Bad English ain’t gonna win Israel’s public relations war

Friday, August 3, 2001 | by

GIL HOFFMAN



JERUSALEM—The Foreign Ministry admitted Wednesday that it had a difficult time explaining Tuesday's Israel Defense Force helicopter strike on the Hamas headquarters in Nablus that killed six of the faction's members and two Palestinian children. But the spokesman for the coordinator of government activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had it even tougher.

His department couldn't spell the name of the city in which the attack took place, nor could it complete a sentence in English.

A press release sent to foreign media outlets around the world was headlined: "The Palestinian authority is increasing in significant way the incitement actions. [sic]"

Contradicting government policy, the document, which was sent on official Defense Ministry stationery, referred to Israel's practice of targeting Palestinian terrorists using the taboo word "assassination."

"The Palestinian establishment media is devoting her main broadcasting from the morning to intensive dealing to the assassination in Nabulas and increasing in significant way the dosage and the sort of the incitement broadcasting, the media also started to broadcast national songs in very high frequency, [sic]" the first sentence read.

The spokesman, Moshe Karif, who said he did not see the press release before it was sent out, had his title changed on the document to "spokesman of coordinator of government nations in the occupied territories."

Karif said the document was improperly translated from the Hebrew by a soldier "who didn't know what he was doing and shouldn't have been doing it in the first place."

"The person who translated it did it in a very unprofessional manner, and it was released without being checked," Karif said. "He will not return to the job."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's foreign press spokesman, Ra'anan Gissin, said that the mistakes are regrettable and are due to a newly expanded spokesman's unit in the office of the coordinator, which is just getting off its feet.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Gissin said. "I will make sure it doesn't happen again."

Foreign Ministry officials were flabbergasted by the errors. Moshe Arens, who served as both foreign minister and defense minister, said it "sounds like a mistake that will be corrected in short order," which "would have been one mistake too many if it actually was authorized."

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres scolded the Israeli media for saying that Israel has a policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders.

"We don't have an assassination policy," Peres told Channel 1 after a report by its diplomatic correspondent. "That report will cause us tremendous damage."

Gideon Meir, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for public affairs, complained Wednesday that fighting a PR effort against Hamas is difficult, because the terrorist organization can feel free to lie.

"They don't need to coordinate information [with families of victims], they don't have to be trustworthy, they can come and say bold-facedly that Israel broke the cease-fire," Meir told Israel Radio. "That's why seconds after anything happens we already have to deal with a systematic campaign of lies."

Danny Shek of the Ministry's European department told Israel Radio that it would have been easier to explain the attack had he known about it in advance. He complained his envoys were not prepared to explain the attack before images broadcast around the world confronted them without warning.

Gissin said that the attack had to be carried out quickly and if delayed, the terrorists would not have been stopped in time. "There are times when policy and the duty of a government to protect its citizens from imminent danger overrides all other considerations, including the government's PR actions," he said.