Israel is engaged not just in a war on the battlefield. It is of course waging war in the mainstream media with the broadcast of what I call terror porn: graphic content which provokes horror and revulsion, appealing to emotion and erasing rationality. It has taken that dog-and-pony show around the world with screenings in Congress, and to international journalists. What’s especially troubling about this is that the privacy of Israeli women who were alleged victims has been violated. No one asked them for permission to air their degradation before a world public.
This is an attempt to erase from the world’s mind the far more devastating murder of 10,000 women and children in Gaza. That is 70% of the overall number of dead
No one, and certainly not me is minimizing the horror of sexual crimes in wartime I have exposed Israeli sexual predators and child abusers here often. But we must keep a sense of proportionality. 800 Israeli civilians were killed on 10/7. 14,000 Gazans have died. That is a ration of nearly 20 to 1.
Israel is also attempting to mold the narrative by refusing access to Gaza to journalists. The only ones who can report there are local stringers and photographers. Even they are targeted by the IDF, with 70 murdered since the war began. That is more journalists killed than in the entire Vietnam or Iraq wars, which lasted years, rather than weeks, as Gaza has. The only media access to Gaza is via embedding with the IDF. Several news organizations like the BBC and NBC have done so. But it fatally compromises the impartiality of their coverage.
IDF press conferences, film screenings and embedded journalists are media tools of the past. They no longer have the impact they once did when Walter Cronkite ended his news broadcast with: “that’s the way it is.” Television is no longer where the majority of the viewers among western nations gets its news.
Social media: new battlefield for hearts and minds
Instead, the field of battle has shifted to the internet. Social media platforms are the modern are battlegrounds for the public’s hearts and minds. It’s critical to understand Israel’s strategy in pursuing this war in a virtual battlefield. Language is a critical weapon in both promoting the Israeli narrative and disparaging the Palestinians narrative. Here are a few examples:
The war has aroused disgust throughout the world. Along with this response, anti-Semitism is on the rise due to a false belief that Diaspora Jews are culpable for Israel’s crimes. The Lobby charge that the war promotes anti-Semitism, falsely accuses the Palestinian solidarity of an offense it has not committed.
In addition, the genocidal rhetoric of Israeli leaders highlights the hatred at the heart of Israeli society, not the Palestine solidarity movement. To turn back these phenomenon and shield Israel from claims of genocide and ethnic hatred, it turns the tables and makes the victims into perpetrators.
To counteract the world’s horror at the 15,000 Gazan dead, it likens them to “animals” and calls them “ISIS.” It employs false claims of anti-Semitism to counteract explicit hatred for Palestinians evident in Israeli discourse and social media.
Anti-Semitism automatically evokes the Holocaust in people’s minds. Once you’ve succeeded in implanting the vision of millions of dead Jews, no one will focus on the real genocide.
Israel seeks to appropriate “genocide”
Israel and the Israel Lobby in western nations attempt to appropriate “genocide” to promote their own narrative. They advance the false claim that “from the river to the sea” advocates a theoretical genocide against Israel, while it is engaged in a very real genocide in Gaza. It deliberately lies about the meaning of the term, which actually promotes a democratic state with equal rights for all citizens, Jews and Palestinian.
Israel’s media offensive effectively smothers an alternative narrative. One that examines Zionist history and finds that Israel itself is guilty of the very charge of territorial expansionism and genocide it promotes. As I’ve written here, a 1920 poem by Zeev Jabotinsky contained a slogan which became a watchword among right-wing Zionists: “there are two banks of the Jordan, both are ours.”
A latter day affirmation of that sentiment is inscribed in the Likud Party platform which affirms that all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river is under Israeli sovereignty. Unlike the theoretical genocide suggested by pro-Israel apologists, Israel is maintaining a very real ethnic cleansing and genocide in both Gaza and the West Bank.
The genocide claim regarding this slogan conceals what’s really at stake for Israel: it means the end of a state based on Judeo-supremacy; the end of theft of Palestinian land; the end of racism; the end of settler terrorism and pogroms; the end of ethnic cleansing; the end of Jewish privilege over non-Jewish citizens. Eliminating such privilege and a society built upon it is, of course, not genocide. But it is an existential threat to the Zionist dream of a state of, for and by Jews.
Gaza: mobilizing language, suppressing speech
Along with exploiting language, Israel and its Lobby have suppressed speech. Germany has criminalized pro-Palestine solidarity, arresting protestors shouting pro-Palestine slogans, including Jews. Students have been blacklisted. Student groups have been banned. Professors have been fired. Universities have been threatened by billionaire pro-Israel donors. Exploiting language and policing speech are two sides of the same coin in Israel’s battle for media supremacy.
Israel has mobilized language in a bid to neutralize and confuse those concerned with Palestinian suffering. If it can blow enough smoke in people’s eyes and confuse enough of them, opposition to the war and accompanying disgust with Israel, will eventually blow over (according to the thinking of Israel officials). This is yet another tactic In Israel’s ongoing information wars.
Earlier this month, billionaire real estate tycoon, Barry Sternlicht, announced a $50-million campaign to turn the prevailing narrative against Hamas and the Palestinians. Reportedly it has enlisted powerful Hollywood and media executives including the industry’s most powerful talent agent and CNN’s CEO. Sternlicht wrote to a number of his fellow pro-Israel billionaires about the urgency of combating an anti-Israel narrative:
“Public opinion will surely shift as scenes, real or fabricated by Hamas, of civilian Palestinian suffering will surely erode [Israel’s] current empathy in the world community,” he wrote. “We must get ahead of the narrative.”
It has launched a bare-bones website, Facts for Peace, and opened accounts on major social media platforms. Despite the hoopla, the report published earlier this month, which claims it has raised “several million dollars,” seems to be the only evidence it exists. So far, it is far from overwhelming. Which again indicates the lack of sophistication of much of the pro-Israel media strategy.
Over the last few weeks, social media influencers (including Palestinians) have received messages from an Israeli group purporting to represent the families of Israeli hostages. It offers them as much as $5,000 to post pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian content. It offers videos for them to watch to give them talking points and even suggest anti-Hamas hashtags likening it to ISIS.
Nor is this a recent phenomenon. Israel has been bringing those with an online presence to Israel for briefings from officials. It has also been paying them for their trouble. No one pays social media influencers to post content supportive of Gaza or denouncing Israel’s destruction of Gaza. No one has to. The response by most social media users to Israel’s mass slaughter is disgust. You don’t have to manufacture it with cash.
In the past, conventional media campaigns like Israel’s revolved around a positive approach of winning hearts and minds. Though there is some effort devoted to this in Israels hasbara, there is a more prevalent and cynical motive: simply to confuse and obscure truth for the sake of discrediting a Palestinian narrative that is extremely damaging to Israel.