...Finally, there is a fourth, dual audience that makes hasbara obligatory. It is the past and the future. As George Orwell wrote in 1984 about the Party's compulsion to revise history, tossing inconvenient truths down the memory hole: "He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past." Those who hope to prevent the delegitimization and destruction of Israel and intellectual-political reghettoization of its supporters have no choice but to insist on an accurate description of the present, over and over, as long as necessary.
"Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again."
Does pro-Israel hasbara (Hebrew for information) matter?
It was early in the first intifada, the 1987-1992 Palestinian "uprising" against Israel. News media coverage featured images of rifle-toting, helmeted and mask-wearing Israeli soldiers fighting stone-throwing Arab teenagers trying to ward off tear gas. The frequent calls went something like this: "I've been a supporter of Israel for years. But these pictures! They make us look so bad! How can I criticize the media? What can I tell my children?"
I was editing Near East Report, the weekly newsletter published in conjunction with AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "Tell them the demonstrations aren't spontaneous but have been taken over by the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] and that terrorists fire from among the children," I said. "Tell them if this were happening in an Arab country, the security forces would massacre the rioters." "That'll just sound like pro-Israel propaganda," callers lamented.
Having fought the 1975 Soviet-inspired, Arab League-promoted UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism and lost, Israelis and some American supporters of the Jewish state adopted a "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" approach. They forgot that all war is preceded, accompanied, and followed by psychological warfare. Now, finding objective truth to be an insufficient, even abstract response to subjective, emotion-laded images and their simple but pernicious storyline—Israelis as new Nazis, Palestinian Arabs as new Jews—they sought a hasbara silver bullet.
That none was at hand could be seen in the choice of the winning entry in a 1988 European editorial cartoon contest. It was a simple, obscene inversion of the iconic Holocaust-era photograph showing a frightened, cap-wearing Jewish boy, his hands in the air, a German soldier's rifle pointing at his back. The cartoonist merely replaced the child's cap with a kefiyeh and transformed the soldier into an Israeli trooper.
Bingo! The decades'-old Soviet campaign to tar Zionism—Jewish nationalism—as fascist bore fruit among European intelligentsia. When the nationalisms of Nasser, Arafat, and Saddam Hussein with their pan-Arab claims failed and their Kremlin sponsor collapsed, competing versions of Islamic supremacism—sponsored by the Iranian government, wealthy Saudis, and others—seamlessly adopted the Israeli-as-Nazi, Palestinian-as-Jew political pornography. The mold was set for right-thinkers in academia, the media, and even show business to peddle soft-core scenarios with Zionists as imperialists, Jews as colonialists, and Palestinian Arabs as oppressed, indigenous people. This hardened into "the Palestinian narrative," the media's default filter.
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