Imagine for a moment you’re a general about to embark on a decisive military campaign and your intelligence service secures a copy of your opponent’s entire campaign strategy. You open it and you see his battle plans laid out before you, key forces, weaponry, lines of attack, points of weaknesses, etc. You suddenly understand just how weak his forces are and precisely how to mercilessly attack and eviscerate him. The plan makes you understand that his forces are largely based on artifice and sham. It gives you confidence that you are entirely on the right course and tells you how to stay on that course. Victory is assured, your enemy’s defeat certain.
Douglas Bloomfield and Newsweek have done pretty close to that against the Israel lobby. Specifically, they’ve exposed a secret hasbara handbook written for The Israel Project by star Republican marketer, Frank Luntz. The oddly-named Global Language Dictionary (pdf) is a veritable goldmine of arguments, strategy, tactics. At 116 pages, it’s not for the faint of heart. But anyone who wants to get inside the head of the Israel lobby must read this document.
I want to devote at least two or three posts to it so I hope you, dear reader, will bear with me. I know my enthusiasm will mark me as a real wonk, but this is the real deal and worth spending some time parsing and deconstructing.
The first thing to say is that the entire document is a pathetic piece of propaganda. While it ostensibly is addressed to TIP’s leaders and advises them how to shape a pro-Israel message when they lobby Congress, the media and other critical power brokers, the entire thing reeks of desperation and a lost cause. It goes without saying that the arguments offered are not only devoid of truth, they’re devoid of rigor or credibility. There is literally no substance to the claims offered on Israel’s behalf. It’s an empty exercise in every sense of the word. Reading this makes you realize that the entire Israel lobby edifice is a house of cards.
Perhaps I’m letting my shock at the shabbiness of the Dictionary get the better of me and overstating the case it reveals against the Lobby. After all, any political network that exists for six decades and achieves as much as this one has doesn’t topple overnight. But I’ll just have to let you be the judge.
One aspect of this I find extraordinary and entirely dubious is the choice of the Republican campaign pollster Frank Luntz to write this report. This indicates, as I’ve always maintained, that the Lobby is totally tone deaf to the political environment. We have a democratic president and two Houses of Congress under Democratic control for the first time in a few decades. Pragmatic liberalism is ascendant. Neo-conservatism and Bushian Republicanism are in retreat. And who does TIP chose to make the case for Israel? A right-wing Republican spinmeister. Remarkable. But one thing I must say is that this is a good sign for our side. If our opponents are as wooden as they appear, then they will topple themselves without needing much help from us.
The first chapter, 25 Rules for Effective Communication opens with:
The first step to winning trust and friends for Israel is showing that you care about peace for BOTH Israelis and Palestinians and, in particular, a better future for every child. Indeed, the sequence of your conversation is critical and you must start with empathy for BOTH sides first. Open your conversation with strong proven messages such as:
“Israel is committed to a better future for everyone – Israelis and Palestinians alike. Israel wants the pain and suffering to end, and is committed to working with the Palestinians toward a peaceful, diplomatic solution where both sides can have a better future. Let this be a time of hope and opportunity for both the
Israeli and the Palestinian people.”
The first thing we learn is that this passage, as with everything else printed in the handbook, is empty meaningless drivel. It’s a perfect example of political three-card monty in which there appears to be a card which isn’t there at all. It’s all a sham. There is no substance. The rhetoric here is even worse than that offered by spokespeople like Mark Regev on behalf of the Israeli government.
In the following passage, we can see that Luntz has lifted shamelessly lifted arguments from MEMRI and former Mossad officer, Itamar Marcus’ Palestine Media Watch. Others before me have demolished these tawdry arguments, but it’s instructive to read the lies and distortions that TIP instructs its representatives to parrot.
Throughout, the document drips noblesse oblige and fake concern for Palestinian children:
“As a matter of principle, we believe that it is a basic right of children to be raised without hate. We ask the Palestinian leadership to end the culture of hate in Palestinian schools, 300 of which are named for suicide bombers. Palestinian leaders should take textbooks out of classrooms that show maps of the Middle East without Israel and that glorify terrorism.”
As a matter of principle, children should not be raised to want to kill others or themselves. Yet, day after day, Palestinian leadership pushes a culture of hate that encourages even small children to become suicide bombers. Iran-backed Hamas’s public television in Gaza uses Sesame Street–type programming to
glorify suicide bombers.
As a matter of principle, no child should be abused in such a way. Palestinian children deserve better.”
As a matter of principle I believe that no child (Israeli or Palestinian) should be raised in fear that their mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother or grandfather could be killed for no other reason than they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and a frightened, trigger hungry 18 year army recruit decides to make an example of them.
As for maps, before Frank Luntz or Itamar Marcus make their specious claims about Palestinian textbooks, I’d like them to show me a single Israeli textbook that features a map of Palestine. You will certainly find Judea and Samaria. But will you find any acknowledgement of the millions of Palestinians who live in the Territories?
Further, the arguments are entirely dated. Suicide bombings were a serious phenomenon in years past. But Palestinian militants have largely abandoned this tactic, at least in part due to its unpopularity among average Palestinians. You certainly wouldn’t know this from Frank Luntz’s agitprop. It’s like he’s living in a time warp and its still the first Intifada (circa 2000).
Clearly differentiate between the Palestinian people and Hamas. There is an immediate and clear distinction between the empathy Americans feel for the Palestinians and the scorn they direct at Palestinian leadership. Hamas is a terrorist organization – Americans get that already. But if it sounds like you are attacking the Palestinian people (even though they elected Hamas) rather than their leadership, you will lose public support.
Another characteristic of the Dictionary is the dubious distinctions it draws, as in this example. There is no way to distinguish between the Palestinian people and their leadership. In effect, the passage concedes the illogic of its argument with this phrase: “even though they elected Hamas.” Of course they elected Hamas. That’s precisely the point. They had an election and chose who they wanted to represent them. So for the lobby to say they sympathize with Palestinians, but not with the leaders they chose is an empty statement.
Yet another example of noblesse oblige (and it’s entirely dubious to claim that these words “work”):
WORDS THAT WORK
We know that the Palestinians deserve leaders who will care about the well being of their people, and who do not simply take hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance from America and Europe, put them in Swiss bank accounts, and use them to support terror instead of peace. The Palestinians need books, not bombs. They want roads, not rockets.”
Clearly passages like this are designed to score debate points but are entirely devoid of accuracy. The claims of embezzlement, of course, go back to the days when Yasir Arafat ran things and tolerated rampant Fatah corruption. But Arafat has been dead for lo these many years. Someone ought to roll over and tell Tchaichovsky and Frank Luntz the news.
As for Palestinians wanting roads, they do. They’d like some of those wonderful Israeli bypass roads that run directly through former Palestinian farmland and whisk settlers from their settlement homes to their jobs inside Israel proper. The same apartheid roads which are off-limits to Palestinians.
One thing you’ve got to give Luntz, he’s not above stealing ideas from anyone, even Israeli peace activists (see italics):
MORE WORDS THAT WORK
“The obstacles on the road to a peaceful and prosperous Middle East are many. Israel recognizes that peace is made with one’s adversaries, not with one’s friends. But peace can only be made with adversaries who want to make peace with you. Terrorist organizations like Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad are, by definition, opposed to peaceful co-existence, and determined to prevent reconciliation. I ask you, how do you negotiate with those who want you dead?”
There is an amazing insularity in the arguments presented here, with absolutely no conception that Palestinians feel precisely the same emotions as Israelis. In other words, they too ask how and why they should negotiate with a state of Israel that would just as soon kill them as live with them in peace.
More obliviousness, with no awareness of the dark irony of this statement:
“We may disagree about politics…But there is one fundamental principle that all peoples from all parts of the globe will agree on: civilized people do not target innocent women and children for death.”
Do I hear any concern here for the “innocent women and children” of Gaza who were slaughtered in their hundreds during the Gaza war? No, of course not.
Of course, there is unintentionally comic discourse:
Don’t pretend that Israel is without mistakes or fault. It’s not true and no one believes it. Pretending Israel is free from errors does not pass the smell test. It will only make your listeners question the veracity of everything else you say.
Admit Israel make mistakes. Don’t specify them. Change the subject as quickly as possible and hope no one notices what you’ve just conceded. And then point out how much more guilty the Palestinians are than the Israelis for the conflict.
Use humility. “I know that in trying to defend its children and citizens from terrorists that Israel has accidentally hurt innocent people. I know it, and I’m sorry for it. But what can Israel do to defend itself? If America had given up land for peace – and that land had been used for launching rockets at America, what would America do?
Use fake humility. Pretend that Israel is the U.S. and that there has been no Occupation and no injustice perpetrated against Palestinians. Pretend their lands have not been stolen. Pretend they have not been turned into refugees in the hundreds of thousands. Pretend that Israel has a right to expect Palestinians to behave like Canadians or Mexicans, who have not had a border dispute with the U.S. in 150 years.
Here is more fakery in the guise of concern. And note the conflation of American Jews with Israelis as if we are them (a little identity confusion?):
WORDS THAT WORK
“Are Israelis perfect? No. Do we make mistakes? Yes. But we want a better future, and we are working towards it.
And we want Palestinians to have a better future as well. They deserve a government that will eliminate the terror not only because it will make my children safer—but also because it will make their children more prosperous. When the terror ends, Israel will no longer need to have challenging checkpoints to inspect goods and people. When the terror ends we will no longer need a security fence.”
There is virtually no terror on the West Bank, yet 500 checkpoints remain there. Why? Tell me why, Mr. Luntz.
If there is a money quote in this document that reveals that the lobby is now running scared it is this:
We’re at a time in history when Jews in general (and Israelis in particular) are no longer perceived as the persecuted people. In fact, among American and European audiences—sophisticated, educated, opinionated, non-Jewish audiences—Israelis are often seen as the occupiers and the aggressors. With that kind of baggage, it is critical that messages from the pro-Israel spokespeople not come across as supercilious or condescending.
More unintended irony:
WORDS THAT DON’T WORK
“We are prepared to allow them to build……”
If the Palestinians are to be seen as a trusted partner on the path to peace, they must not be subordinated, in perception or in practice, by the Israelis.
What is the Occupation if not “subordination” personified??
Here’s right back at ya, buddy:
WORDS THAT DO WORK
“Achieving peaceful relationships requires the leadership…of both sides. And so we ask the Palestinians … Stop using the language of incitement. Stop using the language of violence. Stop using the language of threats. You won’t achieve peace if your military leadership talks about war. You won’t achieve peace if people talk about pushing others to the sea or to the desert.”
Israel’s military and political leaders speak the language of violence, incitement and war virtually every day. No acknowledgement of that, of course, by Luntz. As for “pushing Jews into the sea,” I haven’t read a real live Palestinian resident of the Occupied Territories make such a statement in several decades. So this argument is circa 1970 or so. Nice try though, Frank.
“Israelis know what it is like to live their lives with the daily threat of terrorism.
As do Palestinians.
Remind people – again and again – that Israel wants peace. Reason One: If Americans see no hope for peace—if they only see a continuation of a 2,000-year-long episode of “Family Feud”—Americans will not want their government to spend tax dollars or their President’s clout on helping Israel.
Bingo. Here Luntz inadvertently speaks the truth. Israel wants peace in the same vague way that a 13 year old girl may want to be whoever the teen idol of the moment happens to be. Israel has no plan. No means of getting to peace. So to say that Israel wants peace is, once again, meaningless.
And the fear lurking in the hearts of the lobby is that some day Israel will be exposed and Americans will abandon it because they will come to understand that whatever Israel may claim it wants, there will never be peace under terms acceptable to Israel. That will be a day of reckoning that the lobby wants to avoid at all costs.
To be continued…
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.