Thanks to Ofer Neiman and Jonathan Ofir for this absolutely amazing story of the “secret life” of Israeli hasbara.
But before getting into that I wanted to take care of several other matters important to the blog. First, I’ve been sick for a few days and so had little ability to prepare any new posts. I will get things back to normal with this new one.
I thank all those who contributed nearly $700 to support Tikun Olam. It’s a meaningful donation on behalf of all the hard-work involved in publishing this blog. While all your gifts are treasured, two messages to me were especially important because they came from Israelis. They were so important not because I find my Israeli audience any more important than non-Israelis, but because my reporting often questions key values and principles of the Israeli consensus. For that reason, it is very easy for Israelis to see me as the enemy; and so rare for them to appreciate what I do. In both cases, the messages I received were from Israelis who either disagreed with me about some of my views; or who chose a very different Judaic path than mine.
The first donor wrote :
I think this was the first time I’ve ever paid for something I can legally get for free.
Although I find some of your views quite disturbing and sometimes one-sided, they’re not more disturbing to me than my government’s actions and policies (or lack thereof).
It’s important to me to stay informed, and get as many opinions on the situation (however different they are from mine), in the process of synthesizing my own.
Thank you and keep up the good work!
The second Israeli is an Orthodox Jew who works as a journalist:
I am a journalist from Israel. Yesterday, I discovered your Twitter account. I think you are doing important work in reviewing the political situation in Israel and relations between Israel and the U.S. Your work is appreciated. Keep on.
For those who haven’t yet been persuaded to do so, I’ll offer a more concrete reason to make a gift (tax-deductible online). Until now, I’ve chosen the themes for this blog and also created its “look.” Though I worked very hard at this and did a reasonable job considering my lack of professional web design skills, after 12 years it’s high time that I asked someone with the right skill set to put together a compelling look for the blog. I’m hoping we can have the new site up and running in about a week.
I’ve just hired an old friend who’s designed WordPress blogs for many years. She is also a capable and distinguished artist. She will begin working on a new theme for the blog and redesigning it. This will cost money. Around $600 to be precise. So if you’re the sort of person who responds more favorably to appeals to fund a specific project, this could be yours for the asking. I’d even be happy to thank you publicly if you wish (or not as you prefer). Maybe I should even go the route of universities and let you buy naming rights? Imagine your name “up in lights!” I’m only half-kidding. For anyone enjoying recognition, I’m sure we can work out a suitable arrangement.
As part of this project, since so many of you have read and commented here for so many years, you may have a few pet peeves: things you especially like or dislike about the blog’s functionality. Let me know. I can’t promise we can address them all. But we will try. Don’t bother mentioning the issues with the Reply function. We know that’s a mess thanks to the current DIY Thesis theme which its designers, in their wisdom, have chosen not to fix. That will be the first thing fixed by the new theme and redesign. You can either communicate your thoughts in the comment thread or to me directly via the Contact form.
Now to the news of the day: an outfit called the Center for Public Diplomacy and Hasbara has announced on a public website that it is recruiting for a “top-secret” [sic] program that will train “covert hasbara agents” (yes, they used that precise phrase) to go into the wider world to spread the gospel according to Israel.
The following translated by Jonathan Ofir (with my slight modifications):
”A CALL FOR CANDIDATES FOR THE COURSE:
SECRET HASBARA AGENTS
From the International Center for Public Diplomacy and Israeli Hasbara:
For an elite wide-ranging, deep and practical program, the fruit of many years of successful experience from the training staff for Israeli Hasbara-agents.
Course graduates are certified as agents for the network of covert Hasbara-agents of the International Center for Public Diplomacy and Israeli Hasbara.
In addition to assignments for missions among foreign visitors in Israel, certified agents are urged to file their candidacy as participants in foreign Hasbara missions.
The course encourages participants to develop a wide network of contacts [“networking”] embracing the whole world.
Hasbara-agents earn distinction as graduates of a prestigious, impressive elite program of the International Center for Public Diplomacy and Israeli Hasbara.
Possibility for integration into the PKG program: Politics, Knesset, Governance’.
Documents to be presented to test-givers on arrival:
Decision of the acceptance-committee will be transmitted to candidates who provide all of the following:
– Essay on a related subject (300-500 words in Hebrew or English).”
Get with the Program: How They Do It
Despite the sophomoric nature of this pitch, the program content shows a more studied hand at work. Not a fair or balanced one, but at least a program that shows some thought in its preparation. Lecturers including well-known rightist figures Mordechai Kedar, a Bar Ilan Arabist known for training future Shabak agents how to torture their charges in proper Arabic. His talk is titled, “A Peek in at the Neighbors.” Besides the surreptitious frisson of that word “peek,” with its slight connotation of the peep-show (who knows what you might see?), there also that racist assumption that you’ll see something scandalous or other going one there.
The Arabs and Arabists among readers here will have a special interest in the lecturer who professes facility in presenting hasbara to the Arab world. He also has an interest in special education, though I’m not sure whether that means he considers Arabs to have developmental disabilities. At any rate, he responds to anti-Israel propaganda in a “considered and focussed manner” which “refutes the propaganda lies and terminology of incitement in the Arab media.” Seems fair and balanced, no?
Lina Bachman is the anti-BDS expert. She “sees herself as an ambassador for Israel everywhere she goes.” It doesn’t say whether or not Israel accepts her self-designation. Her day job is with NGO Monitor, which the website charitably calls a “research institute.” She was a close adviser to former Labor MK Einat Wilf, which explains why the latter serves on NGO Monitor’s board and why Wilf took such delight in skewering foreign leaders like Jack Straw with trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism.
Another Bar Ilan faculty member is a course leader, indicating that Israel’s leading National Religious university offers this hasbara course a patina of academic rigor, though not one deserved. Retired Amb. Yoram Ettinger apparently earns his credibility to speak on Israel-U.S. relations by virtue of the fact that he was once Israel’s Consul General in Houston and served as Congressional Liaison at the DC Embassy. He now earns a handsome living speaking on the pro-Israel rubber chicken circuit for the Jewish National Fund and others. He’s also a regular contributor to Algemeiner and Arutz Sheva.
An IDF paratrooper commander who fought in Operation Protective Edge (and presumably commanded troops engaged in war crimes) delivers this chilling talk: “Hasbara Through the Gunsight.” His chief hasbara claim to fame is that he participated as an Israel Bonds shaliach in the U.S. He was also awarded a Standwithus Hasbara Fellowship. For those of you who enjoy a chuckle, there’s: “Humor in Service of Pro-Israel Hasbara” (isn’t the “pro-Israel” a bit redundant before the word “hasbara”?). You know the lecturer has her comedy chops because she herself does standup. She’s also an actress and a journalist, though not sure which one gives her the most expertise in delivering the goods for her audience of secret agents.
A political speechwriter-consultant will deliver a lecture on, “Tips on Improving Rhetorical Skill Before Hostile Audiences.” I’ll bet his help will come in handy–or not. One of the lectures will deal with the subject of “The Fighting Media.” In other words, drafting the media to use as the equivalent of a military strike force. Among the arguments advanced: “We must transform the media into a tool and powerful fighting means in shaping public opinion and reality.” That says it all, doesn’t it? But not quite…because his bio wants you to know that he spent “three years learning how to deal with anti-Israel media and audiences in Canada.” Take that, Canada. I guess he never had the privilege of meeting Ezra Levant or Stephen Harper.
Another lecturer’s singular distinction is that he leads the political science department of the “Haredi College” in Jerusalem. Sorry, but I don’t think it’s been ranked in US News & World Reports college rankings. He’ll tell his listeners about the “Hasbara War in World Media.” You’ll be delighted to hear he’s been called “the new voice for Israel” (don’t know who awarded him that moniker). He’s been on the advisory board of the pro-Israel advocacy group EMET and spoken before the American Enterprise Institute, Aipac and many other similar outfits. If anyone knows about waging war on the media, er against the…oh, what the hell, with the media, it’s this guy, right?
I love this title: “Business Marketing Abroad Without Selling Israel Cheap.” The speaker is a specialist in marketing ‘renewable energy.’ Unless you consider hasbara renewable energy (I suppose that depends on how you generate the hot air), I’m not sure what’s his particular expertise on the subject. “Hasbara on Enemy Terrain” is offered by someone who claims special expertise in Islam and terror (why is it those two words are almost always linked in Israeli discourse?). His CV trumpets his role as founder of a group titled, “Druze, Christians and Circassians for Israel.” And a truly mighty NGO it is, I’m sure.
Oh, but how can I stop without telling you about this gem: “English for Hasbarists” (yes that’s a precise translation from the Hebrew, masbiranvim). Sorry, just when you thought I was done…here’s another gem: “The Middle East: How It All Began (Intro to Islam).” I’m really kinda bummed there’s no, “Hasbara in 60 Seconds.” That would be cool.
David Schein is truly one of the more repulsive members of the “faculty.” He will lecture, of course, on the Iranian threat since he was born in Iran. Though he hasn’t lived there in decades and his journalistic output in the far-right Orthodox publication, Makor Rishon (a new addition to the Adelson stable), indicates he cultivates no particular sources there, he of course will offer his expertise on just these subjects.
There will be the mandatory lecture on the “The Startup Nation in Service to Hasbara and Israel-Branding in the World.” A rabbi will tell the future secret agents how to prepare for radio, TV and newspaper interviews. The speaker’s special expertise is in “increasing the impact and effectiveness of Talkback activists (those are the sort who frequent this blog–you know who they are!). The good rabbi is also expert in the audio-visual realm in which he’s researched seeking common ground in multi-cultural and inter-religious dialogue–in order to better advance Israel’s agenda. ‘Nuff said.
There is also one “Zeev Jabotinsky” (you can guess which famous Israeli rightist he’s related to, though his bio says nothing of his lineage). Mr. Jabotinsky is a computer engineer, but somehow his grandfather’s lineage offers him street cred as an Israeli political analyst. His course topic is, “The Right of [Israeli] Sovereignty in Light of International Law.” Don’t ask why a computer engineer has special expertise enabling him to speak on the finer points of international law. He will specifically address claims raised by anti-Israel activists who make “fraudulent use” of international law.
Davidi Hermelin: Founder of the Hasbara Center
This program was the brain-child of Davidi Hermelin, a member of Young Likud. In other words, those youthful sycophants who aspire to national leadership when Bibi Netanyahu and this current bunch of aging Ashkenazi uber-nationalists leaves the scene in another half century or so. He ran for a seat in the 2009 Knesset, spending nearly $10,000 in his unsuccessful bid, as much as Danny Danon, who is now Israel’s UN ambassador. This is apparently one of his pathways to respectability and credibility among the Likud faithful. A political profile he published says the following:
Hermelin joined Likud in 1992. Even as a young boy he didn’t hesitate to join despite the Party then being at its nadir, because it was the right thing to do and that’s what was required of him at that moment. Even today, every Zionist must ask himself: “what does the nation demand?” And only afterward: “What do I want?”
My God, a leader who wants nothing for himself, but to give his all for his country. When has Israel ever seen his like…except for last time someone said that and then seized the opportunity to cash-out the first chance offered (Lieberman, Olmert, and on and on)?
Hermelin has also networked extensively among EU right-wing party youth wings speaking in Germany and elsewhere. He’s also lectured to more mainstream outfits like the Hartman Institute, which is home to the notorious normalizing project, the Muslim “Leadership” Institute.
Returning to those secret agents, let’s leave aside the fact that it’s just plain weird for a “top-secret” program to be advertised on a public website. If you were a legitimate spy you’d know in a heartbeat that whoever put this together is a total amateur, or even a fraud. I know I half-believed the entire website was an elaborate joke. But apparently not.
Though I’ve yet to prove the program is an official project of the Israeli government, the name alone virtually guarantees some association with the former Ministry for public diplomacy and hasbara. Though it was discontinued in 2013, some of its duties were absorbed into the ministry for diaspora affairs. I also note there are public diplomacy officers at Israeli embassies like the one in Washington DC. The chances that this venture is funded in whole or in part by the government are extremely high.
If that is so, and we can virtually assume it is, then the operation is indeed a joke. But one perpetrated by an Israeli government which has become well-known for such “jokes.” Virtually its entire foreign policy is a joke. And recruiting its foreign “agents” in this way only exacerbates the jokes. It’s like a spook-version of the Keystone Cops.
This type of venture is nothing new. In fact, in addition to scores if not hundreds of millions budgeted officially to combat de-legitimization (“hasbara” with a fancy name), a veritable cottage industry of rightist NGOs (Standwithus, Im Tirzu, The Israel Project, etc.) have mushroomed with similar projects. This is the soup du jour of latter day Zionism. Here’s a rather feeble effort of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya slapped together during Operation Destructive Edge. IDC is known for offering academic preparation and training for future Israeli spies and diplomats (is there much of a difference these days?).
On its Facebook page, the Center speaks approvingly of a report by Im Tirzu, so that also gives you a sense of the associations of Hermelin and his project. This YouTube video also gives you a taste of Hermelin’s distinctive approach to public diplomacy (hint: it’s not terribly distinctive):