How to efficiently fight anti-Israel propaganda?
In the Western world, Israel has largely lost the propaganda battle against the Arabs. More than 40 percent of Europeans believe the conspiracy theory that Israel aims to exterminate the Palestinians. In reality, the Palestinian population has greatly increased. The Palestinian- Israeli conflict is often absurdly presented as the greatest threat to world peace.
Palestinian criminality, while similar to that in several other Muslim countries, is ignored or whitewashed by many media figures, politicians and others. Around the globe, whether within or outside of the Muslim world, large numbers of people are massacred, some by governments. The US government and the European Union, however, often remain silent about such mass killings. Yet they religiously publish condemnations of Israel for building homes outside the Green Line, as if that was endangering the world. This is yet another success of Arab propaganda.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number of anti-Semites in the world exceeds one billion people. The anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic hate propaganda emerging from large parts of the Muslim world knows no limits.
This is a highly dangerous development.
Israel is a small country with many enemies. Its survival depends on being smarter than them.
The question is, then, why is Israel’s propaganda falling so short? The strategic answer is simple. Israel is fighting a total war which has a number of facets. One is military.
For that purpose, Israel has an efficient instrument, the IDF. It oversees the entire military battlefield and innovates methods for dealing with future threats.
A second facet is the intelligence war. To fight this war, Israel has three competent agencies: the international agency Mossad, the domestic security service Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the military intelligence branch, AMAN. Cyber-warfare has become yet another major battlefield and Israel is investing heavily to become a world leader in this area.
To fight the fourth element of the total war, however, there is, quite surprisingly, no effective instrument.
There is no governmental or non-governmental organization which oversees the entire propaganda battlefield. Some Israeli government bodies, private NGOs and other operators participate in the anti-propaganda battle, but there is little coordination between them.
Some major anti-Israeli propaganda matters are barely dealt with.
In recent decades, the role of diplomats has expanded to include public diplomacy (hasbara in Hebrew). They are expected to not only maintain government contacts in the country where they are located, but also to communicate with the public there and influence them to view Israel favorably. A variety of tools have been developed for this purpose.
One often hears that Israel should be more effective in its public diplomacy.
That is true, because many people abroad do not have a structured, hostile attitude toward Israel, but are simply uninformed. Fighting the propaganda war, however, is a very different issue. Here one does not deal with the poorly informed, but one’s adversaries.
Hostilities against Israel come from both government and other sources within Muslim states, from Muslims in the Western world, politicians from many countries, NGOs, academics, trade unions, church leaders – mainly liberal ones – a variety of Western socialist parties, the extreme Left, the extreme Right, and so on. Social media is yet another arena for hate propaganda.
Diplomats are quite ineffective in a propaganda war. To put it brutally, they have been well trained to say it is raining if one spits in their face.
The only way to fight the propaganda war is to establish a central body, much like those that exist for military, intelligence and cyber-warfare: an agency which oversees the entire battlefield.
What would such a centralized Israeli anti-propaganda agency do? Let me map out some of the basics.
It would have to focus on three major pursuits: research, monitoring and operations.
The research branch would cover a number of areas. It would have to investigate, in detail, how the entire anti-Israel propaganda war works. This would include analysis of the key motifs of demonization, where major attacks originate, the investigation of the main categories of perpetrators, the interactions between them, how the hatred is transmitted, and so on.
For Israel to effectively expose and fight its multiple adversaries in the propaganda war it would have to know, in an organized manner, much more about them than it presently does. The anti-Israel defamation and hate system is far from having been explored in its totality. Developing an understanding of both unstructured and structured anti-Israel incitement and how they mutate should be an ongoing project. A database should be established with all the information collected.
The second function of the anti-propaganda agency would be to monitor current developments.
Such monitoring would be done by specialists, in various ways. Some would follow developments in specific countries. Others would specialize in specific categories such as Muslim governments, Muslims in the Western world, politicians, academics, etc. A third monitoring group would follow specific types of anti-Israeli incitement such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, false accusations, the application of double standards, false moral equivalence, scapegoating and other fallacies.
The operational branch of the new structure would have to develop increasingly effective methods to fight the anti-Israeli propaganda as well as anti-Semitism. It would have to assess which activities it undertakes itself and which should be left for others, such as other government services, nongovernmental bodies in Israel and abroad, or even some individuals.
The success of a central Israeli anti-propaganda agency would depend on both the quality of its staff and the availability of government funds. Rough estimates put the financial requirements in the $200 million to $250m. per year range. Had Israel started to fight hate propaganda efficiently in the 1980s, it would have been able to avoid much of the damage done since.
To demonstrate that the fight against hate propaganda requires a central Israeli body overseeing the battlefield is simple. Its establishment, however, depends on the political will of the government to create – decades too late – this highly necessary agency and allocate to it the necessary funds.
The author is a board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2000-2012).