Why Israel is losing the information war
For most Israelis, the international discourse on Gaza is unintelligible.
Here we were going along, minding our own business.
Then on a clear night in June, apropos of nothing, Palestinian terrorists stole, murdered and hid the bodies of three of our children as they made their way home from school.
Before we could catch our breath from that atrocity, they began shelling our major population centers with thousands of rockets, missiles and mortars, and infiltrated our communities along the border with Gaza through underground tunnels to kidnap and murder us.
And as the Palestinians did all of these things, they used their civilian population and the foreign press corps as human sandbags. They ordered their own people not to evacuate their homes from which Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad terrorists launched their missiles, rockets and mortars at Israel. And they launched missiles at Israeli cities from outside the hotel where the foreign reporters were staying.
It doesn’t take a PhD to understand what the game is. And Israelis – even many with PhDs – understand what is happening.
This is why so many Israelis are up in arms about our government’s failure to impact the wall of lies that comprises the discourse on Israel in the Western world.
The knee-jerk reaction of many Israelis to the sight of UN officials, CNN anchors and New York Timesreporters accusing us of committing war crimes is to blame ourselves.
Our hasbara (public diplomacy) is a catastrophe, our defenders are incompetent idiots, we moan and scream.
But the truth is not so simple. Our speakers have gotten much better over the past several years. Some, like ambassadors Ron Dermer and Ron Prosor and IDF Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, are excellent.
Israel’s public diplomacy efforts have been unsuccessful in penetrating, let alone dismantling the edifice of lies that constitutes the Western narrative about the Palestinian war against us because our underlying strategy for contending with it is directed at the wrong goal.
Our PR gurus defined our hasbara goal as getting our story out effectively. To do so, Israel has operated on two parallel tracks. First, we have tried to adjust our policies to adhere to what we perceive as the West’s demands.
We have employed measures unprecedented in military history to protect the Palestinians from their elected leaders who use them as fodder in their propaganda war against Israel.
There is no precedent in the history of warfare to Israel’s practice of warning Palestinians when it is about to attack civilian installations that Hamas has unlawfully used to attack Israel.
Moreover, Israel has accepted interpretations of the laws of war – such as the specious assertion that Israel is required to provide free electricity to Gaza – that have no relationship whatsoever to international law.
The second component of getting out our story has been developing the sort of glitzy, media-friendly PR apparatus that everybody who is everybody says is the be all and end all of a successful media strategy. There is no foreign press corps more coddled than the foreign press corps in Israel. No government is more active on social media sites than Israel.
And yet, for all of our efforts, the UN Human Rights Committee appointed an open hater of Israel who doesn’t have a problem with Hamas to run a phony investigation of the IDF’s imaginary war crimes.
For all our efforts, The New York Times, MSNBC, the European media, CNN and all the rest demonize our soldiers and leaders. They ignore the fact that everything Hamas and its allies in Fatah and Islamic Jihad do is a war crime – from calling for the annihilation of Israel to shooting rockets at civilian population centers, to shooting rockets at civilian population centers from hospitals and from outside the hotel where their reporters are staying in Gaza.
So desperate are we for any truth in reporting that we seize as a major victory the fact that a Wall Street Journal reporter was nice enough to Tweet the fact that he interviewed a Hamas leader in Shifa hospital.
A casual glance at the mountain of distorted and simply false stories reported about Israel and its enemies makes clear that at a minimum, most of the Western media don’t care about the truth. The fact that they sent reporters to Israel and Gaza doesn’t mean they wanted those reporters to publish what is going on.
The reporters knew what they were supposed to say before they even got on a plane to Israel. True, Hamas has openly acknowledged that it prohibited the foreign press from filming its terrorists and their war crimes. But with rare exceptions, the media had no problem with Hamas’s rules.
So too, the UN Human Rights Council didn’t decide to form a commission of inquiry to criminalize Israel because we weren’t good enough at showing the lengths we go to protect Gazans from their elected leaders. And the UNHRC didn’t appoint William Schabas, who has called for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be tried for war crimes, to lead its star chamber because it didn’t get the press release proving that Israel acts in compliance with international law.
The media, the US State Department and the UN attack Israel for crimes that Hamas commits because they are wedded to a narrative in which Israel is to blame for its enemies’ desire to destroy it.
As the UN, The New York Times and President Barack Obama see it, Israel is to blame because it is inherently guilty by its nature.
The White House and State Department can accuse Israel of conducting a “totally indefensible” and “disgraceful” strike against an UNRWA school, when no such strike occurred, and if it had occurred it would have been totally defensible, because as far as they are concerned, as Martin Indyk claimed in May, Israel’s right to exist is conditional on our willingness to accept their belief that we are inherently morally deformed and in need of direction by our betters.
Netanyahu is Schabas’s “favorite [to be placed] in the dock of the International Criminal Court,” because Netanyahu is the elected leader of the morally deformed Jewish state.
Given this situation, it is clear that Israel’s public diplomacy efforts are directed toward the wrong goal.
The goal of hasbara cannot be to educate the likes of The New York Times’ bureau chief Jodi Rudoren about the truth because the problem isn’t one of ignorance. The problem is that they consider the truth an impediment to their goal of reporting the narrative of Israeli criminality.
Rather than striving to educate, we must work to manipulate the Rudorens of the world into covering the truth.
For instance, there is no reason to provide reporters clearly dedicated to hiding the truth with access to national leaders and military commanders. Let them find their own sources. Israel is a free country. There is no reason for The New York Times to be invited to a press briefing by IDF commanders.
Another critical element of a strategy for forcing hostile media and international agencies to contend with the truth is to create events that they can’t ignore.
For instance, the chief military prosecutor together with the state prosecution should indict Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah leaders on war crimes charges and the relevant Israeli courts should begin adjudicating the cases.
The Knesset should begin deliberations on a bill to strip UNRWA of its legal immunity as a first step towards bringing its personnel up on charges of providing material support for terrorism.
True, such actions will be met with howls of condemnation and hysterical reproaches from all the usual suspects.
But at least they will be talking about Palestinian war crimes. At least they will be forced to acknowledge that UNRWA is a force of destabilization and radicalization, not of stabilization and moderation in the Arab conflict with Israel.
Our leaders and spokespeople cannot win the information war by devoting themselves to pointing out the West’s hypocrisy and double standards, or the rank mendaciousness and bigotry that stands at the core of their approach to Israel. No one ever won a war by only playing defense. And we won’t win this one by explaining why we aren’t war criminals.
We will only begin to make progress when we define the goal of our hasbara as forcing an unwilling media and international community to discuss the truth by taking deliberate actions that will make it impossible for them to ignore it.