Camels and TV channels? Hasbara misses the point.

Israel’s new Ministry of Hasbara and Diaspora is not a shocking development, though probably ten years late. The thing is, it seems it’s completely missing the point. The heart is in the right place, but the message is… a bit off.

The videos on the homepage: Do British people honestly think we ride camels? Who cares if the Spanish don’t think we cook in indoor kitchens? The only one of the video examples on the new government-funded hasbara website that might actually make sense is the French woman reporting on gun shots heard all over Israel all the time. Acceptable, as it’s what a lot of people abroad (Jewish or not) truly tend to think after watching news coverage.

Then there are the tips offered when speaking to non-Israelis on your travels. Connect to someone by using broad hand motions, wavering voice tone and good body posture when speaking about Israel to someone else.  Ok, I’m simplifying it, a lot of the advice makes sense – body language is important. But. It’s a shame there is no mention of learning about the other culture before you go; studying the etiquette and ways of that region so you don’t make a wrong gesture or tone of voice and offend your hosts. I find that cultural-awareness and respect for other kinds of people is a problem, even inside our borders.

But the biggest thing the campaign completely misses: Derech eretz. Remembering who you are wherever you are, minding your manners and being a good example. Israelis have a reputation for traveling with no etiquette, no empathy and no concept that everyone is watching and making judgments. When you’re a guest in an another country, you have to play by their rules, or, yes, feel unwelcome.

And I don’t know that jumping on every native, waving your hands in a loud voice, talking up your own country is going to do just that. Maybe the best thing is to be a polite, appreciative, curious, memorable person who sets a great example of what Israel is deep down.