Faltering Arab public relations can miss an opportunity

Ray Hanania’s Column

Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Israel armed itself heavily with several public relations firms.

But apparently, there is good PR and there is bad PR. Someone gave Israeli Prime Minister some bad advice when he stood up and tried to exploit the attacks against the World Trade Center by saying that Israel has been the target of the same kind of terrorism as that experienced on Sept. 11.

Sharon’s self-serving assertions came at the height of American public anguish over the disastrous attack which not only claimed the lives of some 6,000 Americans, destroyed two of the nation’s most important business icons, but also sent the nation’s economy into a downward spiral.

The effort to capitalize on the tragedy by Sharon was intended as a PR coup. But it turned into a PR nightmare for Israel, not because Arab public relations was prepared to exploit the misstep, but because Americans suddenly started to associate Israel with the attacks.

Here’s how.

For many Americans, the attack in New York is so devastating and intrusive in their lives, it has really impacted them more than any other tragedy that has taken place.

They felt the pain on Sept. 11, and that pain continued for several weeks after. Even the bombing of Afghanistan is not enough to quench the American thirst for revenge.

They want more.

But as the awoke from the anguish of the tragedy, they began to equate American foreign policy directly to the terrorist attack.

Sharon wanted Americans to equate the terrorist attack to the violence that has taken place in Israel, although there is a big difference. While some of the attacks against Israel have been terrorism (such as the Sbarro’s attack), much of the violence involves Palestinians who are defending themselves against Israeli aggression.

Until now, the Americans have brushed off the Intifadah II as “more of the same,” viewing the conflict as un-resolvable.

Yet, recent polls here show that many Americans are now re-examining American foreign policy in the Middle East and are asking, “Why the hell are we really supporting Israel?”

It’s a good question.

They are also asking themselves, “Are we really the targets because of American policy in Israel, as Prime Minister Sharon asserted in his press conference?”

Sharon, seeing the pressure mount, then came out and criticized the United States, demanding that American foreign policy not sacrifice Israel to “appease” the Arab coalition they were reaching out to.

That slap in the face of the American people was felt by many Americans who saw Sharon’s impertinent remarks as insulting given the billions of tax dollars Americans have given to Israel over the years.

Americans have suffered a lot for their support of Israel’s refusal to make a real peace with the Palestinians and the Arab World, and now that policy is coming home to roost.

But sadly, Palestinian and Arab World spokesmen seem incapable of seeing these simple patterns, the only thing that might save Sharon from himself.

Instead of cultivating an effective strategy to exploit Sharon’s slip, the Palestinians and Arab World spokespeople have stepped back, shaken by the events that have taken place and the internal fighting inspired by Hamas gunmen in the Gaza strip.

Sadly, Israel may come out of this with a black eye, but its long-term impact on American foreign policy is not as certain.

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