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Israel, Hasbara and the “Soft War”

“One cannot wage war under present conditions without the support of public opinion which is tremendously molded by the press and other forms of propaganda”. – General Douglas MacArthur

Eight days after the start of Operation Pillar of Defense, a ceasefire is now in place between the IDF and Hamas. While the bombing and rockets may have stopped, the media war rages on. Israel seeks to portray Hamas as terrorists. Hamas wants to show the world that Israel is the aggressor. This is not a recent development, but instead part of a long-term battle for favorable public opinion. The time and effort Israel exerts in trying to manipulate Israel’s global and domestic image in the media shows that, despite being uttered in 1957, General MacArthur’s words about press, propaganda and public opinion are still pertinent.

Israel has long been criticized for its actions in Palestine. During the most recent conflict, that strongest criticism was (unsurprisingly) from Arabic media outlets such as Al Jazeera and Gulf News. One article in Gulf news described Gazans as “ducks in a shooting range” who are massacred at the hands of the IDF.

According to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s “main enemies” are also criticizing the IDF. He is not referring to Hamas or Iran, but to the New York Times and Haartez. When speaking with the editor of the Jerusalem post, the Prime Minister said that these two newspapers “set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning and base their news stories … on what they read”. The editor of the Jerusalem post who published these remarks was later forced to backtrack and remove them.

Many would argue that the campaign against Israel that Netanyahu is referring to is a global issue. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is one of these people. In a speech to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) he stated that there is a “soft war” against Israel that seeks to “isolate Israel by delegitimizing it. The battleground is everywhere: the media … multinational organizations … NGOs. In this war, the aim is to make Israel a pariah.”

In an effort to combat negative press, Israel’s wages its very own “soft war” in the media. Like the Syrian government, Israel dedicates a huge amount of time and money to publishing propaganda that portrays Israel in a positive light. In some ways all governments do this – however, not on the same scale as the Israeli government.

A graphic published by the IDF that is currently circulating on Facebook

Government propaganda is known as ‘Hasbara’, which in Hebrew means ‘explanation’. Hasbara is Israel’s overseas PR campaign, which seeks to explain and justify its actions. Orchestrated by the National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Information Ministry, the IDF Spokesman Unit as well as hundreds of volunteers and charities such as Myisrael, Hasbara manipulates websites and uses social media to promote Israeli interests. Training sessions are held to equip armies of Zionist activists to edit websites such as Wikipedia (the world’s largest source of online information), so that what is written subtly defends Israel rather than criticizes it.

Hasabara has also been hugely important to Israel during Operation Pillar of Defence. Before the operation, Hasbara teams were warned to prepare their PR machine for a large military offensive. They then spread shocking pictures, graphics and videos such as the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, causing them to go viral. Haaretz reported that one of Generals of Hasbara said that thanks to their efforts they were “ruling Facebook” and “winning on twitter”.

Regardless of how successful Israeli Hasbara is, an outsider cannot overlook the fact that Palestine has been occupied by the Israeli army for four decades, causing numerous injustices and atrocities. Yet, in the Israeli media, this side of the argument is relatively muted. According to Gideon Levy, a renowned Israeli journalist who contributes to Haaretz, this is a product of Israel’s internal Hasbara. According to Levy:

“There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood…[We are taught] narratives that are very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us… So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any question marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”

This type of rhetoric has led to the Israeli Government to label Levy as a “security risk”, because his views go against the image of Israel that Hasbara is trying to paint.

Only when Hasbara is no longer needed – when Israel’s actions have no need for justification – will Israel and Palestine see peace. For this to occur, Israel must end its de-facto occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and Hamas must stop its rocket attacks on Israeli territory and accept its legitimacy to exist as a state. However, the conflict has become so very personal and polarized, and frustratingly complex, that it is difficult to predict an end to the hostility. This would, however, silence the “Soft War” against Israel.

–  Sam Bowers

(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative WorksIsrael Defense Forces, Creative Commons, Flickr)

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