Rightist Propaganda Min. looking for Arabs, gays to represent Israel

Posted: January 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Hoping to boost the liberal image of country, Israel has increased efforts to use the gay community for advocacy and PR assignments.

Ad by the Hasbara office inviting gays and minorities to do propaganda and advocacy work for the government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first to appoint a government minister in charge of propaganda, advocacy and international public relations. Minister Yuli Edelstein has taken this position at the head of the Hasbara office so seriously that he has even asked Netanyahu to be relieved of other government duties so that he can concentrate on advocacy and propaganda.

Edelstein, a member of Likud, is known for his rightwing views. Recently, he posted a status message on his Facebook page referring to the Arabs as a “despicable nation.” Asked by +972 blogger Yossi Gurvitz to clarify this statement, a spokesperson for the minister said that Edelstein did in fact mean “all the Arabs.”

Yet this doesn’t keep the minister from to look to some of those despicable Arabs to represent Israel abroad. In an ad published recently on the Ministry’s official website, Arab and gay candidates were invited to apply for advocacy work abroad.

The office for Hasbara and Diaspora […] is announcing the widening of the pool of candidates for Hasbara [propaganda] activities abroad. The office invites candidates who are meeting the following requirement conditions to send an application for the pool, and especially would like to receive applications from people who represent the diverse faces of Israeli society, such as members of minority groups, representatives of the gay community, people who represent the variety of opinions in the Israel society, etc.

It should be noted that Minister Edelstein and his party are not very hospitable to gays either. When Yisrael Beiteinu introduced legislation allowing marriage-like status for non-Jews, Likud joined the Orthodox parties in blocking an attempt by the left to add gay and lesbians to this arrangement. Yet it’s no secret that Israel has found the gay rights issue especially useful in its propaganda campaigns.

In recent years, speakers for Israel have been advised to compare the status of gays in Israel to Muslim countries, and advocacy groups give prominence to this point in their publications; Israel is using targeted advertising campaigns for the gay community, and has recently put a four-page ad in the last issue of Attitude, the most popular gay magazine in Europe. A few months ago, a PR man connected to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office promoted a Youtube video in which an LGBT activist named Mark encouraged human rights organizations not to support the Gaza-bound flotilla. Mark was soon exposed by the site Electronic Intifada as an Israeli actor.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times titled “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’” dealt with the efforts to use the gay rights issue to conceal the massive human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza. This piece drew heavy criticism from Jewish writers – including liberal ones – and was even cited by an aid for Netanyahu in a public letter detailing Netanyahu’s decision to decline an offer to author an op-ed in The Times.

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Hasbara: Why does the world fail to understand us?


Hasbara: Why does the world fail to understand us?

Posted: November 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: media, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

I have used the word “Hasbara” pretty freely recently, and so do more and more people, without stopping to explain what it actually means. The use of this term has been widespread in Israeli Hebrew for many years now, usually with a positive meaning, though not always in a positive context – there is a never-ending debate on “the failure of Hasabra” – yet I often wonder how many people outside Israel actually know it, let alone understand what it stands for. So here are a few words on Hasbara.

Hasbara is a form of propaganda aimed at an international audience, primarily, but not exclusively, in western countries. It is meant to influence the conversation in a way that positively portrays Israeli political moves and policies, including actions undertaken by Israel in the past. Often, Hasbara efforts includes a negative portrayal of the Arabs and especially of Palestinians.

The Hebrew meaning of the word Hasbara (הסברה) is “explanation” (the term “propaganda” has a different word in Hebrew – תעמולה). I believe that the popular use of this term also reflects a widespread public notion that a better effort of explaining Israel’s actions to the world will generate better understandings of Israel’s policies, and more international support. A less common use of the verb “to explain” (להסביר), which has to do with welcoming someone, was used in the past by the Tourism Ministry in campaigns urging Israelis to show a hospitable approach to tourists.

Hasbara represents only one side of propaganda, as it is mostly aimed at foreign audience. The use of the Hebrew term Hasbara in a critical context, rather than “propaganda” or “public diplomacy” (the title of the Wikipedia entry on the issue), is necessary, because Hasbara efforts are wider and their goals much more ambitious than any similar activities taken by all democracies and most non-democracies. Hasbara targets political elites, opinion makers and the public simultaneously; it includes traditional advocacy efforts as well as more general appeals made through mass media, and it is carried out by government agencies, non-governmental organizations, lobbying groups, private citizens, students, journalists and bloggers.

The Israeli government encourages all citizens to actively engage in Hasbara. Recently, it even distributed brochures with talking points to all Israelis traveling abroad (a Hebrew web version of the campaign can be viewed here). Israelis are asked to engage in politically-oriented conversations with their hosts and contacts abroad. Rather than discuss the Palestinian conflict, they are advised to cite Israeli technological achievements, mention environmental policies and take pride in notable cultural works. The West Bank is to be discussed – under its ancient Hebrew name, Judea and Samaria – as a potential tourist marvel.

Until a few years ago, the main government agency carrying out Hasbara work was the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through its Media and Hasbara department. Under Ehud Olmert’s government, and more so under Netanyahu’s, there was a considerable increase in Hasbara efforts. Prime Minister Netanyahu has launched for the first time a Hasbara Ministry, headed by a government minister (the current hasbara minister is Yuli Edelstein). The Hasbara Ministry includes a situation room, which operates in five languages; it has a new-media team that can reach, according to the office’s web page, 100,000 volunteers on social media networks, as well as many bloggers.

UPDATE: The Ministry of Hasbara is hiring! “Advantage to minorities and representatives of the gay community.” More details here.

On top of the Hasbara Ministry, there is a Hasbara branch in the Prime Minister’s Office (in charge of both local and international PR). The IDF Spokesperson has an international arm with a new media branch, which makes Hasbara efforts and does not limit itself to providing information on army activities. Other government agencies, such as the Ministry of Tourism or the Ministry of Culture, also take part in ad-hoc Hasbara activities. There are other agencies that have gradually moved into greater involvement in Hasbara – perhaps the most notable is The Jewish Agency, which used to serve as a liaison to Jewish communities abroad, and now trains its envoys to American campuses to engage in propaganda.

Under Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Ministry was instructed to take a bigger role in the Hasbara effort (a popular rant against the foreign ministry for many years was that it deals with peacemaking instead of advocacy, and Lieberman has promised to solve that). I was contacted awhile ago by a private agency that won a contract with the foreign ministry; they were looking for professionals to play hostile journalists in simulations with Israeli diplomats.

Much of the Hasbara work carried out outside official channels – but with heavy official influence – is carried out through non-governmental organizations such as Stand With Us, The Israel Project and more. These organizations produce resources – booklets, slideshows, flyers, maps, polls and more – and spin news events in ways which are favorable to the Israeli government. A lot of thought is put into influencing opinion-makers: journalists and bloggers are flown on a regular basis to tours in Israel, accompanied by government officials, while Israeli representatives – former diplomats, journalists, soldiers and officers – are brought to give lectures at campuses, think-tanks, conferences and other public events around the world. Organizations also try to influence the grassroots level by granting Hasbara fellowships to international students in Israel.

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There is an interesting tension in Israel between the tremendous efforts put into Hasbara – Israeli advocacy is probably the most widespread and ambitious state-run propaganda effort in the world today – and a sense of “Hasbara failure” in the Israeli public. Rants about the fact that Israel is misunderstood and complaints about the incompetence of those dealing with Hasbara are often heard in the popular media. In my opinion, “the failure of Hasbara” is actually a failure of policy – especially, but not limited to, that relating to the occupation and the control over the Palestinians.

Understanding this point could shed light on a self-defeating element in the Hasbara battle: as Israel loses interest in finding a solution to the Palestinian question that would meet the minimal moral standards of the Western World – either “one man one vote” or complete Palestinian sovereignty over a contiguous territorial unit – Hasbara efforts are just likely to draw more attention to the ongoing Israeli failure to live up to the promise of its talking points, and will shed more light on the ever-growing gap between the model, picture-perfect democracy reflected in brochures and the grim reality on the ground.