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Three Main Questions

Three main questions are considered:

  1. What should be Israel’s primary counter-propaganda messages?
  2. By what means can they be delivered to VAST international audiences at negligible cost?
  3. What methods, techniques and organization are needed for effective delivery?

 

1. Israel’s Primary Messages

Facing a mass of anti-Israel propaganda, a process of sifting is required to identify and focus on the primary issues that will be the subject of Israel’s main messages.  To do this, the substance of accusations against Israel must be identified.  

In brief, large sections of the international media, academia, political elites and the general public believe that Israel occupies and builds settlements on land that does not belong to it but to the Palestinians.  This domination is condemned as illegal, brutal and unjustified.  In this view, the obvious solution is to establish a state in fulfillment of the humanitarian, moral and legal rights of Palestinian national self-determination.  By being seen as preventing this, Israel is blamed as the cause of the conflict and the obstacle to peace.  

These are the PRIMARY ISSUES that generate widespread moral indignation.  They are powerful because they are based on universal human values of the primacy of care rather than harm (see footnote).  Therefore, what is seen as the oppressive and inhumane treatment of a smaller and weaker ‘underdog’, with frequent excesses of violence and casualties, is found to be morally offensive.  This also produces a disabling unease among Israel’s friends and potential friends.  As a result, anti-Semitism, opposition to the existence of Israel, anti-Israel resolutions, BDS, accusations of apartheid, and so on, grow in fertile moral soil.  

Sadly, this moral view is more or less oblivious to the real factors that drive the conflict and prevent its solution.  Therefore, a crucial counter-propaganda task for Israel is to focus on the key factors that Israel needs international audiences to understand.  Largely unreported by the international media, Israel needs these to become common knowledge at the heart of international public discourse and diplomacy.  As well as being informative, this permits the moral assault on Israel to be reversed and turned against Palestinian/Arab positions.

Therefore, the chief factors that Israel needs to address are:

  1. the refusal of the PA and the Arab world to accept Israel as the nation-state of Jews;
  2. their denial of the legitimacy of Jewish national rights;
  3. their rejection of 2-states for 2-peoples;
  4. the overt aim of Hamas to destroy Israel.

In moral and practical terms, the unfairness, injustice and lack of reciprocity in the Arab positions offers tremendous possibilities for hasbara and counter-propaganda.  In brief, without Palestinian and Arab acceptance of Israel as the legitimate nation-state of Jews and an end to all threats to its existence, a 2-state solution to end the conflict is impossible.  

Why is this?  Because the first premise of advocates of the 2-State Solution is that the same territory is claimed by two national groups.  In this view, the conflict is between two sets of legitimate nationalisms, between two sets of equivalent rights.  Amos Oz, for example, has frequently characterized this as a matter of right vs right, and justice vs justice.  This understanding forms the logical basis in principle for a win-win agreement to end the conflict by a division of the land.  

However, if a 2-State Solution is to be established to end the conflict, a second premise is necessary: that each national movement accepts the legitimacy of the other.  This seems so clear and obvious that many international and Israeli advocates of the 2-State Solution simply assume that both parties share the same understanding.  However, this is not the case.  

The Palestinians and the wider Arab world do not view the conflict as between two national movements with equivalent national rights.  Only their own is seen as legitimate.  Jews are recognized merely as a religious group – without national rights.  This position has been maintained by the PLO since its foundation.  Abbas, leading members of the PA and the Arab League itself, endlessly restate it. 

This denial demonstrates that the second premise of the 2-State Solution, the reciprocal acceptance of national rights, does not exist.  Palestinian-Arab enmity is thus not a matter of the boundaries of Israel or its behavior but its existence.  In sum, this exclusive and supremacist Palestinian claim is the exact opposite of the 2-State Solution.  As long as this remains the case, 2-States for 2-Peoples will not be accepted in the Arab world as a happy or equitable compromise solution.  Instead, it will continue to be viewed as an act of treason.  

It is to Israel’s great disadvantage that the moral inequity of the Arab stance and its practical consequence of killing stone dead the 2-State Solution is almost universally unknown.  Therefore, this should be Israel’s first PRIMARY MESSAGE. 

The second PRIMARY MESSAGE should be that despite the openness and frequency of Arab declarations, the international media overwhelmingly ignores them.  Without overcoming this, no amount of charm or good news-type of PR will halt animosity towards Israel.  However, as with Palestinian positions, media distortions are open to counter-attack for their unfairness and misleading bias.

How these messages can be delivered to VAST audiences is addressed next.

2.  The Means of Delivery

In addition to the possibilities for hasbara and counter-propaganda inherent in the Arab stance against Israel, precious opportunities for effective counter-propaganda are regularly available and easy to implement at negligible cost.  

For example, there is a continuous high demand from foreign news services and studios for Israeli spokespersons.  Similar openings are available in the printed media for articles by our political leaders and letters from pro-Israel advocates.  In times of war, this demand reaches astonishing proportions.  As a result, when international focus on Israel is at its height, and Israel’s need to explain itself is at its greatest, a wealth of opportunities are available.  Simply put, the time of greatest need = the time of greatest opportunity.

The war with Hamas in the summer of 2014 provides an illustration.  Day after day and night after night, our official spokespersons (along with Israeli ambassadors, well-known Israeli politicians and various experts) had priceless and repeated access to worldwide TV audiences numbering HUNDREDS of MILLIONS.

To appreciate the scale of this, Lt Colonel Peter Lerner, the chief IDF spokesperson, said after the war that he gave 600 interviews to foreign news channels.  Presumably, Mark Regev, then the PM’s spokesperson in English, had a similarly huge workload.  More recently, various English-language TV channels (BBC, France 24, Deutsche Welle) have conducted several extended interviews with Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett.  

Yet concerted attempts to focus on Israel’s Primary Messages were absent.  Even when mentioned by our spokespersons, they always failed to develop and exploit them.  As a result, the openings available to educate the international public on Palestinian and Arab intentions, on Israel’s rights, and on the biased reporting and omissions by the international media, were largely squandered.  Therefore, a key question is how to correct this.

The missing ingredient was the absence of a strategic aim or a methodology for its effective delivery.  Essentially, the core reason for all our counter-propaganda is to communicate a message.  This means that our spokespersons must know what that message is – and focus on it.  That is, it has to be thought-out beforehand.  If not, it is impossible to escape the framework set by our enemies with the result that Israel’s Primary Messages are lost. 

By contrast, PA spokespersons seem to be guided by Gramsci’s advice that repetition is the best didactive means of working on the popular mentality.  They rarely miss an opportunity to deliver their Primary Message of blaming the occupation.  Likewise, to communicate and accomplish Israel’s strategic task of displacing the dominant Palestinian narrative in international understanding, the incessant repetition of Israel’s Primary Messages in interviews, diplomatic negotiations and contributions to the press is required.  

3.  Methods, techniques and organization

Counter-propaganda on behalf of Israel needs three main ingredients:

  1. To present at least one of the Primary Messages.
  2. To turn accusations that blame Israel against the Palestinians.  
  3. To always make a call for action.  

Yet our representatives regularly undertake interviews, for example, without any apparent awareness of the key gaps in understanding of international audiences, their moral focus or the role of sections of the international media in perpetuating these gaps.  For example, many foreign TV stations never refer to Hamas as a terrorist group or inform their audiences of the Hamas Charter and its aim of destroying Israel.

As a result, during the war of summer 2014, the Primary Message should have been that there was a very simple way to end the conflict, casualties, blockade and suffering.  Repeated ad nauseam, this was that the conflict could only end when there was a government in Gaza not dedicated to the annihilation of Israel.  This would have provided essential information about Hamas and its Charter and the need for an end to such a government to achieve peace. 

Obvious calls-for-action would follow.  Firstly, the reasonable and moral solution to the conflict would have been publicized that was otherwise completely ignored by the media in its eagerness to find fault with Israel.  Secondly, a diplomatic call-for-action would focus on the question of what the international community should do to attain this and secure Arab acceptance of Israel as the nation-state of Jews.  Thirdly, the news outlets themselves could have been put-on-the-spot about their lack of fairness and questioned about their future intentions for providing information on these issues.  

In short, the basic unfairness of Palestinian positions in refusing Jewish historic and national rights would have been exposed and challenged.  Likewise, the ingrained bias of media attitudes to Israel and the inadequacy of the international community would have been addressed.  The sustained repetition of this approach coupled with turning back accusations against Israel to blame the Palestinians needs to become the stock-in-trade of our public representatives.

Further, in extended interviews, a notable absence has been the lack of supporting material: statements by Abbas, documents such as the Palestinian Mandate, Fourth Geneva Convention, Oslo I and II, Hamas Charter, and so on.  Direct appeals to audiences may be necessary to check these themselves online.  

In reality, the conflict inevitably generates a variety of emergencies that can divert attention from the Primary Messages.  Therefore, this is an added reason why spokespersons not only need the ability to respond expertly to questions and accusations but also to connect them to one or both of Israel’s Primary Messages and make the call-for-action.  Naturally, these skills need to be practiced.  

Likewise, the need to mount accurate challenges to media misreporting means that Israeli spokespersons require the availability of up-to-date intelligence of the biases and omissions of foreign TV channels and media outlets and the biases of interviewers and journalists.  Naturally, with shorter interviews, brief articles and letters, a premium is placed on brief and pithy responses.

In other words, to take maximum advantage of the possibilities our public representatives need to be fully informed and equipped for their strategic role.  This means that the planning and preparation needs to be focused to produce guiding briefs that always include the Primary Message.  All this requires research and monitoring, including the analysis of interviews, to derive lessons for future use.  Currently, there seems to be little appetite or perspective for this.  Therefore, it must be done for them.  This requires an organization. 

———-

Footnote:  On harm/care and other sources of moral emotions, see the superb book by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind

 

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