Israel’s well-oiled PR machine collapses

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Israel’s well-oiled PR machine collapses

Hasbara, a Hebrew term uniquely associated with Israel’s global propaganda efforts, has utterly failed to counter the pro-Palestinian narrative in the Gaza war. As a frontline tool for Tel Aviv’s national security strategy, losing its Hasbara power is equal to losing its qualitative military edge.


Photo Credit: The Cradle

“Israel condemns South Africa’s decision to play advocate for the devil.”

“History will judge South Africa for its criminal complicity with the bloodiest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, and it will judge it without mercy.”

With these highly emotive words, Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy lashed out at South Africa for filing a lawsuit before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the genocidal Israeli military assault that has killed more than 22,000 civilians in Gaza and injured tens of thousands more.

As the war in Gaza enters its fourth month, Israel faces challenges in shaping international public opinion despite its substantial Hasbara propaganda machine, and a significant budget allocated to ‘public diplomacy’ activities globally. Observers and researchers say the occupation state is losing the propaganda war, ceding its long-cultivated ‘victim’ image to one of a perpetrator of horrendous war crimes.

Hasbara is part of Israel’s ‘national security’

Following the Hamas-led Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on 7 October aimed at targeting the occupation army’s Gaza Division and taking captives to advance a prisoner swap deal, Israel intensified its media and digital diplomacy efforts, alongside its military and security actions. Recognizing the importance of framing those events to shape public perception, Israel made every effort to construct unimpeachable narratives that cast the Palestinian resistance actions as ‘terrorism,’ both domestically and internationally. 

But faced with unprecedented levels of pro-Palestinian activism on social media and on the ground in the form of global protests, Israel and its western allies collaborated heavily on quashing those counter-narratives in order to create support for Tel Aviv’s military assault on Gaza. 

Greg Shupack’s book, The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel and the Media, highlights three central frameworks that form the foundations of Israel’s narrative to the west

  1. Creating equal blame between both parties to the conflict.
  2. Framing ‘extremists’ as the main obstacle to peace efforts and undermining moderate voices.
  3. Emphasizing Israel’s right to ‘self-defense’ even in the face of unarmed protests, with little regard for Palestinian rights.

These frameworks essentially guide western mainstream media coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Though, additionally, Israel leverages historical claims to Palestinian land and anti-Semitism accusations to shape its narrative and appeal to western sympathy.

Several key Hasbara strategies were employed to impact the western media narrative following Operation Al-Aqsa Flood:

First, the tapping into the western conscience: Both at official and popular levels, this involves associating Hamas with ISIS (“The world defeated ISIS. The world will defeat Hamas”) and framing 7 October as Israel’s 9/11. This tactic aims to create an emotional connection by reducing what can be termed the ‘emotional gap.’ 

Second, falsifying facts and fabricating lies: This tactic plays a significant role, taking advantage of the ‘anchoring bias,’ which involves presenting a version of events that influences how subsequent information is perceived, such as the notorious allegation, now debunked, of 40 beheaded babies. Utilizing this strategy, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, for example, claimed that Hamas fighters have instructions on how to make chemical weapons.

Third, paid advertising and utilizing influencers: High profile social media figures like Elon Musk were flown into Israel for PR stunts while in a little over a week, Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry ran 30 ads that have been seen over four million times on his platform X. 

Fourth, establishing the idea of cultural difference: By dehumanizing and ‘othering’ the Palestinians, Israel seeks to emphasize its unique connection to western civilization in West Asia. Statements by Israeli officials, such as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s use of the words “fighting human animals” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for the civilized world to combat “barbarians,” contribute to this narrative. 

The information war shifts dramatically

It can be argued that Operation Al Aqsa Flood constituted a qualitative leap for the Palestinian cause in the media realmbased on the results reaped from massive global public interaction, inputs from global influencers, large demonstrations in many countries – all of which have slowly seeped into the corporate media coverage.

Despite the vast disparities between Palestinians and Israelis in terms of capabilities, technologies, material resources, and major media reach, social media became the great equalizer in this information war, making it increasingly difficult for establishment outlets to ignore the new global discourse on Palestinian developments and events. 

Equally important to Hasbara’s failings is the recognition of Palestinian performance and narrative in the information war:

Israelis are now forced to chase down their top allies to help salvage their narrative shortcomings, as in when President Herzog complained to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about defining Hamas as a terrorist organization. UPDAY, Europe’s largest news group, was revealed to have instructed its staff to prioritize the Israeli point of view, minimize coverage of Palestinian deaths, avoid pro-Palestinian headlines, and formulate comments by Israeli politicians in a way that dehumanizes their adversaries. These kinds of revelations have prompted audiences everywhere to read their media with a pinch of salt.

More instructive is the growing numbers of journalists and political figures who have left their organizations in protest of the enforced pro-Israel discourse, with prominent celebrities being sacked for public stances that favor the Palestinian perspective.

Western and Israeli media performances have diminished public trust in the Israeli and western narrative globally, particularly over wild, unsubstantiated allegations, all now proven false, that Hamas “beheaded 40 babies,” ran its operations from a command center under Shifa Hospital, and was in active pursuit of chemical weapons capabilities. US President Joe Biden’s quickly debunked endorsement of the claim that babies had been beheaded based on “photos he has seen,” also played a role in this shift.

Media professionals and politicians are also increasingly undermining the Israeli narrative by employing the term ‘genocide’ rather than ‘self-defense’ – largely because international organizations have now weighed in to provide facts and figures showing that Tel Aviv indiscriminately kills civilians, in greater numbers and with greater firepower than in any other conflict this century. 

They have even begun to undermine their own tired argument that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism,” as western political leaders rush to differentiate Netanyahu’s jingoistic right-wing coalition with the rest of Israel’s body politic, though that is mainly because they need to unseat the former in order to rehabilitate Israel’s post-war image.

In the meantime, the Palestinian narrative emphasizes resistance to Israel’s ongoing oppression, and has succeeded in contextualizing the events of 7 October as a justifiable resistance by Gaza, “the largest open-air prison in the world,” against 75 uninterrupted years of inhumane oppression – an oppression the world has come to intimately understand through three harrowing months of genocide on their X, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook platforms. 

Because the mainstream media has had to – at least gratuitously – provide some balance to the biggest news story of the day, Palestinian historical context has seeped into the news, as seen in myriad interviews, such as with Palestine’s ambassador to Britain Husam Zomlot, which helped to extend public understanding beyond recent events.

Despite ferocious Israeli efforts to restrict the Palestinian narrative in western nations, pro-Palestine protests have grown unchecked, and hashtags like #StandWithPalestine continue to dominate social media platforms. The hashtag reached over 4.8 billion views, outpacing #StandWithIsrael on TikTok, even amid the many restrictions in play.

In attempting to gain and maintain global sympathy on the back of 7 October events, Israel’s disinformation and deceptive tactics through its global Hasbara apparatus has faced significant setbacks and backlashes, which may have been entirely avoided had it not chosen to blow Gaza to bits. 

The vicious murder and maiming of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, mostly women, children and refugees, in Tel Aviv’s almost gleeful rage-fest that followed Hamas’ operation, has permanently flipped Israel’s David vs Goliath narrative. And its collaborating western allies have suffered an equal blow in the social media realm, as all of Israel’s debunked storylines were parroted verbatim in major western capitals.

Gaza has undoubtedly thrust the Palestinian cause back into the global spotlight, gaining support at popular levels rarely seen globally, and increasing pressure on governments, NGOs, and media outlets to both acknowledge and address Israel’s ongoing genocide. 

Given the now obvious challenges Tel Aviv faces in achieving its stated military goals, even a nominal field victory for Netanyahu can no longer make up for the country’s Hasbara collapse. It is a national security disaster that more than matches a military loss. For Israel, this war was lost from the moment it dropped bombs on homes in the Gaza Strip.




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