Hasbara has-been: Israeli propaganda recognized, rejected

The Western world was mostly isolated from ever hearing anything about Palestinians except as “terrorists” for too many years. The Jewish-owned and dominated media ensured that the Israeli Jewish ‘narrative’ was the only one that was told. But that is changing now. Even the controlled corporate media cannot hide the war crimes of the Jewish military state, and cannot ignore Palestinians, though there are very few Palestinians invited to give interviews and they are typically bullied and shouted down. But with the rise of social media and citizen journalists too many photos, videos and personal accounts emerge to hide the truth. Israeli propaganda, which it calls ‘hasbara‘ in Hebrew, is utterly failing, even in the Jewish-owned and dominated media. It is being exposed and rejected.

A 23 July article on Salon discussed how the newest and most thorough hasbara manual emerged and why. And it covered how even though the PM of the Jewish military state and others in the media are following the “Propaganda script” it is no longer resonating with the world, and the Americans in particular.

There is a standard script for how to deal with Palestinian casualties. After Israel killed four boys on the Gaza beach on July 16, the U.S. establishment media fell in line behind Israel’s PR framework: acknowledge the tragedy but blame Hamas.  This is exactly what Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev said on Channel 4 News when grilled by the anchor Jon Snow. It is also how the U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki responded, using the same word-for-word talking points.

Israeli propaganda has a long history. In 1982 the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was met with international condemnation. In particular, the massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila damaged its public image. Israel then instituted a permanent PR establishment that would work to cultivate good media coverage in the U.S. The Hasbara project involved training Israeli diplomats and press officers on how to speak in ways that ensured favorable media coverage. The media watchdog group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) was formed to monitor and respond to “unfair” media coverage of Israel.

But pro-Israeli coverage isn’t simply the product of good talking points; rather it stems from the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel and their mutual interests in the Middle East. It is not a coincidence that Psaki would use the same language as Mark Regev. Or that John Kerry would echo Netanyahu.

The U.S. political elite, the elite in Israel and the owners of the corporate media share a set of common economic and political interests that ensures that pro-Israeli propaganda dominates in the establishment media. Should journalists and media organizations break from the script, various pro-Israeli groups, such as CAMERA, generate flack and bring enough pressure to bear on editors and reporters that they are brought back in line.

The end result is that news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict follows predictable pro-Israeli patterns that are outlined in an educational video produced by media scholar Sut Jhally called Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land: U.S. Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

And a 27 July article in the Independent discussed the newest propaganda manual entitled, “The Global Language Dictionary” and how it is used against the world. And most importantly, it stressed the need for journalists to read it before interviewing any Israeli spokesperson or supporter.

Israeli spokesmen have their work cut out explaining how they have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, compared with just three civilians killed in Israel by Hamas rocket and mortar fire. But on television and radio and in newspapers, Israeli government spokesmen such as Mark Regev appear slicker and less aggressive than their predecessors, who were often visibly indifferent to how many Palestinians were killed.

There is a reason for this enhancement of the PR skills of Israeli spokesmen. Going by what they say, the playbook they are using is a professional, well-researched and confidential study on how to influence the media and public opinion in America and Europe. Written by the expert Republican pollster and political strategist Dr Frank Luntz, the study was commissioned five years ago by a group called The Israel Project, with offices in the US and Israel, for use by those “who are on the front lines of fighting the media war for Israel”.

Every one of the 112 pages in the booklet is marked “not for distribution or publication” and it is easy to see why. The Luntz report, officially entitled “The Israel project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary, was leaked almost immediately to Newsweek Online, but its true importance has seldom been appreciated. It should be required reading for everybody, especially journalists, interested in any aspect of Israeli policy because of its “dos and don’ts” for Israeli spokesmen.

These are highly illuminating about the gap between what Israeli officials and politicians really believe, and what they say, the latter shaped in minute detail by polling to determine what Americans want to hear. Certainly, no journalist interviewing an Israeli spokesman should do so without reading this preview of many of the themes and phrases employed by Mr Regev and his colleagues.

In a sentence in bold type, underlined and with capitalisation, Dr Luntz says that Israeli spokesmen or political leaders must never, ever justify “the deliberate slaughter of innocent women and children” and they must aggressively challenge those who accuse Israel of such a crime. Israeli spokesmen struggled to be true to this prescription when 16 Palestinians were killed in a UN shelter in Gaza last Thursday.

Dr Luntz cites as an example of an “effective Israeli sound bite” one which reads: “I particularly want to reach out to Palestinian mothers who have lost their children. No parent should have to bury their child.”

The study admits that the Israeli government does not really want a two-state solution, but says this should be masked because 78 per cent of Americans do. Hopes for the economic betterment of Palestinians should be emphasised.

On every occasion, the presentation of events by Israeli spokesmen is geared to giving Americans and Europeans the impression that Israel wants peace with the Palestinians and is prepared to compromise to achieve this, when all the evidence is that it does not. Though it was not intended as such, few more revealing studies have been written about modern Israel in times of war and peace.

That this has been covered at all in two quite prominent media -one in America and one in the UK- shows that hasbara is a has-been.

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