Cal Tzedek: The Hasbara Prophets Present, Volume I

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Hasbara Prophets Present, Volume I

The Israel Action Committee proactively promoted Israel today. It is very important that the majority of students who don't care about Israel or Palestine love Israel so that they appreciate the Context(TM) behind the conflict. The most successful Hasbara campaigns promote a positive image of Israel well before Hasbara activists would otherwise be put on the defensive by pro-Palestinian activists.

It seems like this week's campaign revolves around "Civil Liberties."

A small leaflet discusses "All for Peace," a Jerusalem radio station which "broadcasts a message of peace to both Israeli and Palestinian listeners." And though I'd not heard of this before, learning of things like this indeed make me happy.

But behind this fascinating and genuinely moving fact, there seem to be horrible logical inconsistencies in this flyer:

"In May, 60,000 Israelis gathered in Gaza to protest the disengagement plan; 100,000 gathered in Tel Aviv in support. This is democracy in action."

Awww, yeah! Take it to the streets, baby! Power to the people! Democracy in action! But wait, what would it be called if 60,000 Palestinians were to protest --or support-- something in Gaza? Does the IAC miss the sheer irony of lauding the fact that 60,000 Israelis have "full freedom of speech and protest" in Gaza? Furthermore, if 60,000 Iranians were to demonstrate --nonviolently, let's assume-- for something similar to what the anti-disengagement people are demonstrating for, or 60,000 Saudis, or 60,000 Palestinians, if any of these peoples had a mass gathering glorifying theocracy, violent resistance, and demonization of another people, would Hasbara activists call it a beacon of the democratic process? Probably not. I'd imagine it would be called "totalitarianism" or "being kept down by their oppressive leaders" or something.

In all fairness, many --possibly most-- Israelis are not huge fans of the settler fringe, and some of their incitment has been put under investigation. But that's more nuanced than the simplistic "Democracydemocracyfreedomhope" message the IAC uses to whitewash Israel's bad characteristics. And this is a shame because, as a result, their hilighting of Israel's many good characteristics --found more in its people than in its government-- seems superficial, manipulative, and ultimately unconvincing.

When Students for Justice in Palestine holds a showy rally, many Hasbara people tend to get concerned that SJP is presenting things out-of-context to an unsuspecting uninformed majority. And it's fine that they feel this way, because it might be true. But it's ridiculous for these same activists not to realize that they are doing exactly the same thing.
For instance:

Since Israel's establishment in 1948, the number of trees has increased from 5 million to 200 million. This effort is spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund."

This juicy nugget has been popular in the last year or two. This is because vast woodlands prove to all Reasonable Critical Thinkers that only Arafat has squandered opportunities for peace. Reasonable Critical Thinkers would all reach the same conclusion if only they knew The Facts. But wait! Where is the "context" about what else the JNF did starting in 1948? I guess it's unimportant, since the woes of semi-privatized land-administration are uninteresting to the silent majority of Cal Forestry Majors. Treeeeees!

Also present was a poster that showed a close-up of a handsome young Israeli man, with the words "What You Don't See on the News" at the bottom. Because critics who talk of "East Jerusalem" or "Checkpoint humiliations" are missing the more important point: Israelis are hot! I wish that promoting an appreciation for Israel (in itself a worthy endeavor) did not serve mostly to whitewash the occupation, but even moreso, I wish that what was out there was not so banal.

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