"The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” this official said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by his nickname." - Jeffrey Goldberg, "The Crisis In U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here," The Atlantic, October 28, 2014
"I don't think I've been so angry since I don't know when," somebody told me.
I'll be honest. I am fiercely supportive of Israel's right to exist, infuriated that her defenders are attacked on all sides, sick of hearing about my kids' friends pelted with pennies as a bullying anti-Semitic "joke" in school - and I had the same visceral reaction.
But that's not what this post is. Let's consider the remark as a PR crisis. Because there are five fundamental mistakes happening here, and you won't want to make them yourself. Remember these principles:
- Anonymous remarks from a leader seem cowardly. Hiding behind it, or allowing your people to do it, makes you look weak - an indefensible stance for someone in charge of any major enterprise. We're all grownups here, and people can disagree. If the President has something to say he should just say it.
- When warranted, apologize right away. You may think the person you're dealing with is wrong. You may have been caught on a hot mic. Possibly your car broke down or you had a big fight with your spouse or a bad day. No matter what, the longer you wait to take ownership and say "I was wrong" for that stupid thing you did, the worse the fallout will be.
- Grasp the symbolism of your act. The use of the word "chickenshit" is read by Jews the world over as an as arrogant, careless, disrespectful and degrading attack on all of us, symbolically through insulting a single person who bears our brand. We know it, we feel it, and in an environment of rising global anti-Semitism it heightens our fear of being singled out and victimized.
- Your motives don't matter. What you think or feel is irrelevant to the situation. Your personality doesn't count. People look at you, your words and the effect of your communication, from their own lens and they aren't mollified by the fact that you may personally be a nice person. If you create or are in a PR crisis, get help to solve the crisis appropriately.
- Reputations are built over time, not in a single moment. Like him or not, the public knows that Netanyahu has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to Israeli security. And while the Nazis lived by the credo that "a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth," the truth is that you cannot substitute aspersion for fact. When you call someone the opposite of what they are known to be by the public, your own credibility gets called into question.
In the end, I don't know why an "anonymous official" thought it was smart to publicly insult the Prime Minister of Israel, and at such a lowly level, in street terms.
Whatever was behind that, the result is now - as former President H.W. Bush once said in the '80s - some serious political "deep-doo-doo."
The bottom line: When your words provoke a firestorm of reaction, consider whether you've crossed a "tipping point."
As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book of the same name, sometimes you push, and push, and push so far but nothing happens. One day, a seemingly minor additional push makes the whole situation explode.
That is exactly what happened yesterday, when a fool very foolishly shot off his mouth, and called a Jewish hero the same.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by David Phillips via Flickr.