Sitting in a room at the Israel Defence Forces’ Hakirya base in Tel Aviv, I listened – along with a room full of delegates, mostly European MPs and members of the House of Lords – to a briefing from an IDF spokesman. He was a British-born reservist recruited back to the front lines of Israel’s communications war, and he did not inspire. He repeated basics about what happened on 7 October, and the horror of those events – something that everyone in that room, all there as pretty major fans of Israel, desirous to see it triumph in its hour of adversity, already appreciated. We wanted new information: dispassionately and intelligently presented. Stuff that would add to our understanding, so that we could share it at home.
This underwhelming presentation, which took place a fortnight ago, pointed to a bigger, long-running issue with Israeli comms. It’s a saga stretching right back to the start of Israel’s existence, in which military officialdom, combined with government bombast, has shown a tendency to produce a soul-sapping mixture of arrogant boilerplate and grandiose claims that can make even the state’s biggest champions cringe.
It’s not hard to figure out why: Israel has always felt embattled, and rightly so. It has to do things its way, and has developed a distinctive culture of warmth and informality, but also rudeness and standards that fall short of the professionalism by Euro-American norms. It’s part of what makes the country both intensely lovable – and very hard to love.
Even now, in a conflict Israeli PR is taking more seriously than usual, the state’s communications war is veering off course. Take the interesting case of Eylon Levy, the 32-year-old Oxford PPE graduate, formerly of an elite boys school in Hampstead, north London.