It's easy to chuckle at "Masbirim Yisrael" ("Explaining Israel"), the Information and Diaspora Ministry's campaign to give Israelis "tired of seeing how we are portrayed in the world" the tools to shape the country's image. The promotion's television spots showing Israelis riding camels and barbecuing, as well as the Web site's irritating lists of trivial achievements resemble repeats of 1960s comedy sketches rather than a 21st-century public relations project.
But more than ridiculous, the campaign is disconcerting. "Explaining Israel" reveals the worldview of Benjamin Netanyahu's government: limitless self-righteousness, eternal hostility toward the Arab and Muslim worlds, a view of Palestinians as invaders and inciters, and commitment to developing the West Bank settlements. This PR drive must not be viewed just as a gimmick, or an attempt to justify the unnecessary existence of the Information Ministry. Instead, it represents how the government wants its citizens to understand their country and represent it to the world.
The campaign's Web site waxes lyrical over the beauty of Judea and Samaria and the grand achievements of the settlement endeavor, even directing visitors to the links of West Bank regional councils. The ministry warns against the evacuation of settlements and withdrawal from elevated areas, which, it says, would turn Israel into a firing range for rockets and render it vulnerable to invasion. Palestinian communities are not part of its landscape - the Palestinian Authority is portrayed as an incitement factory bent on destroying Israel, one that falsifies demographic figures and is headed by a Holocaust denier. Still, the ministry recommends that Israelis "say with conviction that Israel will never lose hope for peace."
It is difficult to square these messages with Netanyahu's frequent calls for "two states for two peoples" and a return to peace talks. Does the prime minister really want to talk to inciters and Holocaust deniers? What would they talk about - about withdrawal, which the government believes would endanger Israel?
"Explaining Israel" exposes in full the two-faced nature of the prime minister and his government. Even worse, the campaign does not offer hope for working toward a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, only baseless faith that hasbara - public diplomacy - will lead the international community to abandon the Palestinians and begin supporting the settlers. This attitude should deeply distress all Israelis "tired of seeing how we are portrayed in the world."