17 September 2017

The art of public diplomacy

Ariel Bolstein 

The TLV in LDN festival, a four-day event celebrating Israeli culture in London, was a great success. The events there were designed to remind Britons of the real Israel: the vibrant and creative Israel that we experience every day, not the one conveyed through the media lens and through the biased news headlines.

Israel's public diplomacy efforts, some 100 years after the Balfour Declaration, are as just as challenging today as the diplomatic efforts undertaken by the Zionist Movement at its early stages. In fact, it may be an even more daunting task because the battlefield has changed. Today this battle involves a bizarre combination of anti-Semites, jihadis and, mainly, ignoramuses.

Ignorance has become one of the Israel-bashers' most effective tools in their bid to brainwash millions of ordinary citizens, lacking any basic knowledge of the facts about Israel or the Middle East. When the public has no knowledge or impression of something, it becomes easy to lie to them. It becomes easy to showcase the Zionist enterprise as a colonial endeavor detached from the Holy Land. It becomes easy to market Israel as the root of all evil.

Beyond the artistic element, the festival helped Israel tell its story without intermediaries. An Israeli food market, musical performances by Israeli artists, Israeli fashion displays and even a beach party like in Tel Aviv -- these were some of the things used to showcase the cultural richness of the Jewish state and shatter the myths that have taken root among the British public.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement wanted to sabotage the festival but failed miserably: Tens of thousands of British citizens, curious about Israel, packed its venues. Even the London municipality joined forces with the local Jewish community by taking down propaganda that incited against the festival.

The success of this festival makes it abundantly clear that such events should be replicated elsewhere. It also suggests that the British capital should hold more events to tell the countless stories Israel has to share about the rebirth of Jewish nationhood in the land of Israel. We must not limit these events to culture and art. Israel has a lot to offer in a variety of fields.

We must step up Israel's presence on the world stage. Being visible has its value, and we must not be deterred by potential clashes with people who seek to do us harm. Anti-Israel protesters are going to be vocal and active regardless of what we do. If we let them dominate the world stage, as we have done in the past, we will lose the uninvolved, neutral population, which almost always comprises a majority of the public.

Israel is now almost 70 years old and it has many accomplishments to show for it. When we have the will, we also have what it takes to get the world's recognition for such accomplishments. For the time being, Israel can translate its cultural and scientific prowess into soft power and bolster our public diplomacy efforts.

Ariel Bolstein is the founder of the Israel advocacy organization Faces of Israel.

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