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From Israel, a plan to win friends and influence people by working on its image

The government of Israel is launching a citizens' campaign to change their image, including 70 workshops for Israelis on how to hold a civil discussion when they travel abroad.

By Ilene PrusherStaff writer / February 22, 2010

Israel will be working on it's image abroad by training its citizens on how to talk to foreigners while traveling.

Dan Balilty/AP

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Jerusalem

Acknowledging that Israel's image in the world these days is perhaps not at its apex, the Israeli government is asking its citizens to be more proactive in shaping the image of the Jewish state around the globe.

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The government is launching a media campaign to get Israelis to "change the picture" of how they are portrayed through the global media, and dozens of workshops on how to conduct one-on-one discussions with people they meet when they travel abroad.

Depending on one's perspective, the timing could be seen as either ideal or poor. Last week, it was revealed that at least six of the 11 assassins responsible for killing a Hamas operative in Dubai in January traveled on fake passports in the name of Israelis who'd immigrated from European countries. On Monday, a block of European Union foreign minister blasted the fact that "those involved in this action used fraudulent EU member-states’ passports and credit cards acquired through the theft of EU citizens’ identities." And, the controversy over the 2009 Gaza war – and the ongoing debate over the UN-sponsored Goldstone report – has put Israel on the defensive in many quarters.

"In this climate, anti-Semitism is flourishing. Israeli speakers can't appear on university campuses without being heckled and booed. And some outlets will spread terrible lies, such as Israel going to Haiti to do organ harvesting, when we're busy saving lives," says Yuli Edelstein, the Benjamin Netanyahu's Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, who is in charge of the program.

You ride camels, don't you?

The project, called "Masbirim Yisrael" – Explaining Israel – began this past week with a series of prime-time television commercials here that show an almost comical, exaggerated version of how Israel is portrayed in the media.

One of these includes a mock-up of a British reporter – looking and sounding not unlike like the average BBC correspondent – walking through the desert with camels and stereotypical Middle East music.

"The camel is a typical Israeli animal used by the Israelis to travel from place to place in the desert where they live," the actor intones in the Queen's English. "It is the means of transport for water, merchandise and ammunition. It is even used by the Israeli cavalry."

Then comes of the voiceover in Hebrew: "Are you fed up with how they portray us in the world? You can change the picture."

Other videos featured on the new website, www.masbirim.co.il, include a French-language clip of an announcer describing an Israel in which bombs are exploding in the streets of every city. In another clip, a Spanish-speaking reporter makes Israel sound like a primitive, if inviting place to eat: Israelis, he notes, like to barbecue outside because they don't have kitchens.

"My call upon Israelis is not to become world experts on United Nations resolutions, or to explain the policy of the Netanyahu government. What really worries me is the distorted image of Israel that an average person gets," says Mr. Edelstein in a phone interview from London. The program was launched after six months of research in which, he says, the ministry discovered that Israelis are unhappy about their image abroad, and that 85 percent of respondents said they'd like to work to change it.

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