The increasing support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement has caused great concern with the Israeli government and they have resorted to something called ‘hasbara’, where people receive training in propaganda on how to derail discussions that they think are critical of Israeli policies. Jonathan Cook explains what hasbara involves and why it will not work.
In the latest offensive, the education ministry has launched a compulsory hasbara course for Israeli students travelling abroad. All youth delegations are now required to learn how to justify to outsiders Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. According to officials, the students must challenge those who “seek to delegitimize Israel”.
The hasbara industry’s chief flaw, as Israeli political scientist Neve Gordon observes, is its assumption that “the merchandise is fine, and only the packaging needs to be replaced”.
But rapid developments in information technology mean Israel has less control over its image than ever before.
First it was 24-hour rolling news, then the internet. Now cheap smartphones make every Palestinian a potential documentary-maker, ensuring that moments of cruelty and oppression are captured and available for anyone who cares to look.
Palestinians post online videos of their everyday abuse: from demolition of homes to stone-throwers being shot with live ammunition; from settlers burning crops to children being dragged by soldiers from their beds in the middle of the night.
With the Palestinians’ case substantiated by evidence, rather than Israel’s, the evangelists of hasbara have only one recourse: to blame the messenger.
Critics of Israel, it is implied, are either inveterate dupes or unabashed anti-semites. Either they have been deceived by the Israel-haters, or they are haters themselves.
As the hasbara industry moves into overdrive, such slurs are becoming all too common – including against those Israel most urgently needs to cultivate as allies.
In desperation, the Israeli government is actually recruiting and paying people to scour social media and respond whenever they see criticisms of Israel and post pro-Israel comments in order to give the impression of there being grass roots support. Jonathan Blakely explains in detail the steps that what he calls ‘hasbara trolls’ are advised to follow and how they know when to spring into action.
Hasbara trolls use internet alerts to warn them when hot keywords are mentioned. Keywords such as Israel, Jewish, Judaism etc. When those words are mentioned they are alerted and they go to investigate who is talking about what.
Some of these people are paid $2,000 to do five hours per week of this work from the “comfort of their home”. Commenter StevoR, the stalwart and verbose defender of Israeli oppression of Palestinian, should apply for this gig, though in his case I would strongly advise him to insist that his contract specify that he be paid by the word, not a flat fee, since he could easily make a bundle. Other benefits include giving free luxury trips to Israel to those attending the Academy Awards ceremony, though the Academy has dissociated itself from this offer.
But all these propaganda efforts don’t seem to be working. The Israeli government recently convened a secret conference on what do about this and Republican pollster Frank Luntz gave them the bad news that even most young American Jews did not view Israel as either a democracy or civilized.
The conference heard from Frank Luntz, the prominent US Republican pollster, that Israel’s propaganda messaging was failing even among American Jewish students.
According to Luntz’s findings, only 42 percent of Jewish students believe that Israel wants peace, just 39 percent view Israel as a “civilized and Western country” and a mere 31 percent consider Israel to be a democracy.
As many as one fifth of Jewish students believe the US should support the Palestinian side and a similar proportion sees Israel as racist.
One of the conference participants told NRG that Israel’s tourism ministry “came out very badly.”
The participant characterized Israel’s marketing in these terms: “ ‘we have girls in bikinis, we have beaches, we have beer and bars – come to us,’ and this does not work.”
Indeed, Israel’s tourism industry went into freefall as a result of Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, and has still not recovered.
As Israel’s treatment of Palestinians worsens, with increased annexation of land, even such friendly leaders like Britain’s David Cameron have been forced to condemn the illegal expansion of settlements as “genuinely shocking”.
The Prime Minister said that though he was a strong supporter of Israel, he had been taken aback by what had seen first hands on visits to the occupied territories in Jerusalem.
“I am well-known as being a strong friend of Israel but I have to say the first time I visited Jerusalem and had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what has happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem – occupied East Jerusalem – it is genuinely shocking,” he told MPs in the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government is drafting legislation that will enable the parliament to oust elected members, a move aimed at getting rid of those few members who raise concerns about Palestinians.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is drafting legislation that ought to resolve in observers’ minds the question of whether Israel is the democracy it proudly claims to be. The bill empowers a three-quarters majority of the parliament to oust a sitting MP.
It breathes new life into the phrase “tyranny of the majority”. But in this case, the majority will be Jewish MPs oppressing their Palestinian colleagues.
Netanyahu has presented the bill as a necessary response to the recent actions of three MPs from the Balad faction of the Joint List, a coalition of parties representing the often-overlooked fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian citizens.
All the propaganda efforts in the world cannot hide the brutal reality of the way Israel treats Palestinians, including having one of their soldiers caught on tape murdering a wounded Palestinian on the ground in cold blood after medical personnel stood by and did nothing. (You can see the video in the last link but I haven’t watched it because such things sicken me.)
One passage from the Jonathan Cook article above is worth noting because anyone who criticizes Israel will be familiar with them: “Critics of Israel, it is implied, are either inveterate dupes or unabashed anti-semites. Either they have been deceived by the Israel-haters, or they are haters themselves.”
Despite all this effort at propaganda, there are increasing signs that it is not working and that such charges have become ineffective due to excessive overuse.