Over the years a variety of voluntary organizations have emerged to defend Israel against the many verbal attacks emanating from the Western world. As the cost of such activities is substantial and fundraising abilities are limited, each of them usually acts in a specific, yet often very narrow field.
I am often asked why the combination of the activities of all these organizations is not a worthy substitute for the anti-propaganda agency which the Israeli state should have established long ago. A second question which frequently accompanies such remarks is: "Why can't a variety of wealthy Jews put up the funding for a private pro-Israel anti-propaganda agency?" Could such a body not fulfill the same role as a government agency?
Sometimes it is accompanied by a remark: “Israel should indeed improve its hasbara.” The latter translates into “public diplomacy,” a totally different notion from anti-propaganda. Public diplomacy may include statements such as: “Israel produces the most beautiful tomatoes in the world.” It invites anti-Israel hate mongers to say; “yes but you kill Palestinians.”
The antipropaganda issue is a complex one, which people know very little about. The answer to the above two questions requires spelling out a number of key aspects in some detail. Perhaps the most important is that such a private agency would have to collaborate closely with the Mossad, the domestic security agency Shabak, the military intelligence agency Aman, and the Israel National Cyber Directorate. These are all government agencies, which cannot disclose state secrets to a non-government body.
I raised the idea of the anti-propaganda agency for the first time in my book, The War of a Million Cuts, The Struggle Against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism, which was published in 2015. At the time I consulted with a number of people who were somewhat familiar with the field. We estimated the annual budget for a properly functioning state anti-propaganda agency to be approximately US$250 million. Even for a number of the largest private pro-Israel donors together, this is a very large amount.
Yet there are further aspects that differentiate a state anti-propaganda agency from an aggregate of private pro-Israel bodies. The American CAMERA organization is an example of a pro-Israel organization that does very good work in exposeng media distortions in the US and some other countries such as Great Britain. One of its executives follows the Guardian and regularly depicts the many fallacies about Israel in its articles. His rhetoric, however, has to be restrained. The same is true for another valuable organization active in this area, Honest Reporting.
An Israeli anti-propaganda agency would operate in a very different way. It would start from the realization that the Guardian is an extreme anti-Israel paper. It can be considered a part-time enemy of the country. The anti-propaganda agency would not spend time pointing out to the public what is wrong in articles in the Guardian, identifying lies, or noting instances where this newspaper mobilizes extreme anti-Israelis including Jews and Israeli hate mongers against the state such as the head of the Israeli B'zelem organization.
Instead, the Agency leaders would ask themselves: “How are we going to damage this enemy as fast as possible with minimal effort. The originator of such damage could be open or hidden. The answer to these questions is not very difficult but disclosing it here would be counterproductive.
The same limitations CAMERA and Honest Reporting face are encountered by other meritorious organizations, which defend Israel in a variety of areas. To mention just two - NGO Monitor, and Palestinian Media Watch. Their publications contain extremely valuable information for an anti-propaganda agency, but are no substitute for its activities. The agency would be focused and looking at the anti-Israel incitement in its totality. The aggregate publications of the Israel defense organizations are a rather amorphous mass. The agency must cover what is important for Israel, a defense organization can choose what it reacts to.
During former Secretary Pompeo's term at the State Department there were some early indications that some “human rights NGO’s” would be exposed as simultaneously engaging in antisemitic activities. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and Oxfam were specifically mentioned. One might call these bodies do-gooder antisemites. Much negative information about their anti-Israel activities can be found in NGO Monitor.
Unfortunately, there was no detailed follow up on this do-gooder antisemitism by the State Department as one would have hoped. Yet the window on this abuse had been opened. The concept was simple. The do-gooder antisemites take a certain number of pro human rights positions. This creates the possibility in the margins to attack Israel with vile comments.
An interesting example of this was provided by Hillel Neuer who heads UN Watch in Geneva. He published in December 2019 that over an 18-month period, Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch (HRW) devoted more than 70% of his tweets to alleging illegalities perpetrated by Israel. By contrast he dedicated only 1% of his tweets on the same subject to Iraq, Libya, Russia, Syria or Yemen from January 2017 to June 2018.
It would not be very difficult for a well-financed Israeli anti-propaganda agency to start spreading the news widely that HRW is at least partly an antisemitic organization headed by an extreme anti-Israel inciter. A strong effort of a few months – which no private body could make --- would most probably convince Roth that his anti-Israel hate mongering isn't healthy for his organization. If he didn’t understand that, some of his major donors might - in particular if they were exposed as financing a part-time antisemitic body.
From the above it should be clear that the creation of a successful anti-propaganda agency can only be done by the State of Israel. It has been opposed consistently for years by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for reasons he has not disclosed. Perhaps now, he or a successor, depending on the election results, will see it differently.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has been a strategic advisor for more than thirty years to some of the Western world’s leading corporations. Among the honors he received was the 2019 International Lion of Juda Award of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research paying tribute to him as the recognized leading international authority on contemporary antisemitism. His main book on the subject is: The War of a Million Cuts The struggle against the delegitimization of Israel and the Jews and the growth of New antisemitism.