists’, these are the terrorists we should speak of: the ones who proactively plot to kill and whom I refer to in this piece as ‘the global enemy’. The factions that infiltrate reasonable communities and intentionally and cruelly destroy people, places and damage the Human Spirit. The Public Relations of War reminds us that words and images should be used carefully and that we should think before we act.
When I was a 20-something Travel PR, the company I worked for was appointed to represent the then war-torn Serbia. There was much debate about this decision and over time we were challenged on many levels. From death threats to some very heated journalist debates, Serbia was seen as the aggressor and should not be supported. Our stance then and my own stance is and was the same: tourism can heal. Today, who talks of Serbia as a country of terrorists or one that is hated or banning Serbs from shops or services? The War in Serbia versus the West stays firmly placed in the recesses of our mind.
Serbia is a beautiful country, as is its neighbour Montenegro, with whom we also worked. Its hard-working people are intelligent, funny, talented and understand sarcasm in the ‘British’ way. I had done a promotional shoot with Claudia Schiffer for Hello! and !Hola! magazines some years before to promote Montenegrin tourism. I was overwhelmed by this very small country’s multitude of gems. Montenegrin tourism is thriving today. Tourism has greatly contributed to healing the memories of war in The Balkans.
And so fast forward to 2014. August 2014, to be precise. I watch with horror as another very beautiful country, brimming with resources and gifts and one that I love (and have lived in) is at ‘war’. The country I speak of is Israel. Yet this is different. Tourism, the natural healer, as has been the case after attacks in Thailand, NYC, Serbia and The Egyptian Riviera of Sharm El Sheik etc, is not enough for what is happening in Israel and Gaza unless the tide of ‘The Public Relations of War’ starts to turn (and fast). Whilst people from all religious and cultural backgrounds: Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist, Buddhist all may have visited Israel to pay homage to what they believe in or want to see and experience, tourism is not a solution, not yet anyway. So what is ‘The Public Relations of War’?
I went to see a leading Jewry movement in the UK about Israel’s PR many years ago. I told them Israel had a PR problem. I recommended that they have (at least) some media training as the representatives on-screen for the world to engage with, came across as arrogant, pushy and aggressive (even if they weren’t). Their Palestinian or Arab World counterparts (any representative, not the ‘global enemy’ to whom I refer) however, always came across as softly spoken, demonstrating intelligence and empathy. My recommendations were spurned and dismissed. This was a problem in itself. Not admitting there was a problem. Lesson one.
Unfortunately, the ‘global enemy’ that the world currently faces, knows that Israel has a PR problem. ‘They’, the global enemy (and please respect my use of language here) happens to be quite brilliant at PR and when I say PR I mean influencing publics to buy into a product, service or way of thinking. Not only is their collective view of Life/Death different to the rest of us eg they are willing (or forced) to blow up their own flesh for the cause, they do not care how many people die or suffer, albeit Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Brits or Americans, as prime examples. Whilst always keeping Israel by their side, as ‘bad cop’ in this scenario.
Some highly intelligent people are currently naming and shaming Israel as terrorists. Yes, I agree, Israel should not be ‘intentionally’ bombing or harming anyone: no one should. Note the inclusion of the word ‘intentionally’. The global enemy deliberately hides essential weapons and armaments under locations where children and individuals are made vulnerable. They then use bully tactics to coerce or force people to remain in these locations so that they are ‘intentionally’ wounded or killed. So when Israel reactively fires a rocket, the images that result show Israel to be the aggressor. These images spark emotion, fury and demonstrations and secondly, latent or untapped level of hatred towards Jews and Israel. If Israel did not have its ‘Iron Dome’ the world might not weep for those fallen. And the death count would be much higher. The same images might not provoke the same levels of emotion or seeming global rage against an enemy we all face.
Whilst I don’t want to get too deep into the Politics of The Middle East, that very, very few actually understand and shouldn’t even start to discuss unless they have lived or breathed that very existence, my piece refers to how the public relations of war is actually fuelling the power and intent of the global enemy. Israel is capable of potentially helping save the world from destruction but they might never be thanked. Israel would just want the job done and would not worry about the thanks. Just safety and protection for their citizens and Jews being safe around the world.
When and if Israel weakens the global enemy, such an achievement should be celebrated the world over. But I doubt this would happen. Not in the near future anyway. Israel will continue to have a PR problem. Even without the global enemy. What the latter have achieved, quite spectacularly, is to well up fear and hatred within the very nations that shouldn’t be fearing or hating Israel. The bout of unprecedented Anti-Semitism currently apparent on TV screens and social media feeds chills me to the bone. The irony is that should the world fall into the dangerous hands of the global enemy, they will take down all the Anti-Semites and Arab nations too. Israel will come last. They are a useful bad guy to have on board who makes the global aggressor look like the victim and the good guy. This war has nothing to do with Palestinian/Israeli borders. The Arab nations are, ‘un-technically speaking’, crapping themselves. They back Israel and the world should think about this and take note. These are nations that have been at war with their neighbour (Israel). They also know what the global enemy is capable of and wishes for. These Arab nations fear for their own lives, families and natural gas/oil supplies. This is not rocket science.
The PR Of War also infiltrates at different levels, to the voice of the people. People who don’t know better: who want to believe in SOMETHING. Who want an opinion and to belong, whatever the consequences. Social Media is a PR dream for the global enemy. Being the ultimate Agent Provocateur that my late father taught me about many moons ago, Twitter and Facebook is fuelling a fire that is gaining way too much blue (and white) heat. The media divisions in the UK between left and right used to have more of this power – the impact of news splits into those who want to be told what to think and those who don’t care. Today, we all want to have our say. And we can.
With fewer national leaders to believe in and respect however, the ‘people’ create a voice of support for he who shouts the loudest. In this case, it is the shout of the global enemy. It is dangerous white noise. The shout of the same people who blew up towers in the US capital and who, at the time, shocked the world without precedent and quite exceptionally. The global enemy relished in every second of TV coverage, as well as the panic and misery that this dreadful and intentional war crime inflicted on the rest of the world.
Yet Israel is still seen as the warlord and terrorist in many people’s eyes. This is The PR of War. And this is what all of us need to understand and prevent. Not for the sake of Israel. But for the sake of our children and our children’s children, whether they be in Madras, Mexico, Munich or Madrid. The words and images we post, say, type and threaten will actually dictate how this war ends. Israel is a very small piece of the poisoned jigsaw puzzle. Like the Israeli’s I went to see all those years ago, I urge all of you to THINK before you dictate how The Public Relations of THIS War ends. And please G-d when this dies down, do visit Israel. It is a truly spellbinding and wonderful country. I wish the healing of tourism was the answer, as it was with Serbia. Shalom. Peace, my friends.