Category Archives: Hasbara

Frank Luntz’s latest hasbara talking points – how to defend Israel post-Gaza

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 9.56.50 PM
The man we can all thank for catchy Orwellian phrases like “The Personal Responsibility Act” (which gutted federal support for poor families) and the “Death Tax”, Republican pollster Frank Luntz, is also the guru for Israeli hasbara. That’s right, more than any single person in the U.S., Frank Luntz has been responsible for teaching thousands of eager warriors for the Israeli government how to sell human rights violations and settlement expansion to increasingly dubious audiences. One example is this Israel Project 2009 classic, oddly euphemistically titled the Global Language Dictionary.

JNFBut now I’ve got great news boys and girls. The long wait for the latest “Words that Work” from Frank Luntz is now over (thanks for posting a leaked copy Jewish Philosophy Place–we almost missed the best read of the year! ) You can now download your own 2014, post-Gaza version of Communicating the Truth About Israel.

Lucky for us, it includes a great deal of current, original research on what Americans think about Israel, and what words test well in responding to their doubts. It seems to have been commissioned after Israel’s horrific attacks on Gaza–groups like the Jewish National Fund recognized that the reaction of near universal horror to Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians was, indeed, the mother of all Israeli public relations problems.

We decided to hunt down the document after spotting Frank with a Powerpoint walking around in an odd new propaganda video filled with well-dressed young Jewish fraternity members–looking like they’d just stopped by on their way to internships on Wall Street. In each interview, these young men seem increasingly isolated and devastated by pro-Palestinian activism on their campuses which they conflate with anti-Semitism. One can’t help but feel for these students. I have no doubt that for many of them, the isolation and confusion they feel is real. And I hope they get support. After all, having your world view turned upside down, and your own power and privilege challenged in ways that make you uncomfortable, is part and parcel of what we used to call a good education.

But it says everything that these students are not at a gathering with therapists, or spiritual leaders, or experts in reconciliation and peace or building a healthy Jewish life on campus. No, they are at a conference with literally one of the world’s greatest propagandists for hire.

In fact, the video calls for a kind of war against “these radical, hate-driven organizations,” aka student groups that support Palestinian rights.

Hasbarists have been telling students at divestment hearings to avoid the facts and use the talking point “I feel unsafe” for years. Their elders are not doing these students a service by making encouraging them to feel even more fearful and separated.

In his presentation, Luntz relies on standard hasbara fare–thinly veiled racism and “oppositelandia” attacks on peace and justice advocates, as though church groups and pro-BDS Jewish college students were actually the ones responsible for the gradual closing of the door on a two state solution.

Luntz tells advocates to talk about Israel as standing on the front lines against global terrorism, a beacon of civility in a tough neighborhood, and to trot out the constant line about Hamas using human shields. He instructs hasbarists to use human, emotional, heart-felt language. He tells his followers to blame Palestinian rejectionism for Palestinian suffering, and to divert questions away from the realities of Israel occupation and repression.

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 7.38.23 PM

And remember, as Frank always says, “It’s not what you say that counts. It’s what people hear.” And I’d add, “It’s not what is actually happening on the ground that counts, it’s what Frank Luntz tells you to say.”

-Cecilie Surasky

Odeh Not Given Full and Fair Trial, Found Guilty in Jury Verdict

By Becca Hanna

Palestinian-American activist Rasmea Odeh was found guilty this morning of “Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization” stemming from questions she answered on immigration documents a decade ago.rasmea_0

Odeh, a 67 year old community organizer with Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago, was arrested in her home on October 22, 2013 by Department of Homeland Security agents. She was charged with omitting information about a prior conviction on her naturalization documents.

That conviction was a 1969 decision by an Israeli Military Court indicting Odeh for alleged involvment with Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), accusing her of direct involvement in a bombing of the British Consulate in Jerusalem.

Odeh was arrested in a 1969 and jailed in an Israeli prison where she was brutally tortured and abused until she finally confessed to the bombings. At trial, Odeh immediately recanted her confession given under torture, but was sentenced to life in prison by the all military court.

Odeh served 10 years before her sentence was commuted in a prisoner exchange with the PFLP. Odeh eventually made her way to Jordan where she became a lawyer, then came to the United States in 1994 to care for her ailing father.

Odeh has lived and worked in the United States since then, committing herself particularly to organizing Arab-American women in the greater Chicago area. Odeh has widely been recognized as an exemplary community leader, even garnering praise for the Chicago Cultural Alliance as such in 2013.

Odeh with Ali Abunimah shortly before the verdict was announced today.

Odeh with Ali Abunimah shortly before the verdict was announced today.

Censorship in Pre-trial Motions

The arrest and subsequent trial of Rasmea Odeh has been legally questionable from the start. The Committee to Stop FBI Repression among others, argue that the discrepancy on the naturalization application was purposefully sought out in an effort to jail activist by any means necessary,

Odeh is a member of a prominent Arab-American community which garnered national attention after a 2010 FBI raid on 14 activist’s homes. Though none of those subpoenad activists have yet been jailed, Stopfbi.net called the raids and subsequent grand jury indictments a “witch hunt” for pro-Arab activists.

The injustices, for Odeh, did not stop there.

Early on in her trial process, Odeh met many barriers to a full and fair trail, starting with inadequate representation, and ending with censorship of her own testimony.

In a criticized evedentiary hearing, Eastern Michigan District Judge Gershwin Drain ruled that evidence that Odeh was tortured in Israeli custody and forced into a confession was inadmissable . Though Justice Drain said the court was “sympathetic” to the story of Odeh’s torture and admitted that there is truth in her accusation of torture, he claimed that the torture had already been tried in 1969 and he was not looking to “rehash” the previous trial.

Rasmea’s lawyers intended to use her admission under torture, immediate recantation and subsequent diagnosis of PTSD to build a case for the omission of the conviction being due to Odeh’s intense trauma surrounding the confession.

In his ruling, Justice Drain also alluded to a 1998 treaty between the United States and Israel ”on mutual assistance in criminal matters.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.01.53 AM

This treaty effectively binds the United States to honor any decisions made by the Israeli courts, and promises legal assistance in prosecuting anyone that the Israeli Government sees fit to prosecute.

This treaty was the ultimate reason for Judge Drain’s refusal to allow Odeh’s testimony: a pact with the Israeli Government.

Odeh’s defense also tried to get the court to throw out the trial on the grounds that the information gathered about Odeh was gathered from illegal investigation into the Arab American Action Network’s activities, and was a politcally motivated attempt to abuse the criminal justice system to jail activists doing politicized work. The court sided with the prosecution on this motion as well, denying it outright.

While Odeh did win a small victory with a motion to exlude the battery of charges brought against Odeh by the Israeli courts in favor of focusing on just the bombing indictment, the defense’s entire case was gutted by the evidentiary ruling barring the torture allegations. The jurors for the case would not be able to hear anything about how the confession was obtained by the Israeli Military. Further, the judge granted the prosecution’s motion for a jury sequester, assuring that the jurors would not see any signs of protest outside of the courthouse by picking them up from an unspecified location and bringing them in a different entrance. Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 12.39.07 PM

The Trial

At trial, the prosecution worked to paint Odeh as a convicted and dangerous terrorist who omitted information about her previous arrests to unlawfully gain access to the United States and further her political agenda.

Putting Odeh’s story into context, defense attorney Michael Deutsch used his opening statements to tell the story of Rasmea’s family’s loss of their home and land in 1948 and the indiscriminant sweep of arrests in 1969 that put Odeh in jail where she would eventually be “interrogated for weeks.” Deutsch spoke of the Nakbah and Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land, telling the jury that Odeh “embodies the history of the Palestinian People.”

During the trial, the defense was able to show that Odeh was questioned in 2010 by a Homeland Security Officer who lied about his interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to get Odeh to talk about her recent trip to Palestine. Deutsch showed that the original immigration documentation was never signed by Odeh, that the immigration official who went through the naturalization questions with Rasmea in 2004 never asked Odeh about the questions involving previous convictions, and that the paperwork itself is confusing — asking questions meant about convictions in the U.S. and abroad after asking a series of U.S. focused questions.

When Odeh finally took the stand herself on Thursday, she bravely told the story of her life, hinting at, but omitting the torture she endured in Israeli prison at the threat of being held in contempt by the Judge. “It’s my life,” she told the judge, “I have a right to talk about the things that happened to me!”

The prosecution vigerously cross-examined Odeh, trying to trap her into misspeaking, but she stayed strong, asserting her innocence and giving careful explanations about her conduct.

The trial ended on Friday with the jury taking 15 minutes for deliberation before adjourning for the weekend.

This morning, after less than 2 hours of deliberation the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict, likely sending Odeh to jail and putting her citizenship in danger. Judge Drain, in a rare move, praised the jury for their decision.

After the ruling, in usual Rasmea Odeh form, the activist addressed her supporters outside of the Detroit Couthouse saying, “Someday we’ll find fairness, some place in the world. If we didn’t get justice now, we will get it later.”

Odeh is set to appear before the judge for sentencing at 2PM CST.

Long Island University Puts Kibosh on Academic Freedom

 

US WWII propaganda poster remix courtesy: http://propagandaremix.com/gallery/?pid=478

This fast-growing petition tells a sad story about the decline of academic scholarship in the face of Israel criticism-phobia.

In a nutshell: professor Harriet Malinowitz gets support from her department for proposal to take sabbatical and write about Zionism and Propaganda. University administration inexplicably denies proposal. Union gets involved, and University accepts sabbatical if professor takes early retirement and “agrees that the deal ‘not be used or introduced as evidence’ in the future.” Evidence for what?

Said professor, Harriet Malinowitz, refuses the offer, and now asks for your help by signing this petition:

To: President Kimberly Cline, Long Island University

President Cline, don’t punish Dr. Harriet Malinowitz for writing about a controversial issue. Make LIU’s decision-making transparent, equitable, and accountable to the principles of academic freedom.

Of course, the existence of Zionist Propaganda isn’t a state secret. In fact it’s a thriving, proud industry worthy of in-depth study. There are literally countless examples throughout the history of Zionism — like this, this and this and so on and so forth.

Continue reading

Holy Moley Batman—Palestinian textbooks don’t demonize Jews!

If you are quiet and can hear a loud cracking noise in the distance, that’s the sound of the Hasbaraniks losing one of their favorite stock charges against the “big, scary, bad” Palestinians. To quote Hillary Clinton when she was held captive to local interests and regularly said stuff she didn’t believe a U.S senator in NY, Palestinian textbooks don’t, “give Palestinian children an education, they give them an indoctrination.” This oft-heard charge about Palestinian textbooks filled with horrific portrayals of Jews has been a lynchpin component of the Israel-as-innocent-victim narrative which AIPAC and company promote everywhere from churches to Congress. All to keep the dollars and protection flowing. Continue reading

Nazism, Zionism, and the Arab World: Countering myths

Holocaust survivor Annette Herskovits has written an important article— Nazism, Zionism, and the Arab World: Countering the myths spread by pro-Israel ideologues.

She describes the tactics and goals of pro-Israel campus watchdogs and the harm wrought by their unabashed falsification of history and of current realities in Palestine/Israel.

Conquerors have always justified seizing another people’s land on “moral” grounds, to ward off the world’s disapproval as well as the burden of a bad conscience. And while the world’s support for the creation of Israel was fueled in large part by the plight of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust–the fact remains that the taking of land already occupied by Palestinians in order to create a refuge was (and still is) justified using false histories and slogans like “A land with no people for people with no land.”

The process of removing Palestinians from their land—which goes on to this day– requires a literally never-ending production of moral justification, and pro-Israel zealots are only too happy to oblige.

Most damaging? People like Alan Dershowitz paint Arabs and Muslims as heirs to Nazism, bent on exterminating the Jews. The sparse history of Arab collaboration with the Nazis—nothing like what took place in most European countries—is used to “explain” Arab hostility to Israel and obscure Israel’s crimes.

This “nazification” of Arabs and Muslims has been debunked by historian Gilbert Achcar in his book, “The Arabs and the Holocaust: the Arab-Israeli War of Narratives.” Campus Watch then launched a smear campaign against Achcar.

From Herskovits’ article:

About hasbara:

Propaganda produced by Israel and the American Jewish establishment inverts reality. This is crude stuff, manifestly false to anyone who would look up information published by a multitude of respected media and human rights organizations. But omissions and outright lies are probably a deliberate tactic: deny, deny … confuse, confuse… Like Israel’s building of “facts on the ground” (settlements, roads, etc.), it gains time; the hope is that Israeli power will eventually be so entrenched in the land of “Greater Israel” that nobody will remember Palestinians ever lived there.

About pro-Israel zealotry:

As someone whose mother and father were murdered in Auschwitz, and who herself survived the Nazis’ barbarous nationalism thanks to the courage of a group of Catholics, Protestants, Communists, and Jews, I find the idea that defending the “Jewish state” supersedes all other human obligations both immoral and senseless. Nothing, not even the Holocaust, justifies Israel’s treatment of Palestinians or the continuing efforts of pro-Israel zealots to show Arabs and Muslims as less than human.

Annette Herskovits, a holocaust survivor and the daughter of holocaust victims, holds a PhD from Stanford University and is the author of Language and Spatial Cognition (Cambridge University Press, 1987, 2009). She has written more than a dozen published articles on Palestine/Israel and is a Palestinian rights activist.

The BDS Movement: Now with Plasma TV’s.

Sue Fisckoff writes in the JTA about the off season preparations of Team Israel, aka Hillel, the Jewish student organization. The article highlights the very real panic the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement has caused and its automatic equation with anti-Semitism in the minds of some.

Amanda Boris is nervous about what she’ll face when classes resume at the University of Wisconsin later this month. “There’s an uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism on my campus,” said the incoming senior.

We begin with some descriptions of actual anti-Semitism, namely an ad denying the Holocaust and anonymous internet posts, which sound bad if not exactly a groundswell of hatred. But within a sentence, we move to an unnamed professor charged with “making openly false statements about Israel.” No examples are given, but the professor whoever she or he is, is now in league with neo-Nazis and people who believe Jews had it coming. Whatever the real threats this student faces are now conflated with political views that differ from hers, and it sounds like Hillel’s trainings on Israel advocacy are doing nothing to sharpen that distinction. The article does not give any other examples of the titular “anti-Israel” sentiment “on the lesson plan,” implying in the classroom.

Rather, the focus is on the BDS movement, which is predicted to be “better organized, more prevalent and more vitriolic” this school year. The first two seem quite likely, but no evidence of the latter is given. Instead, anti Divestment students are warned that their foes have…better technology!

Whereas past years might have involved handfuls of anti-Israel students passing out photocopied flyers, last year saw a high-tech traveling exhibit of Israel’s separation barrier, complete with an embedded plasma TV showing anti-Israeli images.

Now we come to the heart of the matter, divestment resolutions on campus.

Only one of those proposed resolutions passed, in a non-binding student body vote at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. But every time such a bill is put forward, activists say, the charged atmosphere leaves lasting wounds.

Actually, Berkeley passed one too, and it was vetoed by a campus President. And what are those lasting wounds? Seeing Jews who disagree with you.

When the student government at the University of California, San Diego voted on a divestment bill in April, Hillel campus director Keri Copans noted some Jewish students standing across the room with the pro-divestment crowd, even as most Jewish students stood with her in opposing the bill.

The article does not actually interview any of these strange creatures, these Jews for BDS, But their very existence is painful,and Copans feels bad for them.

‘Divestment bills come and go, but these are Jewish students,’ she said. ‘I want them to have positive Jewish experiences, and that’s not what they get by being glared at across the room.’

However much pain is being felt, it seems clear that Hillel has NOT drawn the lesson that truly representing all Jewish students means allowing for a range of positions on Israel. Instead, students with differing views or who just don’t want to engage in this debate are compared to a piece of defective furniture.

‘For the average student, Israel is a problem — and they don’t want more problems,’ said Michael Faber, longtime Hillel executive director at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. ‘It makes that leg of their Jewish identity wobbly.’

Wayne Firestone, the Hillel executive, said: ‘We want the students to be prepared, not paralyzed with fear.

We are in the identity-building business, and the Israel issue is one we are standing up for.’

Free advice, Michael and Wayne: lay off the carpentry metaphors, stick to the actual anti-Semitsim your students face, and stand up for them and their values, not the “Israel issue.”

PS The article also interviews StandWithUs as a “pro-Israel” organization, last seen on Muzzlewatch making Jewish Voice for Peace members feel highly unsafe with slurs and threats on their family members.

–Jesse Bacon

Hudson’s co-founder, the Israeli academic purge and the subversion of US Middle East policy

Reposted from Didi Remez’s Coteret blog.

Evidence is mounting that the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS) — an Israeli NGO at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to purge Israeli Universities of faculty and programs deemed “left-wing” — is a creature of  The Hudson Institute, a major Washington based neoconservative think-tank, which played an active role in shaping the Bush administration’s Middle East policies.

Hudson is the primary financial backer of the IZS, providing at least half of the organizations’s total reported multi-year funding, but the connection does not end there.

Max SingerMax Singer

Max Singer, co-founder of the Hudson Institute, its former President and current Senior Fellow, is also the IZS’s Research Director. At least according to his bio on the Hudson website: The IZS site only identifies him as a member of the Advisory Committee. Its 2006 brochure (page 8), however, states that he is a member of the International Board of Governors and as one of the ex-officio members of the Projects Committee, which “as such, are invited to all deliberative sessions and events.” According to the IZS’s verbal report to the to the Israeli Registrar of Associations for 2008 (the last one filed), Singer’s wife, Suzanne, is one of three members of the NGO’s “Council”, the sovereign decision-making body under Israeli law.

As the IZS’s Research Director, Singer would presumably be responsible for the research that pressured the President of Tel-Aviv University to take the extraordinary step of examining the syllabi of his institution’s Sociology Department for “left-wing bias”. The introduction to the IZS’s 2006 brochure (page 1), which Singer co-signed, indicates that he saw this type of activity as part of the organization’s strategic purpose:

IZS 2006 Brochure

The IZS will help liberate the public discourse in Israeli society from the self-imposed constraints of the prevalent dogma and internalized notions of the politically correct. Israeli society needs to be freed from the acceptance of double standards so that we can become comfortable asserting our own national purpose as a sovereign Jewish community.

This goal would fit well within the stated purpose of a Hudson Institute project, which was launched at the same time as funding of the IZS began (emphasis in the original):

The Future of Zionism. The Center for Middle East Policy is launching a multi-year project to examine the future of Zionism and its implications for the State of Israel. Israel faces an ideological crisis: As the recent Gaza pullout showed, societal divisions between secular and religious Israelis and between left and right wing camps have become so pronounced that they threaten to overpower the Zionist consensus that traditionally unified the nation. [Hudson Institute Form 990 Report to the IRS for 2005, page 23].

For a generation, Singer has been involved in designing and promoting aggressive US foreign policy. In the early 1980′s he was on the board of Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America (PRODEMCA), a controversial organization involved in the Iran-Contras scandal. In 2002, he published The Many Compelling Reasons for War with Iraq.

A Democratic administration is in power in Washington and Singer has moved to Jerusalem, so he has found a new instrument for beltway influence: The government of Israel. From a July 17 policy note published by the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University (emphasis mine):

To prevent Obama from bringing America behind his different view of the world, Israel needs to help Americans appreciate the way that Obama sees things differently than they do. The views of most Americans, and of most of the American political world, are much closer to Israel’s understanding of Middle Eastern realities than to Obama’s perceptions. Israeli actions can help Americans to recognize the conflicts between what they believe and the premises of Obama’s proposed policies. The critical element in Israel’s policy concerning the US is the degree to which Israel is able to recognize, stimulate, and get the benefit of the parts of the American policy-making system that do not share President Obama’s radically different ideas about the world. Israel does not have to act as if Obama’s views will necessarily determine the policy of the US, and it certainly does not have to assume that Obama’s current views will dominate US policy-making for many years. Israel has the power, if it has the fortitude, to influence the degree to which Obama is able to make the tectonic change in American policy that he would like to make.

Netanyahu’s Senior Diplomatic Adviser, Ron Dermer, seems to have acted on this advice, incurring the wrath of Rahm Emanuel. From Ben Caspit’s August 19 column in Maariv:

Emanuel was angry, he claimed, because Dermer briefed certain Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, against the President and and Emanuel himself.

Helen Thomas, hypocrisy here and there

It’s impossible to defend Grande Dame of White House journalists Helen Thomas’ recent off the cuff statement that Israeli Jews should go back to Germany…..or Poland. (She said Israel should get out of Palestine, but it wasn’t clear if she meant the Occupied Territories, which Israelis should get out of, or Israel behind the green line.) It was deeply offensive and wrong.

One of this country’s most important and courageous journalists said something terribly wrong, was massively criticized, apologized for it, and was forced into retirement. Exactly the way it should be, right? Wrong.

It’s hard to even chart out the hypocrisy of the whole affair. What happened in 2002 when House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on MSNBC’s Hardball? An outraged response? Nary a peep. That same year Senator James Inhofe also called for Israel to permanently retain all of the Occupied Territories, “Because God said so. “  Did he quit? No. And what to make of the fact that Obama’s White House summoned infinitely more moral outrage for Thomas’ terrible but certainly not lethal remarks, than for the death of 9 people on the Mavi Marmara, including a 19-year-old US citizen shot in the head. (One prompted “deep regret”, the other was “reprehensible”. Guess which was which.)

There’s also the glass house in which Rabbi Nessenoff lives: he’s the one who recorded the Thomas gotcha video and who, it seems, has offered the world his own offensive imitation of a Mexican priest, and believes that Palestinians all belong back home…in Jordan.

Taking a short trip over to Israel we discover that the Israeli military recently created an order that, according to many human rights groups and Ha’aretz, “will enable mass deportation from West Bank.” Who had to retire because of that? Maybe because it wasn’t an off the cuff remark to suggest ethnic cleansing, but an actual military order to allow it, its authors escaped opprobrium. Wacky!

Just this week, Likud party MK, Miri Regev shouted at Hanin Zuabi, an Arab member of the Knesset from Nazareth who went on the Gaza flotilla, “Get back to Gaza, you traitor!” Sounds familiar, as though Thomas herself could have said it. Outrage meter? Zero. Then again, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai wants Zuabi stripped of her Israeli citizenship, so telling her to go back to a place she is not from actually seems pretty mild by those standards.

Moshe Yaroni, who abhors what Thomas said, compares her treatment to Israel’s response to the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick who is surely responsible for what will go down as one of the most morally heinous pieces of agitprop in modern history:

In Israel, the premier woman journalist in the country went a hell of a lot farther, in a premeditated, rather than an impetuous fashion. And there is hardly a peep in response in her home country.

Caroline Glick is well-known to readers of right-wing e-mail lists, and of course, of the Jerusalem Post, where she is the deputy managing editor and a regular columnist. She is also a fellow at the extremist neoconservative Center for Security Policy in Washington.

Glick herself is an extremist, and even those who agree with her (and who would, of course, not refer to her as an extremist) would have to agree that she situates herself well to the right of the current Israeli government. And that’s all well and good; she’s an op-ed writer, and she is certainly entitled to her opinions.

But at her web site, Latma, Glick has raised her vitriol to a whole new level. In a video overflowing with racism, a group of Israelis satirize the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla. You can see it for yourself at the link above, if you can make it through the whole thing.

Caroline Glick with fellow travelers, Morton Klein and John Bolton

In a most contemptible fashion, almost every trope of bigotry is on display in the video, which features the contention that the massive suffering in Gaza is all an elaborate fabrication. For a quick rundown of this “fabricated” suffering, check out B’Tselem’s summary of conditions in Gaza.

This level of cruelty is truly astonishing. Even if one contends that the Gaza blockade is a necessary security measure (see my earlier article for why it has the opposite effect), it is appalling to see fellow Jews laughing about it. And don’t we know all too well the offense in denying such things?
Continue reading

Reframing myths and reality

The Israeli Ministry of Hasbara and Diaspora Affairs has started a new project to recruit Israelis traveling abroad to the cause of ‘explaining’ the kinder, gentler side of Israel. The Hebrew website (http://www.masbirim.gov.il) is called ‘masbirim,’ which literally means ‘we explain.’ The word comes from the same Hebrew root as Hasbara (explanation). For some reason, Israel translates Hasbara as ‘public diplomacy,’ but there is no diplomacy involved at all.

Hasbara (explanation) follows the misguided notion that if Israel could only ‘explain’ itself, people would understand the context for the images they see on TV and the reports they read in the press about the horrors of the attacks on Gaza and the ongoing Israeli occupation. Under this philosophy, Israel need not change its behavior one bit, just spend more resources hoping the world will finally get it.

The new ads, targeted to the Israeli public, present three theoretical myths that people are said to have about Israel. The Globe and Mail explains,

The commercials, part of an initiative called Making the Case for Israel, were first seen this past weekend, and are aimed at the large number of Israelis who travel abroad each year. One ad says people around the world think camels are a common form of transportation in Israel, another alludes to the belief that the Israeli diet consists of kabobs grilled over a primitive barbecue, while a third notes that Independence Day fireworks are often mistaken for military action.

Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Minister of Hasbara and Diaspora Affairs explains,

“We decided to give Israelis who go abroad tools and tips to help them deal with the attacks on Israel in their conversations with people, media appearances and lectures before wide audiences. I hope we succeed together in changing the picture and proving to the world that there is a different Israel.”

Mr. Edelstein has called the Israeli tourists recruited to this campaign ‘the Israeli Public Diplomacy Forces,’ a clear reference to the Israel Defense Forces, the country’s military.

Each one of the three commercials contains a sad irony that cannot be easily explained with more Hasbara.

A special prejudice appropriation prize goes to the fake-BBC commercial, where a fake-reporter shares with you a supposed myth about Israel: “This is the camel. The camel is a typical Israeli animal used by the Israelis to travel from place to place in the desert where the live. It is the means of transport for water, merchandise, and ammunition. It is even used by the Israeli cavalry.”

Whoever heard of a myth of Israelis riding camels?

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) on the other hand points to the “the tired stereotype of the Arab world as a place of deserts and camels, of arbitrary cruelty and barbarism,” and its consequences:

Dr. Shaheen remembers being taught in his Lebanese American home to be proud of his family’s Arab heritage. But at school, he remembers teasing, taunts and epithets: “camel jockeys,” “desert niggers,” “greasy Lebs.”

Oh, but for purposes of Hasbara, these appropriations of prejudice do not matter.

The remaining two fake commercials cannot help but remind me of Gaza.

Here’s the fake French-language newscaster: With a background of Israeli airforce planes flying above a city and leaving behind a white streak and of a multitude of fireworks noisily lighting the evening sky, the newscaster says, “We have just learned that at this moment war noises have been heard in several Israeli cities. Our special correspondents report shootings and strong explosions which can be heard throughout the whole country.”

The strong explosions being heard throughout the land bring to mind this January 10/09 witness account from Israel’s war on Gaza (Sleep hard to come by in bombarded Gaza):

At 12:15pm I’d noted and photographed the white stream of chemical clouds billowing over large expanses of eastern Gaza…

And later at 3:20 am:

In the hospital room where I tried to sleep between an ambulance shift and morning obligations, the tank shelling and firing is in the room, landing on my pillow.

It’s the shells, which crack and blast. The staccato gunfire. The drones’ whine, in menacing pitches. The fighter plane’s sudden, thundering presence.

The drone ramps up the decibels, a train wreck of disharmony.

And the inevitable whoosh before the explosion, an F-16 launch which erupts a crater where someone’s house, or a market, or a mosque once stood. The blast an hour ago was a market, another nurse tells me. “It was a beautiful market, sold everything, everything we need,” she says.

I have saved the Spanish-language fake commercial to the end because it tops the cake, so to speak. Here’s the fake Spanish-language newscaster: ‘In Israel in the majority of the homes there is neither electricity nor gas, so that Israelis continue using primitive cooking methods such as bbq.”

You gotta be kidding me! This looks like a bad joke, when you compare to the Palestinian reality, not the Israeli myth. From last year’s The Atlantic’s In Gaza, Eating Under Siege:

And then there’s the question of fuel for cooking. The borders sometimes allow cooking gas to enter, sometimes not. As the power facilities have been bombed several times, electricity is very sporadic. Many families have small generators, but most of the gasoline for these must also be piped in through the tunnels, which is very expensive. Faced with the frequent impossibility of finding any kind of fuel for cooking, many families have recurred to their grandmother’s memories, fashioning traditional adobe ovens on the roofs and balconies of their modern apartment buildings.

Lest you think that these were Gaza’s temporary troubles in 2009, I give you 2008:

Umm Jamal Al Baba, a 60-year-old from Rafah camp, stands visibly tired in a queue of hundreds for bread. “I can no longer make bread in my house – there is no gas for cooking, no electricity.”
Now that rice had disappeared under the siege, or priced out of the reach of most people, bread means survival for Palestinians in Gaza Strip.
In Gaza, It’s Darkness at Noon, IPS, Jan 23, 2008

and yes, 2010:

Cooking gas rationing continues…
(UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territory, February 2010 report)

If the commercials are bad, imagine the talking points for the Israeli traveler. Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Openheimer complained that the new Israeli government website were these videos are housed contains information that would move Jewish Israeli public opinion towards an uncompromising right. According to the JPost,

He noted that the site does not encourage advocating the two-state solution, it talks about the need to keep Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, and it suggests that evacuating settlers would harm their human rights.

Let’s see how these ideas are developed by the Israeli tourists who choose to join the “Israeli Public Diplomacy Forces.”

– Sydney Levy