The Challenges Of Defending The IDF To The International Press Corps
Reflections from a Write On For Israel participant

The Challenges Of Defending The IDF To The International Press Corps

IDF Spokesman, Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner posing with the Write On For Israel 2017 students. Courtesy of Julian Biller
IDF Spokesman, Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner posing with the Write On For Israel 2017 students. Courtesy of Julian Biller

Right off the plane early Monday morning, the students of Write on for Israel literally hit the ground running. After a hike exploring the roots of the Jewish people and a tour of the Rabin institute, the students had the honor and privilege of hearing from Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner, head spokesman for the IDF. Lerner is tasked with speaking to the three primary audiences for the IDF: The Israeli people worried about their children and siblings, an international community which is eager to hear about the actions and concerns of the IDF, and the Arab world best critical of the actions of the army.

Lerner thoughtfully explained that his job is fivefold; his prime concern being to defend the legitimacy and justifications for actions of the IDF. The IDF takes actions from a strictly defensive perspective- Lerner must explain this to the international community. As Lerner stated, journalists would question if a rocket is deemed a threat if it did not cause harm. However, what is entirely disregarded is the legitimacy of the rocket itself as a weapon being used with the intent to harm Israel. Therefore, when the IDF must respond, Lerner must convey this truth to the journalists reporting to the international community.

Lerner continued that he must also define who the enemy is as well as the types of threats they pose to Israel. The actions the IDF takes to defend the State need to ensure a positive change instead of a cyclic reaction. In other words if an attack occurs, the IDF’s response will need to ensure that another attack will not ensue to prevent another necessary response. He must therefore answer to the questioned morality and professionalism of the army and ensure that both are firm and unmoving. It is extremely difficult, as Lerner explained, to say that soldiers eighteen years of age are able to not only take responsibility for their own actions, but literally take the lives of others into consideration as well. Lerner must then ensure that basic training in specialized units is sufficient, seeing as Israel has the most moral army in the Middle East. The value of human life is always of the utmost importance in the IDF no matter what side of the spectrum their political opinions, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and even support of Israel fall on. Lerner’s task is to convey this reality to journalists’ from around the globe while the media continues to portray the IDF in a less than positive light.

Lerner stated that the last two aspects of his fivefold task are to report on the local trends, such as technology developed by Israel’s start up nation being used in the army, as well as the diversity representing a microcosm of the Israeli people. Lerner then continued to explain what he must convey to the third audience of the IDF: the Arab audience. This audience, specifically those who are blatantly opposed to Israel need to understand fundamental elements of the army. This message comes in the form of everything from hope to deterrence. He speaks about the wounded Syrians being treated in Israeli hospitals even though the countries are officially at war with one another, showing that Israel is open to peace. However, those in opposition to Israel often need to be told a message of deterrence from attacking in the future. Lerner went on to explain that the IDF must tell their aggressors exactly why they should not attack Israel. This message being threefold: we will not swim out of Israel, we have the ability to shoot your rockets out of the sky, and we know who your terrorists are and where they live and we will find them.

IDF Spokesman, Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner, speaking to the Write On students. Courtesy of Julian Biller

He stressed that when talking to the critical Arab audience as well as the international community on social media, it is vital to be proactive. The IDF initiates the majority of their press conferences and have about seven hundred foreign media correspondents at a time when the atmosphere is relatively quiet. Despite these efforts, the media has an agenda outside that of defending the IDF. The media is interested in selling stories due to the fact that a newspaper business, is just that; a business. They will sell headlines that tell a story about Israel instead of reporting Israel’s story. As Lerner put it, if the narrative fits the media’s desired “mold” they will use the story and if not, then they don’t. Journalists have the ability to judge and tell certain stories and not others. This power is taken from them through social media. The essence behind social media is that the IDF has the ability to communicate directly to the public without the middle man of journalists. They therefore can tell Israel’s story from the frontlines instead of from a press conference muddled with internal judgements.

At the end of the day, news agencies will have their biases in terms of Israel just as every individual does. Therefore the IDF will have to make it difficult to maintain these judgements with the promise of hope, morality, legitimacy, and professionalism. Being founded on the premise of defense instead of offense as well as instilling a core value of human life, gives the IDF an advantage over all other armies in this regard. A country with this kind of morality deserves nothing but respect and awe, and in the future it hopefully will.

Rebecca Meller is a student at SAR Academy and is a participant of Write On For Israel 2017.

read more: