How Israel Lost the Information War

Yesterday I was listening to a news program on the radio while preparing dinner. The host asked his subject – I don’t recall who it was, probably an opposition member of the Knesset – this question: how can it be that world opinion has become solidly anti-Israel only a few months after the worst pogrom since the Holocaust, in which more than a thousand Jews were murdered in the most brutal fashion imaginable, in which hundreds of women were raped and children tortured to death? The predictable and stupidly self-serving political answer was that it was the fault of the Netanyahu government, which had “mismanaged” the war. But what is the correct answer?

The real reason is that Israel, while successful in the “kinetic” aspects of the campaign against Hamas, has been overwhelmingly defeated in the less visible theater of information warfare.

The roots of this defeat go back decades. There was as yet no “mismanagement” on the day after the Hamas invasion, when there was an outburst of anti-Israel demonstrations and attacks on Jews around the world while the rampage was still continuing in parts of southern Israel. The ground was prepared as far back as the 1970s, when a wave of Arab petrodollars, guided by the Soviet KGB, flowed into a massive project of psychological and diplomatic warfare against the Jewish state. It wasn’t so difficult for them – the built-in antisemitism of the West, temporarily suppressed after the Holocaust, found a new outlet. It was easy, too, to nurture antisemitic elements in the Muslim world. In the West, the educational systems were infiltrated and subverted, starting with the “best” universities and continuing down to textbooks and curricula for elementary schools. A reality-inverting identification was made between Zionism and Western colonialism and racism, benefiting from both the anger of the formerly colonized and the guilt of the colonizers.

Funds for anti-Israel initiatives also came from the network of charities associated with George Soros, starting around the beginning of the 1990s. This money nourished many of the NGOs and human rights groups that became centers of anti-Israel propaganda, and continues to support them.1

In the diplomatic realm, the invention of the Palestinian Refugee after Israel’s War of Independence (a war of national liberation in which the formerly colonized Jews fought Arab proxies of the British Empire!), provided Hamas with the troops it needed, fed and educated to the point of fanatic hatred with Western money. Hamas combined the multi-faceted indoctrination against Jews and Israel, pioneered by the PLO after Oslo, with religious jihad. Both the West and the Muslim world were primed and ready to blame Israel for the murder, rape, and pillage of her people. And the great-power rivals of the US, Russia and China, were only too happy to join in the take-down of what they see (correctly?) as an American satellite, an outpost of the US in an important zone of contention.

Given the fertile soil, the propaganda offensive of Hamas and its supporters when Israel counterattacked blossomed into a worldwide flourishing of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish expression. The Palestinians, who have developed the technique of exploiting their supposed victimhood, sometimes by exaggeration, sometimes by invention (as in the alleged shooting of the boy Mohammad al Dura in 2000, probably the most blatant yet effective “Pallywood” production ever), and sometimes by deliberately putting their people in harm’s way, pulled out all the stops. Soon the horrors of October 7th were drowned out by the suffering of the Gazans affected by the war that their leaders had started. Western media and humanitarian organizations slavishly repeated Hamas propaganda about civilian casualties with proforma disclosures that their only source was Hamas.

Mismanagement on the part of Israel also goes back decades. It includes overdependence on the US and consequent weakness in the face of pressure from unfriendly administrations, inability to overcome wish-fulfillment illusions about Palestinian motives and plans, weakness in the face of domestic pressure (for example, the release of more than a thousand imprisoned terrorists in return for one kidnapped soldier), and the tendency to prioritize internal political issues over serious external threats. A very serious failure has been our sporadic, inconsistent, and poorly funded actions in the information arena, while our enemies have implemented a long-term, carefully planned and meticulously executed campaign.

Al Jazeera, began broadcasting in Arabic by satellite in 1996, and since then has added multiple languages, including English. Based in Qatar and very influential in the Arab world, it has been in the forefront of anti-Israel propaganda ever since. In wartime, it specializes in inflammatory stories and photos of “atrocities” allegedly committed by the IDF (pictures from Syria and natural disasters are sometimes used). Left-leaning Western media, like the British Guardian newspaper have always followed an anti-Israel line; and the BBC is far from impartial. More recently, mainstream media in the US like the NY Times and Washington Post newspapers, the NPR radio network, CNN, and others – staffed by the products of “good” universities – have become more than merely biased: at their worst (which is often), they are mouthpieces for Hamas. Pro-Israel media in the West are rare and marginal. Some of Israel’s own media – in particular the English edition of Ha’aretz, which is widely read throughout the world – is only slightly less toxic than Al Jazeera. Israel is overwhelmed on social media as well, in part by botnets, but also by individuals and anti-Israel NGOs which dedicate staff to this function.

The combination of governments, international institutions, NGOs, media, academic institutions, and the arts all promulgating the carefully nurtured myths of Palestinian victimization and Israeli malevolence have overpowered Israel’s woefully inadequate attempts at a response.

In short, Israel has been and continues to be outgunned in the realm of information warfare. There have been sporadic attempts to improve the situation, but the funds for such a massive undertaking have never been available, nor would there likely be agreement on precisely what the message should be and how it should be presented. And we don’t have decades to lay the groundwork and gradually uproot the deep-seated antisemitism and hatred of the state of the Jews that has developed over time, even if we knew how to do it.

The best strategy in the face of this defeat therefore will be to depend on the human tendency to cheer for the winner: to be the “strong horse” that everyone bets on. Israel will need to defeat its enemies on the physical plane, to humiliate them and strike fear into the ones that are left. Rather than a picture of “responsible citizenship” that the world has been conditioned to disbelieve, our image should be that of a violent and dangerous player. In an environment where we can’t create warmth, we should at least inspire trepidation.

1 Alexander H. Joffe, “Bad Investment: The Philanthropy of George Soros and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, How Soros-funded Groups Increase Tensions in a Troubled Region: May 2013
https://www.ngo-monitor.org/soros.pdf

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2 Responses to How Israel Lost the Information War

  1. Leon Kushner says:

    I couldn’t agree more! We’ve known all our lives that the arabs (the nasty ones) only respect power and ferocity. When they feared us they respected us. Perhaps ‘respect’ is not exactly the right word but you know what I mean. We need to stop being Mr. nice guy and appease everyone, not just our enemies but our allies too. There was a study done after the 6 day war whereby Poles were surveyed as to how they thought of Israelis (Jewish citizens). Prior to the 6 Day War and mostly for a thousand years prior, they hated Jews and of course in 1948 they despised Israel. But after Israelis clobbered their enemies miraculously over the 6 Day War, the antisemitic Poles looked favourable on the Israeli Jews, possibly for the first time ever!
    People like a winner!

  2. nudnikJR says:

    Victor,
    A clear and correct analysis. Israel has never had the upper hand in the information war and never will, for all the reasons that you have stated.
    Your conclusion that Israel has to be, in Bin Laden’s phrase, “the strong horse” is correct. Fear is a far stronger motivator of respect than love.
    However, this will be difficult to achieve in the short term because of the massive (and unconscionable) dependency on an unreliable America. (I always remember Kissinger’s words that “To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal”).
    In addition, it appears that the “conceptsia” of October 6th is still alive and well in the upper echelons of Zahal and the Shin Bet. Just look at the recent appointments of Halevi!

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