Last month the IDF responded to rockets being launched from Gaza into southern Israel by bombing Gazan targets. It took little time for some media outlets to equate the Palestinian aggressor with the Israeli aggressed. It took only slightly longer for many other media outlets to highlight Israel’s actions while shoving continued Palestinian aggression into the background.
Such distortions of the truth have to be seen in a much wider context. The overall propaganda war against Israel includes frequent falsifying of facts and many fallacious arguments. Among the latter are the use of double standards, moral equivalence, distorted analogies, and appeals to pity and poverty and so on.
Turning the Palestinian aggressor into the aggressed is a prime example of how emotional appeals triumph over facts. Such appeals have a prominent place in contemporary society. The poor are considered victims, even if they are criminals. In the case of the Palestinians, there is sympathy for them in many circles as underdogs. This is not undone even by the fact that Hamas, the largest political party they voted in, has genocidal intentions. Its leaders declare this openly.
The Palestinians have understood for many years how to use sentimental appeals as part of their overall propaganda strategy. In this way, they mask the profound criminal ideologies that have long permeated their society. Since one has to pose as a victim to benefit from sentimental appeals to the world, the Palestinians have aimed to become super victims. And if the Palestinians are super victims, then Israelis can be presented as quintessentially evil.
The Palestinians’ sentimental appeals are not incidental but systematic. Their greatest success was at the beginning of the second intifada. The killing of Muhammad al Dura in 2000 was perceived internationally as an Israeli crime. It is now known that the boy was almost certainly killed by Palestinian fire.
There are many other examples of similar sentimental appeals. Israel has constructed a fence, which at some points is a wall, to protect itself against Palestinian suicide terrorists. The Palestinians’ friends abroad present this as a case of poor, oppressed Palestinians being shut out by Israel arbitrarily. Pro-Palestinian politicians, academics and media commentators calling for removal of “the wall” present themselves as humanitarians. Yet in fact they are facilitators of the future murder of Israeli civilians.
Israeli checkpoints are also in place to prevent murderous attacks by Palestinians. But in the Palestinian propaganda machine they are just another subject for sentimental appeals, hyped up further by the emotional emphasis placed on the fact that even pregnant women are subjected to checkpoints. As if Palestinian terrorists would hesitate to dress up as pregnant women or even smuggle a bomb into Israel via an expectant mother.
For years now the success of the Al Dura fallacy has seemed unbeatable as the Palestinian sentimental appeal par excellence. (To make matters worse, in an act of major stupidity the IDF apologized incorrectly for killing Mohammed Al Dura before the facts were in.)
Coming close in terms of effectiveness was the fraudulent Gaza flotilla, presented as a humanitarian aid effort. However, the Mavi Marmara, the flotilla’s largest ship, carried no humanitarian aid. Neither did two others. Some goods transported were for military purposes. Other items included pharmaceuticals that had already expired. Seven of the nine people killed on the Mavi Marmara had declared their desire to die as martyrs before setting sail.
None of this was relevant for Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign policy and security affairs, or the European and German parliaments, as well as many others who condemned Israel. This despite the fact that Israel had the legal right to uphold a blockade on Gaza and thus stop the ships. The international reactions to the flotilla were a great victory of sentimental Palestinian appeals over the legal rights of Israel.
The recurrent success of Palestinian propaganda should have alerted the Israeli government long ago to the fact that such lies and distortions are an integral and systematic part of Palestinian strategy in the war against Israel. Israel should have analyzed many years ago the impact of these appeals and formulated an effective approach to counteract them.
Unfortunately, the precise nature of this process has escaped the Israeli authorities. Some senior people in the government have even told me that nothing can be done about the defamation of Israel.
The issue here is not that the Palestinians have won the propaganda war and Israel has lost it. The problem is that the winner of the propaganda war may ultimately defeat the winner of the physical war.
The fight against Palestinian disinformation is painstaking. It cannot be resolved by isolated actions. It is a complex process that requires money, time, multi-disciplinary teamwork, systematic application of methodological analysis and management skills. It is a hard road, but the horrible alternative is almost certain defeat.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has authored or edited 20 books, several of which address anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
About the Author: Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld’s recently published book, “The War of a Million Cuts,” analyzes how Israel and Jews are delegitimized, and how these attempts at delegitimization can be fought.
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