Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
The Israeli government believes it is locked in an epic struggle to save Israel from the growing movement calling for an international boycott. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that Israel must quickly “rebrand” itself to avoid pariah status.
Ordinary Israelis are therefore being conscripted into an army of spin-doctors in a campaign termed “hasbara” – Hebrew for “public diplomacy”, or more literally “propaganda”.
In the latest offensive, the education ministry has launched a compulsory hasbara course for Israeli students travelling abroad
. All youth delegations are now required to learn how to justify to outsiders Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. According to officials, the students must challenge those who “seek to delegitimize Israel”.
The hasbara industry’s chief flaw, as Israeli political scientist Neve Gordon observes, is its assumption that “the merchandise is fine, and only the packaging needs to be replaced”.
But rapid developments in information technology mean Israel has less control over its image than ever before.
First it was 24-hour rolling news, then the internet. Now cheap smartphones make every Palestinian a potential documentary-maker
, ensuring that moments of cruelty and oppression are captured and available for anyone who cares to look.
Palestinians post online videos of their everyday abuse: from demolition of homes to stone-throwers being shot with live ammunition; from settlers burning crops to children being dragged by soldiers from their beds in the middle of the night.
Last week 56-year-old Zaki Sabah, a familiar cake vendor in Jerusalem’s Old City, starred in one such video. Bystanders filmed him being savagely beaten by Israeli police on a busy road. Denied a permit for many years by the occupation authorities, Sabah has been repeatedly fined and jailed.
Critics of Israel, it is implied, are either inveterate dupes or unabashed anti-semites. Either they have been deceived by the Israel-haters, or they are haters themselves.