JERUSALEM (Reuters) - European correspondents reporting from Israel are depicted as stupid and condescending in video spoofs on a new government website created to help improve Israel’s image abroad.
The lampoon of foreign media suggests Israel is regularly displayed to gullible European audiences by ignorant journalists as a very backward country, marked only by a propensity for war.
Israel is concerned that, after its offensive on the Gaza Strip last year, its image abroad is suffering. The main aim of the website is to offer tips to Israelis traveling abroad on how to correct common myths and misperceptions about their country.
Some members of the sizable foreign press corp here see it as a heavy-handed swipe that could turn public opinion even more against foreign media, who are seen as biased against Israel.
“We see this as a very worrisome development from the point of view of the Israeli authorities, which is not in the interest of the state of Israel and definitely not in the interest of the foreign journalists in Israel,” said Conny Mus, chairman of the Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association (FPA).
The FPA’s nearly 500 members were “already facing an unfriendly working atmosphere which does not fit with a democratic state,” said Mus.
The satirical videos (at www.masbirim.co.il) do not address the issue many Israelis have with the foreign media — its perceived pro-Palestinian slant.
Besides mocking foreign journalists, the clips imply that Europeans — tens of thousands of whom fly in annually to enjoy Tel Aviv beaches, see the Holy Land, and do business here — are ignorant enough to swallow any preposterous image of Israel.
In one short clip, a British TV reporter introduces the camel as a “typical Israeli animal, used by the Israelis to travel from place to place in the desert where they live”.
“It is the means of transport for water, merchandise and ammunition. It is even used by the Israeli cavalry,” he intones smugly, in a David Attenborough pose, atop a sand dune.
In a second clip, a breathless anchorwoman in a French TV studio has breaking news of “the sounds of war” in Israel.
“Our special envoys report shooting and heavy explosions across the country,” she gasps, as Israel innocently celebrates its independence day with fireworks displays and fly-pasts.
A third shows an Israeli barbecue, where a bouncy Spanish TV reporter in riding breeches informs her audience: “Most Israeli homes don’t have electricity or gas, so they use ancient cooking methods, like meat roasted on charcoal”.
Sampling a kebab, she purrs: “Mmm. Primitive but delicious.”
The website is the work of the revamped Ministry of Hasbara, a Hebrew word meaning explanation or publicity.
“Are you fed up with how we are being presented in the world?” asks a voice after each clip. Israel is misunderstood, it says. But volunteers can help correct that by being image ambassadors, countering anti-Israel prejudice.
“Like any other campaign, this is a grotesque satire, and every citizen understands that it’s only satire,” said Hasbara Minister Yuli Edelstein.
“No one I have talked to from the foreign press has told me they were offended by the clips,” he told Reuters. “The clips are not about foreign correspondents or their audience. The aim is to give Israelis the tools to create a new atmosphere where Israel is not represented as the ultimate evil.”
Edelstein said he was recently on a trip to London representing Israel and met British parliamentarians.
“I explained to them that when I have free time to take my wife out, I don’t take her out to fight the Palestinians.”
Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr; editing by Samia Nakhoul