At the start of the election campaign for the current Knesset, in January 2006, advertising guru Reuven Adler appeared before the graduates of the Recanati business school at Tel Aviv University and shared his experiences as a strategic adviser. He told them, for example, that he played an important role in Ariel Sharon's decision to leave Likud and set up Kadima, and praised Sharon for precisely following his public relations advisers, describing this behavior as "candidate discipline." Four months later, at the end of the election when Ehud Olmert was elected prime minister, Channel 10 ran a documentary by Anat Goren, "All the Campaign's Men." Adler and his colleagues appeared as power hungry, full of themselves, and believing that the politicians they promote would dance to their tune.
It is therefore not surprising that when the Farm Forum, Sharon's inner circle of advisers, agreed to offer its public relations services to Tzipi Livni, that headline competed Monday with other political headlines, including Olmert's announcement that if he had to choose between Ehud Barak and Daniel Friedmann, he would opt for the latter.
This is what happens when craftsmen, who are supposed to serve politicians, become important national personalities and compete with their clients over the public's attention, to the point where it is not quite clear who was serving whom Monday: Adler, Eyal Arad and Kalman Gayer serving Livni - or she serving them.
Public relations invades all areas of life: It affects media content, theater repertoires, political messages, consumption habits. It penetrates the law and police investigations, and casts its shadow on decision making regarding matters of war and peace. During the Second Lebanon War, the decision to embark on a ground offensive was affected by public relations considerations - the wish to restore the Israel Defense Forces' victorious image.
The Winograd Committee, which investigated the army and government's conduct in that war, hired a public relations consultant to prepare the public and the officials under investigation for its findings.
The disengagement from the Gaza Strip, initiated by Sharon, stemmed in part from image considerations and his strategic advisers' ideas. Olmert's conduct toward the police and the state prosecution is largely determined by his media advisers' recommendations.
The leaders of Kadima's rival parties determine their stances, and their political and parliamentary maneuvers, mostly based on image considerations.
These are a few examples reflecting an all-encompassing phenomenon: In Israel 2008, public relations is taking over substance. The cover is becoming the content. The advertisers and media advisers, who used to serve as an auxiliary force for policy makers, are increasingly claiming more and more space at the decision-making table. In every aspect of public life, decisions are increasingly being made based on public opinion experts' views. At this point, it is difficult to distinguish between spin and reality.
No one knows if the peace overtures the government is sending Syria stem from a genuine opportunity or an ephemeral public relations maneuver; or whether the initiative to separate the role of the attorney general from that of the state prosecutor stems from real necessity or a demagogue's trick; or whether the exchange for the abducted soldiers serves the interests of the state, or the image of its leadership.
The blurring between reality and image is possible when ideology has increasingly given way, where basic societal values have been undermined, where there is no leadership, and where the rules of the game are being constantly changed. Such a diffuse reality lets the opinion thieves fill the void, where authenticity is lacking, and all that remains is masks, and content gives way to form. Language loses its original meaning: A lie is a "spin," a commercial is "a news item," and a public relations stratagem is a "political program."
Livni's glory will not be in hiring the Farm Forum team, but her ability to form an independent worldview for Israel's future, and to find within herself the leadership and the determination to translate her vision into an action plan.
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