In January 2009, Israel took advantage of the period before Barack Obama’s inauguration to unleash a yet another massive assault on Gaza, killing over 1,400 Palestinians, again mostly civilians and children. Operation Cast Lead, as it was called by Israel, created a major worldwide outcry because of the sheer brutality of the Israeli bombardment, similar to what is happening again now, and even led to a UN commission to investigate.
The UN report titled the Goldstone Report accused the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian militants of committing war crimes but since Israel, by definition, does not commit war crimes whatever atrocities it commits, it rejected the Goldstone Report. And of course the US government. Congress, and media provided cover for Israel by burying the report, thus enabling Israel to once again set about destroying Gaza and killings its inhabitants.
But the public relations beating that Israel took for Operation Cast Lead led it to plan out a more careful media strategy. The only opinion the Israelis care about is that of the US Congress because that it the entity that provides it with all the money it asks for their military and to subsidize their high standard of living, and that can exert pressure on US administrations to provide diplomatic cover for Israel even though successive administrations realize that Israel is a rogue state that is causing immense headaches for the US on the global stage.
But US Congressional support is contingent on US public support and to bolster both in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, Israel hired Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and message guru in the US who has made a career out of finding ways to make unsavory policies palatable even to the people who are adversely affect by them. The resulting 112-page confidential booklet titled The Israel Project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary lays out how to influence American and European public opinion, and you can see that strategy being implemented in the way that the Israeli government, its spokespeople, and its fervent supporters currently defend the indefensible in Gaza. [Update: Commenter Silentbob has kindly provided a link to the actual document.]
Patrick Cockburn describes what the propaganda booklet recommends and says that it should be required reading for journalists to avoid being suckered by Israeli apologists.
These are highly illuminating about the gap between what Israeli officials and politicians really believe, and what they say, the latter shaped in minute detail by polling to determine what Americans want to hear. Certainly, no journalist interviewing an Israeli spokesman should do so without reading this preview of many of the themes and phrases employed by Mr Regev and his colleagues.
The booklet is full of meaty advice about how they should shape their answers for different audiences. For example, the study says that “Americans agree that Israel ‘has a right to defensible borders’. But it does you no good to define exactly what those borders should be. Avoid talking about borders in terms of pre- or post-1967, because it only serves to remind Americans of Israel’s military history.”
How about the right of return for Palestinian refugees who were expelled or fled in 1948 and in the following years, and who are not allowed to go back to their homes? Here Dr Luntz has subtle advice for spokesmen, saying that “the right of return is a tough issue for Israelis to communicate effectively because much of Israeli language sounds like the ‘separate but equal’ words of the 1950s segregationists and the 1980s advocates of Apartheid. The fact is, Americans don’t like, don’t believe and don’t accept the concept of ‘separate but equal’.”
So how should spokesmen deal with what the booklet admits is a tough question? They should call it a “demand”, on the grounds that Americans don’t like people who make demands. “Then say ‘Palestinians aren’t content with their own state. Now they’re demanding territory inside Israel’.” Other suggestions for an effective Israeli response include saying that the right of return might become part of a final settlement “at some point in the future”.
Dr Luntz notes that Americans as a whole are fearful of mass immigration into the US, so mention of “mass Palestinian immigration” into Israel will not go down well with them. If nothing else works, say that the return of Palestinians would “derail the effort to achieve peace”.
The study admits that the Israeli government does not really want a two-state solution, but says this should be masked because 78 per cent of Americans do. Hopes for the economic betterment of Palestinians should be emphasised.
The report goes into specific details about what words to use and what to avoid.
There is a list of words and phrases to be used and a list of those to be avoided. Schmaltz is at a premium: “The best way, the only way, to achieve lasting peace is to achieve mutual respect.” Above all, Israel’s desire for peace with the Palestinians should be emphasised at all times because this what Americans overwhelmingly want to happen.
Perhaps most cynical is how Israeli spokespersons are encouraged to use Palestinian deaths to harness sympathy for the Israelis who caused them.
Much of Dr Luntz’s advice is about the tone and presentation of the Israeli case. He says it is absolutely crucial to exude empathy for Palestinians: “Persuadables [sic] won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show Empathy for BOTH sides!” This may explain why a number of Israeli spokesman are almost lachrymose about the plight of Palestinians being pounded by Israeli bombs and shells.
Dr Luntz cites as an example of an “effective Israeli sound bite” one which reads: “I particularly want to reach out to Palestinian mothers who have lost their children. No parent should have to bury their child.”
In a sentence in bold type, underlined and with capitalisation, Dr Luntz says that Israeli spokesmen or political leaders must never, ever justify “the deliberate slaughter of innocent women and children” and they must aggressively challenge those who accuse Israel of such a crime.
Mark Regev, the Israeli spokesperson, has received harsh grillings from both UK’s Channel 4 and the usually-friendly BBC despite slavishly following the Luntz playbook, although US media as usual have been much more accepting of it. Maybe Israel will commission Luntz to update his manual to better deal with European media.