Propaganda is used by those who want to communicate in ways that engage the emotions, and downplay rationality, in an attempt to promote a certain message. To effectively present Israel to the public, and to counter anti-Israel messages, it is necessary to understand propaganda devices.

Hasbara Handbook: Promoting Israel on Campus

The World Union of Jewish Students produces a book on how to promote Zionism through manipulations worthy of Goebbels. Here are some extracts.

SEVEN BASIC PROPAGANDA DEVICES

Propaganda is used by those who want to communicate in ways that engage the emotions, and downplay rationality, in an attempt to promote a certain message. To effectively present Israel to the public, and to counter anti-Israel messages, it is necessary to understand propaganda devices.

This article applies a list of seven propaganda devices to the Israeli situation, and by doing so allows an understanding of some of the ways in which public opinion is fought for in the International arena.

Name Calling

Through the careful choice of words, the name calling technique links a person or an idea to a negative symbol. Creating negative connotations by name calling is done to try and get the audience to reject a person or idea on the basis of negative associations, without allowing a real examination of that person or idea. The most obvious example is name calling – “they are a neo-Nazi group” tends to sound pretty negative to most people. More subtly, name calling works by selecting words with subtle negative meanings for some listeners. For example, describing demonstrators as “youths” creates a different impression from calling them “children”.

For the Israel activist, it is important to be aware of the subtly different meanings that well chosen words give.
Call ‘demonstrations’ “riots”, many Palestinian political organizations “terror organizations”, and so on.

Name calling is hard to counter. Don’t allow opponents the opportunity to engage in point scoring.

Glittering Generality

Simply put, the glittering generality is name calling in reverse. Instead of trying to attach negative meanings to ideas or people, glittering generalities use positive phrases, which the audience are attached to, in order to lend a positive image to things. Words such as ‘freedom’, ‘civilization’, ‘motherhood’, ‘liberty’, ‘equality’, ‘science’, and ‘democracy’ have these positive associations for most people. These words mean different things to different people, but are used to gain the approval of an audience, even when they aren’t used in their standard ways. Consider the use of the term ‘freedom fighter’, which is supposed to gain approval for terrorism by using the word ‘freedom’. Or, consider why it is so beneficial to bring home the point that Israel is a democracy.

Enemies of Israel will be keen to cast doubt on Israeli claims to be democratic, to guarantee freedom for all, and so on. In place of these ‘glittering generalities’ favourable to Israel, they will associate Palestinian behaviour, including terrorism, with terms like ‘anti-colonialist’ and ‘freedom’.

Transfer

Transfer involves taking some of the prestige and authority of one concept and applying it to another.
Jewish student groups in the Diaspora can use the flag of their own country side by side with the Israeli flag, where appropriate, to lend support to Israel. In a sports-loving country (such as Australia), students can make people aware of famous Israeli sportsmen and sportswomen, in order to transfer positive feelings (about a football team) to Israel.

Testimonial

Testimonial means enlisting the support of somebody admired or famous to endorse an ideal or campaign. Testimonial can be used reasonably – it makes sense for a footballer to endorse football boots – or manipulated, such as when a footballer is used to support a political campaign they have only a limited understanding of. Whilst everybody is entitled to an opinion, testimonial can lend weight to an argument that it doesn’t deserve: if U2’s Bono condemned Israel for something that it didn’t do, thousands would believe him, even though he was wrong.

Enlisting celebrity support for Israel can help to persuade people that Israel is a great country.

Obviously some celebrities are more useful than others. Students are probably a little too sophisticated to be affected by Britney’s opinion on Israel, but those associated with intelligence like professors, actors, radio hosts, sports managers and so on can be asked to offer testimonial.

A celebrity doesn’t have to fully support Israel to be useful. Quotes can work as testimonial, even when they might be old or out of context.

Most celebrities will care more about their public image than they do about the Middle East. Threats of tainting a celebrity’s image will usually persuade them to back away from controversial political issues.

Plain Folks

The plain folks technique attempts to convince the listener that the speaker is a ‘regular guy’, who is trust-worthy because they are just like ‘you or me’. Often politicians present themselves as being from outside the standard ‘political cliques’ and above political bickering, and then call for tax cuts to help the ‘regular guy’. More often than not these politicians are multi-millionaires financed by large corporations, but the plain folks technique allows them to obscure that fact by presenting their ‘common’ characteristics.

Support for an alleged underdog in a certain situation can often be part of a ‘plain folks’ agenda.

Pro-Israel activists can use the ‘plain folks’ technique by speaking as a ‘person from the street’ whilst supporting Israel. The ‘average guy in the street’ would happily condemn terrorism in all its forms and support ‘Western ideals’. In the context of a debate on the Middle East, this can easily be equated with support for Israel.

Care must be taken when adopting populist positions. There are some ethical boundaries that ought not to be crossed – for example tapping in to general anti-Arab feeling, or Islamaphobia. Remember that Israel can be supported without resorting to mass generalizations or racism.

Fear

When a speaker warns that the consequences of ignoring his message is likely to be war, conflict, personal suffering, and so forth, they are manipulating fear to advance their message. Listeners have deep-seated fears of violence and disorder, which can be tapped into by creating false dichotomies – ‘either listen to me, or these terrible things will happen’. Listeners are too preoccupied by the threat of terrible things to think critically about the speaker’s message.

Fear is easily manipulated in a climate that is already steeped in fear by the threat of global terror.

Fear can be successfully utilized by pointing out the consequences of terror.

Bandwagon

Most people, when in doubt, are happy to do what other people are doing. This is the bandwagon effect. People are happy to be part of the crowd, and subtle manipulators can play on this desire by emphasizing the large size of their support. Although it is reasonable that people are given a chance to find out how many other supporters a speaker or movement has, often it is possible to create the impression of extensive support – through gathering all supporters in one place, or through poorly conducted opinion polls – in an attempt to persuade people who are keen to follow the crowd.

Israel activists can commission opinion polls amongst groups who favour Israel, and use these to give the impression that Israel is the ‘team to support’.

Demonstrations, and even photos that give the impression of large numbers can help to create the impression that Israel is even more popular than it is.

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Influencing Public Opinion

The first aim of Israel advocacy is to influence public opinion. Public opinion is very important to Israel, and Jewish communities around the world. Firstly, in the field of international relations, foreign policies are heavily influenced by politicians’ perceived electoral interests. If politicians detect public support for Israel, they will be likely to support Israel themselves. Secondly, Israel benefits from public support economically – in terms of willingness to visit Israel and buy Israeli goods.

Influencing Public Leaders

The second aim of Israel advocacy is to influence public leaders. It is possible for citizens to influence public officials and leaders directly. Politicians respond to public pressure. If politicians receive dozens of letters calling upon them to support Israel, they will be more likely to do so. Israel benefits from political support abroad, because it ensures a more sympathetic response to Israeli policies.

Influencing the Leaders and Opinion Formers of the Future

Campuses are the breeding ground for the next generation of politicians and opinion formers. For this reason, the third aim of student Israel advocacy is to influence campus leaders. Student union leaders might end up as government ministers, student journalists might end up as national newspaper editors. Because people often form and refine many of their political ideas at university, it is important for the long run security of Israel to try to influence student leaders and journalists to understand Israel and to be favourable towards her. In the years to come, Jewish communities will be glad this has been done.

Approaches to Israel Advocacy

There are two main approaches to Israel advocacy that allow Jewish students to achieve the aims outlined above. These approaches apply to everything Israel activists are trying to achieve in their advocacy for Israel. These approaches can be called “neutralising negativity” and “pushing positivity”.

Neutralising negativity is about attempting to counter harmful impressions and accusations. This is the side of hasbara that is concerned with the defence of Israel.

“Israel is not bad because….” “This action was justified because…”

This often involves arguing over sequences of events, attempting to reframe debates to focus on different issues, and placing events in a wider context, so that the difficulty of Israel’s situation is understood in a more positive light.

Neutralising Negativity is usually reactive and responsive. Pushing Positivity attempts to demonstrate the good things about Israel’s case. The aim to is make people see Israel in a good light and have sympathy with her.

“Israel is a democracy” “Israel wants peace”

This often involves setting the agenda, focusing on some of the more positive features of Israel, and taking the lead in attacking the Palestinian leadership in an effort to allow people to view Israel favourably in comparison.

BEING PROACTIVE AND PROMOTING ISRAEL

Much of Israel advocacy concerns being reactive and defending Israel against unfair accusations. However it is important that Israel activists are proactive too. Proactivity means taking the initiative and setting the agenda. It means being on the “attack”, trying to create positive impressions of Israel. Audiences who have a favourable general impression of Israel are likely to respond favourably when specific issues arise. It is a mistake to only try to promote Israel when she is being strongly criticised in the press.

Why Be Proactive?

Agenda Setting

The person who sets the agenda will usually win the debate. Reactivity forces Israel activists to be constantly on the defensive (“no, Israel is not all that bad”). However by setting the agenda Israel activists get to determine what to talk about, and can therefore discuss the things they feel help promote the pro-Israel message. Being proactive keeps the right issues in the public eye, and in the way Israel activists want them to be seen. It is much easier to get Palestinian activists defending Arafat against charges of being a corrupt terrorist than it is to explain to disinterested students that Ariel Sharon didn’t kill anybody at Sabra and Chatilla (which of course he didn’t). It is much easier to feed students falafel at a party than to explain why Zionism isn’t racism to a student who doesn’t even know what national self-determination is.

For more on this point see “How to score points while avoiding debate” in Communication Styles: Point Scoring and Genuine Debate

People Believe What they Hear First

Uncritical audiences believe something if they hear it first and hear it often. People tend to believe the first thing they hear about a certain issue, and filter subsequent information they hear based on their current beliefs. Once people believe something, it is hard to convince them that they were wrong in the first place.

COMMUNICATION STYLES: POINT SCORING AND GENUINE DEBATE

There are two major approaches to communication to use during Israel advocacy. These two approaches are used in different situations, and are designed to achieve very different things. These two approaches – ‘point scoring’ and ‘genuine debate’ – require different techniques, and the Israel activist must know how to use each technique at the correct time.

Point Scoring

Point scoring is a method of communication that prioritises making certain points favourable to the speaker, and attacking opponents of the speaker by trying to undermine their positions. Point scoring communication ought to give the appearance of rational debate, whilst avoiding genuine discussion.

The aim of the Israel activist point scorer is to try to make as many comments that are positive about Israel as possible, whilst attacking certain Palestinian positions, and attempting to cultivate a dignified appearance.

Point scoring works because most audience members fail to analyse what they hear. Rather, they register only a key few points, and form a vague impression of whose ‘argument’ was stronger.

How To Score Points Whilst Avoiding Debate

Central to point scoring is the ability to disguise point scoring by giving the impression of genuine debate. Audience members can be alienated by undisguised attacks, so all point scoring needs to be disguised. To disguise point scoring, comments need to seem to be logical, and to follow from what was said before.

What Points To Make

Point scoring needs to be focused. Because the people listening to ‘point scoring’ are only paying partial attention, only two or three points have a chance of ‘sticking’. For this reason, focus point scoring on a few points supporting Israel, and a few points pointing out weaknesses in Palestinian positions. These points should be made again and again, in as many forums as possible. If people hear something often enough they come to believe it. Attempts to make too many different points will result in the audience remembering nothing.

A Field Guide to Hasbara

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