Israel’s propagandists shoot themselves in the foot as they shoot off their mouths
If you have ever visited a blog or on-line discussion group on the Middle East you have doubtless had the misfortune to run into them.
They are known by the language they use: depraved sexual insults, bile, bigotry, threats, disinformation and character assassination. That’s right: I’m talking about “hasbarats,” Zionist trolls who infect the Internet with hasbara, pro-Israel propaganda. Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have “hasbaratchiks,” fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel. The Internet, though, is the latest, some might say the greatest, propaganda playground, and Israel cannot cope with factual, passionate, well-documented stories that expose its war crimes and unrepentant criminality.
If you’ve come across a hasbarat, on-line or otherwise, you have learned that no amount of reasoned argument or intellectual maturity has any effect. That’s because hasbarats don’t care if they come across as ignorant, obnoxious, nasty or inane. All that matters for them is sabotaging criticism of Israel and support for Muslims. They’re like anti-intellectual stink bombs: designed to cause maximum discomfort but have little if any real power.
This deliberate proliferation of on-line hasbarats raises two points. The first concerns why anyone would spend hours a day to prostitute themselves for Israel. Money, of course. Ilan Shturman, deputy director of the Israeli foreign ministry’s hasbara department (!), told an Israeli business newspaper in July that US$150,000 had been allocated for the first stage of a campaign to seed the Internet with hasbarats:
“Our people will not say: ‘Hello, I am from the hasbara department of the Israeli foreign ministry and I want to tell you the following.’ Nor will they necessarily identify themselves as Israelis. They will speak as net-surfers and as citizens, and will write responses that will look personal but will be based on a prepared list of messages that the foreign ministry developed.”
The second point is why Israel felt it had to resort to intellectual fraud on an international scale. The Internet has shown that Israel is a failed oppressor state that commits crimes against humanity as a matter of policy. The last straw for many was “Operation Cast Lead,” an act of such unspeakable unapologetic sadism that allusions to Nazi Germany are entirely appropriate.
Every day, it seems, the mythic foundations of Israel’s legitimacy—the holocaust, Jewish victimhood, Jewish “people,” Israeli “democracy,” “evil” Muslims—are exposed for all to see.
In January, Amir Gissin, Israel’s consul-general in Toronto, sent out a hasbara recruitment letter, which read in part: “If you are frustrated or concerned with the portrayal of Israel in Canadian News and with biased [sic] depictions, your voice can be heard. Now, think that you’re not alone 10,000 voices like yours can respond every day: praise, protest, inform, correct on leading Canadian news websites, in real time, effectively.”
The weakness with this tactic, as you probably figured out, is that hasbarats will inevitably shout and whine themselves into irrelevance. Eventually, intelligent people will tune out the Zionist boilerplate, the anti-Muslim smears, and the interminable drone about the holocaust. Already, the once-dreaded epithet “anti-Semite” has lost all significance, as if it ever had any, and the person who hurled it is more likely to be mocked than feared.
Two recent events demonstrate the growing desperation and ineptitude of Israel’s propaganda industry. Today, we look at an example of “positive hasbara.”
Toronto International Film Festival
A major tactic of hasbarats is to project the illusion that Israel is a normal Western democracy, thereby taking focus away from Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. Also, countries that buy into the deceit will be unwilling to criticize Israel for fear of calling into question their role in covering up Zionist war crimes.
This tactic was tried at the recent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as Tel Aviv was spotlighted in a City-to-City program with Toronto. The ostensible purpose was to use an apolitical, cultural event to obscure the tyranny that Tel Aviv represents, but more than 1,000 filmmakers and performers, weren’t fooled. They put their names to The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation, an open letter to the TIFF that protested the co-optation of the festival by the Israeli propaganda machine.
The protest accomplished precisely what the hasbarats tried to prevent. “Rather than talking about Israel’s rich cinematic culture, the buzz this week in Toronto has centered on the one thing Israeli officials had sought to avoid: the conflict with the Palestinians,” reported the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
|The hasbara campaign to ‘re-brand’ Israel during the Toronto International Film Festival failed miserably. So much attention was paid to the protest that it overshadowed the political objectives of Israel’s propaganda machine.|
Another major defeat for Israel came courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert. After offering a knee-jerk condemnation of the City-to-City protests, he reversed himself the next day:
“I wasn’t prepared with enough facts about the events leading up to the Festival’s decision to showcase Tel Aviv in the City-to-City section. I [initially] thought of it as an innocent goodwill gesture, but now realize it was part of a deliberate plan to ‘re-brand’ Israel in Toronto, as a pilot for a larger such program. The Festival should never have agreed to be used like this. It was naïve for the plan’s supporters to believe it would have the effect they hoped for.”
Speaking of naïve, how about Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv! Whether out of overconfidence or stupidity, he publicly admitted the underlying hasbara in an interview with the JTA: “While the City to City program was initiated by the festival, the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs was involved as part of its Brand Israel media and advertising campaign, which was launched last year.”
Quite obviously, Israel would have been better off if the hasbarats had not tried to manipulate the festival. Even the predictable pro-Israel counterprotest merely added to the protest’s notoriety and detracted from the cultural propaganda. Moreover the standard claim that the protest was an attack on Israel and artistic freedom was demonstrably false. If anything, the protest highlighted Israel’s active suppression of Palestinian culture.
According to the authors of the Toronto Declaration:
“Many Palestinian artists and filmmakers, denied freedom of movement by Israel’s Occupation and pass system, are de facto boycotted, unable to communicate with their communities or travel freely. The double standard is mind-boggling and, slowly, these are the issues we are helping to put under a spotlight.”
Finally, it is important to note that the Declaration’s authors succeeded without any media help. They had no money to place ads, and no newspaper would publish their open letter. On the other hand, hasbarats had the full support (read: “obedience”) of Canada’s national media, and lost.
If a modest, unfunded, popular protest can effectively defeat an orchestrated propaganda campaign, what does that say about Israel’s ability to pose as a legitimate, democratic state? Even though hasbarats get their disinformation out with relative ease, it is not clear that is generally accepted.