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.

26 thoughts on “The Israeli spin machine is sputtering

  1. Is there anything that would convince you that Hamas needs to be taken seriously? They do not want the “Zionist entity” around. When your enemy wants to slaughter you, you can feel morally righteous and do nothing. Or your conscience can be troubled by what you need to do in order to survive, but you do it anyway. The Israelis take the second option and I don’t blame them and neither should you.

  2. Marano, then why would Hamas:

    omitted its call for the destruction of Israel from its election manifesto, calling instead for “the establishment of an independent state whose capital is Jerusalem.”


    On 13 February 2006, in an interview in Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the same Khaled Mashal declared that if Israel wants “peace”, it must recognize the 1967 borders, withdraw itself from all Palestinian occupied territories (including the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and recognize Palestinian rights that would include the “right of return”.

    Did Kadima expect a white flag?

  3. Alas,

    What does Mashal say to his own people? Do you believe you know more about Hamas intentions than Israeli intelligence agencies?

  4. One of the big problems is that Hamas puts their military targets in the middle of civilian population centers (as in next door), guaranteeing that civilians will be hurt or killed no matter what Israel does. But that is beside the point. Better questions need to be asked.

    Why is Hamas placing their military infrastructure in civilian areas (aside for getting media shots of dead children)? Why are they wasting their resources on attacking Israel instead of focusing on building up their civilian infrastructures? Why are they not helping their own people instead of focusing on destroying others? Why has the Arab world, which rallies around the Palestinians every time Israel defends herself, otherwise have left the Palestinians alone in camps for 60 plus years?

    As to Israel, they really need an upgrade in their media relations. Even when justified, their actions always seem wrong. A good press secretary may work wonders (this is said half in jest). Until then, they need to ask themselves a few questions and face a few realities. Why do they insist on policies that keep making martyrs? Why don’t leaders realize that the heavy hand doesn’t work all the time? They can’t keep beating this enemy into submission. They can’t just take whatever land they want without expecting some angry people — this isn’t the American west of the 19th century. Populations just can’t be removed from their lands willie nillie. I know I would be pretty upset if some native Americans came over to my house and said “Get out. this is ours now,” without, at the least, some eminent domain money (by the way, I love how Israel needs to pay Palestinians for their taken property, but no one is talking about paying Arab Jews for property taken from them when they were expelled, essentially, to Israel).

    End of the day, this battle will continue until both sides realize that both sides have valid arguments and concerns and that some of their values are wrong. A cultural change needs to happen. Equitable results need to be obtained for all. Israel is not going anywhere. Neither are the Palestinians. I find it hard to believe, aside from radical fringes on both sides, that both societies want to fight and kill each other for another 60 years.

  5. Colin Powell advocated the use of devastating force to accomplish military ends, rather than limp “proportional”. He described proportional force as more violent ultimately than compelling large force, in that it rarely accomplishes its mission.

    The dilemma in Israel/Palestine, is that it is unlikely that shock and awe is that “less violent” option as there is near no possibility that it will accomplish its mission.

    The same logic applies to Hamas shelling. There is NO POSSIBILITY of success, unless success is to motivate your enemy to try harder.

    This is a long sickness, that surgery does not heal.

    There are two orchestrated and stimulated media campaigns being conducted.

    One is on the left, which Phil Weiss articulates, that although using the phrase “cycle of violence”, fails to use it currently. In the current state, Hamas is innocent by the absence of comment.

    That Hamas undertook violence UNTIL Israel responded falls on deaf ears.

    The second is the Israeli and American media campaign, which is widely repeated in the press and widely “exposed” by the left media studies analyses.

    The military methods and public reactions almost exactly mirror the Lebanon War two years ago.

    Both, utter failures by all sides.

  6. “Why is Hamas placing their military infrastructure in civilian areas?”
    Not saying they would not do it anyway but with a population density of over 3000 people/km2 Gaza is a continuously dense civilian area (basically Gaza is a giant slum city). Striking anywhere in Gaza, even “surgically”, will result in big civilian casualties.
    The point is rather moot anyway since Israel is now launching strikes against civilian infrastructure to prepare for ground invasion (standard tactics from any military textbook).

    Neither Palestinian leaders nor the Israeli governements are interested in peace. On both sides the people have an abysmal perception of their leaders’ integrity. If there was peace instead of constant threats and fearmongering the current parties would become instantly irrelevant. Hamas and the Israeli leaders (political and religious) all benefit from the neverending bellicosity. The endless cycle of revenge from both sides is just the logical consequence. The other being that the solution cannot come from within.

    In this round, Israel may achieve military objectives but from a PR perspective (hearts and minds) this is an absolute disaster, not even counting the fact that Hamas recruitment must be skyrocketing. It’s a catastrophe for the people on both sides but a bonanza for the leaders whose grip on power will be reinforced.

  7. Matt,

    Everything you’ve written seems correct to me except for your claim that Israeli leaders don’t want peace. I don’t believe that to be true. They just don’t want it enough. Leaders of Labor and moderate leaders of Kadima can’t bring themselves to sacrifice their Knesset seats and political ambitions by confronting the settlers head on and asking the Israeli people to make the sacrifices they need to make. But it is hard to see how they “benefit from the neverending bellicosity.”

  8. Teddy:
    Let me ask you this. If Israel is rewarded by the gaza pullout with missiles then what is the incentive for west bank withdrawal. And if guys like you are advocating that Israel has no right of self defense. then again. What recourse is there when hamas starts shelling Israel from the west bank ridge line.

  9. Dan,
    The whole time I was in Israel in the late 1970s the Likud believed that “hasbara”–explanation, i.e. p.r.–would like some deus ex machina save Israel from all the results of its policies. No one worried about fixing Israel’s dysfunctional electoral system and the coalition system that it produced. Instead the Likud, like the PLO, tried to game the press and media to win a few media points for its side. Israel doesn’t even really care about the international media except for how it influences the American media and American public opinion.

    This has infected Labor as well. In 1973 Ehud Barak in a dress led a pinpoint strike to execute terrorist leaders in Beirut. Today, as defense minister, he presides over the mass bombing of terrorist areas in Gaza. This is basically a repeat of Begin’s approach to the PLO in 1981 bombing Palestinian neighborhoods in Beirut in response to rocket attacks. But it is useless to expect the Israeli left to do anything else as it continues to shrink and the right continues to grow. The Arabization of Israel continues.

    This is why the United States needs to step in, reform Israel, and force Israel to adopt more defendable policies that in turn can promote support for more moderate Palestinian leadership like that of Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Qurei, and Salam Fayyad.

    Hamas is content to try and outlast Israel. Israel should adopt policies that allow it to outlast Hamas.

  10. As if public relations is going to save Zionism from itself at this late stage of the game!

    Of course doing propaganda for Zionism is still an excellent career move, and there will continue to be a Zionist consensus enforced in the American mainstream media for some time to come.

    But I’m afraid, my Zionist friends, that world opinion has turned definitively against Jewish colonialist supremacism. Hard to believe, I know.

    Since the PR campaign has ultimately failed to convince the world that there should be two different standards of international law and human rights, what more can Zionism do to legitimize itself?

    But maybe there’s still time for you all to pull off an enormous PR coup:

    Imagine that those tens of billions that Bernie Madoff’s schemes were able to deliver to non-gentile philanthropy were instead diverted to Palestinians with outstanding land claims in Israel?

    Shlomo Ben Ami says Israel only purchased 6% of its total current-day land area.

    Maybe if Zionists paid for the other 94%, they could get world opinion back on their side?

    No guarantees, but it’s a better strategy than never-ending massacres and lies, you know?

  11. Bravo, MM.

    And Mr. Fleshler, thank you for this. I don’t often agree with you but this post is bracing in its self-awareness and honesty so bravo to you, too.

  12. Welcome back, MM. When last we heard from you, if I recall correctly, I asked you if you thought the Palestinians had any responsibility for the terrible situation –not equal responsibility, but ANY responsibility. You refused to admit they have ever had any, going all the way back to the Hebron massacres in 1929.

    But it’s not too late to have a fit of conscience. It’s not too late to acknowledge that there were real live missiles falling in Israeli territory, and even Human Righs Watch condemned the firing of those missles as war crimes, and that something had to be done about them. I agree with Dan and Gideon Levy that the response was disproportionate, but I presume you believe there should have been no response at all.

    Leaving that aside, did you even read Dan’s post? He was clearly saying that the p.r. machine of Israel could not possibly justify Israel’s actions. I don’t think any of the other “Zionists” who commented here disagreed with him, other than Bill Pearlman and, I guess, Marano. And I certainly don’t want there to be “two different standards” of international law and human rights, and would never defend that. So who, exactly are you arguing with, other than the imaginary Jewish demons who dance in your head?.

  13. Teddy, why is it so important that MM or anybody acknowledge “ANY responsibility” of the Palestinians? Will it make you feel better? Will it improve the situation? Do you know that Jews in Germany also had “some responsibility” for the wave of anti-Semitism? I found you a very reasonable man from your previous comments but here you seem to be engaging in some sort of “blame the victim” game.
    As to the response, we all know what the right and moral response should have been, just as we know what will happen in a few days time. Just recycle some newspapers from 2.5 years ago.

  14. Peter,

    It doesn’t make me feel better to engage in that blame game. And if I had to add up everything in both people’s moral ledgers, Israelis would be the losers. The problem with this particular person, MM –and others I have met and read– is that their analysis of the situation refuses to leave room for any possibility that the Israelis have ever had good reasons to do anything. They are evil cartoon characters to him and the Palestinians appear to be the only human beings in the region. That is a form of dehumanization and depersonalization that is as offensive to me as the dehumanization of Palestinians by the Jewish right. Rashid Khalidi called the Hamas rocket attacks “stupid and immoral” a few months ago. He was right. I could see myself in a political coalition with him, even though he is a brilliant critic of the Zionist enterprise. Not MM.

  15. Teddy,

    The Gaza pullout and its aftermath was carefully planned by Sharon and his advisers. Knowing they had the political clout to pull out from Gaza, they had all the cards in hand to negotiate with the PLO and ensure a peaceful evolution. They did not even try and made it a totally unilateral move. The decision was not on a whim, it had taken them years to plan it. As soon as he got in power Sharon made sure to weaken the Gazan economy and render the PLO powerless and there is no way he was not aware that Hamas would benefit. And why would a hardliner like him pull out in such a fashion to give the impression that Israel was bowing to Hamas’ violence? Because the plan was to get Hamas in power in Gaza.
    Now there is no Palestinian representation to negotiate with, colonization continues unabated (remember “grab the hilltops”?) and the creation of a Palestinian state is more remote than ever. Their hands are so free they don’t even have to fake negotiations with Abbas.
    At the same time the Israeli people are maintained under constant Palestinian threat and fearmongering propaganda, making them turning a blind eye to the corruption of their establishment (even if more than 70% are fully aware of it, a record level among democracies).
    For the Israeli establishment, the hardliners and tenants of the “Great Israel” it’s a huge win, and to them the a few rocket casualties there and there is a cheap price to pay.

    Of course since you have to be 2 to tango, they’ve got full cooperation from Hamas who’s so stupid and radical at the same time that they can easily be provocated and manipulated. Hamas in in power, they’re perfectly fine with a desperate situation for the Palestinian people since it fosters radicalism and adhesion to their party.

    Both Kadima/Likud (same ideology, different packaging) and Hamas will get the most out of this round of fighting (Hamas will be “weakened” but more in power than ever with throngs of new recruits).

    For everyone it’s a lose-lose situation, it jeopardizes both Israel’s and the Palestinians’ future but for their respective establishments it’s win-win and that’s all that matters.

  16. Also I would like to mention that the PR disaster is also in the interest of the Israeli establishment to some extent. You can see it here and everywhere else that it fosters antisemitism in the minds of those who are simple-minded or radicalized enough to lump all the jews in the same basket. The objective there is to diaspora jews more supportive of Israeli policies (marketed as Israel support).

    IMHO that’s starting to backfire. There seems to be a lot more contestation among disapora jews than ever, it looks like it won’t be long before Israeli-sponsored organizations won’t be able to claim universal jewish representation anymore. It’s been while many jews have expressed healthy skepticism of Israeli policies in private and it’s a positive development to see it becoming more vocal and organized.

  17. Sorry, Teddy.

    As fixated as the Israelis and their Zionist defenders in the U.S. media have always been on these Qassam rockets, I have a hard time believing that a discussion of what amount to oversized fireworks would constitute “keeping my eye on the ball.”

    Surely you have researched the history of the Balfour declaration?

    Were the Palestinians somewhat to blame for that, as well?

    Israel’s appropriate response is quite simple: stop discriminating and offer ful rights and citizenship to all human beings living on Israeli territory.

    The world awaits.

    The Zionists spin, spin, spin, spin… more of the same.

    I read Dan’s post and found it courageous and 99% on-target. The remaining 1% he could probably borrow from Johnathan Cook’s writings in Counterpunch.

    The issue is Zionism. And it’s an actual ideology, son. Doesn’t need scare quotes.

    I’m rooting for you all. Really I am. Israelis deserve a better future.

  18. I should point out that fireworks have killed thousands in the course of human history. I am resolutely against the use of fireworks as weapons. Fireworks are for invoking the splendors of wars past–the brilliant explosions, visceral energy, slightly charred limbs.

    However, The fact that the Palestinian military artillery consists most menacingly of dynamite belts, fireworks, and medium-sized stones, says quite a lot about the situation.

    Clearly the Zionists are at a tremendous disadvantage. Massive aerial bombardment of an urban population center was their only recourse.

    And dismantling the colonization (“settler”) program would be the height of appeasement. So unfortunately that will need to continue, full force. Progressive hasbara, I know you will understand!

  19. NO real progressive regards Hamas as benign. Some gullible do, that are similarly more driven by ideology than rationality or reality.

    The decisions for Israel are difficult ones, NONE easy, NONE clear.

    There is some point at which Hezbollah and Hamas shelling initiate a state of war, rather than “model rockets”.

    Leadership IS critical. For example, the difference between George Bush and any actual governance is material. When Hamas ONLY follows, and drops its backbone to lead, it describes itself as of only temporary significance.

    Throwing rocks, or shelling civilians with “model rockets”, is NOT civil disobedience.

    BOTH Israel and Hamas derive some perverted pleasure over getting the last digs in. Neither have yet committed to peace, invested in peace.

    They’ve each flirted with it, and that even barely.

    Anger is NOT justice is the point. Hamas anger, nor Israeli anger.

    Political opportunism is NOT justice. Hamas campaigning in their election nor Kadima in theirs (I personally regard Kadima and Labor as more humane than Hamas. I am NOT implying a parallel.)

    I DO agree with Livni’s statement regarding the rocket fire: “enough is enough”, AND her statement to the question “if Hamas did not engage in targeting civilians would you/Israel object to their rule?” “No, if they sincerely kept the cease-fire, we would as well.”

    IF Hamas prepared to defend, rather than prepared to OFFEND, then their international stature would be quite different.

    The leftists assume that Israel’s stature is cracking, but that is not the case. Its choices, and assumptions are certainly being questioned. They are stupid choices, they should be questioned.

    But only those that regard Jewish civilians as inconsequential regard Hamas’ actions as acceptable for a state.

  20. Teddy,
    I understand what you’re saying, but faced with the enormity of real suffering going on right now in Gaza (and yes, for some families in Israel too) I find it “wasteful” to engage in such discussions. In a situation where one side is disproportionately a victim, all the discussion as to how the other side could have some sensibilities etc may be left for later, when the real danger has passed. Especially since there is no lack of compassionate pro-Israel view in the US media!
    Check out this comment by AnomalousNYC, a brave photographer who dedicates some of his Flickr stream to pro-Palestinian cause:

    I am no longer particularly interested in bending over backwards to accomodate the grotesquely delicate sensibilities of Israelis, particularly when it comes to their ridiculously inflated fantasies that they might be victims of “terror.” How many suicide bombings were there in all of 2008? 1.
    How many Israeli deaths from suciide bombings in all of 2008? 1.
    How many Israelis died in the last year from these endlessly talked-about “rockets” from Gaza? Less than half a dozen in the last year – not a single one in the last six months.
    Israelis, like anyone else, are entitled to be paralyzed by whatever fanciful, crippling anxieties they care to concoct, but I refuse to accept their contrived racist hysteria as a legitimate excuse for their appallling endorsement of truly evil politicians and policies. […] I don’t buy this nonsense about how we all need to tiptoe around and not call them out on their crap for fear that we might damage their delicate, fearful psyches. If the supposed leftists in Israel are so fucking skittish that they can’t tolerate unflattering comparisons of their racist state with odious racist regimes of the past, then they’re (a) hopelessly deluded by the racist propaganda they swim in, and (b) useless as allies in any political struggle.

    He is harsh, I know, but he is right. Let’s leave the sensibilities for later, when we can afford them. And, by the way, this guy is no Jew-hater, I can avouch for that.

  21. Peter,
    Quoting hateful rhetoric is NOT the same as advocating for peace.

    Peace is NOT constructed by insensitivity!!!

  22. More empty calories from hasbara Richard Witty, hardly a surprise.

    He writes, “There is some point at which Hezbollah and Hamas shelling initiate a state of war,” as if the Zionist invasion of Palestine in the first half of the 20th century, and the terror tactics regularly employed, were not “a state of war.” As if the firing of homemade rockets could be equated with nearly a century of violent dispossession.

    It’s a pity Richard is not a piece of metal, because he’s just so dense that he can’t even remember where Hezbollah and Hamas come from.

    Outside the bubble of perpetual hasbara apologism and endless victimhood, always mining that wonderful renewable resource, anti-Semitism, you know, “the world’s oldest social pathology,” (ethnocentric much?), both Hamas and Hezbollah are seen around the world as RESPONSES to Zionist aggression.

    When I have brought up to Richard that Hamas was subsidized by Golda Meir’s Israel, to combat Fatah, all he can do is blink. Like so many hasbara, he prefers and will defend his comfortable myth against any contradictory truth.

    Still, thanks to Israel’s addiction to warfare (big industry, I know), we are now witnessing conscientious Jews and former supporters of Israel of all stripes finally coming to their senses.

    I pray that they can see that the solution is not just more public relations and lower key warfare.

    The solution is human rights, international law, and UN resolutions, including 181 (calling for a Palestinian state) and 194 (right of return).

  23. Richard, again, I feel you’re climbing the wrong tree here. Instead of wasting breath on denouncing “hateful rhetoric” consider that sometimes shock therapies are in place and that’s the way I am willing to see the likes of the quote that I brought. I am sure in any atrocity there is also the other side, some less “hateful” way to denounce it and make the motives a bit more understandable etc. We don’t do it, though, unless it is our side that commits the atrocities. Here it is the state of Israel deliberately going for the killing of many people (its own population included!) instead of an alternative, peaceful way even former hard-nosed fighters are calling for and we are busy denouncing insufficient deference to subtleties of Israeli psyche?

  24. Peter D.

    So present the question as a list of possible decisions, and state your reasons for your preferences.

    Do you get the parallel between your language “shocking dissent” and what you accuse Israel of doing “shock and awe”.

    There is no question that words are not parallel to violence.

    As there is no parallel between violence that is directed solely at civilians, and violence that is directed at military and terror.

    The criticism that specific Israeli violence is NOT directed at terror, but at civilians, is rational and needs to be conveyed.

    Any functional apology for Hamas shelling civilians, I will contest and loudly.

    I had a short correspondence with Michael Lerner at one point (who is also alternately loved and hated by the left), in which I criticized a period of relentless condemnation of Israel. He stated (I think it was in 2004), that Israel needed “tough love”. I replied that relentless condemnation over an extended period of time, is only “tough”, that without the conspicuous statements of love, the toughness will rationally be understood as only resentment, and NOT Tikkun Olam.

    In “tough love”, LOVE is the stronger motive. It is not rationalizable.

    Thats if you want justice and peace.

  25. I guess the Israeli government and supporters of the carnage in Gaza have forgotten the last time someone locked the doors and started killing the people inside. Or, maybe it’s okay as long as those inside are not Jews.

Leave a Reply to Matt Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.