Why US/Israel Face Sinking Polls

When U.S. and Israeli officials look glumly at international polls showing their declining popularity, they often think that just some better salesmanship will do the trick. But the real problem isn’t the pitch; it’s the product, in this case policies that offend much of the world, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

An Israeli think tank, the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, has just issued a report that examines Israel’s efforts at public diplomacy. Selection of this topic as one of the first to be studied by the center, which was established only a year ago, reflects hand-wringing in Israel over why the country seems to be, to put it bluntly but mildly, so darned unpopular around the world.

Is there something fundamentally wrong, Israelis have asked, with how the country conducts public diplomacy and presents its case to audiences around the globe? The report concludes that no, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, Israel has one of the most sophisticated, well-funded and well-managed public diplomacy programs in the world.

The report contrasts the Israeli program with organized efforts to criticize Israel and observes that the latter do not hold a candle to the former. Presentation of the Israeli government’s message to the world is far superior in resources, access, organization and most everything else. The unpopularity, the report concludes, has nothing to do with salesmanship in support of Israeli policies and everything to do with the policies themselves.

There are strong parallels here with the United States, where there also has been much hand-wringing over the years about public diplomacy. The United States has its own unpopularity problem, especially in parts of the world where the negative sentiments about Israel are also strongest.

Various schools of thought have been advanced from time to time about how the United States could do public diplomacy better. Draw in audiences with a soft approach, say some. Hit them harder with a more value-laden ideological approach, say others. Or do a better job of applying the skills of Madison Avenue. Or devote more resources to the task.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attack there was a surge of interest in the subject, of the “why do they hate us” and “how can we get them to stop hating us” variety. One result was a study prepared by an ad hoc advisory group authorized by Congress and chaired by former Ambassador Edward Djerejian that looked at U.S. advocacy efforts in the Arab and Muslim world. The group’s report mainly recommended additional resources for public diplomacy.

Interest in the subject has waned since then. A year ago a standing body that dated back to the 1940s, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, quietly went out of existence when as a budget-cutting gesture Congress did not renew its funding. It was a rather silly gesture; the commission had one paid staff member, who says the commission’s annual budget was $135,000. But maybe there wasn’t a lot of advice left to give anyway.

In one sense there wasn’t. With the United States just as with Israel, the sources of negative feelings abroad are policies, not the quality of efforts to sell the policies. People feel most strongly not about a government’s advertisements and messages but about its actions, specifically, actions that affect directly their lives or the lives of people with whom they identify, or that link the government to other governments that take actions that affect those lives.

The actions range from drone strikes to military occupations to the abetting of Israeli policies in occupied territories. If there is no change in such things, don’t blame the salesmanship.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

17 comments for “Why US/Israel Face Sinking Polls

  1. TheAZCowBoy
    January 5, 2013 at 19:57

    Relationship with the Palestinians? – What relationship?
    The state of its democracy? – What democracy?

    Pariah Israel needs to write itself a Constitution, a Bill of Rights and establish some semblence of permanant borders: “Then you come back, OK, y’all!

  2. TheAZCowBoy
    January 5, 2013 at 19:44

    Oh Borat, why don’t you go and ‘picket’ for “India out of Kashmir!’ On this site – you’re toast!!!

  3. Hillary
    January 5, 2013 at 13:21

    “Few people challenge Israel’s right to exist.” and
    “are you saying Israel doesn’t have the right to exist ?
    used to be the fall back lines for Zionists out of self justifications.
    But what “Israel” is has never been made clear by Zionists no borders etc.etc.
    Israel is the last modern-day colonial-settler experiment, when people from another continent take an existing , populated land for themselves and claim
    legitimacy for this modern colonial-settler experiment while trying to convince the “global community” that it was the moral thing to do.
    So we have Israel ,a state built on myths and narratives with only its nuclear military behemoth, billions of dollars in US assistance and its UN Security Council veto standing between the state and its dismantlement .
    Without these three things, Jews would not live in an entity that has come to be known as the “least safe place for Jews in the world.”
    “Israel is a failed experiment. It is on life-support – pull those three plugs and it is a cadaver, living only in the minds of some seriously deluded Zionists” who think they can get away with it “.
    A new state will be the only solution Muslims, Christians and Jews living together in Palestine as they once did.
    Jews who don’t want to share Palestine as equal citizens with the indigenous Palestinian population – the ones who don’t want to relinquish that which they demanded Palestinians relinquish 64 years ago should take their second passport and go home. Those remaining had better find a positive attitude .
    Palestinians have shown themselves to be a forgiving lot. The amount of carnage they have experienced at the hands of their Jewish oppressors –without proportional response – shows remarkable restraint and faith.
    Israel has no right to exist — again “Israel has no right to exist”.tweet it, post it as your Facebook status update – do it ASAP.
    De-legitimization is on the way for a state built on myths and lies.
    Palestine will be less painful than Israel ever was.

  4. sulphurdunn
    January 5, 2013 at 11:12

    Few people challenge Israel’s right to exist. Many challenge its policies and its influence. They have a right to do that. Most people do not accept the PR canard that Israel is some sort of chosen nation. If that makes them anti-Semites, so be it. It might be a good idea for you to review the fable about the boy who cried wolf.

  5. sulphurdunn
    January 5, 2013 at 10:55

    International law going back to the 17th Century prohibits the elimination of a nation by another through conquest, occupation or annexation. Even the Israeli government hasn’t dared to make the claim that the occupied territories are part of Israel by right of conquest.

  6. paschn
    January 5, 2013 at 09:39

    You’re absolutely right Borat. Fortunately for the tribe, their latest victims in the West are so sublimely ignorant and anxious to please, just as with vampyres, they’ll not only leave them access, they’ll invite them in to “feed”.

  7. paschn
    January 5, 2013 at 02:08

    Why shucks folks, Anyone can see that all that bad press is totally unfounded! What I’d like to know is, when will we have “regime change” here in Israel’s Western colony for crimes against humanity?


    Is it any wonder AmeriKa has an unlimited supply of “boys” to fight for Israel, Rothschild, the Central banks, apple pie and gramma?

    Agent Orange

    Gulf War Syndrome

    Depleted Uranium munitions

    The list of betrayal goes on and on ad nauseum

    they care…..about their elitist friends the world over, not their own.

    • Robert
      January 5, 2013 at 16:32

      I used to support Israel but now I no longer care if it exists. it has alienated every country with it’s arrogance and war-mongering and I suspect like Henry Kissenger said it may not exist in a decade. They brought it on themselves.

  8. HelenBossard
    January 4, 2013 at 19:07

    There are no occupied territories.”

    Really? Where did you get that info?

  9. rosemerry
    January 4, 2013 at 16:47

    Israel, like the USA, goes out of its way by its actions to make people hate it, then pretends to be surprised and hurt. Look at the most recent actions in the UN and Gaza, and how normal governments and humans in the globe react to cruelty and unfairness, and reflect on why Israel may not be loved.
    A 2006 film by Jack Shahan called “Reel Bad Arabs”, linked by a comment to a Philip Giraldi article in ICH a couple of days ago, showed how the US media have depicted Arabs for over 100 years, to see what control of the media can do to perceptions.

  10. rosemerry
    January 4, 2013 at 16:35

    Please go home, borat, and read a few real history books, not MSM and zionist lies.
    Noam Chomsky would be a good start.

  11. Hillary
    January 4, 2013 at 09:46

    “policies that offend much of the world “, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.
    Yes indeed even after the masterful & most sophisticated P.R. spin doctors portray how the US is doing good and poor little Israel in danger of being “eliminated” has to defend itself.
    Indeed the Israeli/US propaganda machine has be congratulated in its success in keeping people “calm” up until now.
    Moreover anyone who dares criticize Israel is silenced automatically with the Anti -semitic label in the US and a Holocaust denier label in Europe .
    US and European phoney “Think Tanks” funded by Jewish Billionaires are the public’s source of opinion blatantly quoted and referenced in our MSM.
    Perhaps the world’s public is at last noticing the absence of any rebuttal to these Israeli/US policy ideas when reality is seen in death and destruction of societies in Palestine , Afghanistan , Iraq , Lybia and Syria etc etc .
    Deformed babies born in these countries is just one result.
    “In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital, Iraq, had 170 new born babies, 24% of whom were dead within the first seven days, a staggering 75% of the dead babies were classified as deformed.”


    • rosemerry
      January 4, 2013 at 16:41

      borat, you really are a bore. Hamas was elected, is confined to Gaza, is constantly harassed by “IDF”. The people are crowded, denied basic necessities, bombed, shot and otherwise illtreated by Israei attacks. THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED AN ARMY, navy, airforce, weapons to fight against the attacks, and the population is not separate from “militants” who try to resist. THIS IS NOT HUMAN SHIELDS BEING USED, but the IDF DO use Palestinians to protect themselves if ever they feel in danger inside Gaza.
      Stop the stupid repetitive lies.

    • HelenBossard
      January 4, 2013 at 19:03

      Hillary will stick to the issue being discussed, while you never do.

  12. F. G. Sanford
    January 4, 2013 at 07:10

    Edward Bernays, the “father of public relations”, chose to call it that instead of “propaganda” because of the associated negative connotation. Today, our military industrial media machine calls it “psy-ops”. It should come as no surprise that Bernays, while working for the Wilson administration, promoted “bringing democracy to all of Europe” as the flagship of his first major coup against public opinion. The nephew of Sigmund Freud, he effectively used techniques of mass psychology, psychoanalysis and knowledge drawn from the social sciences in order to manipulate public opinion and achieve what he called “the engineering of consent”. In his cynical world view, the publics’ democratic judgment was “not to be relied on”, and was most appropriately managed by “enlightened despotism”. Today, we would call that “benign dictatorship”. Without belaboring the point by enumerating Bernays’ many triumphs, suffice to say that his techniques proved wildly successful and consistently effective. They have been refined and improved over the years to a scientific art. The techniques, if you recognize them, are routinely used by CNN, FOX News, the Pentagon, the State Department and virtually every hack politician whose speeches are prepared by experts in the field. For example, everybody should know that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. But that didn’t stop Leon Panetta from mentioning his fictitious role in that debacle while visiting the troops.

    A recent story in the alternative media mentioned a scandal associated with the chairman of a media propaganda agency in Iraq. Apparently, we pay this outfit $60 million a year to conduct “psy-ops” to improve America’s image in that country. Unfortunately for us, the countries we exploit, occupy, bomb and destabilize see right through the lies. First hand eye-witness direct evidence to the contrary is the best antidote to “psy-ops” disinformation. Our “enemies” know all too well when we lie. After all, they’re our victims. Back home, it’s an entirely different story. The reason Americans ask, “Why do they hate us”, is because CNN, FOX, MSN, NBC, ABC, CBS, The New York Times and The Washington Post are all on the same script. And Americans believe it. If our government wastes $60 million a year trying to convince people we bombed into oblivion that we are the good guys, how much do you think they invest to maintain the myth that we’re “bringing democracy” over there? In Wilson’s day, Bernays made sure America went along with war to prevent financial hardship for American bankers if England lost. It would have served them right. Today, it’s the oil interests our propaganda machine is protecting.

    “Psy-ops” is much more effective against a gullible, misinformed domestic population with no access to alternative information. The big joke in Germany as the allies began relentless bombing was about history’s most famous Propaganda Minister: “If the allies don’t stop bombing soon, Goebbels will blast them with a devastating speech”. The Germans finally realized they were being hoodwinked. We, on the other hand, have only gotten our first taste of retaliation. Ironically, we still ask, “Why do they hate us?” Corporate media manipulation will most likely continue to succeed in keeping us wondering. Unless, like the Germans, we are finally exposed to truths too horrific to ignore.

    • rpdiplock
      January 9, 2013 at 07:17


  13. Roger Thomas
    January 4, 2013 at 05:30

    The Zionists certainly have much better access to the media (I wonder why) than their critics and their presentation is slick but too slick and glib. A child could see through their sanctimonious claptrap. The World knows that they are the brutal aggressors and ruthless oppressors of a defenceless people who are confined in one big concentration camp. They operate a barbaric apartheid regime
    and flaunt every law of man and god. Any other regime would have been blacklisted, sanctioned and threatened with intervention.

    God does not bless America for its subservience to Zion’s wishes.

    Zionists get the hell out of Palestine.

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