Hasbara (history)

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Hasbara is the Hebrew word for 'Explanation'[1][2][3] and is a term used by the State of Israel and by independent groups to describe their efforts to explain Israeli government policies, and to promote Israel to the world at large. Others view hasbara as a euphemism for propaganda.[4][5][6]

Hasbara tends to portray Israel as fighting on two fronts:

  1. A hostile, native, non-Jewish Palestinian population and Israel's surrounding Arab States
  2. World opinion.

The latter is the province of Hasbara. All problems in public relations may be put down to inadequate hasbara.

Wikipedia's Hasbara

Wikipedia has been a battleground for this topic and hasbara dominates the narrative. See Wikipedia's Hasbara.

Hasbara Manual

Two official manuals of Hasbara are known to have been issued, presumably intended for use by opinion-forming Zionists:

  1. 2002 Manual: "Defending Israel and Zionism" was issued by the World Union of Jewish Students[7] in 2002.
  2. 2009 Manual: The "2009 Global Language Dictionary"[8] is a 116 page document from "The Information Project" (TIP) April 2009.

Other hasbara efforts

Nation Branding

The Israeli government has contracted with several international PR companies to improve its image in the US, Europe and Canada. In the UK, Acanchi was hired to work on Israel's nation branding[9]. Saatchi and Saatchi acknowledged that it works with the Israelis free of charge on the re-branding effort.[10] Haaretz also revealed that it attempted to hire a Norwegian PR company for the same purposes.

Cultural Event exposure

Part of the efforts to improve Israel's image abroad is to increase the number of cultural events at which Israeli artists are present. Israeli writers, film makers, dance groups, etc., are subsidized by the Israeli government so that these groups can go on tour. Artists receiving funds to represent Israel abroad are paid, and they are also required to sign a contract requiring them to comment positively about Israel.[11] The Batsheva Dance Company tours Europe and North America as the "cultural ambassadors for Israel".[12] The company is mostly funded by the Israeli government and the Rothschild family.

Production of Propaganda films

Several films have been produced to either portray Israel in a good light or to portray Palestinians/Muslims in a negative light.[13] Geert Wilders, the right-wing Dutch politician and pro-Israel hawk, has been on tour to present Fitna, his anti-Islam film. The organizers of the events where Wilders spoke and showed the film was Ruder Finn, a leading PR company that has long represented Israel abroad.[14]

Pink-washing Israel

PR companies hired by Israel have taken prominent gays on tour to Israel, and have also taken prominent Israeli gays on tour to Europe and the United States. These efforts portray Israel, perhaps deceptively, as a tolerant and gay-friendly society.[15]

Hasbara since 1977

The Wikipedia article on hasbara is misleadingly entitled "Public diplomacy (Israel)" but is remarkably open on Israel's support for hasbara and it's history. In 1977 recently elected Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin (hard-line fascist according to Einstein) chose fellow ex-terrorist Shmuel Katz d.2008 to become "Adviser to the Prime Minister of Information Abroad". Shmuel Katz had already earned the title "the father of hasbara in America" with the publication of "Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine" in 1973. The book was said to be "an encyclopedic source-book for those involved in Israel's hasbara effort" and was distributed in thousands by AFSI and other groups for decades across America.[16] 24 years later, Katz published a retrospective of Israeli hasbara efforts and said that the task of Israel's hasbara "must be tackled not by occasional sudden sallies but by a separate permanent department in the government."[17] Sharon did increase hasbara efforts, but did not create a cabinet-level ministry for that purpose.[18]

In May 1992, the Jerusalem Post reported that American Jewish leaders hardly reacted to news that the Foreign Ministry's hasbara departmen would be eliminated as part of a sweeping reorganization of the ministry.[19] Malcolm Hoenlein noted there had been talk of streamlining the ministry's hasbara functions for some time. He said that merging the department's functions with those of the press department did not portend any downgrading in the priority the Likud government gives to hasbara abroad. Abe Foxman of the ADL reacted similarly, saying he was "not distressed or disturbed", and noted that disseminating hasbara has always been the responsibility of every Foreign Ministry staff officer, especially those working abroad; if eliminating one department means everyone will assume greater responsibility for his or her own efforts in distributing hasbara then he is all in favor. It also reported that personnel in foreign hasbara departments would be shifted to press departments, which is where much of the work currently done by hasbara officials properly belongs. He explained that Israel's efforts to provide hasbara abroad would focus on media communications.

In August 2001 (during the Second Intifada) the Palestinian-American professor Edward Said identified several hasbara methods used by pro-Israel groups: "This has included an entire range of efforts: lunches and free trips for influential journalists; seminars for Jewish university students who over a week in a secluded country estate can be primed to "defend" Israel on the campus; bombarding congressmen and -women with invitations and visits; pamphlets and, most important, money for election campaigns; directing (or, as the case requires, harassing) photographers and writers of the current Intifada into producing certain images and not others; lecture and concert tours by prominent Israelis; training commentators to make frequent references to the Holocaust and Israel's predicament today; many advertisements in the newspapers attacking Arabs and praising Israel; and on and on.[20]

In 2002, funding levels for the hasbara effort were said to be modest, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spent about US$8.6 million that year and the Government Press Office was only budgeted at US$100,000.[citation needed] The Israeli State Comptroller's office issued a report critical of Israel's PR efforts, "lack of an overall strategic public relations conception and objective" and lack of coordination between the various organizations were mentioned.[21]

In 2005 an article in the Jerusalem Post the Deputy Director-General for Media and Public Affairs (reprinted by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs), entitled "What 'Hasbara' Is Really All About" said that "public diplomacy is not a cure-all for all of Israel’s problems in the arena of public opinion" and "Israel’s image is largely event-driven, rather than argument-driven".[22] Other information from this source is the "Guide to the Middle East Peace Process" with claims such a "Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has sought peace with its neighbors through direct negotiations".[23]

In May 2007, the Hasbara Fellowships of Aish HaTorah (co-sponsored since 2001 by the diplomatic arm of the Government of Israel, Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry) is said to have written that "Wikipedia is not an objective resource but rather an online encyclopedia that any one can edit. The result is a website that is in large part is controlled by 'intellectuals' who seek re-write the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. These authors have systematically yet subtly rewritten key passages of thousands of Wikipedia entries to portray Israel in a negative light. You have the opportunity to stop this dangerous trend! If you are interested in joining a team of Wikipedians to make sure Israel is presented fairly and accurately, please contact [our] director". (A similar advocacy campaign on Wikipedia was later launched by the CAMERA but was caught in improper activities in May 2008, see above).

In 2008, Yarden Vatikay was appointed to coordinate Israel’s domestic and foreign media policy[24] as a new "Hasbara czar", heading a "unit to coordinate Israel’s domestic and foreign media policy".

In 2009, Israel's foreign ministry organized volunteers to add pro-Israeli commentary on news websites.[25][26][27] In July 2009, it was announced that the Israeli Foreign Ministry would assemble an "internet warfare" squad to spread a pro-Israel message on various websites, with funding of 600,000 shekels (c $150,000).[28][29]

In 2011, the Jewish Foundation has an apparently updated listing of "Israel Education Resource Center: Web Links" though with some dead links.[30]

The Israeli government continues to offer such training as the 2009 "Ambassador's course" to community leaders, educators, students and activists in the Diaspora ... an opportunity to acquire both a comprehensive overview of the conflict, tools to understand Palestinian propaganda/media bias and the means to advocate Israel's policy.[31]

Further efforts to improve Israeli public relations include such as the Israel Citizens Information Council (ICIC): The purpose of the ICIC is to assist efforts to explain Israeli life from the vantage point of the average Israeli citizen. Towards that end, the ICIC enlists Israelis from all walks of life to participate in its various projects ... One of our major activities is the production of special Powerpoint presentations which we post on our website. These presentations review specific aspects and issues related to Israel and the Middle East.[32]

Hasbara resisted successfully?

In June 2010, respected blogger Mondoweiss detailed these examples of hasbara successfully resisted. He says "One of the most striking trends following the flotilla attack has been how quickly Israeli hasbara has been exposed and discredited by internet journalists. Robert Mackey has a post on the Times Lede blog highlighting some examples today - Max Blumenthal's reporting on the doctored IDF audio of the attack and Noam Sheizaf's work on Turkish photos of the Mavi Marmara attack which contradict IDF claims. To these two I would add Lia Tarachansky and Blumenthal's work disproving the IDF's claim that the flotilla was linked to Al Qaeda, Jared Malsin's work confirming the doctored audio, and Ali Abunimah, who has been in the lead on many of these stories and lately has been reconstructuing the path of the Mavi Marmara to show it was actually fleeing at the time of the Israeli attack. All of this has appeared on the internet and are helping to shape the story, despite the Israeli Foreign Ministry's best efforts".

Favorite Hasbara techniques

A Hasbara manual for students from the WJUS produced in 2002 is online.[33] A summary of the techniques is provided from page 31 onwards, the seven most effective being as follows:

  1. Name calling: through the careful use of words, name calling links a person or an idea to a negative symbol. For instance, all criticism of Zionism can be described as "new antisemitism".
  2. Glittering generality: Name calling in reverse. Instead of trying to attach negative meanings to ideas or people, glittering generalities use positive phrases, which the audience are attached to, in order to lend positive image to things. Words such as "freedom", "civilization",…
  3. Transfer: Transfer involves taking some of the prestige and authority of one concept and applying it to another. For example, a speaker might decide to speak in front of a United Nations flag, in an attempt to gain legitimacy for himself or his idea.
  4. Testimonial: Testimonial means enlisting the support of somebody admired or famous to endorse and ideal or campaign.
  5. Plain folks: The plain folks technique attempts to convince the listener that the speaker is a 'regular guy', who is trust-worthy because the are like 'you or me'.
  6. Fear: Stressing that ignoring the message will likely lead to war, terrorism[34]
  7. Bandwagon: Suggest that the stated position is mainstream and use polls to suggest this. [35]

If you are still resistant to these techniques then, as seen at Wikipedia, more obviously deceitful and coercive tactics can be deployed:

  1. Use of sources that can easily be seen to be completely discredited.
  2. Attacking credible sources and witnesses, inventing or distorting trivial incidents.
  3. Controlling language, refering to towns instead of settlements, "disputed" instead of occupied.
  4. Framing of issues, the siege of Gaza and the apartheid wall as a response to terror.
  5. Harassing media about its coverage.
  6. Refusal to accept an alternative narrative as might come from the victims, insistence on maintaining the Zionist narrative as dominant.

External resources

  • Fadi Kiblawi, Israel's Campus Concerns, The Palestine Chronicle, Oct. 23, 2003. Quote: "The Hasbara Handbook prescribes fascinating instructions on attacking the messenger and avoiding the message at all costs ‘in ways that engage the emotions, and downplay rationality, in an attempt to promote’ their cause. In a section entitled ‘Name Calling,’ Israel's Jewish Agency writes, ‘Creating negative connotations by name calling is done to try and get the audience to reject a person or idea on the basis of negative associations, without allowing a real examination of that person or idea."

Notes

  1. Spinning Out Of Control The word 'hasbara' means, literally, 'explanation.' Fein, Leonard. "The Forward", July 19, 2002.
  2. "known by the prosaic Hebrew term 'hasbara,' ('explanation')" Burston, Bradley.
  3. The media war Israel cannot win officials charged with the Jewish state's campaign of public relations - known by the prosaic Hebrew term "hasbara," ("explanation") - found themselves struggling from the outset to counter attacks based on statements by their own leaders. "Haaretz", archived at Tom Gross Media, May 25, 2004.
  4. Propaganda and mass persuasion: a historical encyclopedia, 1500 to the present Israeli officials prefer to substitute the more refined Hebrew term 'hasbara' which has several inter-related meanings. Nicholas John Cull, David Holbrook Culbert, David Welch, ABC-Clio, 2003, page 191.
  5. "Policy and Propaganda" Israel's Ministry of Information recently commissioned a public opinion survey among Israeli Jews (yes, Jews only). Ninety-one percent, according to the poll, said that Israel has a "severe" or "very severe" image problem overseas. Eighty percent said that Israel is perceived as an "aggressive country" and 30 percent said that Israel is perceived as an "unfriendly country." Americans for Peace Now, Feb 9, 2010.
  6. "Israel admits it has an image problem" According to a recent government survey, 91 per cent of Israeli Jews believe foreigners have a strongly negative view of Israel. Nearly as many - 85 per cent - say they would be willing to use holidays or business trips to engage in hasbara, Hebrew for "public advocacy" or "propaganda". The National, March 16, 2010.
  7. The World Union of Jewish Students Mission Statement ... 1.1. To unite Jewish students worldwide. ... 1.5. To promote Zionism.
  8. 2009 Global Language Dictionary The updated "Hasbara Manual" from "The Information Project" (TIP) April 2009.
  9. Anshel Pfeffer, Foreign Ministry, PR firm rebrand Israel as land of achievements, Haaretz, 6 October 2008. Also, Toni O'Loughlin, Israel hires PR firm on 60th birthday for a political facelift, The Guardian, 11 October 2008.
  10. Bill Berkowitz, Israel Looking for an Extreme Makeover, Electronic Intifada, 12 January 2007.
  11. Yitzhak Laor, Putting out a contract on art, Ha'aretz, 25 July 2008. Yitzhak Laor, one of Israel's foremost poets and cultural critics, describes at length the contents of the contract that writers and film makers have to sign in order to qualify for state funds to travel to book fairs or other cultural events.
  12. Omar Barghouti, "Boycott Israeli Dance Troupes, They are Complicit", Dance Insider, 19 July 2006. Also, Omar Barghouti, "Above Politics? "Out of Israel" and into Complicity", Dance Insider, 21 February 2008.
  13. Khody Akhavi, Film on "Radical Islam" Tied to Pro-Israel Groups, Common Dreams, 27 March 2007.
  14. The press releases for Geert Wilders' events (in Italy, UK, Israel, and The Netherlands) were handled by Ruder Finn. Upon writing to Ruder Finn (to Lisa Limor at Ruder Finn-Israel) student groups were sent a DVD of Fitna for free.
  15. Lost in the PR fog Instead of demonstrating that Israel is a modern nation, which has within its ranks an Israeli Mr. Gay International, the invitation from the Zionist Federation has highlighted differences in opinion between religious streams. Ha'aretz, 7 December 2007.
  16. Shmuel Katz's Legacy "a leader of the effort to retain the lands Israel liberated in the 1967 Six Day War". Author of Battleground, which "works as an encyclopedic source-book for those involved in Israel's hasbara (public relations) effort, as well as a quick way to get a firm grounding in the ins and outs of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is the book that Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI) and other groups distributed thousands of copies of for decades to pro-Israel activists across America. With the publication of Battleground alone, Katz could have earned the title of the father of hasbara in America". Obituary by Moshe Phillips at web-site Eretz Israel For Ever. 22 May 2008.
  17. Tinkering with "Hasbara" The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday, August 7 2001 that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ... told the meeting that "Israel should make a point of emphasizing the Jewish right to the land, because it is too often forgotten!" Jerusalem Post, August 16, 2001, archived at freeman.org.
  18. Israel Targets PR, Finally; Sharon calls for bolstering hasbara Foreign Ministry supporting several projects here. New York Jewish Week. December 12, 2003. Archived at HighBeam, subscription.
  19. "American Jews quiet over publicity reform" The Jerusalem Post, May 4, 1992. Cited by Wikipedia.
  20. Propaganda and war "an entire range of efforts: lunches and free trips for influential journalists" Edward Said on hasbara methods used during the Second Intifada. August 2001.
  21. WHY ARE ISRAEL'S PUBLIC RELATIONS SO POOR? The Israel State Comptroller's report released on October 7, 2002, leveled unprecedented criticism on Israel's public relations efforts. The State Comptroller revealed that "since its establishment in 1948, Israel's intelligence organs have not succeeded to respond to the broad-based propaganda and incitement by the Arab world." The report also emphasized that "the lack of a central authority to direct and coordinate all government information bodies to execute a public relations policy is the main factor accounting for Israel's longstanding failures in this field." State of Israel Comptroller's Report #53A, October 7, 2002.
  22. What “Hasbara” Is Really All About Israel’s image is largely event-driven, rather than argument-driven. Ambassador Gideon Meir Deputy Director-General for Media and Public Affairs, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Abbreviated version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post on May 24, 2005.
  23. GUIDE TO THE MIDEAST PEACE PROCESS "Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has sought peace with its neighbors through direct negotiations". Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Copyright 2008.
  24. "New media czar lost for a message" heading a "unit to coordinate Israel’s domestic and foreign media policy". London: The Jewish Chronicle. Feb 8, 2008. Cited at en.academic.ru
  25. "Hasbara spam alert" Silverstein, Richard The Guardian. Jan 9, 2009.
  26. "Latest hasbara weapon: 'Army of bloggers'" Jerusalem Post, Jan 18, 2000.
  27. "Israel recruits 'army of bloggers' to combat anti-Zionist Web sites" Haaretz 19th Jan 2009.
  28. Thought-police is here Rona Kuperboim slams Foreign Ministry’s plan to hire pro-Israel talkbackers. Ynet news, 10 July 2009.
  29. Team Twitter: Israel's Internet War The passionate support for Israel expressed on talkback sections of websites, internet chat forums, blogs, Twitters and Facebook may not be all that it seems. CounterPunch, 21 July 2009.
  30. Israel Education Resource Center: Web Links Jewish Federation, apparently updated to 2011 but with some dead links.
  31. Ambassador's Course On offer to community leaders, educators, students and activists in the Diaspora ... is an opportunity to acquire both a comprehensive overview of the conflict, tools to understand Palestinian propaganda/media bias and the means to advocate Israel's policy. Curent at 2009.
  32. The Israel Citizens Information Council (ICIC) "enlists Israelis from all walks of life to participate in its various projects" ICIC. Current at Dec 2011.
  33. Hasbara Handbook Promoting Israel on Campus, WJUS, March 2002.
  34. ibid., page 25
  35. ibid. page 26