Hasbara Worked for Israel Versus Gaza; Next in line, US Churches

by James M. Wall

Jane Adas has written an essay for Link magazine on the hasbara strategy  Israel used to spin a favorable image of its 23-day military assault on Gaza’s civilian population.

The Goldstone Report saw through the Israeli spin. The US Congress bought the spin and attacked Goldstone.   For a sample of the anti-Goldstone troops in action, have a look at this update which begins:

On February 24, Representative Ron Klein (D-FL) sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to work to prevent the United Nations General Assembly from referring the Goldstone Report to the UN Security Council and, ultimately, to the International Court of Justice.

Jane Adas provides a closer look at  the hasbara spin that made the Gaza invasion so attractive to America’s leaders and to the US public.

Her research found that the Gaza assault was carefully planned to include  a public relations component, an hasbara strategy that would “explain” Israel’s actions in a positive light.

Her essay, “Spinning Cast Lead”, was published in the November-December, 2009 issue of Link, published by Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU)..

She found that Israel had employed the same hasbara double speak methodology which advertisers employ to persuade consumers to buy cat food, cosmetics, medicines, automobiles or cell phones.

Spinning does not rely on truth. It is a sales strategy that convinces a target audience to buy a product or accept a narrative which the sales person is peddling.

The next assignment for Israel’s hasbara strategy? Spinning the US church public with the same positive slant used to sell the Gaza invasion. That is why, as was noted in a previous posting on this blog, American church gatherings have begun to experience the attack of the Hasbara Spin.

To understand how the selling of Israel to American churches will unfold, we need to look back at how the Hasbara Spin for Gaza was planned and carried out.

Since hasbara is a Hebrew word meaning “explanation”, it is easy to see how hasbara is employed as a spinning tactic to “explain” Israel’s actions to its own public and to publics outside of Israel.

Two months before the military attack on Gaza was launched, the Israeli Foreign Ministry set up a press center in Israel. Where was it located? If you guessed Sderot, you are not only correct, you have begun to understand how hasbara works.

Prior to the initial bombardment and troop invasion of Gaza, American media focused its pre-invasion news coverage on the suffering of Israeli citizens living in Sderot, the Israeli village that was as far into Israel as the Hamas rockets could reach.

To be sure, the rockets were of a homemade variety, and while they could on occasion be deadly, they were fired with little certainty of where they would land. This, of course, made Sderot the perfect place for the press to wait for their daily media handouts. There were always local Sderot residents available for interviews, including families who had lost loved ones to rocket attacks.

When the attack on Gaza began, the US reaction was swift. The U.S. vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution, written by Libya, which had outlined a proposed ceasefire. President George Bush accused Hamas of launching “terror attacks” on Israel and expressed his support for Israel’s military incursion

Foreign and Israeli media were prevented by the Israeli Defense Forces from entering Gaza to witness the death and destruction first hand.

On December 31, 2008, a week into the Gaza invasion, Anshel Pfeffer described in the Jerusalem Chronicle how Gaza would not go down like Lebanon.

The Gaza attack is the first major demonstration of Israel’s total overhaul of its ‘hasbara’ operation following the Second Lebanon War. While the military aspects of the operation were meticulously planned, a new forum of press advisers was also established which has been working for the past six months on a PR strategy specifically geared to dealing with the media during warfare in Gaza.

A year after that successfully planned PR campaign, Israel knows what works. This explains why delegations who come to Israel– most recently, five members of Congress, accompanied by representative of J Street and Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)–are taken to Sderot by their Israeli hosts to hear stories of the rocket attacks. That is hasbara strategy writ large.

In her Link article, Jane Adas traces the history of how Bibi Netanyahu’s hasbara strategy was built in the aftermath of Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon invasion, which failed to produce a military victory. The invasion was also a massive public relations disaster for Israel.

The next invasion–Gaza–had to deliver a military victory. And it must be a military victory seen in a positive light. Israel had t0 recapture its public relations mojo. Enter the hasbara strategy.

After he assumed office as Prime Minister in February 2008, Netanyahu formed a National Information Directorate within the Prime Minister’s Office. The NID was handed the assignment to plan a media campaign for the Gaza operation under the director of Netanyahu’s “hasbara czar”, Yarden Vatikay.

Adas explains how hasbara melds nicely into consumer marketing terminology:

Hasbara can  best be thought of as problem solving through marketing techniques, like rebranding (Israel as the victim of Hamas’ aggression), product placement (hide the Goldstone Report in the darkest, least-frequented corner of the shop), and promotional lingo (“The side that seems to want peace more will win…” from The Israel Project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary). (Bold face emphasis added)

The Gaza Assault was sold by the hasbara czar as a difficult but necessary action to destroy Hamas rockets to save Israeli lives.

The obedient American media accepted this rationale in spite of the disproportion of deaths on two sides.

The American hasbara campaign was carefully orchestrated. Seattle-based Jewish blogger Richard Silverstein found evidence. His column for the London Guardian was published January 9, 2009:

The hasbara brigade strikes again! You always hear about Israeli attempts at media manipulation. Everyone knows it’s going on but usually the process happens through cyber insurgents . . . .

Now, we know that the Israeli foreign ministry itself is orchestrating propaganda efforts designed to flood news websites with pro-Israel arguments and information.

A reader of my blog [Tikum Olan] has received the following email which documents both the efforts and the agency that originated them. The solicitation to become a pro-Israel “media volunteer” also includes a list of media links which the ministry would like addressed by pro-Israel comments:

Dear friends, We hold the [sic] military supremacy, yet fail the battle over the international media. We need to buy time for the IDF to succeed, and the least we can do is spare some (additional) minutes on the net. The ministry of foreign affairs is putting great efforts in balancing the media, but we all know it’s a battle of numbers.

The more we post, blog, talkback, vote – the more likely we gain positive sentiment. I was asked by the ministry of foreign affairs to arrange a network of volunteers, who are willing to contribute to this effort. If you’re up to it you will receive a daily messages & media package as well as targets.

If you wish to participate, please respond to this email.

Silverstein’s friend responded, and immediately received am official communique from the ministry with talking points about Operation Cast Lead to use in the propaganda campaign

Silverstein’s column continued:

.  .  .   The following were identified as “target sites”: the Times, the Guardian, Sky News, BBC, Yahoo!News, Huffington Post, and the Dutch Telegraaf. Also targeted were other media sites in Dutch, Spanish, German and French considered critical of the invasion.

Locally, here in Seattle, peace activists held a rally at our federal building attended by 500 protesters. In the foreign ministry communique issued the next day, activists were directed to comment in the Seattle Post Intelligencer’s article about the demonstration. .  .  .

If you fail to see this strategy for an hasbara assault now playing out in American church gatherings, well, you are just not paying attention, which, of course, is precisely what the hasbara spinners want you to do, stay asleep while they do their dirty work.

Soon the summer will arrive and the Presbyterian General Assembly, along with several other church bodies, national and regional, will gather to offer their collective prayerful appeals for justice in the Middle East.

Faced with this hasbara strategy, employed with such success in the selling of the Gaza war, American church members and leaders may wonder if it is time to ask themselves, are we facing what our fathers and mothers knew as a Fifth Column buried deep inside our sacred spaces and shaping our public consciousness?

Fifth Column?

Not a familiar term? Well, it was during World War II. Here is the history of the term, as offered by Wikipedia:

A fifth column is a group of people who clandestinely undermine a larger group, such as a nation, from within, to the aid of an external enemy.

The term originated with a 1936 radio address by Emilio Mola, a Nationalist General during the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War. As his army approached Madrid, he broadcast a message that the four columns of his forces outside the city would be supported by a “fifth column” of his supporters inside the city, intent on undermining the Republican government from within.

Throughout World War II, the term was used to describe agitators who sided with the enemy, agitators who were either indigenous or outsiders carrying the equivalent of hasbara kits produced by outside forces.

The task of the hasbara campaign directed at the US church community is to shape American public opinion in favor of one nation, Israel, and to draft language for church resolutions that are favorable, not to justice and peace, but to the policies of  the state of Israel.

That sounds like Fifth Column territory to me.

The World Council of Churches is doing its part to gird religious loins for the summer campaign.  Always a favorite hasbara target, the WCC has invited its member churches and related organizations “to join a week of advocacy, education and prayer for a just peace in Palestine and Israel”.

Participants are asked “to make a common international public witness” from May 29 through June 3, 2010. The loin-girding announcement includes a message to WCC member churches, “It’s Time for Palestine”, which includes this call:

It’s time to honour all who have suffered, Palestinians and Israelis.

It’s time to learn from past wrongs.

It’s time to understand pent-up anger and begin to set things right.

It’s time for those with blood on their hands to acknowledge what they have done.

It’s time to seek forgiveness between communities and to repair a broken land together.

It’s time to move forward as human beings who are all made in the image of God.

All who are able to speak truth to power must speak it.

All who would break the silence surrounding injustice must break it.

All who have something to give for peace must give it.

For Palestine, for Israel and for a troubled world,

It’s time for peace.

Let the people say, amen.

The art work at top appeared on line in edens works blog.

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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3 Responses to Hasbara Worked for Israel Versus Gaza; Next in line, US Churches

  1. Amen to All of the above and add one more so be it:

    It’s time for the leaders of the world to seek peace through justice:end the occupation and honor equal human rights for all.

  2. Great post, Jim. Adas’ description of hasbara and how it works is fascinating. I’ve been amazed at the online comments regarding some videos and articles my colleagues and I have posted about settler violence. Online comments calling into question the legitimacy of the materials and suggesting that Palestinians and international activists fake injuries and then blame settlers. Pretty unbelievable internet hasbara campaigns are underway.

  3. Pingback: Liberal PEPs Trash Helen Thomas While Ignoring Flotilla Deaths « Wallwritings

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