Op-Ed: How Israel Can do Better in the Propaganda War
Dr. Jack E. FriedmanThe writer is author of The Jerusalem Book of Quotations: A 3000 Year Perspective (Gefen Pub.) and a volunteer guide at Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum, located just inside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. He makes his home in Jerusalem.
Why does Israel’s good standing in international public opinion continue to suffer?
Government spokespersons and an array of voluntary sites constantly push back against the fabrications and distortions leveled by our opponents. And yet, in the much of the world, Israel continues to be perceived as an occupier, “settlements” are described as the main barrier to peace, the Palestinian Arabs are depicted as innocent victims, demands for boycott and divestment continue unabated.
The incessant drumbeat of anti-Zionist and post-Zionist naysayers among Israel’s hard-core Left shares much of the blame. Driven by ideological or political motives, these self-flagellators reinforce the diatribes against Israel’s perfidy. Is Israel an apartheid state? Of course—Gideon Levy of Haaretz says so!
The incitements of the Gideon Levys’ and his ilk are damaging, but they are the inevitable price of the value our society places on untrammeled free speech. What is not inevitable is that much of Israel’s corrective hasbara tends to be reactive, attempting to speak truth to the dissimulations and delusions in the willfully-biased accounts of the Arab-Israeli conflict. To quote Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
Twain’s piquant locution notwithstanding, the official responders and their able counterparts in the private sector such as NGO Monitor and Honest Reporting must continue to set the record straight.
It is encouraging that in the Pillar of Defense operation government spokespersons were notably more sophisticated in their use of texting and other social media to provide a real-time perspective on the barbaric rocket assaults from Gaza. At the same time, however, if we are to succeed in making the case for Israel, we must devote more of our hasbara resources to proactive outreach—i.e., to the cultivation of audiences that are not automatically committed to an anti-Israel “narrative,” and that can help foster critical backing in our ongoing struggle for peace and security.
The beneficial impact of such focused initiatives is evident in the support among Christians in the United States, whose identification with Israel is enhanced by the unstinting advocacy of the Evangelical Christian leadership.
Although as yet to a lesser extent, we also see the effect that targeted outreach can have on American college and university campuses, where we face a dual challenge: rebutting the stratagems of radical Leftist and extreme Muslim propagandists while promoting pro-Israel activism, and bridging the void of ignorance that afflicts many non-ideological members of the academic community. Stand with Us and Israel Campus Beat are among a number of groups that demonstrate what can be achieved.
- These exemplary focused and nuanced niche-hasbara (pr, ed.) efforts can serve as models to invigorate outreach to other important constituencies whose good will can strengthen Israel’s international standing. For example, Hispanic and African Americans, the former now the fastest growing population cohort in the United States.
- No less important is the liberal component of American Jewry which, as the recent presidential election showed, is less inclined to view the safety of Israel among its top priorities. To these we may add potential allies in Europe and elsewhere.
- In striving to persuade with logic and truth those who will always wish us ill—including that despot-dominated caricature of an egalitarian parliament of man that is the UN General Assembly--we may sometime feel like Sisyphus endlessly rolling that heavy stone up a hill. But through proactive pinpointed hasbara we can win to our side the masses who are imbued with a sense of fairness and justice, and shore up our ability to withstand the forces of malice.
- A final point. In view of what is at stake, it would be useful to establish a Proactive Hasbara Resource Center to identify prospective important audiences, maintain a fact file upon which hasbara bodies can draw, and provide professional and technical guidance for getting the message out. The Center should be non-political, perhaps under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry or, preferably, of a non-governmental entity such as the Jewish Agency, or, perhaps another organization which is making significant contributions to hasbara such as AIPAC or the American Jewish Committee.