American Jews Gaza Strip Israel J Street

The Israeli spin machine is sputtering

The carnage in the Gaza Strip has shaken me out of my blogger’s hibernation.

The best response, thus far, comes from Gideon Levy in Haaretz:

Once again, Israel’s violent responses…exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom…Israel did not exhaust the diplomatic processes before embarking yesterday on another dreadful campaign of killing and ruin. The Qassams that rained down on the communities near Gaza turned intolerable, even though they did not sow death. But the response to them needs to be fundamentally different: diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire – the same one that was initially breached, one should remember, by Israel when it unnecessarily bombed a tunnel – and then, if those efforts fail, a measured, gradual military response.

But no. It’s all or nothing…Blood will now flow like water…In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel’s overreaction…The line of thinking that states that through war we will gain new allies in the Strip; that abusing the population and killing its sons will sear this into their consciousness; and that a military operation would suffice in toppling an entrenched regime and thus replace it with another one friendlier to us, is no more than lunacy.

For all of Levy’s anger, he is very reasonable. He doesn’t ignore Hamas’ provocations and even suggests that if all diplomatic efforts fail, a limited Israeli military action might be called for, but not a Jewish Shock and Awe campaign. Richard Silverstein’s reaction is equally angry and equally reasonable, and is worth checking out.

The more predictable response that Israel expects from “Diaspora Jews” was enunciated by Tzipi Livni. She called for an “international p.r. campaign” to explain Israel’s position. But then she set an extraordinarily high bar for supportive spinmeisters: “Speaking in English at a press conference Saturday, Livni said Israel `expects the support and understanding of the international community, as it confronts terror, and advances the interest of all those who wish the forces of peace and coexistence to determine the agenda of this region.'”

Israel’s volunteer “hasbara” [public information/propaganda] corps is trying hard to rise to this occasion. I’ve been emailed advice, talking points and videos that are supposed to help me win the game of perception management. All of them urge that “we” try to turn the world’s attention to the suffering, traumatized people of Sderot and the rest of Southern Israel and focus on the duplicity of Hamas. None of them offer talking points to bolster Livne’s bizarre argument that pummelling Gaza will help those who want peace and coexistence. None of them even try to justify Israel’s disproportionate response.

Reviewing this material, I got the sense of people flailing about, trying to work with a press kit that has woefully inadequate material. For example, I received a message from a group called Road 90 with the subject line “Media tools to help explain IDF operations in Gaza.” There are videos of air raids in Sderot. There is a cartoon entitled “How do you like it?” that shows people in France, UK and Germany fulminating as rockets fall behind them. Understandably, the presentation does not try to explain Israel’s wild over-reaction.

An acquaintance has access to a Listserv of p.r. professionals who share tips on how to promote and defend Israel. Here is a sample of recent advice:

The Ps have a simple job in presenting their case to the world. Get the press to stand outside hospitals as the wounded come in….Given that, we have to show that Israel is suffering a humanitarian problem…Let’s learn from the Lebanese situation.

1) First and foremost – we have a “humanitarian crisis”. One third of Sderot has fled. Trauma rates have soared. Children are suffering developmental issues. Bedouin cannot tend their fields.

Why? Then use stats etc. Use the pictures of kids rushing in to shelters. Joel mentioned putting videos on YouTube.

2) Hamas cannot be trusted to keep a peace. For Hamas, peace means 236 rockets and mortars sent aimlessly towards civilians population centres during 6 months of a ceasefire.

Clearly Hamas wants to bring Israel in to a situation like Gaza, where women do not have rights, journalists are harassed, Christian centres are burnt down. In other words, play the human factor and not go straight to the stats nor simply seeking the moral high ground.

That last line is chilling. A quest for the “moral high ground” is bound to come up empty. On that, at least, we agree.

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