Friday, June 04, 2010

the revolution may be televised after all....,


Video - Freedom flotilla images.

Wired | How much money did it cost the Israeli government to cancel all vacations for Navy personnel, have them all on standby, keep several surveillance planes in the air to watch the flotilla, keep destroyers ready to intercept the incoming flotilla, intercept the boats, set up a holding and transit facility at Ashdod to process all the activists brought there, put all the activists on planes and buy them tickets back to their countries of origin?

Answer: Millions of shekels.

And now after the fact, how much money is it costing Israel to bolster security at embassies and consulates across the world; to send out thousands of police across the country to quell riots; to treat all the foreign wounded at our hospitals? How costly will the worsening relations with much of the international community be?

Answer: This is hard to quantify, but it won’t be cheap.

The asymmetry in money spent and effect achieved between the two sides is staggering. Call it the # sign versus the $ sign. The flotilla organizers spent almost nothing and won the day; Israel spent huge amounts of money and ended up with egg on its face.

The narrative that navy commandos were attacked with metal bars, knives and possibly guns, while trying to take over a flotilla meant to break the naval blockade on Gaza — after Israel offered to transfer humanitarian aid — was drowned out on the social media networks by charges of an unprovoked massacre of peaceful activists on a humanitarian mission to besieged Gaza.

In events like these, the traditional media take their cue from social media, whose “reporters” are on the scene. TV stations use images and sounds they find posted on Twitter, not the other way round. This is also good for them because it means they don’t have to spend money on sending crews on site.

But why is Twitter so important? And does it have any real-world impact?

Just ask the Iranian regime, who pulled out all the stops, and the generators, to try shut down the social networking site just this year when the popular uprising against Ahmadinejad’s stolen re-election relied heavily on Twitter to organize rallies and smuggle out photos and videos of regime suppression. Here again, traditional media relied on material smuggled out through the social networks.

Social media is cheap and is antithetical to centralized bodies and subverts their authority. It is, so far, proving to be one of the asymmetrical weapons of choice for grassroots activists.

At the other end of the spectrum, Israeli officials, especially those in the Foreign Ministry, the Information Directorate of the Prime Minister’s Office, Minister for Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and others, decry the lack of money and resources that Israel spends on its public diplomacy, on its hasbara.

They point out that the MFA’s PR budget is smaller than the advertising budget for one of Israel’s yogurt companies. For instance, one of the ideas bandied about in recent years has been the establishment of an “Israeli Al-Jazeera” to pump out Israel’s message 24 hours a day on satellite TV. (And no, it wouldn’t feature videos this like this.) There have even been serious attempts to find the vast amount of money to do this, with the finances mostly coming from Jewish philanthropists in the United States.

But these attempts have come to naught. Other attempts to re-brand Israel away from its image as a land of conflict and occupation, such as creating “Tel-Aviv beaches” in Vienna, Manhattan and several other locations have failed abysmally. Each “beach” cost the state more than $100,000 — with the sand, the money and their purpose scattered by the first wind.

It is becoming increasingly clear that money is not the only issue, and that the people charged with disseminating Israel’s message still don’t get it.

Setting aside the obvious issue of real diplomatic progress with the Palestinians and other Arab states, and the effect that would have on Israel’s image, the tiny, brainy and resourceful Jewish state is light-years away from its adversaries on communicating its message. Money is not the answer: forward-looking and creative use of traditional and new media is of urgent importance.