From time to time, articles appear in the Dutch press that stress Israel's powerful propaganda machine and professional PR. These articles claim that the PR is designed to convince the world that Israel is the victim of the struggle, rather than the Palestinians or the Lebanese. The more sophisticated articles don't just rant about the powerful Jewish/Zionist lobby, but quote official Israeli PR people who make a living from it, and who apparently are quite willing to talk about their work to the media.
In an article at the end of the Lebanon war, Gideon Meir, Director-General for Media and Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), was quoted as saying that the campaign during the Lebanon war went very well. "You see, Hasbara is a well oiled machine", he proudly added, after having explained how their campaign is able to influence people in politics, the media, science and business around the world.
I was puzzled. Are the anti-Zionists right after all, when they claim that the Zionist lobby is manipulating our media to write what they want them to write, and makes our politicians take decisions that are in Israel's interest rather than our own? Are the Elders of Zion indeed planning to subjugate the world??
Have I been wrong in thinking that the Palestinian narrative is more heard and voiced in our media, and that Israel is pretty much on the defensive? Maybe I am brainwashed too by those sneaky Zionists?
But the facts say different, and the anti-Zionists can relax.
Going over the coverage of the Lebanon conflict in two important Dutch dailies, I found many more articles critical of Israel and condemning it, than there were articles criticizing the Lebanese. Most 'objective' op-eds claimed that both Israel and Hezbollah were to blame and targeted civilians. Hezbollah, a guerilla movement that aims to kill as many civilians as possible, wants to rid Palestine of the Jews, and uses civilians as human shields, was put on the same level as Israel. Although it used massive force, Israel never aimed at killing civilians (instead they mostly warned before attacking), and put the life of its own soldiers at risk by searching houses instead of carpet bombing whole areas. Israel did not aim to destroy Lebanon, but to destroy Hezbollah. Also, most pictures showed Israeli soldiers and Lebanese civilians and bombed out areas. This is pretty much in line with the TV coverage of the conflict, in which the impression was created that all of Beirut was destroyed, as well as all roads and the entire south.
People wanted the Dutch government to press for a cease-fire, and demanded from Israel (being so much more powerful than the poor Hezbollah), to reach out for peace and seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict and the abducted soldiers.
The conflict with the Palestinians is covered in the same way: poor Mahmoud Abbas is caught between Israel and Hamas, who both want to fight and be victorious, and Israel, the stronger and more Western-like party, should take the first steps towards peace. After all, isn't it understandable that the harsh conditions of the occupation and the poverty produce radical movements like Hamas?
So how can the Hasbara professionals think they are so successful? They don't read Dutch probably, but British media were not better, and probably worse. The journalists who love so much to write about Israeli PR forget of course that someone whose job it is to promote Israel will not admit that he failed miserably. He wants to keep his job. But more importantly, these journalists seem to forget that almost everybody lobbies and uses PR and marketing strategies nowadays. Many countries do so (why do we seldom read such stories about other countries??), as do many interest groups of all kinds. The budget for marketing is huge in most organizations, even in charitable and idealistic ones, and MPs are flooded with lobbyists for this and for that. When I was involved in the environmental movement, we had discussions on setting up professional strategies to counter the lobbies of automobile companies, agriculture organizations (VERY powerful in the EU), construction companies and so on.
In the world of globalization and liberalism, everything has to be sold and everyone hires professionals to do that. In a job-hunting course I was taught that I had to view myself as a product that needs to be sold on a market.
To counter the frequent criticism of the human rights situation in China, the Chinese government organized business trips and invited Dutch politicians and business people to come over to visit, and many did go and proudly told about it. Not long ago there was a big exhibition aimed at showing the other side of China: how beautiful it is, how modern it is, and the like. I don't recall much criticism or cynical articles about China's powerful PR and lobby, or mentioning of the oppression of the poor Tibetans. It is perceived as normal that countries do this, even if their human rights record is not exactly great.
What many journalists also seem to forget is that Hezbollah and Hamas understand this very well, and also spend millions of dollars on, for example, Al Manar TV, on newspapers, and on organized tours for journalists through the bombed-out parts of Beirut. Arab organizations lobby MPs just as everyone else does. With money from Iran, Hezbollah helps the Lebanese build up their homes that were destroyed because Hezbollah used them to store weapons and as hiding places. Hamas uses money from Arab countries and from the PA to set up schools where children learn that it is their highest duty to become a martyr for Palestine and kill Jews, 'the sons of dogs and pigs'. But that is not considered propaganda, of course, but rather helping to rebuild their countries, and both Hezbollah and Hamas are regularly praised by the Western press and aid organizations for this good and important work.
"Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi." (What is permitted to God is not permitted to bulls) Or, in other words, some are more equal than others. It is important to keep the friendship of 1.3 billion Chinese, and 1.3 billion Muslims, including 300 million Arabs, are more important than 15 million Jews. That is Realpolitik
.Ratna PelleContinued - Part II is here
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Replies: 1 Comment
It is important to admit that after seeing the July 2006 'Hasbara', it is a total failure! Its budget has been reduced and the staffing is populated by small time clueless apartchniks! In Israel P.R is not considered a glorious profession as code writing or semiconductor design!
Reluctantly, during July 2006 the IDF allowed the biased media to speak to a few ranking officers who managed to articulate a position without making too many mistakes. Some of the olim who spoke well but without the foce or compassion reuired for the assignment. Unlike the days of October 1973, when General (R) H. Hertzog, A. Yariv managed the media in Beit Sokolov, this new lot was pale and scrawny. I believe that the IDF and the F.O need to have a pool of retired senior generals, and vetted academics who specialize in the region who speak good English and make them available to the media when necessary to articulate the interest of the pople of Israel in a way that would sound real and devoid of political spin! The current lot is doing a tremendous diservice to the nation!
Al Ramey, Sunday, November 5th
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