Gideon Lichfield has an excellent op-ed which gets at the core of why Israel doesn’t seem to be winning the PR war–Israel hasbara* is answering the wrong question (italics mine):
But the deeper reason is this: Israeli hasbara is perpetually trying to answer the wrong question: “Why is this justified?” Of course, it’s natural for either side in a conflict to try to explain why it, and not the other side, has the moral high ground. But, especially in a conflict where both sides have been claiming the moral high ground for decades, nobody in the outside world is all that interested. From a foreign correspondent’s point of view, it makes for boring journalism: “The Israelis said this, but the Palestinians said that.” And since we’re all studiously trying to be “neutral,” we’ll always balance your view against theirs; so the fact that you make more of an effort to explain than they do doesn’t really matter.
The question the foreign media really wants answered is invariably not “who’s in the right?” but “how will this round of fighting improve the overall situation?” And on that point, Israel never has a convincing argument. Given the country’s long history of engaging in wars that kill many more of its enemies than its own citizens but only buy a few months or years of calm, it’s a tough call to explain how this latest escapade will change the strategic balance, bring peace and prevent the need for another such bloodbath further down the line. Often that’s because there is in fact no good reason: Wars are fought for short-term gains. And it doesn’t help that with the constant competition for power within Israeli coalitions, it’s easy to interpret this war, like many others, as a political imperative, not a strategic one.
And so when the question the world is asking is not “who’s right?” but “what works?” the consistent impression Israel leaves is that it kills people because, at best, it simply doesn’t have any better ideas, and at worst, because some Israeli leader is trying to get the upper hand on one of his or her rivals. And no amount of hasbara can make that look good.
Implicit in all of this is that this is not a good long-term strategy, and that Israel, while often tactically brilliant, is strategically idiotic.
*It literally means explanation, but perhaps best could be translated as ‘outreach.’