When do we stop ignoring the information war?

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.

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7 Responses to When do we stop ignoring the information war?

  1. Nancy B says:

    Thanks for documenting this – I can send to my oldest brother & wife and older sister & husband who have bought into this delusory belief system. I was shocked and traumatized to learn that these very intelligent siblings actually *agreed* with Obama about the Iran deal! I am very liberal on many social issues but I am hard core conservative when it comes to foreign policy and Israel. How anyone can detest Netanyahu not only baffles me but frightens me. I cannot imagine being in his shoes.

  2. joelsk44039 says:

    “…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.”

    Except for a relatively small number of individuals, the “Palestinians” are really not native to the land in the first place. It seems that in making this statement, you’ve fallen into the trap of identifying Israel as the homeland of the Palestinians, which it is certainly not.

  3. I intended the word ‘their’ to refer to the Jews, not the Arabs. So the sentence could read “…the ‘independence’ sought by the Arabs is the death or dispersal of the hated Jews from [the Jews’] homeland.”

  4. Keefe Goldfisher says:

    Please forgive the length!

    These are half-formed thoughts to get at why more effective hasbara and telling our stories, while helpful, don’t come as close to relieving the Israeli/Jewish plight among distorters and traitors or even the sympathetic, as your ‘Hope Is The Enemy’ blog’s prescription to ‘take away their hope’ does. Over and above the word onslaught from self-described Jews who become forceful enemies of Israel, and the paymasters of the anti-Israel lobbies that make sure our children are educated with a heightened sense of guilt about harm continuing to be done to aboriginal or former colonial and slave populations or third-world cultures–it also ensures that the harm that comes from the latter are soft-pedaled and under-reported by a compliant press–the sheer numbers of these groups and their access to huge resources makes winning a battle of effective story-telling unwinnable. And the next generation isn’t looking like it’s going to undo the mistakes of the prior.

    One can see this heart-breaking inability to counter falsehood with President Obama’s supersized, effective command of the information wave: He has done enough to be impeached a dozen times over (impeachment is a political weapon, not necessarily or exclusively a remedy for the Executive committing crimes), but he is is not anywhere near to being threatened by such a maneuver. Over 2/3 of the American people opposed the Iran deal… he rammed it through anyway; a majority of Americans do not like Obamacare… it keeps gaining legitimacy because it won’t disappear; over 2/3 of Americans favor Israel in military and political matters, but the President has been able to resolutely sand down, isolate and abuse the contacts between the two countries to the point that Israel has been put at a severe strategic disadvantage in the region by dint of his policies. The list of these contrary/illegal/irresponsible behaviors by President Obama is huge and continues to grow. How is this possible? The means to damp down criticism, inflate the record to his benefit, use the media as a weapon against critics, and, most effectively, drive policy and diplomacy… decimates resistance. A classic example of control by the few of the many.

    A doctor (M.D.) and teacher of medicine, Andrew Bostom, has been doing yeoman’s work since 9/11/2001 to explain jihadism to himself first and then through his blog to anyone who will listen in a continuous output of very high quality scholarly content. He is assiduous about appearing on radio broadcasts, podcasts and even television to explain first that Jew-hatred is canonical to Islamic texts, not a result of germination by Nazi or European inspired and transplanted anti-Semitism (apparently, Dr. Bostom learned Farsi so that he could read original documents), and to point out the unstinting nature of jihad against the Jews, the West or any non-Muslims.

    Your advice, to take away their hope of destroying us, is the right course for Israel’s woes; conjuring the correct origins story for Israel and its legal right/advantage for holding the land is certainly necessary. But the practice of jihad has been extremely effective for a long time, and even though the narrative of two peoples sharing the land is the diplomatic universe’s way of describing a redemptive Palestinian peoplehood (not prohibited by Israel’s existence or some imagined callous Israeli nature), Israel too is among those nations that have become an adaptive victim of Islamic jihad. I say ‘adaptive’ in the sense of Bat Ye’or’s own description (paraphrased) of the response of non-Muslim cultures to the three techniques for swamping a culture that Islam has practiced for over 14 centuries: (1) Constant war against an unconquered non-Muslim foe and its territory to wear down resistance; (2) mass immigration of Muslims that enervates cultural norms and strengths so that benefits accrue to the new foreigners by dint of constant internal unrest; (3) the cultivation of powerful collaborators, useful idiots, influential friends within the host culture to promulgate the outsiders’ views and cultural standards.

    When we talk about the rich mine of Jewish Israel-bashers we are talking about the third leg of jihad… those who attach their wagon to the cart of Islamic supremacism and uphold the political positions of Muslims–all done by avoiding the topic of what they’re doing entirely. Just telling a better, albeit true, story with better hasbara does not do enough to counter the harm that elevating an Islamic ‘story’, grievances, political positions, influence has on the culture. If the parties were both fully assimilated, there would be no issue. It’s because the majority of Muslims stand apart waiting for the day when their views are enforced first as equally valid separate practice, and then later as officially required induced behaviors on the former hosts of the culture that just arguing well does not cut it–it’s winning the argument and losing the battle, eventually the war. Where is the duty to hear an argument whose actual premise is based on the destruction of your culture? Everything will be brought up again and again requiring this public arguing, expense, tragedy and no resolution. Any concessions do not only let the situation slip, they bring closer the day when one has to take instructions from unassimilated outsiders.

    What’s happening in Europe now–being overrun by Muslim immigrants–, will lead to its eventual destruction through overwhelming the welfare system by the cost to educate, house and fail to assimilate host society rejecters and non-contributors. The EU is as much a victim of its elites and collaborators as Israel. Israel gets used for a scapegoat to relieve the tension of pushing the views and needs of outsiders onto ancient European cultures, but primarily so the elites themselves do not get overthrown or replaced, despite the restive and angry populations they presumably serve. There must be a dozen Caroline Glick articles alone about the self-destructive academic, media and legal communities in Israel. No matter how angry the general public gets these groups have a stranglehold on the political conversation that might lead to better hasbara. At the same time, the Palestinian jihad progresses by making the host defend itself, the collaborators intercede in their behalf and the overall society forgoing violence to absorb managing living with the transgressors. Individual Israelis getting killed is the price the rest of Israeli society has been paying for having to make an accommodation to jihad.

    There’s a lot more to say, but this way too long already. Removing their hope to destroy requires defeating jihad. The matter is urgent. Force of arms and reading out the collaborators is the first order of business. Staying on message during the effort is absolutely necessary.

  5. Shalom Freedman says:

    I agree with all you say and I commend you for saying it so clearly and in such telling detail. But there is another element which leads to the hasbara situation being stacked against us. It is simply that there are a lot more of them than there are of us. And the ‘them’ are lost in a world of lies and fantasies fueled by envy and hatred. I am talking about the fifty plus nations of the Islamic world, and the billion and a quarter Muslims in the world, plus the army of the ‘progressive Left’ which has made the Palestinian cause its home page. There are also the millions of anti- Semites in the world including a large share of post-Christian Europe’s population.
    It is hard to explain to those who cannot and will not listen.
    This is not from my side a call for ‘fatalistic acceptance’ but I do sense how great the odds are against us.
    It may well be that we will have to survive and thrive even with most of the world remaining against us.

  6. Michael Mulcahy says:

    I keep wondering why our typical Jewish concerns regarding injustice in the world do not extend to justice for our own people. For people that supposedly “control the media” we are doing a damned crappy job of it.

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