This is part of a series of critiques of Frank Luntz’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary.
Thanks to reader John Dickerson for coming up with the delightful moniker “Fictionary” to describe Frank Luntz’s bit of hasbara mediocrity written on behalf of the The Israel Project. Here is more of my detailed critique of the material in the handbook:
In contrast to those in the Middle East who indoctrinate their children to become hate-mongers and suicide bombers, Israel educates their children to strive for progress and peace. Israel is the one place in the Middle East where a young girl can grow up to be anything she wants—from a doctor to a mommy, to a businessperson and even to be prime minister!
Yes, Israel is a feminist paradise. No problems there. When I last lived in Israel in 1980 it was still illegal for women to work in jobs that required them to work at night. I assume that nasty bit of discrimination has been removed from the books. Israel has a proportionally high degree of domestic violence and rape. It is, and has always been quite a macho society as are many Middle Eastern societies. Yes, there has been one female prime minister in its 60 year history. Tzipi Livni came close in the last election and may have done less well than she might have because she is a woman. I hope that she or another Israeli woman will become the second prime minister. But to claim that any Israeli girl can grow up to become prime minister is another exaggeration from Luntz’s playbook.
The Fictionary contains numerous misleading or fraudlent poll results. One of them claims that 59% of those polled believe the U.S. should favor Israel while only 29% believe we should favor the Palestinians. There’s only one small problem. They didn’t ask how respondents believe U.S. policy should favor neither side or be even-handed. That of course, would radically shift the results. I am certain that a plurality or even majority of respondents would favor this position.
Talking about Israel in the context of religion is a Luntz no-no:
…Some of those who are most likely to believe that Israel is a religious state are most hostile towards Israel.
…Even the mention of the word “Jew” is many Israel contexts is going to elicit a negative reaction—and the defense of Israel as a “Jewish State” or “Zionist State” will be received quite poorly. This may be hard for the Jewish community to accept but this is how most Americans and Europeans feel.
God forbid, don’t mention Biblical claims to Judea and Samaria. Don’t mention the Orthodox monopoly on Israeli social institutions like marriage and divorce. A big turnoff to Americans. Besides, this only reminds Americans that Israel’s biggest supporter are Christian fundamentalists. And if you’re reaching out to the undecided middle, as Luntz claims to be, the fundies are an even bigger turnoff.
What’s extraordinary is the Luntz is conceding that one of the central tenets of Zionism, that Israel is a Jewish state, does not resonate with the non-Jewish world. If only right wing Zionists could actually hear this statement and grasp its meaning and adapt Israel accordingly (turning Israeli instead into a state that embraces both Jews ANDS Arabs as equals), then perhaps it wouldn’t be in the pickle it is now in.
The TIP handbook cynically reminds hasbaraniks that they don’t have to answer hard questions about Israel. And if they are asked tough questions–change the subject:
No matter what you are asked, bridge to a productive pro-Israel message. When asked a direct question, you don’t have to answer it directly…Remember, your goal in doing interviews is not only to answer questions—it is to bring persuadable members of the audience to Israel’s side in the conflict.
Luntz reminds his audience that browbeating the media is more important than having facts or a good argument:
A simple rule of thumb is that once you get to the point of repeating the same message over and over again so many times that you think you might get sick—that is just about the time the public will wake up…But don’t confuse messages with facts.
I wish some of my right-wing readers and commenters here would remember this worthwhile message:
Spending time giving the public a history lesson on the maps of Israel will put your audience to sleep — at best. At worst…it will be viewed by Americans and Europeans as a game of gotcha…Remember—communications is not a test for who can remember the most facts.
The Fictionary once again expresses fake concern for the Palestinians:
Avoid head on attacks of your opponents. Use a soft tone. Show regret that the Palestinians have been led so poorly.
No mention of the sterling quality of Israel’s leadership which, much like the Palestinian, has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace.
Here’s more fiction, this time mangling the Road Map:
“How can the current Palestinian leadership honestly say it will pursue peace when previous leaders rejected an offer to create a Palestinian state just a few short years ago and now refuse to live up to their responsibilities as outlined in the Road Map?”
A “few short years ago” was actually 1998 and Camp David, but who’s counting. As for the offer of a Palestinian state, yes there was one that retained a significant percentage of the Occupied Territories as Israeli. Both Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak knew in advance that Arafat was unlikely to accept this truncated offer and he didn’t.
As for the Road Map, what Luntz won’t tell you is that Israel has refused to live up to its own responsibilities under that document. Step 1 calls for a settlement freeze, precisely what Barack Obama is now lobbying Israel to do and which Israel is rejecting.
…If Israel stopped fighting terror, the violence would not end? If the Palestinians stopped terror, Israel would have no reason for curfews, fences, checkpoints, and other defensive measures.”
Actually, if Israel was willing to make the compromises necessary for peace (withdrawing to 1967 borders with minor adjustments) then the Palestinians would compromise as well. But Frank sees no need for Israel to actually negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians. There one small problem with his logic: if the Palestinians stopped resisting the Occupation as Frank demands, then Israel would be under no pressure to negotiate in good faith to end it. And it wouldn’t. You see, in Frank’s world view the Israelis are just like the next door neighbor in your suburban subdivision. Sure you may have some minor disagreements. But everyone’s basically good-natured and we can work out any problem with a little good will. Because–aw shucks–we’re all just good old fashioned Americans at heart. Aren’t we? Clearly, Frank sees Israel through American glasses and not as they really are.
There are good Israelis and bad ones. But they aren’t Americans. They don’t think like us and don’t act like us. They don’t live in the same part of the world we do and don’t face the same issues we do. Their interests are different than our own. To pretend that they are us is dishonest and misleading.
“Is it too much to ask that the Hamas leadership condemn all terrorist activities, including suicide bombers? Is it unreasonable to insist that they stop killing innocent children before Israelis jeopardize their security and make concessions for peace?”
Actually, none of this would be unreasonable would Frank and Israel do one small thing themselves: condemn Israel’s own violations of international law, the targeted assassinations, Gaza siege, etc. If the IDF would stop killing innocent Palestinian children as it did in Gaza, then the Palestinians too might be willing to “make concessions for peace.”
Luntz has a real bug up his ass about Hamas:
“Why is the world so silent about the written, vocal, stated aims of Hamas?”
This is Hamas, the bug-eyed exterminationist Islamist militants who want nothing more than to kill Jews and throw them into the sea. The Hamas of the 1988 Hamas charter. That’s the document created when the movement was in its infancy. The one written by some member no one can even remember. The one no current Hamas member can even quote. The one Hamas leaders say has absolutely no governance over anything the movement does now.
I’ve challenged Frank in the comment threads here to find a Jew-hating statement by a current Hamas leader. But surprisingly for someone so deeply attached to truth and accuracy, instead of producing proof for his claim he’s bid our blog a fond adieu. He wouldn’t want to actually have to support his prejudices with evidence, you see.
The TIP document does know the pro-Israel crowd well enough to acknowledge its rhetorical Achilles heel: a conviction that Israel is always right and the other side always wrong. Clearly, Luntz believes that Israel IS always right. But he advises, for tactical reasons, to downplay this arrogant approach. He suggests that his spinmeisters tone it down a bit. Don’t clobber an audience over the head with your certitude (a common affliction of this crowd):
Never, never, NEVER speak in declarative statements. Never. Americans and Europeans think in shades of gray – especially when it comes to conflict in the Middle East. They believe both sides are to blame, both sides are responsible for making sacrifices for peace…So every time you say “every,” totally,” “always,” “never,” or the like, the reaction is immediate and negative.
The Fictionary dusts off an old Sharon policy that didn’t work for him and certainly won’t work now. Sharon used to say that Israel would negotiate with the Palestinians once they stopped violent resistance against the Occupation. So here’s Luntz’s version:
The situation in the Middle East may be complicated, but all parties should adopt a simple approach: peace first, political boundaries second.
This proposition places the cart before the horse. There is violence because neither Palestinians nor Israelis know what territorial boundaries Israel is willing to accept. Territory is precisely at the heart of the conflict. So to demand the Palestinians become quiescent in order to then negotiate these boundaries is fraudulent. There can only BE peace once these boundaries are neogiated and agreed upon by the parties.
Here Luntz makes an interesting concession to the truth. He admits the public doesn’t believe the Israeli government:
Don’t try to stack your credibility up against the media’s...Americans trust the
media to report the situation in the Middle East more accurately than either Israel or the
Palestinian government. Do not attempt to impeach the credibility of a media report head
on. You’ll just end up undermining you own.
This of course doesn’t stop pro-Israel partisans from whining incessantly about how the media hates Israel and is anti-Semitic. But at least the author of this reports warns them off this bankrupt strategy.
Here’s some more cold water thrown on the typical hasbara approach:
Also, don’t try to stack your credibility up against the global community’s...The public doesn’t want to hear Israeli politicians complain about this fact [that the world is against Israel]. The Israel-against-the-world, woe-are-we approach comes across as divisive.
In the following passage, the TIP handbook concedes that the Palestinians are viewed more sympathetically than Israelis:
The world sees Israel and the Palestinians on completely different plains…It’s David vs. Goliath – only this time the Palestinians are seen as David.
To be continued…