Experts Weigh In: Why Is Israel Losing The PR War And How Can We Save Ourselves?

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12Richard Landes


Richard Landes, Professor, writer, and inventor of the term “Pallywood”

“The question is loaded, and many, only a couple of weeks ago, would have argued things are much better: Israel is more prepared, journalists more responsible, and the public not so hysterical. We’ve made progress from the bad days of al Durah and the Jenin Massacre. Hell, Pallywood is a widespread meme.

Until the April “Great March of Return.” Then Israeli Hasbarah was on vacation and badly prepared, journalists regressed immediately to reporting Hamas propaganda as news, and the pundits leapt in to condemn Israel’s disproportionate force in killing peaceful demonstrators.

So, let’s look at the three levels of answer.

The Deck is stacked against us

  • The visuals all favor the “weak” from the beginning of the intifada (Chirac to Barak), most immediate images all reinforce Palestinian-David, Israeli-Goliath frame.
  • The journalists are all either avid consumers of, or certainly suppliers of Moral Schadenfreudeto audiences in the West he have an insatiable appetite for news of Jews behaving badly. Their learning curve is close to nill, despite the fact that they’re engaged not just in lethal journalism targeting Israel, but own-goal journalism, lethal to Western democracies.
  • There’s a whole array of Israelis and Jews, much attached to a cosmopolitan ethics, eager to criticize Israel for its moral failures, reluctant to mention the behavior of her enemies, and constantly, often dishonestly, and with great passion and skill, practitioners of own-goal journalism.
  • On some level, Israelis who try and fight this and defend the state are talking to the wall. They’re already branded propagandists for the oppressor. Only to the degree that the West comes to realize that they face the same enemy Israel does –Jihadis who cannot tolerate autonomous infidels – they will continue to feed at the trough, and the journalists will refill it every time there’s some violence.

We’re tongue-tied

  • The first problem we face as Jews trying to defend ourselves in the eyes of the nations is a double handicap. On the one hand, we are as bad at advocating for ourselves as we are good at advocating for others. The Talmud actually has passages (Sanhedrin) where the Jews advocate for their oppressors (Greece, Rome) before God on Judgment Day.
  • On the other, we have immense difficulty speaking badly of others, even our enemies: As the meditation after the standing prayer, recited thrice daily by serious Jews, “And to those who slander me, let my soul be silent.” This is especially of liberal Jews in the diaspora (e.g. Hillels): let’s not be negative.
  • This is particularly problematic because we’re in a cognitive war with merciless enemies who exploit our unwillingness to denounce them, indeed pose as champions of all good things in our silence. This is a war, and being kind does not work. Does this mean we have to be vicious? No. But it’s striking that so few spokespeople in these events have been willing to point out that the government of Gaza is in a state of declared war against us, much less that it’s a war of extermination.

From Freier (sucker) to Maven and back

  • The combination of the military (as long as we win on the battlefield, who cares what the media say?) and the post-Zionist (as long as we’re true to progressive values we don’t need hasbarah) made Israel an aggressive freier in the early aughts, marching in the wake of the icon of hatred Al Durah, afraid that if they fought back they’d just make things worse. “No!” said an IDF spokesperson to me shortly after Lebanon 2006, “I don’t want to know if the footage I’m responding to is staged or not!!”
  • When they finally woke up to its importance, they became instant mavens, who would rapidly figure this all out without much need to consult those who had, in their obstructive absence, been in the trenches. If the “Great March of Return” is any measure, there’s about as much of a learning curve among Israeli hasbarah circles, as there is in Western newsmedia ones.
  •   There’s a radical split between military intelligence and hasbarah. The two circles rarely meet despite how deeply interwoven they became at the turn of the millennium (Gatekeepers). Only when we think this through as 4GW (Fourth Generation Warfare, cognitive warfare) against an enemy which is composed not merely of Palestinians but global Caliphaters, will we begin to understand the framework for a strategy.”