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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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Does Hasbara Matter?

As the U.S. election season enters into high gear, an important Gallup poll released earlier this month offers Israel and its supporters much reason to cheer.

For despite an onslaught of Palestinian propaganda and disinformation, the results demonstrate that the Jewish state continues to enjoy overwhelming support among broad swathes of the American public.

Each year, as part of its annual World Affairs survey, Gallup asks respondents about their views towards various countries around the globe.

The results regarding Israel could not have been more decisive.

A whopping 71 percent of Americans said they view Israel mostly or very favorably. This broad support extends across the political spectrum, with 80 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents and two-thirds of Democrats all standing behind the Jewish state.

By contrast, only 19 percent expressed favorable views of the Palestinian Authority.

And when Gallup asked people, “In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?” the results were similarly lopsided, with Americans favoring Israel by more than a 3 to 1 margin.

“Americans,” the findings concluded, “have consistently been more sympathetic to the Israelis than the Palestinians since Gallup started asking the question in 1988. Since the mid-2000s, Americans have become increasingly sympathetic to the Israelis, while the percentage sympathetic to the Palestinians has stayed the same.”

What makes this so remarkable is that this overwhelming level of American popular support for the Jewish state comes after decades of anti-Israel bias in much of the mainstream press.

Despite all the distortions, half-truths, misrepresentations and falsehoods that have been peddled over the years by the liberal media, a super-majority of the American public still views Israel favorably and prefers her over her foes.

Can you imagine what the poll results would look like if the media were truly fair and balanced?

Now, we all know Israel’s public diplomacy, or hasbara, has been woefully inadequate over the years in terms of explaining Israeli policy and highlighting Palestinian shortcomings and misdeeds.

The other side has succeeded in storming college campuses, exploiting international forums, and hijacking the narrative of what takes place in the Middle East, all in an attempt to turn public opinion against Israel.

Nonetheless, all their calls for boycotts and divestment, and their slanderous accusations about “apartheid,” have seemingly gotten them nowhere.

After all, the Jewish state still earns exceedingly high marks.

As Gallup further noted, “The United States has long been an ally of Israel, and Americans continue to show decidedly positive views toward that nation. As nations throughout the Middle East undergo tumultuous change, perhaps making the region more politically unstable, Americans still appear to see Israel as important, with large majorities viewing it favorably and many more giving their sympathies to the Israelis than to the Palestinians.”

In light of this, it seems fair to ask a simple yet important question: does hasbara really matter? Should we be investing so much time, energy and resources into the battle for ideas when we seem to have so much already going in our favor?

The answer, of course, should be crystal clear: we dare not rest on our laurels.

Public opinion is decidedly fickle and there is no telling over time just how it might change.

Just because we have been winning the information war does not in any way guarantee that this will continue to be so.

Even the best team on the field still needs to prepare methodically for each game it plays, if only to ensure that its performance will be top-notch.

Likewise, Israel and its supporters must not desist from making our case, fine-tuning our arguments and constantly looking for new means and methods with which to disseminate them.

Take, for example, the rapidly growing power of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, whose reach and popularity make them ideally suited to spreading the truth about Israel and the Middle East.

A pioneering effort in this regard has been undertaken by a group called United with Israel, whose Facebook page has already garnered more than 1 million ‘likes’ since last autumn.

Founded by my friend Michael Gerbitz, an American immigrant to Beit Shemesh, it operates on a shoestring budget but manages to distribute quality information about Israel to a global audience on a daily basis.

Such efforts are crucial precisely now, when a younger generation that is not as familiar with Israel is coming of age and new mechanisms will be necessary to cultivate their support.

If we care about Israel and its standing in the world, it behooves all of us to join in such activities and support them.

That is the surest way of guaranteeing that in the eyes of the public, the Jewish state continues to win over many hearts and minds.

Michael Freund is chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to the Jewish people. He can be contacted at michael@shavei.org.

About the Author: Michael Freund is the Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel. He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s leading English-language daily, and he previously served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.


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