The Prime Minister’s Office wants to set up a unit of students to operate on social networks as undercover spokesmen for the government and its actions. And it’s right to want to do so: At a time when clouds of disbelief frequently hover over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it has no choice but to recruit new spokesmen, people whose credibility is presently intact. This is a cynical plan that reflects not only the depth of international suspicion of Israel’s government, but also the fact that Netanyahu and his staff favor public diplomacy tricks above all else.
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According to the report published by Barak Ravid in on Tuesday Haaretz, the government wants to invest almost NIS 3 million in deploying hundreds of students to promote its positions on social media networks – but with no governmental identification. The public diplomacy units to be established at the universities will operate under the direction of the public diplomacy staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, but “The entire idea of the setup is based on activity of students and by students,” and therefore, “the idea requires that the state’s role not be highlighted.”
The above quotes are taken from the official request to the government tenders committee to approve the contract with the National Student Union, which will be a party to this semi-secret project. The honesty of those behind the program is impressive. Perhaps we should praise the government for having finally understood that its official words and deeds can no longer convince the public, either in Israel or abroad. To accomplish that, it turns out, it’s better to pretend and to pay others.
This crude attempt by the Likud-led government to burnish its image by recruiting students should also be quashed in the interest of the students themselves. The bribes in the form of stipends that the Prime Minister’s Office will pay to the hundreds of warriors in the universities’ “public diplomacy units” will raise questions about the honesty of their activity. It’s also safe to assume that Arab students won’t make it through the project’s screening process.
The student union’s cooperation with this enterprise turns it into an arm of the government’s propaganda apparatus. Aren’t these the very students who, for instance, ought to be rising up against the harm Netanyahu’s diplomatic policy will cause to research? Aren’t these the very students who protested against his economic policy? Instead of protecting academia against political interference, the student leaders are helping subordinate it to directives from the Prime Minister’s Office.
A solution to Israel’s “image problem” won’t be achieved by dirty tricks. To accomplish that, what’s needed is a change in policy.