IDF hasbara video
IDF hasbara videoIDF Website

Most hasbara is mediocre. It is high time for hasbara activists to admit that they can learn plenty from pro-Palestinian Arab propagandists.

It is true that Palestinian Arab propaganda lies, distorts, and defames. Nevertheless it works. I have never heard of any Jewish marketing or advertising professional who refused to learn from the strategies and techniques of a rival firm or consultant on grounds that their ads and messaging is misleading. Neither should pro-Israel hasbara professionals.

The first rule that these professionals need to remember is that political arguments are won first and foremost in human hearts. This is a simple rule that Jewish hasbara often ignores. For some bizarre reason, most Jews think that the most valuable hasbara educates people and wins over their sympathies with facts and rational arguments.

This is incorrect. Of course, it is helpful to mention facts in a historical and political debate. But being right is not enough.

People tend to support people and causes they like; not just people and causes that are right.

It is fascinating to see how well Palestinian Arab activists understand this simple principle.

On social media profiles in Western languages, these activists will alternate between publishing posts and messages that highlight Palestinian Arab suffering and posts and messages praising peace and justice. The cursing of Jews and Zionists is something they do in Arabic and which they outsource in Western languages to their European and American allies.

Many Jews do the opposite: They either highlight Gazan Palestinian Arab suffering thinking this promotes peace without realizing how doing so just strengthens the position of their genocidal enemies, or they rant against Arabs and Islam in a way that makes many people think that Israeli Jews really are the genocidal racist fascists Palestinian Arab propaganda claims they are.

An extreme example of this Jewish psychological incompetence is when Jews repeat that antisemitism is the reason the world condemns Israel.

This is of course true, but being vocal about it is dumb and counterproductive. Arabs are smart enough to understand that one doesn‘t impute evil motivations to the people and nations whose sympathies one courts. That is the reason why in Arabic they will readily claim that Islamophobia is the reason America sides with Israel, whereas in Western languages they will argue that "Zionist interests“ manipulate American foreign policy.

And that is how they craftily use this conflict to convince people that Palestinian Arabs and ordinary Americans are both victims of devious Jews. Jewish claims that anti-Israel sentiments are motivated by antisemitism, only preach to the choir and alienate everyone sitting on the fence.

There are simple messages and images that would help many more people side with Israel and Israelis.

For example, when Hamas and Hezbollah rain rockets on Israeli cities, what would be more touching than an image of a Jewish boy with a yarmulke and a Muslim girl wearing a hijab crouching together in a bomb shelter?

Would it be dishonest to stage such an image? No more than the image of the 90s showcasing a Jewish kid with a kippah and an Arab boy with a keffiyeh whose arms rest on each other‘s shoulders as best friends. This image moved hundreds of millions of people although it was not just staged, but also fraudulent. In reality, both boys in the picture were Jewish since the Jewish photographer who wanted to take this picture couldn‘t find an Arab boy in Jerusalem willing to be photographed befriending a Jew.

Sadly, it seems that Jews are the only people in the world who have scruples about staging a picture that makes their side look good, but not about staging one that makes their enemies look good.

The second rule that hasbara must learn is that arguments need to be as simple and dumb as possible.

We all remember the four images of Eretz Israel suggesting that within one century Palestinian Arabs have lost their homeland and now live like Native Americans in tiny reservations.

The image is simple, clear and powerful. Anyone with an IQ of 75 understands it perfectly.

Israeli hasbara refutes these four images with detailed and sophisticated historical explanations proving that these images are misleading.

These efforts are futile. As soon as the powerful arguments of one side are understood by everyone, but the arguments of the other side demand an IQ of 110 to be appreciated, the battle is already lost. Even under ideal circumstances in which everyone is open-minded, fair, and has the time and interest to read a detailed counterargument, the fact that only one-third of people understand what you are saying, means that at least two-thirds of people will agree with the claims of the other side.

Instead of these laborious arguments, it would be far more effective to respond to these four images with another four images showing how Jewish (and Christian!) communities have been wiped off the map of the Middle East and North Africa during these hundred years. These are images everyone would understand and that highlight the shared fate of Jews and Christians in the Arab-Muslim world.

The third critical rule hasbara needs to learn is that one powerful argument repeated over and over is superior to diffuse arguments.

Just notice how effectively pro-Palestinian propaganda repeats the powerful one mantra: "Stop the Genocide!“

This slogan is effective not just because everyone hates genocides, but also because many people, especially Europeans, want to allay their historical guilt by believing that Jews are committing genocide in Gaza.

Contrast this with Israeli hasbara: One day it claims that Israel‘s military incursion is meant to defend Israel from Hamas and as a retaliation for October 7th; the following day the goal is to save Gazans from Hamas. These conflicting and contradictory messages weaken Israel‘s position.

If Israeli hasbara had repeated over and over one simple and powerful message: Israel saves Jews, Christians, and Muslims lives from Hamas ISIS-style terror, its efforts would have been more effective.

It is not enough to publicize images of lovely Israeli children murdered or kidnapped by Hamas. It is also essential to publicize images of non-Jews and especially Arabs murdered by Hamas. Unfortunately the latter has been barely done. In fact, Israeli English-language newspapers often don‘t even bother to publish the images of non-Israeli hostages that are released. This is astonishingly idiotic: After all, if one wants to persuade non-Jews to be on your side doesn‘t it make sense to show how much they are hurt by Hamas?

Sometimes I have the impression that hasbara does not even try to accomplish its intended purpose. And that it is just a means for pro-Israel NGOs to do fundraising and secure donations from like-minded donors. In fact, most hasbara appears deliberately designed to preach to the choir.

This is not hasbara. At best, it is a vain soliloquy.

Rafael Castrois a Yale- and Hebrew University-educated political analyst. A Noahide by choice, Rafael can be reached at [email protected]