30 thoughts on “Annals of Hasbara: Manufacturing the Pro-Israel Line Online – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. Zionist apologists often come up with an argument on selective indignation. Why pick on Israel, they argue, whereas there are worse things happening elsewhere. In Darfur, in Congo, in Sri Lanka.

    Michael Neumann has come up with some excellent arguments against this type of defense, mainly having to do with the fact that high trees catch a lot of wind. Israel has set itself up as the only democracy in the Middle East and as belonging to the pinnacle of human civilisation. The discrepancy between these pretences and the actual reality of the place is just too flagrant.

    But I believe that something else is coming in here. And perhaps I can illustrate that with the French writer Julien Benda’s account of his main reason for becoming an active “Dreyfusard”. It was not, he says, because Dreyfus’ personal fate touched him very much. It was rather because he couldn’t stomach the fact that General Mercier tried to impose the “truth” “with his big sabre”.

    Something similar explains a lot of anti-Israel activism, I believe. What happens in Darfur is terrible and so is the mess in Congo. The Singhalese army is poised to eradicate the last of the Tamil Tigers. But neither the Sudanese nor the Sri lankan government, or one of the warlords of Congo, has set up a string of PR offices around the world and has thousands of pens at their command to ‘explain’ to the world that what they are doing is entirely justified and that, in fact, black is white.

    People get angry about human rights violations but they get even more angry about being systematically lied to. Human rights violations generally happen to other people and unless one personally witnesses one of these one’s concern remains a bit academic. But being lied to happens to (pre)activists personally and that arouses their rage and keeps it going. Mendacious propaganda, and being submitted to it, constitutes an assault on one’s personal dignity.

    That is why I believe Israeli propaganda to be in the long run quite self defeating. Those who have been lied to for years wake up one day and are enraged about having been fooled for so long. It happened to me and I don’t believe that my experience was unique.

    So let those hasbara warriors come. I have only one request: let them have a minimum of sophistication pullease because there is no satisfaction in rebutting the ‘arguments’ of the inept clods who seem to prevail in that camp.

    1. Excellent post!
      I had the same reaction: rage when I found out how I had been lied to.
      Another response I make to people who ask me why I’m protesting Israel’s actions when thousands are starving in Darfur – “If that is a cause that grabs your heart, the way that Palestine grabs mine, then have at it. Call a protest.”

    2. That’s it exactly. I said something similar in a comment section elsewhere. Israel’s violations are bad, but not as bad as some, numerically speaking at least. But in the US we fund many of their violations and we are constantly being told that they are wonderful, just like us (which might be true in a way not intended), democratic, and fight their war against terror cleanly, taking as much care as possible not to hurt civilians. And for decades we were fed lies about the origins of the Palestinian refugees. (The lies, btw, never made any ethical sense. Even if the Palestinians had all left voluntarily, people have a right to return to their own homes when a war is over. But we weren’t supposed to think of that.)

      There’s an interesting twist lately that I’ve seen, but only in leftwing blog comment sections–the argument is that it is wrong to criticize Israel because America stole its land from the Indians. That’s an admission of guilt–it also ignores the fact that bad as US treatment of Indians has been and still is, nobody claims that it was just or that Indians should be confined to reservations.

    3. Just like other commentators, well said, Arie. I myself used your reasoning several times, but never so eloquently. I expect I’ll be quoting you from now on!

    1. After Seth’s choleric attack on me in CiF some time ago I don’t read him. Despite a polite note from him that followed publication of that piece, I figure it’s best that we maintain a semi-respectful distance fr. ea other.

      Of course there will continue to be bomb attacks against Israel until it normalizes relations with Gaza. This is self-evident. I’ve said this consistently. Until Israel negotiates a simultaneous ceasefire that involves lifting the siege & ending Hamas rocket fire, there will continue to be such attacks by Palestinian militants.

  2. Arie – they don’t need to set up those offices because nobody is interested in those countries in the first place. Secondly, criticism of human rights abuses/potential war crimes (which is of course a legitimate and appropriate thing to do, whether in Israel or anyone else) in other places is generally not combined with a call to removal those countries from the family of nations.

    1. criticism of human rights abuses/potential war crimes…is generally not combined with a call to removal those countries from the family of nations.

      Ah, the old pro Israel saw about Arab eliminationism. So tired. Arab complaints about Israel are, of course, illegitimate, because some crazy extremists have said Jews should be thrown into the sea. At this rate, you can comfortably ignore any & all criticism of Israel by pronouncing it inspired by genocidal anti-Semitic motivations. The truth of the matter is that even the most extreme in Hamas are not calling for removing Israel from the family of nations. They are calling for the end of Israel as a Jewish supremacist state and the Jews being subsumed into a new state that combines Jews & Arabs together. You & I don’t agree w. this proposal. But to pretend that such a proposal involves eliminating anyone or anything is preposterous. Israel would be turned into a different state, not eliminated. There is a difference.

      1. What a silly statement. What is the “different” state that you suggest Hamas prefers? A harmonic society where all religions and cultures are respected? Or maybe an Islamic Fundamentalist state where Jews and Christians (and Muslims who practice a different sort of Islam) are persecuted? Is this the “different” state you are offering? Sounds like elimination of Israel to me.

        1. Ah, we have an employee of Aish Hatorah here. Welcome to the Jewish slums. Shouldn’t you report your visit here to your rabbi?

          I’ve got news for you…Islam isn’t treated very well in Israel either. Did you know that Muslims were not allowed to choose their own religious leaders w/o the approval of the Israeli government? Would you stand for the U.S. government requiring Jews to vet their leaders & allowing the gov’t to reject them as Israel has done? When Israel becomes the font of religious tolerance then we can talk about Hamas.

  3. This was an entertaining post in a wierd kind of way!

    In wewillsurvive’s theory of survival of the fittest, he seems to forget that if Isreal did not have the financial backing and unconditional support from the U.S., they would not be so ‘almighty’.

    I agree with Ellen and Arie Brand, it is what grabs your attention and your heart. It is infuriating to be lied to, to be told that the suffering of the Palestinian people is a figment of our imagination. The Palestinian people are well off and the only ones Isreal kills are terrorists.

  4. Well mr. Silverstein… sending a message was impossible because i couldn’t read the verification code, even with a magnifying glass it remained a mystery 🙂

    Wanted to thank you for this wonderful weblog, i have been leaving links lately on the Facebook pages of my newly found international (and many Palestinian) friends…. and like you, i have been visiting the page of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Israel. they really know how to ‘strut their stuff’ and the only comment i have for that website is:

    “at best it’s printer friendly”

  5. While I agree with what Arie wrote above, I think that it’s also more than just rage at being lied to. Speaking on a personal level, it’s the fact that I am being coerced by my government into supporting the Occupation. And there’s not much that I can do unless there’s a mass movement against the Occupation and voters start making their representative accountable on this particular issue.

    One important aspect of ‘hasbara’ in my view is its role in trying to convince us of the justification of Israel’s behaviour in the Occupied Territories, NOT directly for Israel’s sake [I don’t think it gives a hoot!] but for that of the state apparatus in the countries where we live for without some level of pro-Israel consensus among the population, it becomes difficult for states to continue their support of Israel. In other words, it’s as if politicians, who for the most part would not be where they are without having pledged some sort of allegiance to Israel, expect Israel to do the required PR to prevent revolt from the masses.

    I don’t know whether I’ve managed to convey my thoughts here. It’s rather difficult to explain the kind of symbiosis that seems to exist between the state of Israel and those Western governments that support it.

  6. Richard, since you are rightly concerned about the quality of hasbara, perhaps you could join the hasbara brigades and educate them. I know that you never suffer from self doubt, but have you ever wondered whether the right wingers could be right, and that the Palestinians really want to evict every single last Jew from Palestine, and that there really are groups who do want to forcibly impose sharia on western society? What would happen if you are wrong?

    1. have you ever wondered whether the right wingers could be right, and that the Palestinians really want to evict every single last Jew from Palestine, and that there really are groups who do want to forcibly impose sharia on western society?

      Of course any sensible person would need to address these issues & decide whether they are credible concerns & I have and judge them not credible. If I was to quantify the danger of this happening I’d give it less than a 1% chance.

  7. Richard – you really need to learn to read things properly. I never said anything about Arab eliminationism. I also never said Arab complaints (or anyone else’s complaints) are illegitimate, per se: “criticism of human rights abuses/potential war crimes (which is of course a legitimate and appropriate thing to do, whether in Israel or anyone else)” Perhaps next time I shouldn’t use brackets.

    Of course, if you want to continue constructing straw men to knock down, that’s your choice.

    1. I never said anything about Arab eliminationism

      Then how do you parse this?

      a call to removal those countries from the family of nations.

      Sounds to me like you’re accusing Arabs of wanting to eliminate Israel.

  8. Alex Stein wrote:

    “Arie – they don’t need to set up those offices because nobody is interested in those countries in the first place.”

    Well, the question is what is cause and what effect? I dare say there would be a great deal of interest if they had had Israel’s obsessive urge to pretend that their brutality is non-existent and that their actions are quite compatible with the broad humanitarian ideals espoused in principle by “the West”.

    There is , I dare say, a great deal of interest in Indonesia, which, with 240 million people, is not only the largest Muslim nation in the world but also resource rich and straddling vital sea lanes. Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and its ongoing occupation of Papua were and are every bit as reprehensible as the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. If it had followed Israel’s example of trumpeting the rightness of its cause across the world and employed a legion of scribes to throw up a smoke screen over its actions we would now have quite a few anti-Indonesian blogs.

  9. Arie – surely you’re not suggesting that Indonesia acknowledges that its occupations past and present are immoral? Every regime, whatever its stripe, defends its positions by recourse to ‘morality’. Israel is no different in this regard. Here’s one example from today – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7863538.stm

    “We will now have to save the civilians and move in,” the spokesman, Kaheliya Rambukwella, said.

    “It is now very evident that [Tamil Tiger leader Valupillai] Prabhakaran is… using civilians as cover,” Mr Rambukwella said.

    “We will take the utmost care of civilians when we move in.”

    This after many people killed following shells landing on a hospital.

    I’m not sure Israel is as unique as you claim it to be. Again, none of this delegitimises criticism of Israel. It’s more a tactical suggestion – if you want to have more of an impact, be more rational and stop examining Israel in a vacuum.

    I’d also say that your examples of Darfur or Indonesia or wherever are unnecessary. A far better example would be to compare Israel in Gaza to the US or the UK in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    1. surely you’re not suggesting that Indonesia acknowledges that its occupations past and present are immoral?

      You didn’t read Arie’s words carefully enough. He said that Indonesia didn’t engage in a campaign to falsify public discourse about its human rights record in East Timor. If Indonesia had recruited hundreds of supporters to flood the internet with pro Indonesia propaganda then indeed many would have felt a critical need to rebut this manipulation, just as they do in response to this hasbara campaign.

  10. Well, if that’s what you’re suggesting then I really do suggest you read the Seth piece that I cited above, as it really does respond to that claim (and, given what he’s written elsewhere, is rather more difficult to smear as ‘apologetics for Israel’)

  11. As for the other point, I wasn’t referring to Arabs. Can you find the word Arab anywhere in the original statement? Nor, indeed, was I making a blanket statement. Again – please read things properly.

  12. Alex Stein wrote:

    “I’m not sure Israel is as unique as you claim it to be.”

    You still don’t seem to have grasped my point. Israel is, alas, not unique in committing atrocities and oppressing people. It is so, however, in having a ‘thousand tongues’ defending its actions as morally right and compatible with the ethos of an advanced Western nation.

    1. If I understand you correctly, then I think it’s rather pathetic that you can’t acknowledge that such feeble hasbara efforts will do nothing toward advancing Israeli interests or pt of view online or anywhere else. To the extent that “advanced western nations” use the same tactics (as the U.S. attempted to do in Iraq for a time), they too were laughed out of the box.

  13. Liberals are accused of pointing our Israeli atrocities when there are even worse atrocities such as Darfur. The problem for Americans is that Israeli atrocities are subsidized by our billions in foreign aid and weapons. Thus, all 300 million of us pay a terrible price in many, many ways. The fact that 1.4 billion Muslims in 57 countries are angry at the United States is tragic. I cannot understand how American Jews in AIPAC etc. can lobby for the billions in aid knowing that the outrageous Israeli policies do such incredible damage to the United States.

  14. Alex Stein wrote:

    “Arie – I’ve grasped your point perfectly well. It simply isn’t true. ”

    Oh dear. My wife says in such a situation “You will be telling me that I am not here next”

  15. Richard – once again the needless crude tone (“pathetic”). The conversation isn’t about whether hasbara advances Israeli interests (for the record I’d agree with you – more or less – that it doesn’t). The conversation is about whether the way the critique of Israel is formed may – occasionally – be part of the problem as well. I think that sometimes it is.

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