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.”