NEW YORK — On Tuesday morning, 1,500 American students, representatives of Jewish organizations, as well as elderly Jews who live in New York, gathered in the historic United Nations General Assembly hall. They were attending the largest-ever event devoted to the fight against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The Israeli Mission to the United Nations has marketed the conference in recent weeks as a student event, and although only half of those present were members of the target audience, all the speakers addressed the American Jewish students, dubbed “Israel’s Iron Dome,” according to Danny Danon, Israel’s UN ambassador.
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In the speeches, the panels and the hasbara (public diplomacy) guide distributed to the attendees, the organizations revealed the new tools of Israeli hasbara: A declaration of support for peace, partial acknowledgement of Israel’s mistakes, and a demonstration of empathy towards the Arabs — but only as methods of defeating the BDS movement on campus, and not as values in themselves.
The brochure asserted that years of research and experience have shown that adopting messages of peace and empathy are the most effective methods when advocating for Israel. Therefore, under the heading “Peace,” the readers were instructed as follows: “Whenever you speak about Israel, every other word out of your mouth should be ‘peace.’ Every action Israel takes is dedicated to attaining ‘peace’ and creating conditions for ‘peace’. Peace. Peace. Peace.”
Along with the recommendation to use the word “peace” repeatedly, there is a similar explanation about the importance of demonstrating empathy towards the Arabs, another weapon in the tool kit of the hasbara fighter. “It is important to acknowledge valid points the other side may have, then turn and make the case for Israel.” “You lose your audience if you start talking in generalizations about ‘The Arabs’ or ‘The Muslims.’” There is no explanation about other disadvantages of generalizations regarding Arabs or Muslims, beyond the fact that they undermine the student’s ability to win the argument.
The contents of the brochure seem to indicate that the authors assume that Jewish students in the United States are not interested in mingling with students of other religions or races on campus, and therefore must specifically be asked to do so, and only in order to attain the final objective — recruiting non-white students and other minorities on campus to the Israeli side. “Cultivate relations with ethnic, racial, and religious groups We also need to support their causes whenever possible if we expect them to be there for us,” the authors explain to the students.
A similar approach is evident in a recommendation to socialize with students identified as left-wing. The students who came to the conference are asked in the brochure to befriend liberals when they return to their universities: “Show them the true face of Israel, and the progressive state it is.”
There is also a list of recommended subjects of conversation that will help win the hearts of the liberals on campus: “Israel wants peace,” “Think green. Think blue” and “Israel: A beacon of human rights.” But the new brochure lacks any reference to the rights of LGBTs and women in Israel, which used to be favorites of Israeli hasbara.
The speakers also repeatedly recommended acknowledging Israel’s mistakes occasionally, and declaring that Israel is not a perfect country. Matias Wolff, the representative of the World Jewish Congress from Chile, called to show empathy for the Palestinians: “We need to acknowledge that Palestinians are oppressed, sometimes by their leaders, sometimes by the Israelis.”
One of the most charismatic speakers at the conference, David Sable, Global CEO at Y & R Advertising, one of the top advertising agencies in the world, even urged the American students to abandon the familiar patriotic slogans, claiming that they don’t help, but only cause harm. “Enough with the ‘Most moral army,’ the ‘Only democracy in the Middle East.’ The more we talk this way, the less morally secure we sound. ‘We are the best, yada, yada, yada.’ It has not worked, and it never will.” As reported on the evening before the conference, one third of Americans support BDS.
As expected in speeches to a young audience, various speakers also mentioned the importance of the social media in the fight against BDS. The moderator of the main event, actress Noa Tishbi, asked the audience to take out the Israeli flags that were distributed at the entrance and to wave them for a mass selfie. Several hours later the audience was once again asked to be photographed for a selfie, but the students were also asked to make sure they are sharing the right messages on the social media.
Sable noted that many anti-BDS video clips address only the convinced. Daniel Birnbaum, the CEO of SodaStream, which a few years ago was a target of the BDS movement, presented the company’s new video, in which the firm’s Palestinian employees are seen working side by side with the Israelis, as effective hasbara and an example to the students.