Gaza Propaganda – Accuse, Accuse, Accuse

21 Nov

So far, the Gaza propaganda campaign paired with the current Hamas war effort has failed to gain significant traction.

This might just be because a costly ground incursion has not (yet) occurred, or because Israel has succeeded so well in minimizing civilian casualties (both Israeli and Palestinian).  But I suspect there are other factors at work that we should be cognizant of as we consider our next best steps to countering growth in these propaganda efforts, including how they might be used to rekindle BDS for the umpteenth time.

To understand why current anti-Israel propaganda seems to not be working so well, we first need to understand what it consists of, and there is no better illustration the tactics at work than the Twitter hashtag stream #GazaUnderAttack.

Click on that link and you will find the familiar message that always accompanies Israel taking military action: stories and photos and videos and drawings of bombs falling on Palestinian civilians.  The message these words and images are trying to convey are simple: that the only salient facts surrounding the current Gaza war are Gazan women, children and other non-combatants suffering injury and death due to Israel’s military activities.

Such messaging is not designed to supplement or even get around reasoned arguments, but to replace reason entirely.  For when faced with facts such as the years-long Hamas rocket assault that triggered this month’s war (as they did the 2008 war that ended with Israel’s Cast Lead operation), the propagandists’ only response is to generate more pictures and more stories of more bloody Palestinian children which are designed to blot out all subjects other than one having to do with Israel’s guilt for creating such viscera and gore.

This might explain why the usual propaganda strategy is not working so well this time around.  For even if you are trying to deny or get around it, there still exists something called objective reality.  And while one can create a reality distortion field around complex subjects (such as the details surrounding various Israeli withdrawal offers) that might gain a few adherents outside the ranks of the permanently blinkered, no amount of fog can obscure the unquestionable, objective fact that someone firing thousands of rockets at someone else has chosen to start a war.

And unlike attempts to justify suicide bombing (by, for example, claiming them to be just the desperate acts of a hopeless people), few BDSers or similar propagandists are ready to claim that thousands of missile attacks  never  happened or are the acts of unorganized, rag-tag bands outside of anyone’s control.  With this much reality to befog, is any wonder that the propagandists have decided to crank up their bloody body imagery message to 11?

The problem (for the propagandists, anyway) is that the body count is not nearly high enough, which is why they have started recycling corpses from other wars (notably Syria) to use on their posters, or taking the even creepier approach of presenting dead babies most likely killed by Hamas itself as examples of alleged Israeli “war crimes.”

This mind-numbing level of cynicism (not to mention the message it sends to journalists and the public that Hamas considers them to be brainless suckers) presents an important opportunity to those working to fight against such propaganda.  For it allows us to take advantage of the only other technique Israel’s adversaries routinely use to their advantage: The Pointing Finger.

This is the tactic we’ve discussed before in the context of BDS campaigners who remain constantly on the offensive, ignoring any opinions or facts that contradict their storyline of unquestionable Israeli villainy and Arab pristine innocence.  This tactic requires you to ignore whatever your opponent says, refuse to acknowledge facts or arguments that undercut your narrative (no matter how numerous and sound they may be) and to unrelentingly accuse, accuse, accuse, without ever stopping to breath, much less reply to other people’s arguments or counter-accusations.

While this Pointing Finger technique can never be a tool for serious argumentation, it does provide an effective means of keeping your opponent on the defensive.  And if you (meaning we) are “debating” a topic such as the Gaza war with someone who based their entire presentation around their own unrelenting accusations, then we are more than free to respond in kind.

This suggestion probably cuts against the grain of many friends of Israel who prefer to engage with opponents and (among other things) answer their accusations with facts and logic (occasionally sprinkled with limited pathos appeals of our own).  But such engagement can only be productive if you are interacting with someone who plays by the same rules.  And, just as the IDF must deal with a military opponent who has based their entire strategy around an endless series of war crimes (linked to a propaganda campaign consisting of accusing their opponents of war crimes), those of us fighting the propaganda war cannot be expected to keep bringing a badminton racket to a rugby match.

So in this case we must begin and end every sentence with our own accusations: of Hamas war crimes against Israeli civilians, of Hamas war crimes against their own civilians, of “peace activists” that are actually war activists secretly pining for more civilian casualties they can use to fuel their outrage and propaganda.

Those fake images of dead Syrians or Hamas-created dead babies that appeared around the world last week should not be treated as aberrations, but as the key to understanding each and every image and word that comes out of the propagandists mouth from now on.  Which means that even if Isreal’s military response in Gaza does create the causalities Hamas and the BDSers desperately crave, we need to ask why the Israel haters should be taken as honest or accurate or relevant on any subject whatsoever, given their demonstrated willingness to engage in transparent fakery, to kill their own people (or place them in danger) coupled with their willingness to turn other people’s genuine concern for the suffering of others into a weapon of war.

“So, Mr. BDSer, do the Gaza casualties you’re howling include the Palestinians Hamas gunned down themselves (or the ones that died from Hamas missiles that never made it out of Gaza?”  “Hey, Mr. ‘Human Rights activist,’ why did you keep your mouth shut when Iran used this week’s crisis to cull its prison population by killing off imprisoned ‘undesirables?”  Gee Mr. “I Speak Out of a Love of Humanity,” it would certainly have been nice if you showed 30,000 murdered Syrians .000001% of the concern you show for the denizens of Gaza.”

Fortunately, the new media (which our side is finally taking seriously), is ideally suited for a pointing-finger war, during which our accusations need to be just as unrelenting as theirs, and just as uncompromising.  If they try to avoid the issues we bring up (which they will), then we get to ignore theirs in favor of our next barrage of finger pointing and outrage which can go on as long as does theirs.

In such an accusation war, we’ve got two things going for us.  First, our opponents are used to being the only people allowed to use this tactic, which means they expect us to do nothing more than provide our usual long-winded explanations and forensic defenses (which they are free to ignore, of course).  So, in this case, tactics designed to put the propagandists on the defensive give us the key advantage of surprise.

And because the accusations we are already hurling and should continue to hurl non-stop happen to be true, they will always pack more punch than the lies and hypocrisy that are currently the Alpha and Omega of BDS and associated “movements.”

9 Responses to “Gaza Propaganda – Accuse, Accuse, Accuse”

  1. Stop BDS Park Slope November 22, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    Jon -

    A few technical comments, first:
    1) Links from twitter are not working.
    2) “Assadwashing” link doesn’t work
    3) I think you need to make the grey tone of the text a little darker.
    4) The new platform does not work well on my android phone.

    Ok, on to a real comment.

    Having been submerged in the twitterverse for the last few days, it seems to me all these discussions dead end and a different approach is necessary.

    Our Euro-American-Leftist BDSer is usually motivated by thr belief she is protecting the poor, oppressed, and helpless from a big, bad, evil. And they have been very successful in framing Israel/Zionist Jews as that evil. But who is the true oppressor of the Middle East’s stateless Arabs? It is the corrupt, despotic, totalitarian Arab regimes scattered throughout the region. I believe if we reframe the discussion in this manner, we have an opportunity to change it. And I say all the above in complete sincerity, without guile or sarcasm.

    We saw this week what Hamas did to 6 people. They are an evil on a par with Stalin or Idi Amin. And they are not a democratically elected government. Their party won many positions in the Parliament, but they overthrew the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup. Furthermore, both the PLO and Hamas are mainly carpetbaggers, who violently squash an local efforts at creating pro-co-existence movements within the Arab population.

    Empathy. I have a son who lives at kibbutz a few miles from the Gaza border. So these last weeks he has not only been hearing sirens and rockets landing in the Eshkol region, but also the launches from Gaza and the IDF attacks on Gaza. It was like living in a constant thunderstorm. Now just think how it sounded to someone living in Gaza. It must be terrifying. And think if all the information around is constantly telling you how evil Israel is.

    So my approach will be, if I ever get into a discussion with someone, to establish how awful these leaderships have been for the Arab people, and to reach common ground on that. Then to establish the need for any totalitarian regime to have an “implacable enemy” that justifies its reign of terror. Finally, to show that the BDS narrative just helps to prolong that “needed enemy” role and actually works counter to human rights and peace and everything that the Euro-American-Leftist values.

    The conflict in the Middle East has nothing to do with land or borders. It is not about Zionism or Jews. It is about corrupt, totalitarian leaders and the need to sustain perpetual conflict as a way of instilling fear, exploiting the population and maintaining power.

    I will let you know how that works out.

    Nycerbarb

    • DivestThis November 22, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

      Hi Barb – I fixed the Assadwashing link. Not sure about what I can do in the other areas (but I’ll do some research after the holiday).

      Regarding the rest of your comment, keep in mind that the strategy I’m suggesting above is not something we need to (or should) apply universally. As you and I both know, there are some people who want to debate the Middle East conflict honesetly, and there are many people whose minds are open to new information. In fact, I would include almost everyone I’ve worked with in this category. And when we interact with such people, we should be respectful, open and constructively engaged.

      At the same time, there are people whose idea of “debate” is to accuse, accuse, accuse and never respond, never answer questions, never acknowledge when their accusations have been countered successfully. For these people, the strategy I recommend is not only appropriate, but the best way to (1) get them to recognize that the “pointing finger” is not going to work (once they realize others can use it too); and hopefully (2) become honest debating partners who realize that others are onto faux-debate tactics to the point where they no longer work.

  2. DrMike November 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    Jon: interesting similarity to the Hamas rocket strategy: they launch hundreds of rockets hoping that a few will get through and kill Israelis (defined by them as a “win”). BDSers throw hundreds of accusations at Israel and hope that just a few of the lies make an impression on people who hear them.
    In both cases, launching the weapon/lie takes minimal effort and countering it takes more effort/time/cost.
    And in both cases, the appropriate counter-strategy in terms of public opinion involves exposing the underlying motives– and in both cases, their own charters (the Hamas Charter and the BDS Manifesto) provide that information.

  3. Mike Lumish November 26, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    I like this piece and the best thing that you say in it is this:

    “And because the accusations we are already hurling and should continue to hurl non-stop happen to be true, they will always pack more punch than the lies…”

    I agree with the first half of this sentence and disagree with the second half, Jon.

    The fact of the matter is that truth is on the side of the Jewish people in the Middle East, if we are willing to discuss it within the larger context of Jewish dhimmitude under Islamic imperial rule.

    I must disagree with you on the second half because I simply see no evidence to suggest that the truth of the Arab-Israel conflict weighs more heavily than the lies and distortions.

    • DivestThis November 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

      I was probably less clear that I should have been on what I consider to be a subtle but critical point.

      One can create a strong, effective argument built on premises that are either true or false. And I would say that such arguments based on the truth are stronger than equally well constructed arguments based on falsehoods.

      Similarly, one can avoid reasonable argumentation and just engage in non-stop accusation or some other strategy (such as purely emotional arguments) that are designed to bypass reason. But in these cases too, a “pointing finger” or 100% emotional presentation is more effective if the accusations and images are based on the truth, rather than lies.

      Obviously, the other side has the advantage of a megaphone provided by being aligned with the some of the world’s most wealthy and powerful states. But they also take advantage of the fact that our side thinks that facts alone can overcome their lies.

      If we are faced with an opponent who will respond to reason, then it is incumbent up on us to build our truths into powerful and reasonable arguments. But if we are faced with an opponent who just wants to accuse, accuse, accuse and never listen or respond, then we are equally obliged to respond in kind, but to do so by continuing to speak the truth (with the promise that once they stop telling lies about Israel, we’ll stop telling the truth about them).

      So it’s not a matter of our truth failing (which would imply that we too should resort to dishonestly). Rather, we have come up short rhetorically by allowing the other side to appeal to emotion or engage in other rhetorical tactics that we tend to consider beneath us.

    • Mike Lumish November 27, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

      OK, I agree.

      There is certainly nothing wrong with an appeal to emotion, particularly if that appeal is grounded in historical reality.

      I suppose that in a certain kind of way my own writings are reflective of this approach in that I insist that we need to reintroduce Jewish history in the Middle East into the discussion.

      Accuse. Accuse. Accuse.

      One thing that BDSers and the anti-Israel contingent must be made to understand is that the Jews of the Middle East were, for 13 hundred years, subject to dhimmitude, i.e., second and third class citizenship under the boot of Muslim imperial rule and that the Arab war against the Jews of the Middle East only began when they attained their freedom with the fall of the Ottoman empire.

      That’s the historical backdrop that we should embed our arguments in when those arguments call for the larger historical picture.

      • Jon November 29, 2012 at 2:41 am #

        I think your writing has been effective with regard to using the issue of dhimmitude to illustrate an important (and generally overlooked) injustice assocaited with the history of the region.

        My only caution is to not fall into the trap of treating a particular issue as a “magic bullet” that – if we can just get the public to understand it – the justice of our cause would be clear to all.

        I’ve seen many people get stuck zeroing in on a single accusation (often with regard to Muslim treatment of gays and lesbians) which they think will win over a progressive portion of the public (only to get frustrated when this one issue doesn’t move an audience).

        Of course, I’m as guilty as everyone else, given how much I harp on a single solution to our rhetorical problems. But since I’m advocating that we re-learn the general tools of rhetoric to better fight our battles, these tools are applicable to different situations and can draw upon (and inform) what you and others are already doing.

        • Mike Lumish November 29, 2012 at 6:38 am #

          Rhetoric.

          You’re a meta guy, Jon.

          I’m just now coming to this fairly obvious realization. Something like Landis, and to some extent myself, but less like Rubin, you’re interested in the conversation around the conversation.

          • DivestThis November 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

            Probably safer to say I’m interested in both since (as noted previously) our ability to stick to the truth is critical, which makes it important to be as informed as we can be.

            But part of that understanding has to include how the other side operates and, just as important, how we operate. For example, if they declare that a food coop in West Nowhere taking Israeli lentils off the shelf is fraught with political significance, we tend to respond to that news (by proving them wrong or showing how it doesn’t matter). But if we ask if the doubling of the Israeli economy and associated investment pouring into the Jewish state “proves” Israeli popularity (using the BDS formula of “economic activity = political support”), they just ignore the question in favor of carrying on with their own accusations, knowing full well that it’s just as likely we will respond to their charges as it is that they will never respond to ours.

            That’s just one example, but I hope you catch my drift.

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