It must be very depressing to be an anti-Israel activist. No matter what you do, the number of people you bring to a demonstration, the thousands of Likes you gain on Facebook, the votes of solidarity taken by workers’ unions and boycott resolutions passed on university campuses, every time you turn around another Israeli high-tech startup is being sold for a cool billion and exports to Europe have just gone up by 10 percent.
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No end of petitions against Israeli war criminals and not one has yet to be arrested, let alone put on trial, and for every impassioned letter by Roger Waters, the hottest stars continue to appear in Tel Aviv. No matter how many football matches are disrupted by swastika-wavers, an Israeli coach can still waltz in and reach the NBA finals.
This week they hoped the bid to expel Israel from FIFA would dominate the headlines, only for the world media to focus instead on trivial matters such as the revelations of mega-corruption in world football. It just isn’t fair, the Zionist conspiracy is too devious and powerful. There’s a limit to how much satisfaction can be derived from harassing Jewish students on campuses and picketing kosher sections in supermarkets. Thank God, though, for the Israeli government; at least they understand how dangerous a bunch of misfits sitting in basements really are.
This week Gilad Erdan, that dashing Likud politician who came first in the party’s primaries, deigned to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s government 10 days after it was sworn in because, as he wrote on his Facebook page, “Israel deserves not to be libeled in the world, and that many more good people defend her.” That’s apparently why he agreed to be appointed minister for internal security (which is basically the police minister; another long-forgotten politician insisted on a more impressive title), for strategic affairs and for hasbara. And while everyone knows what the police do, or at least should be doing when they’re not conducting strategic affairs, he had to explain the other part of the title.
“As a cabinet member,” he wrote. “I am fully aware of the danger lurking in anti-Israel activities which include attempts to boycott and delegitimize Israel (BDS). I have agreed with the prime minister on allocating the necessary resources, both personnel and budgets. As part of my job I will face anti-Israel actions in the international arena, such as the attempts to attack us in the International Court in The Hague, the Palestinians’ attempt to distance us from FIFA and more. I plan to devote myself to this issue with great determination and use all the necessary tools to correct the injustice. These things are urgent and it’s hard to exaggerate their importance. I am accepting this responsibility with holy fear.” No less.
Proof of recognition
The ex-Israeli stooges who do the translation must have been in raptures and rushed to pass on the good news. Finally, proof that their efforts have been recognized and by the highest authority in the apartheid state. Battle has been joined and the Zionists are now taking them seriously. What useful fools. What convenient foils for Netanyahu’s determination to stick to the status quo. He knows full well how negligible their damage is but their colorful antics are great fodder for the local media to stoke the national paranoia.
Every time a lecture by an Israeli personality is heckled or a music performance disrupted, or, even better, kicked off the program by fearful organizers, it will serve the Likud’s needs. See how they hate us? They don’t want us to live and you expect us to negotiate with them? Of course the agitators at the London School of Economics and Berkeley represent the Palestinians as much as I do, but how convenient to have them waving Palestinian flags and convincing Israelis that they have no one to talk to.
So what will Erdan actually do? Focus on his real job of trying to reform the corrupt and violent police force. I don’t believe he really thinks there’s anything he can achieve with his other brief, besides loyally serving his boss’ propaganda. If he actually tries to put some substance into his hasbara portfolio, he will find out pretty quickly there is none.
How to translate the Hebrew term hasbara is an issue that has vexed editors in Israel’s English-language press for decades. It’s literal meaning – the act of explaining – of course does not convey any of the mythical belief some Israelis and naive Diaspora Jews have that somewhere out there, there’s a better way to explain Israel’s policies to the world that will convince the media we are the good guys and the Arabs are all a bunch of lying anti-Semites.
Decades of PR
There are many logical flaws in this concept, but the most basic one is that Israel has been fielding a massive PR corps for decades. There are literally thousands working on it in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry, IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and other government agencies. And contrary to the prejudices of some American and European Jews, not all of them are ignorant sabras. Many of them are media professionals from those very countries who either moved to Israel or were hired specifically for the task.
Those pros will tell you in moments of candor that Israel does not have a hasbara problem, and therefore there isn’t a hasbara solution and the entire idea of hasbara is bogus. The great majority of people in the West are not particularly worked up about Israel. And the minority who are tend to be intelligent enough to form their opinions based on a combination of the ample information from different perspectives and their own personal beliefs.
That’s why there is no way to translate hasbara – it simply doesn’t exist outside the minds of those who believe in it. They won’t call it propaganda because they believe it is the truth. Public relations is a profession and has too many corporate connotations. Officially the government translates hasbara as “public diplomacy,” which is one of those highfalutin terms that can mean just about anything.
The Foreign Ministry has an issue with this as well. After all, diplomacy is their job (some of the larger embassies already have “consuls for public diplomacy”) and they resent the fact that so many of their traditional and professional roles have been parceled out to other departments. On the ministry’s English website, Erdan is now billed as “information minister.”
A real ministry
Of course we’ve been here before. Erdan is not the first minister to get all fired up by a nonsensical brief handed him by the prime minister – just as his predecessor Yuval Steinitz was. He drew up a plan for a global campaign costing 100 million shekels, or $25 million, with special representatives based in every embassy. The Foreign Ministry said no way, and Netanyahu, as he usually does when confronted with these disputes, said he needed time to consider the issue and adjourned the meeting.
If hasbara was a real thing, it would have a real ministry with a budget and wouldn’t be the last portfolio handed out to a disgruntled minister looking for a fancy title. Erdan will do what does so well – go on television, make impassioned speeches, and he’s probably coming soon to a Jewish Community Center near you to fire up the true believers and maintain the illusion that it’s us against all the haters. He will do about as much good for Israel and it’s image as the BDSers will cause damage – which is very little in either case.