Israel’s Propaganda War: Part One…

May 13, 2009

Following its 2006 war with Lebanon, Israel decided that it needed to set up a Public Relations program to deal with hasbara (Hebrew for ‘explanation’), since the media coverage and death toll in that war—over 1,000 Lebanese civilians, made Israel look ‘bad’.  In other words, the ‘National Information Directorate’, created in 2008, deals with information, spin, and propaganda. This program has been put to use for the first time on a world-wide scale with the Israeli invasion of Gaza.

In addition to sending Israeli diplomats around the world to gain international support for the invasion of Gaza, the program has also been recruiting a staff of Arabic, Italian, Spanish, and German speakers ready to explain the Gaza situation to any visiting media representative, so that they do not have to judge the rapidly worsening situation for themselves.

The “anti-Hamas-pro-Israeli” message sent out via international media is the Directorate’s primary focus. The basic strategy of the ‘hasbara apparatus’ is to coordinate all of the Israeli agencies that deal with communication relations and public diplomacy, so that they form and present a unified message to the media.

With respect to the Gaza conflict, this PR strategy has focused on several key messages that have been repeated over and over—they include:

 “Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements with Israel”
 “Israel’s objective is the defense of its population”
 “Hamas is a terror organization targeting Israeli civilians”

According to the directorate’s chief, Yarden Vatikai, “in general, we think we are succeeding in getting the message across”.

Of course it helps that Israeli representatives get more than twice the air time on international broadcast media than Palestinian representatives do, according to a study by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

One of the largest issues facing the National Information Directorate are the ‘disturbing’ images from the Gaza conflict.  An Israeli public affairs representative admits that “in the war of the pictures, we lose, so you need to correct, explain, or balance it in other ways”.

Apparently, the Directorate knew ahead of the invasion that they would need to start balancing out potentially disturbing images in a campaign that began months before the conflict.  They wanted to make sure that they had governments and the international community on their side before any disturbing images could change their minds. So the Directorate began an international PR campaign targeting Hamas as a terrorist organization, and asserting the right of Israel to defend itself against that terror.

However, with the recent escalation and deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, it is becoming more and more difficult for Israel to ‘explain itself’ to the world, and justify their actions as a reasonable response to the comparably insignificant Qassam rocket attacks by Hamas.

Recently, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni has called on the Foreign Ministry to take “emergency measures to adapt Israel’s international public relations to the ongoing escalation in the Gaza Strip.”

Part of this plan includes publicizing the amount of humanitarian aid Israel has allowed into Gaza.  On Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, there is a box showing the exact amount of aid that has reached Gaza.  This constantly updated list includes the number of truckloads of aid that have actually reached the people in Gaza, the total number of ambulances allowed in–five from Turkey, and five from the West Bank, number of blood units donated by Jordan, and the fact that 34 injured people (out of thousands) have been allowed to be evacuated from Gaza for medical needs, including 2 children.

Unfortunately, for many Gazans, this PR show of allowing aid into Gaza is too little, too late. And with respect to the amount of aid allowed in, a more interesting number to look into would the amount of humanitarian aid that hasn’t been allowed into Gaza—the most notable of which is a Libyan ship that carried 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid for Gaza and was turned away on Monday by Israeli warships.  

When compared, it is easy to see that the aid Israel has allowed into Gaza is purely symbolic, and immensely inadequate.  With the amount of violence the Israeli army is carrying out on the people of Gaza, it will take more than Livni’s current measures in her PR campaign to convince any reasonable person that this war is necessary, or even slightly logical.


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