Tel Aviv, Israel- IDF Spokesman Peter Lerner spoke eloquently about his ideals on Monday, February 15th to a group of 43 students in the Write On For Israel program, seven of them from MetroWest. He opened his speech with a brief explanation of the role of the spokespersons unit in ensuring good public relations between the international community and the IDF.
Discussing the challenges and criticism faced by the IDF, Lerner focused on the overexposure of Israel in the geopolitical sphere, noting that there are approximately 700 foreign correspondents in a country of about 8 million citizens. That makes Israel home to the third largest population of foreign correspondents behind Washington D.C. and Brussels.
In his opinion as a spokesman for Israel, he believes that the Israeli Defense Force has “a standard that nobody else could live up to.” Subsequently, Israelis have been left confused by the attacks made against them. As Lerner put it, “casualties are a part of war, all terrible, but strikes are not a war crime.” He talked about how the Israeli Defense Force explicitly acts with great restraint, in accordance with their morals, to reduce the number of civilian casualties.
He explained that the key to success as a spokesperson for the IDF is to remain on the offensive in terms of media relations. As an example, Lerner shared a story of an image that surfaced of an IDF officer putting something that seemed to be a weapon next to a Palestinian injured on the ground. In an effort to hinder the circulation of falsities, IDF personnel were able to enlarge the image and reveal that the soldier was simply putting his radio down, rather than holding a weapon. Using this offensive strategy prohibited Palestinian media, as well as international media, to take the image and create a negative reflection on the IDF.
Elaborating on other techniques the IDF uses to “stay ahead” of the media, Lerner outlined three basic PR strategies used by the army. First, social media is used constantly as a direct route from the IDF to civilians. Through a continuous stream of media including helpful and informative infographics, videos, and even live news, the IDF is able to directly reach the world.
Second, Israeli Defense Force’s keeps close ties with traditional media outlets with a popular following in order to quickly, but accurately, share information with the public. This strategy embodies the purpose of being on the offensive because the IDF makes sure to be first in the race of reporting before that of other sources.
Lastly, public diplomacy is a vital element to the public relations strategies of the IDF. This strategy publicizes and humanizes the actions of the IDF by sharing the law enforcement outline for the soldiers. As Israel, specifically the IDF, is often a target of public scrutiny, it is of utmost importance for the IDF to share as much information with the public as possible to expose their respect and accordance to the justice and law, says Lerner.
Since its inception over 13 years ago, Write On For Israel has educated and empowered more than 500 top high school students from the greater New York area to become informed about world issues affecting Israel and campus leaders when in college. Founded by Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, Write On uses the lens of journalism to transform Jewish teens into confident spokespeople and opinion leaders in preparation for the challenges they will face at college and beyond. Learn more about the program here.