Israel's Army Of Spin-doctors Is Doomed To Defeat
30 July 2015
By Jonathan Cook
The Israeli government believes it is locked in an epic struggle to save
Israel from the growing movement calling for an international boycott. Prime
minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that Israel must quickly "rebrand" itself
to avoid pariah status.
Ordinary Israelis are therefore being conscripted into an army of
spin-doctors in a campaign termed "hasbara" Hebrew for "public diplomacy",
or more literally "propaganda".
In the latest offensive, the education ministry has launched a compulsory
hasbara course for Israeli students travelling abroad. All youth delegations
are now required to learn how to justify to outsiders Israel's policies in
the occupied territories. According to officials, the students must challenge
those who "seek to delegitimize Israel".
It is yet more evidence that hasbara has become a national obsession in
Israel and that the line between support for one's country and support for
the subjugation of another people has been erased. Some 85 per cent of
Israelis tell pollsters they are keen to become hasbara ambassadors for the
A hasbara ministry already targets the international media with good news,
while cultural events from food fairs to Israeli entries at film festivals
are designed to prove that Israel has another, hidden side.
For years the Israeli government has relied on paid workers and thousands
of volunteers in Israel and abroad to surf the net posting pro-Israel
At Israel's international airport, Israeli holidaymakers are offered
brochures explaining the importance of persuading those they meet that Israel
is misunderstood. Advice suggests emphasising successes such as Israel's
invention of drip irrigation and popular varieties of the cherry tomato.
And yet the latest hasbara drive is as unlikely to reverse Israel's slow
slide into ignominy as its predecessors.
The hasbara industry's chief flaw, as Israeli political scientist Neve Gordon
observes, is its assumption that "the merchandise is fine, and only the
packaging needs to be replaced".
But rapid developments in information technology mean Israel has less control
over its image than ever before.
First it was 24-hour rolling news, then the internet. Now cheap smartphones
make every Palestinian a potential documentary-maker, ensuring that moments
of cruelty and oppression are captured and available for anyone who cares to
Palestinians post online videos of their everyday abuse: from demolition of
homes to stone-throwers being shot with live ammunition; from settlers
burning crops to children being dragged by soldiers from their beds in the
middle of the night.
Last week 56-year-old Zaki Sabah, a familiar cake vendor in Jerusalem's Old
City, starred in one such video. Bystanders filmed him being savagely beaten
by Israeli police on a busy road. Denied a permit for many years by the
occupation authorities, Sabah has been repeatedly fined and jailed.
Meanwhile, another video exposed Israel's deceitful account of its supposedly
peaceful interception of a boat trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
As more than a dozen passengers were held captive over the weekend, footage
was smuggled out showing that Israeli commandos had electrocuted some of them
with tasers during the takeover.
Troubling imagery is not restricted to the occupied territories. Film of the
charred interior of a historic church next to the Sea of Galilee highlighted
last month the latest hate crime by Jewish extremists against Israel's large
The futility of trying to staunch the tide of evidence damning Israel on
media old and new was exemplified last week by Moshe Yaalon, the defence
"There is no humanitarian distress in Gaza," he averred, while the media
illustrated reports of his speech with pictures of mountains of rubble and
children still homeless a year after Israel's massive assault on the besieged
Yaalon's sophistry may placate Israel's diehard supporters but the rest of us
are more often incensed by such insults to our intelligence.
The hasbara offensive is doomed for another reason.
With the Palestinians' case substantiated by evidence, rather than Israel's,
the evangelists of hasbara have only one recourse: to blame the messenger.
Critics of Israel, it is implied, are either inveterate dupes or unabashed
anti-semites. Either they have been deceived by the Israel-haters, or they
are haters themselves.
As the hasbara industry moves into overdrive, such slurs are becoming all too
common including against those Israel most urgently needs to cultivate as
Judith Nir Mozes, the wife of interior minister Silvan Shalom, a Netanyahu
confidant, possibly reflected high-level thinking in Israel when she tweeted
last month a racist "joke" about President Barack Obama. "Do u know what
Obama Coffee is? Black and weak," she wrote, ridiculing the leader of
Israel's most important ally.
Similarly, the Israeli foreign ministry hurried to mock foreign journalists,
even though they are hasbara's target audience.
In a short animated video, a naοve reporter is shown claiming that the people
of Gaza simply want peace as militants fire rockets just behind him. Next the
reporter misidentifies Hamas' tunnelling as the "first Palestinian subway
system". The video ends with a warning: "Open your eyes, terror rules Gaza."
Michael Oren, Israel's recently departed ambassador to the US, has joined the
fray too, castigating American Jewish journalists as "self-haters" for their
critical coverage of the Israeli prime minister.
Hasbara's cartoon version of reality is not only unconvincing but, in
alienating friends as much as foes, self-defeating. Netanyahu may hope to
repackage Israel, but his product ongoing oppression of Palestinians is
one few can be persuaded to buy.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His
latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the
Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine:
Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His website is