By Gideon Levy, Haaretz – 10 Apr 2011
What do Israel and Syria have in common? Not much, but both have ministries of hasbara. No such thing exists in the West. No such thing exists in democracies. But in Israel, we have falafel and a minister of hasbara, who is known as the minister of public diplomacy and diaspora affairs. The Israeli president, prime minister, cabinet members and MKs fly all over the world on useless hasbara missions. Israeli diplomats deal with hasbara from dawn to dusk.
But how many times have you seen a foreign diplomat in Israel explaining how right his country is? Who would listen to him? How many times have other countries’ ministers been guests here on hasbara missions? What would come out of them? As for us, Richard Goldstone has changed direction, so we’ll leverage it using Israel’s embassies: The Palestinians are firing Qassams at the south. We’ll use the Qassams for hasbara. And yet, how amazing: Never has Israel’s image been at such a low point.
The enlightened world doesn’t need propaganda, which we call hasbara in Israel. Elsewhere it’s understood that policy is the best and worst hasbara. A country’s image is determined by the media, which conveys reports, pictures and information, not propaganda, which has no buyers in the modern world. It’s crazy and primitive to believe that if only we have hasbara, if the people who explain Israel are good at their jobs, canny propagandists and seasoned PR people, look how our position would change, how the world would stand and cheer us. It’s a waste of time and money. The day Israel changes its policy it won’t need hasbara anymore; until then, it’s useless anyway.
It was the late Ambassador Yohanan Meroz who coined the word “hasbarable.” Some things, he said, were not hasbarable. Israel’s current policy, for example. The world has seen the Qassams landing in Israel over the past few days, and perhaps it condemns the Palestinians. Then it sees Israel’s harsh response, including many dead and wounded in Gaza, is infuriated and its heart goes out to Gaza. No hasbara will change that.
The world knows that this is a battle between the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian David, and its heart is with the underdog. The world heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak of a two-state solution and was filled with hope. But after two years of total deadlock, hollow talk, illusions, Israel’s unreasonable setting of conditions and the construction of more and more settlements, the world has condemned Israel. No hasbara can change that.
Hasbara will not overcome the unequivocal fact that Israel has been an occupying power for more than four decades. No propaganda can persuade people of good conscience that we’re right as long as millions of Palestinians are living without rights.
Even Israel’s impressive wins at tennis and basketball and its home-grown supermodels will not change that. President Shimon Peres can circumnavigate the globe a thousand times and nothing will change. Statesmen and journalists may be amazed by his energy and charm, but they will not change their opinion about Israel because of him. “Mr. Hasbara,” Netanyahu, with his polished American English, is now one of the most excoriated statesmen in the world. If only he would change direction, he wouldn’t need his television tricks. In contrast, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a colorless man with broken English, garners much more sympathy; his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, was an icon.
That’s how it is in the land of the brainwashed. We believe in hasbara because it works for us. With most of the media pro-government, hasbara has a proven track record in Israel. The campaigns dehumanizing and demonizing the Palestinians have sown fear and hatred no less than that sown by Palestinian terror. The fanning of nationalist and false patriotic flames have sown an evil wind and reaped a whirlwind.
But media outlets elsewhere have no intention of taking part in a hasbara campaign. There, they know the basic facts: Occupation is illegal, immoral and unjust. It produces violent opposition that in the end will be accepted with understanding and perhaps even with sympathy. So let’s say: Enough hasbara, let’s have policies that are just.