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Israeli diplomats advised on dealing with U.S. media

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 8 (JTA) — Sitting around a table, a dozen Israeli consuls, representing their country across the United States, listened intently as Alan Rappoport explained how to deal with the American media. “Keep it short. Formulate your message in 45 seconds,” said Rappoport, a media consultant. “Avoid jargon. Think before you talk. Know where to put your hands.” The mostly young Israeli diplomats, responsible for public information, press relations, cultural affairs and academic liaisons at the nine consulates in the United States, displayed their media scars. The experiences recounted included a Miami reporter who had misrepresented the consul’s statement, a hostile talk show host who had sandbagged an Israeli guest and a small-town reporter who was ignorant of the most basic facts about the Middle East. Rappoport has been conducting training sessions for Israeli officials, pro bono, for the last five years. He enjoys his Israeli “students” and said that their main problem when meeting the media is their overeagerness. “They are so pleased when they meet an open-minded journalist, they are like puppies, panting to go,” he said. “I try to teach them to slow down, to formulate their thoughts before speaking.” Rappoport, whose expertise is damage control for corporations or government agencies in the midst of a public relations disaster, demonstrated his points in one-on-one virtual television interviews with his pupils. He gave small practical tips, such as, “Clip the mike on your tie one fist below the chin” and “don’t let your glasses slide down your nose.” Other rules require more finesse. “Use humor in correcting a false statement. Make sure the reporter explicitly agrees when you speak on background. Use personal pronouns rather than the passive voice.” Try to use concrete examples to illustrate abstract policies, he urged the Israeli officials. One consul said he had encountered difficulties with a reporter who felt that Israel’s economic ties with Arab countries had deteriorated because of the Netanyahu government’s peace process policy. Rather than go down the reporter’s path, the consul was advised to pick a specific binational project and point out that 400 Egyptians or Jordanians are now employed thanks to an Israeli initiative. Each of the participants faced special problems, but none has encountered as much personal media interest as of late as Belaynesh Zevadia, the Israeli vice consul for public affairs in Chicago. As the first diplomat of Ethiopian descent appointed by Israel, Zevadia said, “I am Jewish, black and a woman, so I am conscious that I must work very hard to set a good example.”