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'Muddling through' hasbara: Israeli government communications policy, 1966-1975

Cummings, Jonathan (2012) 'Muddling through' hasbara: Israeli government communications policy, 1966-1975. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis is the history of an intense period of Israeli attempts to address the issue of how the state should communicate its national image, particularly on the international stage. Between 1966 and 1975, the Eshkol, Meir and Rabin governments invested far more time and energy in the management of Israel’s international image than the governments before or after. Those responsible for this policy were informed by a developing Israeli national political culture that bore the strong influence of pre-independence Jewish history and which reinforced the simple and pervasive concept of hasbara (literally ‘explaining’) as Israel’s communications strategy. At the same time external factors, particularly the wars of 1967 and 1973, made government information efforts and Israel’s international image far more politically important. Yet, by the end of the period, nothing much had changed. This thesis examines why that should be the case. Using newly-released archive material, personal interviews and existing research, this thesis presents a new assessment of the domestic determinants that shaped the formulation, institutionalization, and execution of Israeli policy in the period under review. Three themes emerge from examining the domestic sources of Israeli government communications strategy in the period under question. Together, they explain why such an intense period of activity should produce such limited results. Firstly, the political culture of hasbara, an instinctively defensive, tactical, persuasive and Jewishly-rooted approach to generation and maintenance of international support for Israeli foreign policy aims, itself a residue of the pre-state period, proved an imperfect lens through which to view the world, and was an obstacle to cogent policy-making. Secondly, structural features of Israeli politics contributed to the lack of substantive progress in addressing the perceived failures of hasbara. The ruling Mapai party was split between the dominant ‘activist’ camp, which broadly dismissed the pursuit of international legitimacy in favour of the ‘practical Zionism’ of David Ben-Gurion, and the ‘diplomats’ who attached a much greater value to it. However, whilst the Mapai ‘diplomats’ were sometimes strong enough to limit ‘activist’ policy, they lacked the power to articulate or pursue a real alternative. Given Mapai’s unchallenged leadership at a national level, the sporadic bursts of opposition – in parliamentary or public debate - on this issue in the period under review produced very little real change. In addition, the environment in which these issues were discussed accentuated the role of personality in foreign policy decision-making. Finally, in the absence of clear political leadership, policy was often decided by bureaucratic ‘muddling through’, a model that describes incremental change from a limited set of options, an already-familiar feature of Israeli political culture.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Jonathan Cummings
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Schulze, Kirsten

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