(Continued - Part I is here
Zionism meant, among other things, a departure from Jews being the victim, and from Jews being powerless. It meant Jews owning and working their own land, and defending that land, and being independent from the whims of others who mostly looked upon Jews with contempt. It meant minding their own business, instead of listening to others and seeking their approval, as history had shown that others had not much use for the Jews.
I have a strong impression that up until now, Israel was shaped by that narrative, and as a result is not always very sensitive to world opinion. PR/Hasbara people want to 'market' Israel from a sense of power and success, not vulnerability, and they fail to see how that backfires. As noted previously
, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director-General of Information Gideon Meir boasted to media about the success of Israeli propaganda efforts. One of the first quotes from Meir in the interview is his assertion that the translation of Hasbara, meaning to 'explain', is not accurate, as it sounds to passive and apologizing, whereas Israel is not passive and has nothing for which to apologize. This Israeli self-esteem sounds good to Zionists, but arrogant to Israel's critics.
Different from any other form of racism, an important feature of anti-Semitism is the claim that Jews are powerful, intelligent and have secret plans to rule the world. Israeli Hasbara people telling proudly how powerful they are and how they influence politicians, media and universities fits exactly into such anti-Semitic notions.
Another problem with Israeli Hasbara is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very much in the picture, and every Palestinian child that is killed by the IDF makes headlines. China, Russia, Iran and many other countries can present themselves apart from the regional conflicts in which they are involved and the human rights violations within their country, but Israel cannot. Presenting Israel as a modern high-tech country that is great to do business with or to visit on vacation will likely backfire, as it will be contrasted with the numerous pictures of helpless Palestinians who have barely enough to eat.
It is important to explain that the problems and the poverty of the Palestinians are not primarily caused by Israel, although the checkpoints and closures, that are in large a result of the second Intifada, cause real hardship to them. After Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, life expectancy, health care, and literacy rates all improved significantly. Several universities were set up with the help of Israel, as well as birth control clinics and joint industries. This was no Israeli altruism, but well perceived self-interest. Sometimes the interests of Israelis and Palestinians don't contradict each other.
Even before the creation of Israel, Zionists created job opportunities that attracted Arabs from Palestine, Transjordan and Syria. The Arabs in Palestine profited from British investments in infrastructure and health care that were largely paid for by Jewish tax money. Palestine had to be self-sufficient under the British Mandate, and Jews provided most of the tax money, even though they were a rather small minority at that time (for some figures see Zionism and its Impact
). Israel has not become rich at the expense of the Arabs of Palestine. Israel is (relatively) rich despite the Palestinian Arabs. Besides, before 1967, Israel did not receive much foreign aid from the USA other than donations of US Jews, and it absorbed over a million refugees from Europe (including some 250,000 penniless Holocaust survivors) and from the Arab countries without significant aid from the international community.
Israeli Hasbara people are unwise to boast about how successful they are, while the media overtly blame Israel for the Middle East conflict, and Western journalists seem just too eager to point out how powerful and professional the Israeli lobby is. If Israeli Hasbara would be really successful, such stories would not fill our newspapers; instead they would focus on the 'sneaky' tactics of Israel's enemies. Having PR people in charge who say they are successful is not at all proof that Israeli "Hasbara" is successful. Quite the contrary, and most journalists know this. The fact that some journalists deliberately tell such stories about the successful Israeli propaganda machine casts serious doubt on their motives and integrity.
It will not be long before the European newspapers write in the same words about the new 'Brand Israel' project, which aims, as Ami also pointed out
, to improve Israel's image as a country that is modern and high-tech, has the most scientists per 1000 inhabitants of any country in the world, and is attractive for tourists and investors. It is meant to show to the world the Israel behind the conflict, and to stress all kinds of positive characteristics of the Jewish state. This will, however, grant greater credibility to people claiming that the Zionists are arrogant and powerful, and that they don't care about the Palestinians.
Such campaigns don't make people think: "Oh really! Now that I know about the beautiful Israeli children and the green forests in the north, I think they are right in building a big wall and uprooting Palestinian olive trees to attain that goal." It will be explained widely as diverting attention from the conflict and the occupation because those are indefensible, so it is better not to talk about them.
Israel's image will not be improved by popularizing catchy slogans. People need to know that before the Intifada Israel did a great deal to improve living conditions for the Palestinians, and still does sometimes. However, it could do more to prevent needless suffering due to Israeli measures against terrorism, and especially should act more decisively against individuals in the army or the territories who are rude and violent to innocent Palestinians. The examples of bad behavior of individuals make embarrassing headlines around the world, and are not defensible anyway.
Israel's actions would be better understood if people were given a better understanding of the situation and the nature of its enemies. People need to see Hamas and Hezbollah for what they are, and see that Israel is the only country whose right to exist is widely questioned and even denied. More Israeli concessions alone will not change that, as we saw with the withdrawal from both south Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005.Ratna Pelle
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Replies: 2 Comments
I tend to agree that it just doesn't matter what the PR people claim -- anything said by Israelis will be written off as "propaganda."
Speaking of other PR blunders...Prior to the release of that Borat movie, Kazakhstan produced a commercial designed to increase tourism to Kazakhstan (this commercial was shown on CNN at the same time as all the hype about Borat entering the U.S.) I don't believe the pro-Kazakhstan commercial in any way reduced or mitigated what Borat has done for the country of Kazakhstan...I could not watch the tourism commercial without thinking: BORAT (and laughing).
So I am wondering if a similar reaction would be prompted if the Foreign Ministry shows pro-Israel commercials to Europeans -- and insists on "just forget the war!" Won't being "big and powerful" or "rich and techno" just act as a reminder for the antisemites in Europe about the "plight of the Palestinians"?
J.S., Friday, November 3rd
You are upset with Israeli publicists for presenting Israel as too powerful, and I just read a piece complaining that people were upset with Israel because she looked too weak in the recent Lebanese war. Let's face it, Jews are the quinessential universal scapegoat. They're not going to get good press no matter what they do. Either they're too money-grubbing or too Communistic, too aggressive or too passive, too brutal or too subtle. We Jews can't win no matter what we say or do. Realpolitik means that Israel has no oil, too few people, and a long history of entrenched demonization.
Mitzi Alvin, Friday, November 3rd
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