public diplomacy

Public Diplomacy Can Address Israel’s Crisis of Credibility Among U.S. Millenials


American millenials are increasingly viewing Israel negatively despite the strong relationship between the two countries. Public diplomacy by the Israeli government is demonstrably insufficient and Israel must respond to criticisms from the world community instead of withdrawing and facing inwards. To respond to the increasingly negative views of Israel among American millenials, the Israeli government should acknowledge Israeli crimes and changing Israeli policy towards Palestinians and Arabs, expand the Hasbara program, and expand the Taglit program.

Only by using public diplomacy to directly address the people most disturbed by these conflicts and the horrific human rights abuses of the Israeli government can we have an open conversation with them – and that is the only way Israel can expect to change the narrative of s

Israel Map

Image courtesy of the State Department website on Israel

ettlements and apartheid.

From March 26 to March 28, 2017, 18,000 Zionists flocked to D.C. to hear speakers such as Nikki Haley and Mike Pence attend informational panels, discussions, and presentations, and connect with people from around the country at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference.

However, it wasn’t the event itself that was widely publicized on campus and social media. Outside of the AIPAC conference, organizations such as IfNotNow and Jewish Resistance protested the Israeli government’s coziness with the Trump administration and its silence on the issue of settlements. According to Pew Research Center, 43% of millenials support Israel while 27% support Palestine, compared to previous generations, which support Israel by more than a three-to-one margin.

These numbers are a shocking departure from decades of consensus on Israel in foreign policy circles, but they mirror a larger global trend. A 2013 BBC Poll found that Israel was one of the most negatively viewed countries among global publics, beating out only North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran. Although often lampooned in media like The O’Reilly Factor, today’s young people will influence the future and are now the largest generation in America after overtaking Baby Boomers.

According to Gallup, there is an 18-point gap between older and younger Americans on Israel. This has been highly visible in increased progressive and youth activism during and after the 2016 election. This has increased the support of the BDS movement on college campuses. Other movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March highlight the Palestinian cause as an intersectional issue and an extension of their fight for justice. 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the first Jewish American to win a U.S. presidential primary and the most popular politician among young people, questioned the bipartisan consensus on the Middle East by calling for a more even-handed role for the U.S. and less military aid to Israel. Although several other factors such as increasing foreign policy political polarization and anti-Semitism absolutely play a role, the most important reason Israel is now viewed negatively by a loud 27% of millennials are the policies the Israeli government has pursued and the reaction to those policies.

Most importantly, the Israeli government needs to regain its credibility by changing both its actual policies towards Palestinians and Arabs and the messaging of those issues. None of these other issues matter if the Israeli government lacks credibility. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, during the last election, broadcast that “Arab voters are coming out to the polls in droves,” presumably so that his right-wing base would go vote out of fear. Netanyahu must see the impact of his statements on the public of the world and the United States, not just the Israeli public. Changing the tone of Israeli government messaging will take a concerted effort. Critically, the economic and military barriers preventing Palestinians equal opportunity must be eliminated before Israel can expect results. The current policy is cruel and indefensible; the onus is on Israel to change policy and regain credibility among U.S. millenials.

Another public diplomacy strategy the Israeli government can employ is educating the American public about the history of the conflict through Hasbara (explanation), which has been successful, but the program has failed to connect with a new generation. Those who understand the history could be less likely to see Israel as the villain. For example, although people still call for a unilateral withdrawal from West Bank settlements, despite the Israeli government’s attempt to do that in the Gaza Strip in 2005 in what was viewed as a disaster by even pro-withdrawal Israeli leaders and led to the election of Hamas. If young people are aware of the history of the conflict and the nuanced questions they are raising, they might be more likely to view the conflict with some subtlety.

This program would be much more credible if it explained the whole situation and not only the Israeli side. Israeli public diplomacy should support truth and historical accuracy by owning up to Israeli transgressions and encouraging those who are hostile to Israel in the world community not to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as black and white. There are also those who are blind to Israel’s atrocities and choose to be in denial. The Israeli-American public diplomacy approach should be to ask both parties to live in ‘the gray area’ and come to the table to address these issues without seeing the other side as the enemy. For those who see the conflict in stark terms of ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’ and aren’t exposed to the nuanced historical context of the issue, it is easy to see Israel as the villain. That narrative cannot be the dominant one in such a complex conflict.

Finally, a public diplomacy program that should be expanded is the Taglit (Birthright) program, one of the most successful cultural exchanges in the world. According to their website, Birthright is now the world’s largest educational tourism program after only being started in 1999. This program should be expanded to include more people, as it currently only allows those who moved away from Israel before the age of 12 to return for birthright. The program is also restricted to 18-29 year-olds currently but there are many younger Jews that would go on the program earlier and could spread the word about it to their peers before they go to college. The program has faced controversy at times for ignoring the Palestinian issue., The Taglit program should discuss and reflect on the history of Israel and human rights violations, including recent ones.

As shown through polling and the activism of youth in recent days, views on Israel are changing in the millennial generation. Addressing that issue should be a key goal of Israeli public diplomacy and they can begin to do that by changing the policies and messaging and through improving existing programs. Only through renewed attention to the issue and key changes in public diplomacy strategy can Israel change the existing narratives among young people.




7 thoughts on “Public Diplomacy Can Address Israel’s Crisis of Credibility Among U.S. Millenials

  1. I am a personal fan of blogs such as this that integrate millennial targeting as our generation is in the hot seat and next up to make big decisions. I would love more information regarding your statistics — specifically the correlation between the Pew Research Study and the Gallup poll you sited. Potentially a follow up article on the numbers and what they mean for the publics in addition to how the publics relate to the numbers as you noted.

    Posted by Amanda Menas (@amanda_menas) | April 30, 2017, 2:49 pm
  2. It is refreshing to see a recommendation for a public diplomacy action to be made by a government that is not the United States. I am interested in how discussing recent human rights violations would help Israel promote itself to millennials. I have found this article from the USC public diplomacy blog about how Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s social media PD campaigns are not responding to one another:

    Posted by Robert O'Shaughnessy | April 30, 2017, 2:20 pm
  3. I find a lot of parallels between the facts and figures posed in this article and the article that I wrote on Russia’s influence in Greece due to successful PD. In accordance with US policy goals, there should definitely be action taken to encourage added support for Israel and that all begins with realizing that there is a problem with support for the country’s actions in the first place. I believe the recommendations that I put forth in my own blog post can partially serve as a framework that applies to the situation in this article as well. The link to that can be found here:

    Posted by pervoideleo | April 30, 2017, 2:03 pm
  4. I think that this blog touches upon a really important and very relevant issue on U.S. college campuses. I completely agree that it is essential to expand both the Hasabara and the Taglit programs. Do you think that trips that are exclusively for Jewish people to visit Israel such as Birth Right further alienate non Jewish Americans and could contribute to their lack of support for Israel? I know that you suggested that it should be expanded, but I am wondering if you considered the option for non-Jews? Here is an article that dicusses this idea:

    Posted by lolaflomen | April 30, 2017, 1:10 pm
  5. While I think this is an interesting viewpoint, some of your information about Taglit seems easily countered. Any person of Jewish heritage can attended birthirght – not just those who “moved away from Israel before age 12”. In fact, you don’t have to be raised Jewish, or fully believe in the religion to go – furthermore Taglit has recently expanded programs to include interfaith couples, and alumni programs for those who have already visited. Furthermore, by saying that AIPAC only includes “zionists” that attending the conference, you leave out many people interested in simply American-Israeli relations. Someone who is in favor of Israeli statehood isn’t necessarily a Zionist, and a Zionist isn’t necessarily someone who doesn’t believe in a two-state solution. Perhaps you can find some more information here.

    Posted by melissaholzberg | April 28, 2017, 4:37 pm
  6. This blog took an interesting approach to the problem of Israeli messaging and viewpoints. One of the programs mentioned, Birthright, is one of the most effective programs, but less people are taking part. This article from The New York Times provides information about this issue:

    Posted by sarinakaplan | April 26, 2017, 9:28 pm
  7. find that Taglit and Hasbara are great programs: super engaging and I agree with your ideas of expanding them to really reach the millennial generation. However, I feel that the reason AIPAC is so vastly protested, at least in my experience from attending the conference, is that, while it is a “non-partisan” organization, being liberal minded there felt almost alienating. Their target audience over the past few years has begun to shift further right: do you foresee anything AIPAC and pro-Israel lobbying groups can do to reestablish supporting Israel as a non-partisan issue?

    Posted by morgan0717 | April 26, 2017, 10:03 am

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