Sara Lehmann
Sara LehmannCourtesy

They say art imitates life. In our dystopian world post-October 7th, where upending accepted notions has become the norm, Israeli art now imitates a dystopian life.

An exhibit showcasing the Hamas massacre by Israeli sculptor Orna Ben-Ami was on display at the United Nations headquarters earlier this month. The UN initially opposed the exhibit, claiming it was “a politically sensitive issue under dispute”, and only relented under pressure by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan.

I attended the opening night of the exhibit. A lump rose in my throat as I viewed images of normal day living amidst the carnage. A teddy bear in a crib overlooking a blood splattered room, children’s books scattered among bombed-out debris, a twisted stethoscope lying amidst rubble and dried blood.

While we hope that the exhibit influenced viewers, it would be naïve to think that it swayed the movers and shakers in that notorious hall of Jew haters. In his inauguration of the exhibit, Ambassador Erdan criticized the UN for “massacre denial” and pointed out that no UN body has even condemned Hamas months after the massacre occurred.

If October 7th has taught us anything, it is that increasing majorities around the world couldn't care less about Jewish suffering. And no amount of PR seems to be able to counter that.

For years, Israel’s hasbara has been getting a bad rap. Recently, Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism, said that Israel needs to shape up its public diplomacy efforts. “There is an unconventional war for public opinion that has been raging for decades,” she said.

In a recent radio interview, former President Trump said that Israel is “absolutely losing the PR war”.

This is not a new story.

No matter how hard Israel has tried, its efforts yielded diminishing returns. Missiles rained down on Israel; terrorists stabbed, shot and rammed into Jewish victims, and somehow Israel’s failing hasbara was blamed for the lack of support among the world’s antisemites.

It was an uphill battle, especially among left-wing antisemites. Israel’s gurus of public diplomacy had nothing to show for their sustained efforts to convince progressives that Israel was the poster boy of progressive values. They tried to woo the world with pride parades, environmental advocacy, and cultural outreach and were rewarded with accusations of pink washing, green washing and apartheid.

Indeed, if you google “hasbara”, one of the very first websites to pop up define it as “The art of deception: How Israel uses ‘hasbara’ to whitewash its crimes.” Another one calls it “Israel’s propaganda machine”.

Then came October 7th. In a macabre way, what should have been the biggest public relations stunt Madison Avenue could ever conjure up backfired. No PR agency could have ghoulishly concocted a better plan to generate sympathy for the Jewish state than the brutal murder of over 1200 men, women and children, some burned alive and dismembered, and the kidnapping of hundreds of its citizens into dark and dank tunnels.

Instead, most of the world spun the facts until Israel became the perpetrator.

Posters of the hostages and “Bring them home” dog tags burst on the scene, but the hostages are still prisoners. October 7th should have become the mother of all hashtags, but unlike the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag blitz for the kidnapped victims of Boko Harem, it never went viral. Instead, posters were ripped down by frenzied pro-Hamas protestors amid allegations of genocide and war crimes perpetrated by Jews.

In Kafkaesque style, Hamas succeeded beyond its wildest expectations in painting Israel as the pariah. Israel’s version of 9/11 was far greater in terms of deaths per population than America’s tragedy. However, it went completely belly up in garnering the support that President Bush did with his famous words “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

A majority of Americans still support Israel over the terrorists, but pro-Hamas protests are proliferating on the streets, in the media, universities and the Democratic Party. A recent Gallup poll shows a decline in Americans’ opinion of Israel since last year, especially among young Americans.

No amount of hyperbole could describe the irrationality of twisting Israel’s status from oppressed to oppressor. And seemingly no amount or type of hasbara seems to be able to halt the normalization of Hamas as a terrorist organization.

If Hamas’s atrocities and its stated vow to commit more October 7’s until it has eradicated all the Jews is not enough fodder for sympathy, then perhaps the solution is not to double down on hasbara. Perhaps the solution is to double down on preventing more October 7’s.

This does not mean that Israel should abandon its efforts at advocacy. Or discontinue cultivating relationships, especially with Israel’s natural allies among Evangelical Christians and right-wing conservatives. On the contrary, it should redirect those efforts towards championing its goal of self-defense rather than apologizing for its right to self-defense.

When Trump stated that Israel was losing the PR war, he also advised Israel to finish what they started, not abandon their efforts. “Get it over with,” he said, “and get it over with fast.”

Hasbara in Hebrew means explanation. Israel has to stop explaining why Jews have a right to defend themselves and just defend them. It needs to be less concerned about being liked than about being feared. Efforts by Israel to spare Gazan civilians, perhaps even at the expense of Jewish lives, are going unnoticed anyhow. Antisemites aren’t interested in how Hamas uses Gazans as human shields and civilian deaths as strategic trophies.

The Biden administration is demanding that Israel kill off Hamas terrorists piecemeal or leave over a portion of them to regenerate. Egypt is using them to reach a ceasefire. Such a policy will cause more IDF casualties and threaten Israel. Whether the Jewish state fights a war of attrition or finishes off Hamas with a bang, world opinion will still remain the same.

When U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned Netanyahu that Israel risks global isolation if it attacks Rafah, Netanyahu responded, “I hope we will do it with the support of the U.S., but if we have to – we will do it alone.”

It is a government’s first and foremost responsibility to protect its citizens. Hasbara or no hasbara.

Sara Lehmann is an award-winning New York based columnist and interviewer. For more of her writings please visit

A version of this article first appeared in Hamodia.