Israel can rely on a fifth column of Jews in the U.S. who “amplify its messages, to rebut and discredit statements that contradict its arguments, facts, and fabrications, and to impugn the moral standing of those who make such statements,” a leading American diplomat, author and senior former United States Foreign Service, State and Defense Department figure has said.
Speaking to the Jubilee Conference of the Council of Foreign and Defense policy meeting in Moscow last month, former Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.) said that “I would like to put forward some thoughts about the control of narrative and the manipulation of information as an essential element of modern warfare. The Israelis call this ‘hasbara.’
“Since they are without doubt the most skilled contemporary practitioners of the art, it seems appropriate to use the Hebrew word for it.”
Ambassador Freeman served as the United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992. He is a past president of the Middle East Policy Council, co-chair of the U.S. China Policy Foundation and a Lifetime Director of the Atlantic Council.
In February 2009, unnamed sources leaked to the news media, initially to The Politico, that Freeman was Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair’s choice to chair the National Intelligence Council in the Barack Obama administration.
After several weeks of criticisms from prominent supporters of Israeli policy, he withdrew his name from consideration and charged that he had been the victim of a concerted campaign by what he called “the Israel lobby”.
In his speech to the Council of Foreign and Defense policy meeting, he said that “as the recent fighting in Gaza illustrates, the modern state has at its disposal a wide variety of means of creating and sustaining narratives. Israel announced the war on Twitter. Israeli-controlled or guided sources then saturated American media outlets with talking points that went unchallenged by previously conditioned anchors and journalists. In addition to traditional techniques of agitprop, disinformation, and propaganda in conventional media, the Israeli hasbara apparatus made heavy use of more focused channels of communication like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It inundated audiences with information favorable to its cause and squeezed out information that contradicted its theses. This reflected careful contingency planning and preparation.
“Public opinion is increasingly shaped by social media. The state of Israel has organized civilian government and military units to exploit this, including creating websites, social media accounts, and messages attributed to false identities. It has learned how to manipulate browser functions, search engine algorithms, and other automated mechanisms that control what information is presented to Internet users. Such manipulation can ensure that certain commentary and information will or will not appear in response to searches. It can assign greater prominence to old material critical of sources or analyses than to new entries favorable to them. It can arrange for searches to find only positive or negative commentary and information on a topic.
“In some countries, like the United States, Israel can rely upon a “fifth column” of activist sympathizers to amplify its messages, to rebut and discredit statements that contradict its arguments, facts, and fabrications, and to impugn the moral standing of those who make such statements. Israel makes intelligent use of the possibilities this creates for public-private partnership in propaganda. As one pertinent example, the Jewish Agency for Israel has sponsored an online “Hasbara Handbook” for students around the world to use as advocates of Israel and its policies.
“The “Hasbara Handbook” explains many standard techniques of propaganda and deceptive rhetoric. It rehearses specific arguments and counter-arguments and outlines a program of training for advocacy and rebuttal. It also stresses the importance of labeling or “name-calling” – the linking of a person or idea to a negative symbol. The handbook places itself in a larger context. It commends the work of “CAMERA” – the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America – an organization notorious for the viciousness of its efforts to blacken the reputations of those who criticize Israel or advance accounts of events that deviate from the official Israeli narrative by branding them as “anti-Semitic” or “self-hating Jews.” It notes that CAMERA provides a free monthly magazine full of timely hasbara materials for Jewish students in the United States. A myriad of Israel-oriented think tanks provide similar guidance online, as do numerous websites in Israel itself.
In addition, many American rabbis see it as their duty to rally their congregations to Israel’s defense. One typical example was a rabbi who, as the Gaza fighting began, stressed to his New York congregants that“making yourself well informed and able to articulate Israel’s case clearly and compellingly is … important… No slanted print media article or editorial or electronic report that is … unbalanced and unfair can be allowed to go unchallenged. … Those media organs that are habitually anti-Israel should be flooded with letters and e-mails when their stories and pictures paint a … portrait of what we know to be other. Conversations at the water cooler, in health clubs, and particularly at holiday parties and gatherings so common at this time of year… all of these are our challenge. Get informed, stay informed, and let your voice be heard”
His full speech to the Jubilee Conference of the Council of Foreign and Defense policy meeting can be found here.