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Tough times for the Hasbara brigade

March 4, 2008

Things have been tough for the Hasbara brigade – Israel’s army of unpaid, freelance propagandists – since the invasion of Lebanon in 2006, when Israel got its arse kicked by a bunch of ragged towelheads with outdated weapons.

And it’s getting worse.

Even they’re struggling to spin the recent promise of the Israeli military to unleash a Holocaust on Gaza, or the fact that the ‘ethical army’ is killing woman and children right now.

Hasbara” is a Hebrew word meaning ‘explanation’. It specifically refers to ‘explaining’ Israeli policy to people – in other words, perception management, spin, or propaganda.

Hasbaraniks are often students or other supporters of Israel, generally in the diaspora, who scour the web for articles critical of Israel. They fill the comments fields with generic pro-Israeli views, much of it obvious cut and paste stuff, and accuse the writer of anti-semitism. The purpose of this is to create the impression that pro-Israel views are widespread, and to intimidate opponents.

There is a manual for this, the Hasbara Handbook. Anyone who’s ever confronted pro-Israeli critics will recognise all the techniques. It’s a detailed propaganda manual, with sections on point-scoring, calling people anti-semites and more – seriously, give it a read.

There is also plenty of handy info for the aspiring freelance Hasbaranik here, including PowerPoint presentations you can download to convince those sceptical Palestinian lovers. And have a look at the intro on the front page of this site: it’s a blatant piece of racist propaganda that reminds me of the BNP’s election videos.

This is a concerted and coordinated attempt to manipulate public opinion in favour of Israel. And yet if you speak of a Zionist lobby, you get accused of anti-semitism.

The manuals suggest a number of techniques. According to Sourcewatch:

Name calling is the most obvious one: almost every time I write a post about Israel, I get called an anti-semite, and sometimes a Nazi (wich is ironic in juxtaposition to comments from Nazis calling me a race traitor…). This is meant to intimidate me, as well as anyone reading the blog.

Another tactic is glittering generalities – grand-sounding but rather meaningless phrases. You might recognise some of these:

“The only democracy in the Middle East.”

(And yet they refused to recognise the democratic decision of the people of Gaza to choose a Hamas government).

“Making the desert bloom.”

(Israel has an appalling environmental record).

“Ethical army.”

(Child killers).

I have my own pet Hasbaranik in JP, who appears to have been deployed to cover my blog: whenever I post anything about Israel, I get 3 or 4 comments from him. JP is an amatuer, and his arguments are generic and predictable: when I write about Israeli atrocities, he rambles on about the Holocaust to detract attention. It’s Hasbara 101.

But this guy is supposed to be an expert: Jonathan Spyer has a PhD in international relations, and has worked for the Israeli government and a number of think tanks. And the best he could come up with, in today’s Guardian, is this:

Israel is engaged in a long, exhausting war and has little choice but to pursue its current course of action in Gaza….

He goes on to justify everything Israel does (and will ever do) on the tired old grounds of it being a brave little bastion of hope facing legions of darkness.

Firstly, I am disgusted that the Guardian would even publish material as weak as this. It’s generic propaganda, not even intelligently argued.

But what’s a real delight is reading the comments beneath the article: Spyer takes an absolute kicking from outraged readers, many of whom are far more eloquent he is, are quite capable of seeing through his canards, and can write nuanced critique. Who should, in fact, be writing for the Guardian.

Here’s a sample:

The death and destruction visited upon Israelis is wrong. But it’s not wrong for the reasons you think it is. It’s wrong because blowing people up and killing them is wrong and horrible. Not just because they are Israeli. Therefore visiting many times more deaths on people who share a nationality with your attackers is also wrong.

What’s really ironic is that even the mainstream Israeli media are far beyond this kind of superficial bullshit. Here is Haaretz:

Even yesterday evening, after the IDF already had killed about 50 Palestinians, at least half of them unarmed, and including quite a number of women and children, Jerusalem continued to claim, “At present there will be no major ground operation.” It’s incredible: The IDF penetrates the heart of a crowded refugee camp, kills in a terrifyingly wholesale manner, with horrible bloodshed, and Israel continues to disseminate the lie of restraint. Two days earlier Israel killed more Palestinians than have been killed by all the Qassams over the past seven years. Among the dead were four children and an infant. The next day Israel killed another five boys. And who is the victim? Israel. And who is cruel? The Palestinians.

Anti-semitism even here!

Let’s end with some inspiring words from Mike Marqusee, an anti-Zionist Jew:

Anti-Zionist Jews are not and do not claim to be any more authentic or representative than any other Jews, nor is their protest against Israel any more valid than a non-Jew’s. But “If I am not for myself”, then the Zionists will claim to be for me, will usurp my voice and my Jewishness. Since each Israeli atrocity is justified by the exigencies of Jewish survival, each calls forth a particular witness from anti-Zionist Jews, whose very existence contradicts the Zionist claim to speak for all Jews everywhere.

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