Israel in campaign to defend its image abroad

Filed on February 23, 2010

JERUSALEM - Israel has launched a campaign to transform its citizens into “ambassadors” to improve the country’s image abroad after facing intense international criticism in the wake of last winter’s Gaza war.

“Going abroad? Foreigners visiting? Become an Israeli ambassador,” reads a publication circulated on the information ministry’s website.

The document aims to prepare Israelis to defend their country against “prejudice and misinformation,” to uphold its policies in debates and debunk so-called “myths” about the Jewish state and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Many of the positions it suggests taking are associated with the Israeli right wing and the settlement movement and have long provoked intense debate within the Jewish state itself.

For example, the document says just 320,000 Palestinians became refugees in the 1948 war that followed Israel’s creation, while leading Israeli historians as well as the United Nations say the number was more than twice as much.

The document also takes the controversial position that the presence of half a million Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank including east Jerusalem is not an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.

The guide goes beyond politics, praising Israeli achievements in the arts and sciences, including agricultural innovations like drip irrigation and the invention of the cherry tomato.

The ministry has asked the public to consult the document at and distributed copies of it at the airport.

Israel came under intense international criticism during and after the massive offensive it launched on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in December 2008 in a bid to halt Palestinian rocket fire from the territory.

About 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed in the 22-day onslaught. Thirteen Israelis also died in the fighting.

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