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.
But 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.
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.”
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