All in Favor / Selling the War

The chairman of the State Control Committee slammed the government yesterday for failing to improve its public information efforts despite having performed badly on the PR front during the Second Lebanon War.

"We're a year and a half after the war, and still nothing has been done on the matter of public relations," said MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party), whose committee met yesterday to discuss a November state comptroller's report describing the government's failures in explaining the war to the public.

Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel said the government has allocated NIS 4 million for the establishment of a national information unit in the Prime Minister's Office, which will be headed by Yarden Vatikai, who is currently the Jewish Agency spokesperson.

The committee criticized the government for not having actually opened the unit, and decided to reconvene in six months to discuss the issue further.

MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz-Yahad) opposed the government plan, saying it was "liable to cause political considerations to interfere in the state's public-relations needs." Yisrael Maimon, who served as cabinet secretary during the war, noted that times have changed, saying: "In the [1991] Gulf War there was one television station, but today there are countless channels. It can't be that there will be one spokesman everywhere."

But the government apparently doesn't have enough money to pay for adequate spokesmanship. Aviv Shiron, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director general for information, said the ministry has a NIS 10 million information budget, with which it is supposed to market Israel to 5 billion people around the world.

Whatever the budgetary problems of the Foreign Ministry may be, MK Limor Livnat (Likud) criticized its propaganda efforts during the war while praising those of her party chairman, opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu.

"One person traveled on his own personal initiative to explain the war around the world, and took part in more than 50 interviews," she said.

The statement spurred a storm of comments from Netanyahu's political rivals. Vilan suggested sarcastically that Netanyahu should head the information unit, and Kadima MKs complained that the committee was becoming a forum for political campaigning.