The grand failure of Israeli hasbara

Israeli attempts to shape the narrative of the Gaza war have failed in the face of global solidarity

An Israeli holds a placard written in Arabic, Hebrew, and English during a peace protest in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv [EPA]

The genocidal war that the apartheid Israeli state has waged on the Gaza Strip has generated an unprecedented wave of international public condemnation and international solidarity with the Palestinians. Graphic images of unimaginable destruction and heaps of dismembered and shattered bodies of innocent children flooded social media. Circulating in the context of the recent history of a series of Israeli military incursions into Gaza (first in 2008 and again in 2012), these images prompted hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets around the world to demand an end to the Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing in Gaza.

The engineersof Zionist hasbara (the Hebrew word for “propaganda”) pushed back, redoubling their efforts in well-orchestrated PR campaigns that tried to reframe their genocidal war with typically hackneyed talking points. Israeli PR pressure even forced some celebrities, who had posted on Twitter both against the senseless genocide in Gaza and for recognising the humanity of Palestinians, to retract their Twitter posts.

However, the hasbara apparatus of the Israeli apartheid state failed to concoct myths and rhetorical games creative enough to whitewash their disproportionate use of force and war crimes. Their psyops tactics were largely ineffective, even in Tel Aviv, pushing them to desperate measures, including censoring the media.

‘Resistance is futile’

Hasbara engineershave therefore resorted to three main strategies to deal with the political fallout from the Gaza genocide. First, they desperately launched blackmail campaigns that attempted to conflate the irrational fear and hatred of Jews (anti-Semitism), which is unacceptable, with the legitimate critique of the apartheid Israeli state (anti-Zionism).

Linking any criticism of the Israeli genocidal policies to anti-Semitism has become an issue of contention for a growing number people around the world who clearly reject such extortion. Even the Hamas leadership has jumped on the issue, making it clear that “We do not actually fight the Jews because they are Jews, per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers.”

Underlying this international solidarity with the Palestinian is the increasing worldwide awareness of Israel’s fake victimisation posturing. Palestinians are fighting a colonial occupier who has been represented in the annals of European history as the “ultimate victim”. Zionists have adopted the absurd claim that every Jew is born a victim, repackaging genocide in the rhetoric of “self-defence”. More and more people, however, realise that the Israeli apartheid state’s policy of ethnic cleansing in Palestine and violating Palestinian rights at a massive scale since the Nakba of 1948 is far from “self-defence”.

To paraphrase the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, it is almost impossible for Palestinians to resist their Zionist colonial occupiers without being demonised and branded as anti-Semitic.

Forced false choices

The second major strategy of hasbara engineersis their attempt to force the international public to make a choice between Israel and Hamas. However, many people and political entities around the world reject this false choice, opting to side with the oppressed civilians who have no way to flee or seek shelter in the open-air prison known as Gaza.

The genocidal war on Gaza has made it evident that, especially in the West, a split exists between the political elite on the one hand, and civil society and the international solidarity movement on the other. Undoubtedly, criticism did come, though maybe a little late, from Israel’s closest allies There were even a few cases of defection from the ranks of their political elites (most notably the UK minister Baroness Warsi), with some even heeding Amnesty International’s call for an arms embargo against Israel and for Israel’s human rights violations to be referred to the Internationl Criminal Court. Indeed, Palestine has for the first time become a bone of contention in the domestic politics of some Western countries.

In general, however, those in the corridors of power remain largely entrapped within the dominant narrative that the apartheid Israeli state peddles to justify the carnage in Gaza. Many world leaders, including United States President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, have toed the hasbara line in their defence of Israel’s genocidal war.

At the same time, outrage at Israel’s actions was most visible at the grass-root level. Indeed, larger numbers of young people have been reported to attend these rallies, protests, and demonstrations in support of Gaza. Recent polls also indicate that younger Americans are growing increasingly critical of Israel’s apartheid policies in Palestine. The younger generation is increasingly dissatisfied with their governments’ complicity in the perpetuation of Israeli war crimes.

The diversity of solidarity

Finally, hasbara engineershave tried to dismiss and demonise this groundswell of international solidarity with Palestinians by presenting it as an exclusively Muslim cause. Rallies in support of Palestine have always been diverse gatherings of people of all faiths and ethnicities. Condemnation of Israeli crimes has come from all around the world, including from Israeli intellectuals, international political figures and prominent academics. Even Israeli citizens have mobilised against the war in Gaza, against the hostile current of the majority.

Most importantly, this hasbara contention conveniently ignores the deafening silence and clear standoffish position of many Muslim and Arab states on the Gaza genocide. In fact, the overwhelmingly Catholic Latin America has been at the forefront of international condemnation of Israel’s actions. Many Latin American countries vehemently denounced the Israeli genocidal war in Gaza; some have suspended their economic cooperation with Israel and others have recalled their ambassadors from Tel Aviv.

The outpouring of international solidarity for Palestine has clearly transcended the confines of identity politics and geography. It has emphasised that Palestinian lives are no less valuable than Israeli lives and that the international human rights regime should apply to both equally.

Indeed, as appalling as it sounds, dominant Zionist hasbara narratives have tried to criminalise the humanity of Palestinians, making it controversial to even acknowledge it and mourn their deaths. As Bayan Abu Sneineh states, “Not only are Palestinian bodies dehumanised, but they are also cast off as unreal.  … Their lives are not livable and their deaths are not grievable. If Palestinian lives are not seen as lives, then are their deaths even considered real deaths?”

But this time, Israel’s hasbara apparatus has clearly underestimated the extent to which global outrage at the Israeli genocide in Gaza has catapulted the Palestinian issue back to the centre of the global political stage. As long as the international solidarity movement insists on this commitment to the humanity and the human rights of the Palestinians, on the desire to ease the suffering of the oppressed, state hasbara will fail in its effort to delegitimise the grievances of the Palestinians.

Dr Jamil Khader is Dean of Research and Professor of English at Bethlehem University, Palestine. He is the author of numerous articles on postcolonial feminism, popular culture, and literary theory. He is also the author of Cartographies of Transnationalism in Postcolonial Feminisms: Geography, Culture, Identity, Politics (Lexington Books 2012) and the co-editor, with Molly Rothenberg, of a collection of essays on the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, entitled, Zizek Now: Current Perspectives in Zizek Studies (Polity 2013).