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Israel’s Propaganda War: Part Two…

May 13, 2009

As the conflict in Gaza winds down, Israel’s toughest battle is just beginning—the battle against the media.  Not literally of course, although the IDF did a great job of targeting many media and broadcasting centers in Gaza during its offensive, along with killing several journalists in the process.  But now that the ceasefire has taken effect, Israel is focused on making sure the world sees the conflict from their point of view—and they have taken a ‘grass roots’ approach to their image problem.  One of the new techniques the Ministry of Information is using is recruiting people via mass-emails to become “media volunteers” for Israel and sending text messages to journalists covering the conflict offering to help them cover the war, from Israel’s point of view of course.

Around the world, many people have been spammed by Israel with this email:

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.

If you respond to the email saying you would like to help, you receive another email from them going over the different ‘talking points’ Israel’s Ministry of Information wants to get into the news, blogs, etc.  Some of these include—

–         Hamas hides in civilian infrastructure such as mosques and homes and effectively uses the people of Gaza as human shields

–         Hamas still has the capability and desire of carrying out ‘terror attacks’ on Israelis living in southern Israel

–         Hamas is receiving these weapons through tunnels from Egypt and with the support of Iran

–         Israel has no intention of reassuming control of the Gaza Strip

–         Israel does not want the Palestinian people to suffer—it is the fault of Hamas that civilians have died in the conflict

–         Israel has delivered Humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip

–         There is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip

–         Only 12% of casualties were “uninvolved civilians” (compared to the UN’s report that it was closer to 50%)

–         Israel exhausted all diplomatic approaches before invading

Israel knows it would be much easier to convince the world that the above statements are true without the eye-witness reports of foreign journalists in Gaza.  That is why the IDF targeted the media there, and that is why journalists were not allowed into the Gaza Strip until the cease-fire.  Even then, the 8 journalists that were allowed into Gaza were allowed in only as embedded reporters under Israeli control.  It is clear that Israel is trying to hide, or at least postpone, the truth about what happened in Gaza from being shown to the world until they can explain ‘their side’ first.

“The pictures coming out of Gaza are pictures of dead children and dead women,” said Yoni Ben-Menachem, director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. “This is creating a big protest in the Arab world and in Europe. I think the political echelon is very worried.”  So as a response to the images that are finally finding their way into the international media from Gaza, Israel’s foreign ministry has designed a new grassroots propaganda campaign to flood the media with pro-Israeli arguments and information.

 And according to Eytan Gilboa, chair of the communications department at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, compared to the way Israel tried to explain the 2006 war with Lebanon “they are doing a much better job now…the message is clearer.  The objectives of the military operation are clearer.  There is much better use of new media”.

 The newly recruited media volunteers for Israel are supposed to target specific sites and media outlets with the ‘talking points’ given to them by email.  These sites include: The Times, The Guardian, Sky News, BBC, Yahoo! News, Huffington Post, Dutch Telegraaf, and any media sites in countries considered ‘critical’ of the invasion—such as the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, and France.

 In addition to getting the hasbara (Hebrew for ‘explanation’) “plants” into targeted media outlets, volunteers are also asked to identify ‘internet battlegrounds’ where the overall message is not pro-Israeli, comment on target websites provided in the email using information provided in the email, write letters to authors and editors identifying themselves as ‘local residents’, and to recruit their friends to help.

 According to Israel’s foreign ministry coordinator, it is their goal—with the help of media volunteers, to “shift the public opinion, as conveyed in the internet; avoiding, or at least minimizing, sanctions by world leaders”. 

 In addition to trying to infiltrate the media with a host of pro-Israeli messages, the defense ministry has posted videos of Israeli air strikes against Hamas on YouTube in an apparent attempt to get people excited about killing ‘terrorists’.  The government has also created Facebook groups organize support for Israel’s invasion and as another way to spread the ‘talking points’ in a grassroots manner.  On Twitter, the Israeli consulate in New York has organized a debate on the ‘merits of war’—which has so far drawn more than 2,500 bloggers. 

 Whether you agree with Israel’s military invasion of Gaza or not, it is unarguable that the way they are responding their image problems in the international media and getting their propaganda into the news, phones, emails, and blogs is extremely clever, if not somewhat devious.  They have achieved this by following certain guidelines that are guaranteed to defy even the most ‘disturbing’ of images coming from the other side of the debate.

 They started with instant repetition, and by doing this defined the context, the starting point, and the story line that shaped the world’s understanding of the war. 

Israel’s propaganda machine has also realized the power of using stereotypes, especially the ones that are already established in your target audience—the primary stereotype being that Palestinians are ‘terrorists’ and Israel’s ‘problem’.  Reinforcing these stereotypes makes it much easier to reduce any Palestinian casualties to a number or to objectify instead of personify death by calling it ‘collateral damage’. 

‘Knowing your enemy’; in this case, Israel knew that Hamas would continue to fire rockets at southern Israel from Gaza.  And Israel also knew that because of that, the West would be a sympathetic audience when Israel talks about defending itself from ‘terror’.    

Even before the conflict, Israel made sure that they sent diplomats around the world and had their talking points in the media in as many different outlets and countries as possible.  Again, simple repetition of pro-Israeli messages and uncompromising denial of any messages that challenge Israel is very effective. 

One of the most difficult obstacles Israel has faced in its media war are the images surfacing from Gaza of dead women and children.  In this case, denial works best.  “It is not Israel’s fault, it is Hamas’ fault.” 

So through their grass-roots effort of organizing people via email, Facebook, internet blogs, text messages, and using time-tested propaganda strategies; Israel hopes to end the Gaza conflict without having their international image tarnished.  Unfortunately for them, the scale of destruction and death in Gaza is not something they will be able to explain or justify once the truth about Israel’s war in Gaza, like those ‘disturbing’ images’, begin to filter out to the world.

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