The “Information War” is the struggle to attack or defend the image of the State of Israel in the consciousness of the world. It is truly a world war, but the two main active fronts today are the Arabic-speaking world, where for the first time there are signs of pro-Israel initiatives, and the West.
A striking feature of the Information War in the West is the imbalance between the resources of the two sides. The pro-Israel list is much shorter. We have sporadic and uncoordinated attempts at hasbara (public diplomacy, or “propaganda,” if you prefer) by the Israeli government, the most recent of which is the allocation of funds to the Ministry of Strategic Affairs (MSA) to fight BDS and delegitimization. In 2019, MSA granted about $5.3 million to individuals and organizations. As of September 2019, it had 32 employees (Hebrew link). Al Jazeera alone has about 100 times as many.
The most important and well-known private individuals that support pro-Israel messaging, of course, are Miriam and Sheldon Adelson. Their family foundation has given millions to Birthright Israel. They are also involved in other causes, such as Holocaust education, that are only tangentially related to the cognitive conflict over Israel’s image. Other Jewish philanthropists give large amounts of money to Jewish and Israeli causes (Jewish education, hospitals, Magen David Adom, etc.), but little for hasbara.
There are also a few private organizations. Some conservative think tanks like the David Horowitz Freedom Center give grants and fellowships to pro-Israel writers. Its 2018 Form 990 shows total expenses of about $6.8 million. Considering its wide range of activities, its contribution to specifically pro-Israel hasbara is small.
Evangelical Christians that support Israel have some positive effects. Christians United for Israel had a budget of about $1.3 million in 2018, a surprisingly small amount given that group’s status as a bête noire for liberal American Jews.
Many large Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Federations of North America, the ADL, and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) do publically oppose BDS and anti-Israel extremism (misoziony), but because of their need to appeal for funding from a wide political spectrum, take positions that are bland at best and negative at worst (e.g., the URJ’s failure to oppose the JCPOA, President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran). Their net contribution to pro-Israel hasbara is zero.
Turning to the other side, the mainstream media in North America and Europe is almost unanimously critical of Israel, with many important media channels – the New York Times, the BBC, Al Jazeera, MSNBC, National Public Radio (see also something I wrote about NPR 10 years ago) and the AP in the US – clearly on the anti-Israel side. And we mustn’t forget what has been called (video link, 1:36:00) the “first blood libel of the 21st century,” the false report by Charles Enderlin of France 2 on the alleged killing of Muhammad al Durah.
The United Nations and its agencies are a potent source of anti-Israel propaganda. There are countless anti-Israel resolutions passed by its Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, UNESCO, and even the Security Council. There is a “Division for Palestinian Rights” which does such things as organizing international conferences, conducts “training programs,” and puts on the annual “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” I have no idea of how to put a dollar value on its work – for the Palestinians, it’s priceless.
The European Union, collectively and from its members, has provided tens of millions of Euros to NGOs hostile to Israel, which are responsible for demonization and delegitimization in the information sphere, and lawfare against Israel. It also provides practical aid supporting illegal Arab colonization in Area C of the territories, which is supposed to be under full Israeli control according to the Oslo agreements. In the past nine years, the EU has even granted 38 million Euros to NGOs linked to EU-designated terror groups. All this is in addition to its own political activities, like demanding that Israeli products from the territories be given special labeling to facilitate boycotters.
There are major charitable foundations, like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), the Ford Foundation, and groups linked to George Soros’ Open Society Institute. Together these foundations funnel tens of millions of dollars into groups and activities that support BDS or simply produce anti-Israel propaganda. For example, the RBF has made grants to IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, two BDS-supporting groups in the US, and to dozens of other anti-Israel actors.
These groups are linked together. For example, the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP), which paid misozionist writer Peter Beinart $110,000 in 2018 as a “consultant,” also received a contribution of $135,000 from the Alex Soros Foundation (Alex is the son of George). Perhaps the idea was to make the Soros-Beinart connection less obvious.
The FMEP, incidentally, while a small player in the Israel defamation racket, is quite active in the realm of social media, as well as producing lectures, presentations, op-eds, and so forth.
Finally, there are the direct donations from Arab countries and Iran to Western universities, primarily in the US and the UK, but also in Canada and on the continent, amounting to billions of dollars. That is not a typo: one country, Qatar, gave $1.4 billion to American universities between 2012-2018. Of course these countries have other goals in addition to defaming Israel, but still there is no doubt that a great deal of the influence they are buying is directed to the cognitive war against the Jewish state.
Given all this, and considering the tepid support for Israel from liberal Jewish communities in North America, I’m surprised that so many Americans say they support Israel (I’ve been unable to find a poll of Canadians that is fair and reasonably recent). There is a red flag: support for Israel seems to weakest in younger people, getting stronger with age. I speculate that this could be related to the increasing bias in the educational system, both schools and colleges – the product of the massive investment made by Arab countries.
Although we can’t dream of matching the investment being made by our enemies, there are a few things we can and should do.
First, we can make their propaganda activities a major issue in our normalization negotiations with Arab nations. They are not doing us a favor by normalizing; if they want our economic and military cooperation they will have to end all of their information warfare against us. That means direct propaganda, but also financial support for groups that are working against us – even if it is a department of Middle East studies in a university.
We can’t make antisemitic Europeans change their attitudes. But we can shut off the flow of their money into our country that goes to anti-state organizations. Just as we (finally) have started barring BDS supporters from entering the country, we can bar their Euros too. Let “Breaking the Silence” and the others survive on contributions they get from Israelis – if they can.
News organizations live and die by access. It should be withheld from hostile reporters and organizations. They will scream bloody murder, but ultimately they will see that we only want fairness. Or they’ll have to do their coverage from outside.
There is nothing that we can do about the UN. We are probably better off not resigning from it. Someday it will collapse from its own worthlessness.
We can’t afford to imitate Al Jazeera. But we can set up internet news and culture channels in several languages, professional in every respect. Countries used to spend huge amounts of money on shortwave broadcasting with all of its technical problems. Today we have the means to deliver high-quality content all over the world at reasonable cost. People are curious about Israel – why do we leave it to our enemies to tell them about us?