Text size

As we know, when it comes to our enemies, there are known knowns. That is to say, there are enemies that we know are bent on our destruction - Hamas, and Hezbollah and Iran, Al Qaida, the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad.

We also know that there are known unknowns. That is to say, there are enemies that we know are bent on our destruction even if they don't know it themselves.

The right among us know them as the media, the Sheinkinite, the refusenik, Yossi Beilin, Ehud Olmert; the left among us know them as the radical rabbi, the Hebronite, the refusenik, Effie Eitam, Ehud Olmert.

But there are also unknown unknowns, the enemies we don't know we don't know - until, that is, the damage is done. Then we learn their names, after they have damaged Israel's image in the same way the air force strikes innocent bystanders - inadvertently, and with lethal force.

In fact, one reason we don't suspect them as enemies is that they are sworn to enhance, protect and defend Israel's image. Meet two of them - Naftali Tamir and Danny Seaman.

"Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia," Tamir, Israel's ambassador to Australia, told Haaretz last week, setting out what would soon prove to be an ill-fated vision for expanding Israeli relations in the Far East.

"We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don't have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not; we are basically the white race. We are on the western side of Asia and they are on the southeastern side."

Or take Danny Seaman, director of the Government Press Office, whose job it is to help journalists, especially foreign correspondents, cover Israel and have access to Israel's point of view.

Seaman was asked to comment on a case in which veteran, Israel-based foreign correspondent Joerg Bremer of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung may be barred from re-entering Israel after he challenged seemingly arbitrary - and perhaps politically slanted - practices of granting work visas to journalists.

Irked that the German government agreed to help Bremer in his fight, Seaman responded, "I feel like screwing him over just because of this. What kind of gall is this, for the German government to interfere in Israel's internal affairs? How are journalists different from any other foreign workers?"

Told that Bremer maintained that the visa difficulties were politically based, Seaman's reply was nothing if not direct. "I maintain that he's an idiot. That's ridiculous. If I issued press cards according to content, no one at Haaretz would get a card."

Seaman wasn't through yet. Bremen had quoted Seaman as saying that the visa situation suited the GPO chief, effectively granting Seaman control over journalists. Seaman, hearing this, went on the defensive, telling Haaretz:

"I told him something like that? He's a piece of shit. When there were discussions [over a solution], I said I wasn't willing for the GPO to be the one that decides, so no one could say that there was any scheming. He's just a miserable liar. He's a piece of shit."

Let's face it. Tamir is not the problem, and neither is Seaman. True, as senior government spokesmen, they speak in our name. The truth is, however, that when it comes to public relations, there are things that we know that we don't know - and that we know we don't want to know.

There are good reasons why Israelis are constitutionally bad at public relations. The first is this: As a people, Israelis hate public relations. They hate the very idea of it. They hate the practice of it. They believe that PR always works to the detriment of Israel, war after war, report after report.

The very concept of public relations goes against every cultural fiber in the sabra psyche. It violates the sabra sacraments of directness, bluntness, in-your-face, come-what-may hyper-openness. "We know the truth - here it is, deal with it," the Israeli psyche screams. To minimum avail.

To Israelis, PR reeks of artifice, of lying, of hypocrisy, of everything that is phony in the UN, in the anti-Semite, in Western civilization, in the etiquette of the literal and emotional bazaar of the Middle East.

Israelis distrust PR, detest its restraints, have no faith in its consequences. No wonder they're so bad at it.

No wonder that no matter how bad reality makes Israel look, our PR effort can still make it look worse. Broken English? Lunkheaded arguments? Utter lack of understanding of the target audience?

No problem. The real truth is on our side. No problem. They hate us anyway. No problem. Hamevin yavin - those who already understand, will get it.

For decades, work in public relations was doled out as political patronage, or as a solution for unwanted civil servants or injured, disgruntled or well-connected army officers.

Rabin hated PR, Shamir hated it, Barak hates it, Sharon was intensely suspicious of it. Even Netanyahu, as telegenic and media savvy as he is, is often hostile to reporters and bitter about his image.

Little wonder, then, that there are those, among official spokesmen for Israel, who don't know that they don't know what they're doing.

Too bad - for Israel - that they're not better at keeping at least that to themselves.