Most mornings as I prepare for my run, I tune in to BBC news. Of late, the newscaster has presented, in sober British-fashion, the number of Palestinians killed the night before by the Israeli army in its near-nightly raids on homes and refugee camps in the occupied Palestinian Territories. When I canvass American news sites to learn more, there is no mention of these atrocities. The airwaves are replete, however, with news of the Russia-Ukraine war and the death of civilians.
What many Americans won’t hear from these “news” sources is that in 2022, the Israeli army killed more than 170 Palestinian civilians, including 30 children, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; and that since the start of 2023, Israel’s occupation army has already killed 158 Palestinians, including 26 children.
They won’t hear that Israel controls the lives and resources (access to safe clean water) of approximately 7 million Palestinians, and that Palestinian cities, towns, homes, orchards and businesses have been systematically destroyed and repopulated with upwards of 750,000 illegal Jewish squatters (“settlers”).
They won’t hear of the 56 years of Israeli occupation, dispossession, house demolitions, curfews, checkpoints, walls, blockades, permits, night raids, targeted killings, military courts, administrative detention, thousands of political prisoners, tortured Palestinian children, and 56 years of oppression and humiliation.
What explains the “exceptional” deferential treatment Israel receives, while other human rights violators are condemned or sanctioned by the United States and its allies?
Much of the explanation has to do with Israel’s powerfully effective state-run public relations industry reliant on myths and duplicity. Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has successfully created a new illogic of its own; an illogic that has made the illegal seem legal, the immoral appear moral and the undemocratic sound democratic. It has masterfully marketed a number of myths that have become a part of the political and mainstream media narrative.
From the outset, Israel’s Zionist founders cloaked their true goal of creating a “Greater Israel” – a Jewish state not just in Palestine, but in Jordan, southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan Heights – in heroic terms.
Fabricated history and tropes about the “good” Israelis developing an unpopulated land, creating agrarian miracles in the desert and reclaiming an historic promised land have become deeply embedded.
In reality, Zionists, like Israel’s first prime minister, polish-born David Ben-Gurion, saw the 1948 U.N. General Assembly partition plan for Palestine as the first step toward future expansion.
Benny Morris in his book, Righteous Victims, writes that Ben-Gurion in a letter to his son in 1937, framed the Zionist plan for colonizing Palestine: “No Zionist can forego the smallest portion of the Land of Israel. [A] Jewish state in part [of Palestine] is not an end, but a beginning….through this we increase our power, and every increase in power facilitates getting hold of the country in its entirety. Establishing a [small] state….will serve as a very potent lever in our historical effort to redeem the whole country.”
That Israel would have to forcibly transfer and remove the indigenous Palestinian population to realize its colonization plans was erased from the Israeli narrative.
As a consequence of its effective disinformation campaign, many Americans have come to believe that Israel is a democratic, progressive and humane state; a small but brave nation defending itself against “foreign” violence and terrorism.
To realize its “Greater Israel” annexation mission, Israel created another fiction to legitimize its war of choice in 1967. Although the Six-Day War, which began on June 5, 1967, has proved to be a crucial turning point in the modern history of the Middle East, the Israeli myth of vulnerability and “nation under siege” inventions remain largely unchallenged.
Fifty-six years ago, the Israeli air force attacked air bases in Egypt, Syria and Jordan, destroying over 80 percent of their warplanes on the ground. Israeli troops swiftly occupied Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank of Jordan and the Syrian Golan Heights. According to Israeli government minutes, its attack was not defensive, but a planned preemptive strike.
The Israelis were fully aware of the need to initiate a disinformation campaign alongside their planned first-strike military operations to allay adverse reactions from Washington and other Western powers.
The Israeli myth that the Jewish state was fighting for its physical survival against a more powerful Arab enemy has had a powerful hold on America’s political leaders and the public. In fact, Arab leaders had no plans to invade Israel and Israel’s leaders knew the war was easily winnable. The annihilation fallacy has become unassailable dogma in Washington – the “right to defend itself” mantra – has allowed Tel Aviv to continue its illegal annexation of captured Palestinian land.
Zionist myth makers got busy again in the 1980s. To counter the criticism it received following its indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon and massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982, Israel birthed the Hasbara (“explaining” in Hebrew) Project in 1983.
In that year, the American Jewish Congress sponsored a conference in Jerusalem of top executives, journalists and academics from Israel and the United States, to devise a strategy to resell Israel, to cement U.S. economic and military support and to make it extremely difficult to critique Israel’s actions.
Hasbara established permanent structures in the United States and Israel to influence how the world, especially Americans, would think about Israel and the Middle East in the future. The talking points they developed are recognizable in current rhetoric; among them: Israel’s strategic importance to the United States; its physical vulnerability; its shared cultural values with the West; and its desire for peace. Israel now labels its continuing hasbara propaganda “public diplomacy.”
News organizations, journalists, academics, politicians and entertainers have come to expect pressure if they go outside the level of acceptable discourse established by Israel and its supporters. Alternative narratives that expose Israel’s abuses are dismissed as anti-Israel or given the feared label of anti-Semitic. Israeli propagandists have made certain to fuse criticism of the regime – anti-Zionism – to anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitic accusation has proven to be a powerful rhetorical device to shield Israel from fault. It has destroyed careers and reputations….