Sovereign States Don't Do Hasbara

Israel's constant attempts to please world opinion have only caused it even more harm. The best hasbara is none at all.

Israeli hasbara fails for one simple reason: people who obsessively try to justify themselves sound like someone who really does need to apologize • Sovereign states do not jump through hoops, explain or ask permission – they act, do what needs getting done and nonchalantly brush off the criticism  • The best hasbara is none at all

ראש הממשלה נתניהו מנסה להיות צודק ומושיב עצמו על ספסל הנאשמים. צילום: משה מילנר. פלאש90
By proving we're right, Bibi willingly puts the question up for discussion. Photo: Flash90

When the Israeli Prime Minister got up in the United Nations and asked "In what moral universe does genocide include warning the enemy's civilian population to get out of harm's way?", he made a number of embarrassing rhetorical mistakes, especially when one recalls that Binyamin Netanyahu is considered a virtuoso in the field. He repeated the absurd accusation of genocide to an audience which included those who may not have heard it, and by even referring to it, gave it validity.

He also asked a question whose answer, especially considering the audience, was far from obvious. They might reply, much like Jon Stewart, "where can they run?", thus turning Israel's sincere attempt to protect civilian lives into a cynical PR exercise to "adhere to international standards" without really intending to avoid civilian deaths.

Worst of all, he is effectively asking permission. He places himself at the judgment of his audience. Even if the crowd itself were on his side, this is nevertheless a fundamentally flawed approach. It grants the crowd power no self-respecting state would grant it. Whether Netanyahu appeals to his citizens or judges, he should be placing before them a fait accompli and not a murky vote. The right of Israel to defend itself should not even be up for debate. To take it off the agenda, Israel needs to do a very simple rhetorical move: take it off the agenda. The idea is so absurd it's not even worth addressing.

Sovereign states don't ask permission. They don't spend all their time justifying themselves or asking for sympathy. They know they're right. Their right to exist, the right of their citizens to life, freedom and happiness are so obvious to them that they do not feel the need to have these confirmed by their neighbors and allies. Sometimes, when they really cross the line in defending those rights, they ask forgiveness. But even then, usually they don't.

Israeli hasbara emissaries are dedicated and talented people who don't understand the fundamental problem in always trying to be right: it's not believable. When the Deputy Spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry tries to explain in a TV interview that Hamas threatens Israeli children while arguing that Israel is doing its best to protect the children on both sides, she loses credibility for both parts of her argument. A sovereign state whose children are truly threatened does not do a body count before opening fire – it opens fire blindly, indiscriminately, in an unstoppable rage.

Israel's ability to stop, take a deep breath, and act as the responsible adult turns the threat it claims to face as not truly a threat on the most basic emotional level of any parent, of anyone with a conscience who knows that if it were their country, they would demand the terrorists' head on a platter. Because the Spokesperson is seen as a liar, faith in her claim that Israel is avoiding attacking civilians is also damaged. And if you've been following Palestinian spokespeople abroad, or more – even the responses on social networks, including in Israel, the arguments that Hamas deliberately endangers Palestinian children are rejected as unbelievable. The facts themselves mean nothing whatsoever. The idea that anyone would deliberately endanger their children – like many human horrors – simply does not register with people.

Netanyahu's speech is a shining example of a fundamental flaw in Israeli hasbara: it doesn't stop apologizing and ask for support. It doesn't stop asking permission. Other heads of state used the UN platform to tell other countries what to do. If we were a normal country, our Prime Minister would point to his audience with an accusatory finger and say "you did this!" He would accuse the "moderate" Palestinian leadership of giving its children over to Hamas with their never-ending recalcitrance.

הגיע הזמן שנפסיק להתנצל ונפנה אצבע מאשימה לסרבני השלום האמיתיים. אבו מאזן "המתון". צילום: פלאש90
It is past time we stop apologizing and start accusing the real opponents of peace. "Moderate" Abu Mazen. Photo: Flash90

He would make full use of the equating of Hamas and ISIS, and organization seen as a strategic threat to the West, by making clear that the failure to stop the former is a direct cause of the rise of the latter. He would make clear that to protect themselves they need to ensure that Israel, which stands on the front lines of the Islamist assault on the Western world, needs to be defended. As a statement, not a request. A demand, not a plea.

Our real problem is not anti-Semitism, the Muslim or even the settlements. Our real problem is our desire to be loved. By arguing that Israel is a small country surrounded by enemies and in need of allies we neglect the fact they need us no less than we need them. Just to show how desperate we are to be liked, as opposed to any other country on earth, we see the virulent criticism against our country as something positive to be listened to and absorbed. As though there is truly "constructive criticism" in the messy and Machiavellian world of international politics.

The EU has an article in every "association agreement" it reaches with Middle Eastern countries which deals with the preservation of Human Rights. Only with Israel does the EU threaten every so often to suspend the agreement for violating this article. Only is Israel subject to the possible of harming of bilateral ties based on an issue not directly connected to them. Does anyone seriously doubt that the human rights situation in Israel is better than in Egypt or Algeria? Does anyone doubt that Israeli criticism of treatment of immigrants in Europe would be contemptuously rejected (justifiably!) as an unjustified attempt at interfering in another country's internal affairs?

What's Our Dignity Worth?

The "start-Up Nation" of Israel has invaluable assets for a declining Europe. It provides a unique contribution to the west by fighting emerging Middle Eastern threats as the only western forward post in the region with intelligence and operational capabilities which are second to none. It even has what to contribute in helping to ensure and improve moral standards in fighting terror. Time and again, we try to cooperate with a world which speaks of morals and justice but in truth is run primarily by "honor, fear and interest."

We are so desperate to be a member of the club of liberal democracies that we don't even try to use these assets as the price of admission, but forgo them in the pointless hope that we'll be loved enough on the merits to be allowed to join. We reject with contempt the idea of tying our support for fighting just causes in exchange for support in fights no less just.

ההסברה האמריקאית בפעולה: נושאת המטוסים אברהם לינקולן. צילום: הצי האמריקאי. CC BY 2.0)
American "hasbara" in action: the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Photo: US Navy (CC by 2.0)

Even the most moral countries (which are not Israel) see first and foremost to their own interests. They have no incentive to help an Israel when the price for this is paid in negative public opinion in their own country and abroad, when they can get what they want from Israel for free. On the contrary, they have an incentive to force Israel to standards no other country is held to – and Israel agrees to them far too often.

After the Six Day War (in other words, right after the infamous "occupation"), we were admired the world over. Now we're just repeatedly used. We sullied the victory – not the Arab states, not anti-Semitism and not even "Peace Now". Israel. The Israeli leadership which keeps begging for the world to "recognize Israel's right to exist" are helping to cause horrific damage to Israel throughout the world.

Sovereign states don't ask permission, and Israel – as opposed to many other countries – has nothing to apologize for.


English translation by Avi Woolf.

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3 comments on the article

  1. It may be true that Israel has nothing to apologize for. But since it is a member of the United Nations and that vote on November 29,1947 created the modern state of Israel it is necessary to communicate with the international community, to market Israel's case and hold up a mirror that shine a bit of reality on a cynical world that is too tired of the 47 year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem to consider giving Israel a break or even simply treating it like every other country appearing on the international stage. Israel needs to stand up for itself because far too often no one else will.

  2. You nailed it, 1000%
    כל הכבוד זה צריך להתפרסם בעמוד הראשון של הג'רוזלם פוסט, ישראל היום, ידיעות אחרונות ומודעות על כל עמוד בערים והכפרים. מספיק להסביר, מספיק לחפש שיאהבו אותנו מי צריך את זה? הגיע הזמן להתנהג כמדינה ריבונית לכל דבר וככה באמת "יאהבו" אותנו, סליחה יכבדו אותנו, שזה יותר טוב מאהבה. בין שני בני זוג שאין כבוד אין אהבה!