Fighting a War of Words
by Shayna Barall
The tensions that revolve around the Palestine-Israel conflict are not only occurring in the physical reality, but even more so in the realms of social media and mainstream news. This new style of guerilla warfare is growing in both the public opinion spheres and media relations, causing the warfare on the ground to accelerate as it continues to be fueled by distortions, lies and heightened tensions of personal bias.
Facing a new style of enemy, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was created immediately following the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 to help establish relations and media regarding the newborn country. Throughout 1948-1966 the media relations were fairly calm consisting of fifty representatives to portray Israel to the world.
Years later, the efforts to demonize Israel for defensive action against enemies, terrorists, and war required new approaches and the Hebrew word Hasbara became the term of reference for advocacy and public relations. While the word hasbara itself has no direct translation into English, this innocent effort to name a lofty endeavor has become steeped in politics and negativity.
Israel's public diplomacy has undergone endless transitions during the past 100 years. Whatever foreign affairs or diplomatic efforts may be in play, the period of calm relations came to a halt at the end of the Six Day War. Israel’s miraculous ability to retrieve lands in a war against several armies sparked the question that plagues every discussion today: Palestinians as the underdogs living in “Israeli occupied territory”.
During this time many entities become involved which complicated Israels media relations. The news was no longer emitting from a single source but came from the IDF spokesman, Ministry of Defense and other Jewish agencies that wished to speak on behalf of Israel. Israel started to gain more media attention than was needed or deserved for such a small country. With a lot of eyes on Israel, every headline could be flipped to put Israel in the wrong. Although many different voices arose, Israel still faced the Hasbara dilemma of who could speak as a centralized voice to aid the country's media relations.
Because of ongoing organizational territorialism, political influences and budget reallocations, the Hasbara department was set to be eliminated in 1992. While it was seen as invaluable and unneeded by the Ministry during times of calm, the onslaught of issues could not be handled by a single entity. An effort to disperse Hasbara efforts created many different voices speak on behalf of Israel, including many derogatory, judgmental and accusatory emerging from within Israel and the Diaspora Jewish community. While it had once been thought that Jewish journalists would help to create headlines and articles that held honest content about Israel and Jewish rights to self-defense and sovereignty under international law, it became clear that many were exposed to the biased reports of the growing anti-Israel agenda that infiltrated the media scene.
Israeli newspapers published articles with tarnished Israel's image, and American Jews in particular expressed their resentment of Israel exercising her democratic freedoms that perhaps demonstrated too much “Jewish bravado” for the liking of an overly assimilated Jewish world. The Palestine-Israel conflict has since become one of the most popular when regarding Israel remaining the prominent narrative into current day. What used to be known as the Arab-Israeli conflict changed names of reference and Israel became the aggressor.
Every effort Israel makes to advance understanding of our context, circumstances and best efforts for humanity, civilization and democracy are still deemed insufficient. The reason: a continued need to speak out as a defensive response, always explaining ourselves, rather than presenting a proactive assault against the lies we are always having to counter. The public reads a caption or views images and automatically believe the narrative against Israel that is twisted into each story to fit their political or ideological agenda.
Title baiting and powerful terminology are some of the most important tools being used by the anti-Israel/Zionist efforts that have been co-opted by mainstream media. From the use of the term “Palestinian” which used to specifically serve as a reference the Jews of the region, to the application of the term “West Bank” to refer to historical Judea and Samarian regions, to the co-opting of “freedom, justice and equality” by the BDS movement when it is these principles that ISRAEL stands for while fighting the injustice, terror and murder of those who seek to destroy her.
The Great March of Return is one example where the wording immediately demonizes Israel, evokes the lie of occupation, and justifies whatever means of terror this “return” requires. Claiming to be a march of freedom to the border of Gaza, where they request that they return to the land declared Israel in 1948 (NOT 1967 as most proponents of the “occupation myth” naively employ). Countless reports and reporters continue to reference these border riots as “peaceful protests,” in spite of the clear evidence to the contrary.
Massive fires, kite and balloon bombs, women and children used as human shields, encouraged by Arab community leaders that to die is the desired goal, Nazi flags waving alongside the flag that has come to be known as “Palestinian,” homemade grenades thrown at the Israel Defense Forces who are relegated solely to the use of rubber bullets to counter the offensive terror against Israel’s citizens. The attacks are real, but Israel still has to fight for any justice in our effort to live free from hate and terror. And no amount of Hasbara could counter the use of the positive goal of “return” that accompanies their endless hate and violence.
On May 14th, 2019 a particularly high number of casualties occurred and 60 Palestinians were reported dead. What the news headlines don't tell you is that 50 out of the 60 people shot dead were claimed by Hamas that same day as proud members of their militant terror group. But the headlines by then has swayed public opinion sufficiently, and Israel remains the accused murderer, never to be exonerated in spite of innocence in this endless battle for defense.
Such a dire situation becomes personal when a woman claimed to be a Palestinian nurse was killed in one of the riots, only later to be recognized as a grenade-throwing protester active in spreading hate of Israel and Jews on social media. It was an innocent IDF soldier, Rebecca, that got labeled as a killer, and who shared the pain of the blood libel against her when she wrote, “I’m sad that my friends and family have been threatened and that in the world of social media, there’s no way to protect yourself from falling victim to threats and lies.”
After leading with headlines that did not encompass the whole truth, it was hard for the IDF to reverse the negative Hasbara and the opinions that flooded the internet. The IDF can not instantly combat these claims with the real story because of classified protocol the information that the IDF does release is often insufficient and delayed. So who holds the responsibility to shift public opinion? Only the IDF? Only Israeli Ministries? Organization heads? Because clearly no one is doing it right.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not just physical, it is all-encompassing. On October 7, 2023 (a day that will live in infamy) Hamas showed that they had the power to declare war on Israel, but what’s worse, is they also showed they have more than enough ammunition within the media realm to add fire to the ongoing conflict. From the indescribable horror of the massacre to the civilian hostages, including infants and elderly, somehow Hamas still comes out as the one being defended, and the fault placed on Israel.
So what does this mean? It means that debunking fake news is more important than ever and the need for a strong centralized voice is important.
And what can you do to help? Make sure all the headlines you read are telling the true story, and if they are not, share articles that tell nothing but the full truth.
QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION
- Would an umbrella Hasbara prove beneficial to Israel? Why or why not?
- What do you think the biggest problem with Israel's public relations?
- Do you think Israel gets more media exposure than it deserves?
- What do you believe is the best way to combat the bad press Israel receives?
- What platform of media do you find most harmful to Israel? Facebook, TikTok, the news themselves, or something else?
RESOURCES - THE BEST AND THE BIASED
New York Times
SOCIAL MEDIA: TOP ANTI-ISRAEL PLATFORMS
X (formerly Twitter)
WHAT CAN YOU DO?