Israel, Gaza, and the mass production of myths for mass media

Why do supporters of Israel all repeat the same empty soundbites and tired arguments when talking about Palestine?

Participants rally on the National Mall at the March for Israel.
Participants rally on the National Mall at the March for Israel on November 14, 2023, in Washington, DC, the US [AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta]

During the recent “March for Israel” in Washington, DC, Al Jazeera interviewed a confident young man from Connecticut about the war in Gaza. Draped in an Israeli flag, Charlie appeared ready to answer any question.

He made it clear from the outset that the ongoing war is not “Hamas vs Israel”, but “Hamas vs the whole world”. He said he regrets children’s deaths and prays for innocent lives lost. But he had no doubt about who is responsible for the death of civilians in Gaza. While Israel does everything to avoid civilian casualties, he said, Iran-backed Palestinian terrorists bomb their own hospitals, use civilians as human shields, and even place kids next to rocket launchers. Iran and its proxies are the source of all evil in Palestine and the region, he added.

Charlie has clearly done his homework. He has studied the Israel Project’s “Global Language Dictionary [PDF]”, memorised its lines, and repeated them verbatim, not missing a beat. The playbook was created in 2009 after Israel’s first war on the besieged Gaza Strip, to guide Israel’s supporters on how best to speak to the media about the conflict. Inspired by Israel’s leading spin doctors, such as Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, it is directed at young activists, as well as politicians, pundits, journalists and more. It tells its readers what to say, and what not to say, alerting them to words that should be used and others that mustn’t.

One of my favourite tidbits in the playbook, as I wrote back in 2014, goes like this: “Avoid talking about borders in terms of pre- or post-1967, because it only serves to remind Americans of Israel’s military history. Particularly on the left, this does you harm.” And when civilian casualties mount during wartime in Gaza, the playbook recommends talking empathetically along these lines of “All human life is precious”, but emphasising that “it is a tragedy that Iran-backed Hamas shoots rockets at our civilians while hiding in their own” and that this “causes tragic deaths on both sides”.

Sounds familiar?

Like Charlie, I have also studied the spin playbook, albeit for different reasons. The playbook helps me detect more easily the spin in writings, speeches, and interviews.

Take the interview that Republican US presidential candidate Chris Christie gave to CNN the day after the “March for Israel”. He repeated the same soundbites that Charlie invoked the day before, albeit with less tact. Having had forgotten to mention “evil Iran” in his answers, he clumsily rushed to insert it before the end of the interview, as if he was being tested.

Like Charlie and Chris, Joe also loves the playbook. President Biden and his minions in the US administration have eagerly embraced its recommendation to highlight Israel’s “right, indeed obligation, to defend itself” against the attacks of a “terrorist” organisation at every opportunity. Since October 7, the United States president has regularly deflected criticism of US complicity in the killing of thousands of Palestinian children, by accusing Hamas of, you guessed it,  “using civilians as human shields”, and even repeating false Israeli claims about Hamas “cutting babies’ heads off” and “burning women and children alive”.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken went further, insisting that US officials stand behind Israel‘s claim that Hamas is using civilian facilities such as al-Shifa hospital in Gaza as “command centers”, and adding that “What we know across the board is that Hamas embeds itself in civilian infrastructure – in and under apartment buildings, in and under hospitals, in and under schools – and it uses people as human shields”, and hence, incriminating tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, teachers and others in war crimes.  All of which has thus far proved to be no more than propaganda used by Israel to justify its bombings of hospitals and schools.

On Saturday, in an opinion article on the US vision for post-conflict Gaza published in the Washington Post, Biden wrote to the spirit and text of the playbook. The president omitted any mention of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the siege of Gaza, or any single part of the tortured history of Palestine in favour of more and more of the empty old rhetoric about “shared future” and “two states” that obfuscates the reality on the ground, and serves to justify the unraveling collective punishment and genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Mind you, the playbook actively encourages its readers to talk in favour of the “two state solution”, and repeat the mantra “two homes for two peoples”, because, “given the overwhelming American support for a two-state solution, it will make support much easier and faster if you set the tone for all discussions by articulating Israel’s shared vision for the ultimate goal of two peoples, living side by side in a lasting and secure peace”. But then again, and here comes the punchline: “In the name of gaining credibility for why you might later say that ‘a two-state solution isn’t achievable overnight’, you should start with language [that signals] how your goals align with the public’s”.

President Biden is not the only world leader who appears to be following Israel’s 2009 playbook to a T. Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also been very careful not to sway far from the guidelines issued by Israel’s spin doctors. Asked by an opposition MP whether he would urge Israel to end its “collective punishment” of civilians in Gaza, Sunak responded:

“I actually believe that we should support Israel’s right to defend itself and to go after Hamas and recognising that they [Israel] face a vicious enemy that embeds itself behind civilians.”

For his part, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not toe the line as blindly as the US president and British PM, and was slammed for it. After condemning Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, he ventured to remind the UN Security Council attendees that, “It is important to also recognise the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”

Oh! The nerve, the audacity! How dare the UNSG state the obvious; “in what world” does he live? He must “resign”, or so the Israeli diplomats shot back, in accordance with the Israeli playbook, which clearly states, “the primary Palestinian public relations goal is to demonstrate that the so-called ‘hopelessness of the oppressed Palestinians’ is what causes them to go out and kill children. This must be challenged immediately, aggressively, and directly.”

History has no place in today’s political spin when it comes to Palestinians. Their tortured past – and present – is an inconvenience to the spinners that must be avoided at all costs.

In his warmongering Washington Post opinion piece, President Biden doubled on his earlier dangerous theological pronouncement about Hamas’s “pure, unadulterated evil”, which can only be explained except by its very nature. The fact that Hamas is a product of the Israeli occupation, established in response to Israel’s decades-long repression and disposition must be ignored and discounted, come what may.

In a nutshell, Israel has the right, indeed the obligation to defend itself and its racist occupation; the right to defend its military occupation and racist apartheid, according to the cynics and spinners, but the Palestinians have no such right to defend themselves, let alone resist their occupiers, by any means, even the most peaceful means, like boycott and divestment.

Fortunately, the lies have finally caught up with the liars, as more and more Western journalists, pundits and officials started to doubt the spin and question the Israeli spinners, even ridicule them, for their poor performances, doctored evidence, and vulgar lies. Soon, they will start to question the spinners’ overall deception about the war, its conduct and root causes.