Some of you may be aware that in response to a recent post of mine, a vigorous supporter of Israeli apartheid named Eylon has appeared in the comments justifying the practice. To that single post, s/he has posted so far 70(!) comments, quite the feat, and I expect that number to rise. The arguments that s/he gives, such as they are, will be familiar to those who familiar with the politics of the Israel-Palestinian issue and follow a well-worn trajectory but they do provide an insight into how people can defend what, to most people, seems to be utterly indefensible. With Eylon, we get to see in real time how someone tries to justify the unjustifiable.
Such attempts are not new. When I was growing up at the time of South African apartheid, like many others I used to wonder how the white people there could justify their awful treatment of the black population. The white people considered themselves Christians and even claimed that the people of color were actually treated well by them. It was similar to the days of slavery in the US where people would claim that slaves were actually treated well and that they even loved their owners. The arguments they presented seemed so self-serving and fraudulent that one felt that no one could genuinely believe them.
I am aware that all of us can live with some level of hypocrisy where we compartmentalize different areas of our thoughts and lives, where we say that we believe in certain values but live in a manner that is contradictory to it. But it seemed like the cases of South African apartheid and slavery in the US were so extreme that no amount of mental gymnastics could possibly suppress the feeling at some level that those two institutions were wrong and that what supporters were doing was rationalizing their actions at the expense of an oppressed people.
We see the same thing now with the growing global realization that Israel practices apartheid policies with respect to the Palestinian people. As long as Israel continues to receive unqualified support from the US, it feels able to defy that tide, at least publicly. But we know that the Israeli government has serious concerns that important segments of US support are being eroded now that the actions of the Israel lobby and its pernicious effects on US foreign policy have come under close scrutiny. A significant chunk of rank-and-file Democrats are now openly critical of Israel, as are some liberal commentators. Most worrying is the loss of liberal Jewish voices and especially young Jewish people who see the dismantling of Israeli apartheid as part of the global struggle for human rights and justice. At a secret anti-BDS conference held in Jerusalem some years ago, Israeli leaders were told that focus groups suggest that most Jewish students in the US no longer see Israel as a democracy or even as civilized.
As a result, the Israeli government has initiated a program called ‘hasbara’ that I wrote about three years ago, where they actually recruit and pay people to scour social media sites and respond whenever they see criticisms of Israel by posting pro-Israel comments in order to give the impression of grass roots support for its apartheid policies. Some of these people are paid $2,000 to do five hours per week of this work from the “comfort of their home”, not a bad gig when you think of it, but also an indication of how seriously the Israeli government views criticisms.
In an article titled The Goyim’s Guide to Hasbara Trolls, Jonathon Blakeley breaks down how these hasbara farms operate.
Hasbara volunteers help to police social networks for Israel. The big media are dealt with through BICOM and AIPAC, whilst the social media are policed unofficially by the Hasbara troll brigade. Priority is to stop influencers being compromised by anti-Israel sentiment.
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.”
The people hired for this work are instructed on how to flood message boards with multiple comments and what to say in an effort to wear down the critics. The hasbara troll strategy will be familiar to many: take a supreme point of view that the hasbara troll knows best, condescending and patronizing, claim to be socialist, be provocative, disruptive, etc.
Ultimately we cannot know what is really in the minds of people, so trying to figure out whether such people actually believe what they are saying or whether they are merely saying what their employers tell them to say, like workers in a call center, is irrelevant. But just as knowing how to identify junk callers is a useful time-saving skill, knowing how to identify hasbara trolls is also helpful.
Maybe Eylon really believes what s/he is saying. If so, we get an insight into the thinking of an apartheid supporter. If not, we get to see a hasbara troll performing for our benefit. A win-win!