As in past Mideast conflicts, both the media story line and political commentary here in the U.S. has closely followed Israel’s talking points on the war. This has been an essential component in Israel’s early success and in its ability to prolong fighting without U.S. pushback. Because it recognizes the importance of the propaganda war, Israel fights on this front as vigorously and disproportionately as it engages on the battlefield.
Here’s how they do it:
An Israeli reservist brandishes his weapons before crossing into the northern Gaza Strip January 12, 2009. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen
2) Recognize that stereotypes work. Because, for generations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been defined with positive cultural images of Israel and negative stereotypes of Palestinians, Israel’s propagandists have an advantage here that is easy to exploit. Because the story has long been seen as “Israeli humanity confronting the Palestinian problem,” media coverage of any conflict begins with how “the problem” is affecting the Israeli people. As Golda Meir once put it, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children, but we can never forgive them for making us kill their children.” And so, it was not surprising that, despite the disproportionate suffering of the Palestinians, media coverage attempted to “balance” the story, giving an extensive treatment, with photos of anguished and fearful Israelis and the impact the war was having on them. Early on, when media treatment mattered most, Palestinians were reduced, as always, to mere numbers or objectified as “collateral damage.”
3) Anticipate and count on your opponent’s blunders. Hamas’ stupidity played into Israel’s strategy. From the outset, Israel could count on the fact that Hamas would launch rockets and issue the kind of threats that Israel could then parlay into sympathy in the West. Knowing that these would most certainly come and could be exploited, was an advantage in their propaganda war.
Israeli soldiers hold up a national flag atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) after crossing into Israel at the border with the Gaza Strip January 13, 2009. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
5) Give no ground. Since half of the story will be determined by what political leaders say and do, the political apparatus in Washington is also pressed into service, ensuring that White House and Congressional leadership will “toe the line.” Statements issued by Congress, therefore, reflect the talking points and, together, the Israeli spokespersons, the political commentators, and the Congressional statements serve as echoes of one another.
6) Deny, deny, deny. When events and reality break through, contradicting the Israeli-established narrative, creating stories that run counter to the imposed story line, the propaganda machine works overtime to deny, deny, deny (saying quite boldly, “Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?”), and/or concoct a counter-narrative that shifts the blame (“We didn’t do it, they made us”). In this instance, that means asserting that the death of Palestinian civilians is always the fault of someone else, or that reporters or their opponents are staging the photos of grief (as if to say, “Arabs don’t really grieve like we do”).
7) The last refuge…. When all else fails, point to a few examples of outrageous anti-Semitism, generalize them, suggesting that that is what motivates critics. It stings, and may be overused, but it can silence or put critics on the defensive.
Washington Watch is a weekly column written by AAI President Dr. James Zogby. The views expressed within this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Arab American Institute. Share your views on the topics addressed within Dr. Zogby’s weekly Washington Watch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.