Despite the vicious and brutal nature of the violent uprising that is under way in Israel now, the rest of the world is either silent or approving. The implication seems to be “they are getting what they deserved.” How did this happen?
This was written by an Israeli graduate student studying at Oxford:
When conversations regarding Israel do ensue, they deal with the disproportionate use of power during the 2014 war in Gaza, the high death toll among Palestinians (statistics which many British students with whom I have spoken can quote), the violent behavior of settlers towards Palestinians documented in videos that have gone viral in the UK as elsewhere, the checkpoints, the economic ruin of the Gaza strip and the continued refusal of Israel to recognize Palestinian independence. There are students who can recite without difficulty Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comment on Israel’s election day about the need to counter ‘droves’ of Arab Israelis on their way to vote. …
Despite immense efforts, Oxford scholars do not regard Israel as a high tech nation, a gay tourist destination or a model for modern democracy. They remain unconvinced by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertions that Israel is the bastion of Western norms, the forefront in the struggle over terror. Nor do they prescribe [sic] to Israel’s moral relativism according to which the world must denounce Saudi Arabia and Bashar Assad before it denounces Israel. In the eyes of Oxford’s students, injustice elsewhere is not a defense for injustice in Israel.
To this international community, Israel is synonymous with bigotry, violence, hate and the oppression of human rights. It is the global spread of this notion that reveals that no public diplomacy campaign, no sophisticated national slogan and no infographic shared online by StandWithUs can counter the impact of the images that arose from Gaza in 2008, and 2012 and 2014, or those that currently emerge from Jerusalem.
His own political leanings and the fact that this was published in Ha’aretz are unimportant. The picture he paints is confirmed by other observers in universities in the UK and the US; you could hear the same things at Berkeley or the University of Toronto. It almost seems as though the more prestigious the institution, the worse they think of Israel. The students at these universities are future leaders of the West in politics, business, law and every other field.
Anyone who knows the truth knows that the ‘evidence’ cited for Israel’s alleged depravity is nonsense. The actual death toll of the last Gaza war was about half the number the students will cite (which came from Hamas sources) and most of those were Hamas fighters; the absurdity that Israel supplies Hamas with food, water, medicines and electricity while it targets Israeli towns with a blitz of rockets is ignored; as is the basic fact that the ‘independence’ sought by the Arabs is the death or dispersal of the hated Jews from their homeland.
The objective of the demonization and delegitimization campaign is to support diplomatic and legal warfare against the state, to damage her attempts to defend herself and to prevent her from realizing political benefit even from military victories. Military strength by itself is not enough to prevent political defeat.
How did Israel allow herself, with all of her alleged intellectual muscle, to get into this situation? How could there have been such a massive failure to tell our story – our true story to the world? Can it be turned around?
Israel is failing at hasbara for two main reasons:
First, the state suffers from a massive oversupply of homegrown critics, who attack it with as much or more vigor than outsiders. I think if we had a way to measure the pro- and anti-Israel output of our media, academics and cultural figures, we would find that the negative far outweighs the positive. Naturally when an Israeli criticizes Israel, a listener is prepared to credit what he says much more than when it comes from an outsider. Anti-Israel Israelis are helped in this by the large fraction of Diaspora Jews who, for whatever reason, are always found among Israel’s most vehement critics. There is no comparable phenomenon among Arabs and Muslims, who maintain admirable message discipline.
Not only is this pervasive self-deprecation damaging to our image, it may be responsible for the fact that we don’t even try to project a positive one.
Second, like the whore in Catch-22 who hits Captain Orr over the head repeatedly with her shoe, our critics are getting paid to beat us up. Molding the way the world thinks about a subject isn’t cheap, and our enemies haven’t spared the expense. Here are just some ways anti-Israel dollars from governments and wealthy individuals (George Soros) are effectively employed as information weapons:
- Direct grants are made to universities to endow chairs and whole departments who naturally share their point of view about Israel. Anti-Israel scholars like Ilan Pappé and Steven Salaita are helped to get positions despite academic incompetence.
- Public figures – e.g., Jimmy Carter – receive contributions to their personal foundations and huge speaker’s fees to espouse their positions.
- Front organizations – e.g., J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace – are created and funded to channel particular types of anti-Israel expression. These sometimes work to infiltrate other groups not normally concerned with the conflict to support BDS, pass anti-Israel resolutions, and so forth.
- Worldwide satellite channels like Al-Jazeera receive massive governmental support (there are thousands, in many languages, many from Middle Eastern countries).
- Contributions are made to the major ‘human-rights’ NGOs, like HRW and Amnesty International, which provide the raw material for anti-Israel UN reports and resolutions.
- Money is funneled to smaller NGOs inside Israel like Breaking the Silence, B’tselem, and others. They give legitimacy to accusations of racism and war crimes, engage in ‘lawfare’, and spread the anti-Israel message far and wide.
- Last, but not least, the huge financial resources of the UN are employed to create and disseminate anti-Israel propaganda (e.g., the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People).
And what does Israel have? Its poorly funded Foreign Affairs Ministry, many of whose officials disagree with government policy. There is no Ministry of Information, and no government-supported worldwide satellite channel. Israel’s academic establishment is permeated by radicals who, when they go abroad (and are not boycotted – an irony which is wasted on them), present papers attacking the state of Israel. International Jewish solidarity, despite what the antisemites think, is a joke.
No wonder we are losing the information war – we are barely fighting it!
Of course Israel does not have the financial resources that its enemies do. Saudi Arabia has been spending millions to buy influence in the US and Europe for decades. Qatar, a tiny country with the world’s third largest reserves of natural gas and its highest per capita income, was able to launch and support al-Jazeera in a way that few countries could.
But Israel has leveraged technology and brainpower before to overcome its lack of resources. Maybe Israel can’t make grants of $20 million each to Harvard and Georgetown as the Saudis did a few years ago, but it could license potentially lucrative patents to universities in lieu of cash.
Israel could also take steps to shut down the flow of money to anti-state NGOs at home, and even clean up the sewers of extremism that some academic departments in our universities have become. We can act more aggressively against provocateurs – both Israelis and foreigners – that create incidents for propaganda purposes. The Ha’aretz newspaper – or rather, its English website, because few Israelis read the paper – is an anti-Israel organ of major significance outside of Israel. I don’t advocate limiting freedom of the press, but maybe there is some way to neutralize or counteract Ha’aretz.
A satellite channel in English and Arabic isn’t impossible. There is a natural attraction to what is considered challenging to authority; if done intelligently and with scrupulous regard for truth, I think it could be successful. Israeli musical talent alone is world-class.
Enemy propaganda gets a boost from pre-existing anti-Jewish attitudes. If we did a better job in presenting Jewish belief and history (and I don’t mean belaboring our Holocaust victimhood) then we might defuse some of it.
Every once in a while there is a flurry of activity (the oft-derided “Brand Israel” initiative is an example). Unfortunately it’s not as simple as blowing a few hundred thousand shekels on fancy consultants. A beginning would be to create a well-funded Ministry of Information which would deal only with these issues. We need to study what our enemies are doing, and turn it around. It may take years. But it will never happen if we don’t start.