Sunday, October 29, 2006

Presenting Israel and Zionism.

Presenting Israel.
Zionism meant, among other things, a departure from Jews being the victim, and Jews being powerless. It meant owning and working their own land, and defending that land, and being independent from the whims of others who mostly looked upon Jews with contempt. It meant minding their own business, instead of listening to others and seeking their approval, as history had shown that others had not much use for the Jews. I have a strong impression that up until now, Israel is shaped by that narrative, and as a result is not always very sensitive to world opinion. PR/Hasbara people want to 'market' Israel from a sense of power and success, not vulnerability, and they fail to see how that backfires. One of the first remarks Meir is quoted as saying in the interview, is that the translation of Hasbara, meaning to 'explain', is not accurate, as it sounds to passive and apologizing, whereas Israel is not passive and has nothing for which to apologize. This Israeli self-esteem sounds good to Zionists, but arrogant to Israel's critics. Different from any other form of racism, an important feature of anti-Semitism is the claim that Jews are powerful, intelligent and have secret plans to rule the world. Israeli Hasbara people telling proudly how powerful they are and how they influence politicians, media and universities fits exactly into such anti-Semitic notions. Another problem with Israeli Hasbara is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very much in the picture, and every Palestinian child that is killed by the IDF makes headlines. China, Russia, Iran and many other countries can present themselves apart from the regional conflicts they are involved in and the human rights violations within their country, but Israel cannot. Presenting Israel as a modern high-tech country that is great to do business with or to visit on vacation, will likely backfire, as it will be contrasted with the numerous pictures of helpless Palestinians who have barely enough to eat. It is important to explain that the problems and the poverty of the Palestinians are not in the first place caused by Israel, although the checkpoints and closures, that are in large a result of the second Intifada, cause real hardship to them. After Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, life expectancy, health care, and literacy rates all improved significantly. Several universities were set up with the help of Israel, as well as birth control clinics and joint industries. This was no Israeli altruism, but well perceived self-interest. Sometimes the interests of Israelis and Palestinians don't contradict each other. Even before the creation of Israel, Zionists created job opportunities that attracted Arabs, also from Transjordan and Syria. The Arabs in Palestine profited from British investments in infrastructure and health care that were paid in large with Jewish tax money. Palestine had to be self sufficient under the British Mandate, and Jews provided most of the tax money, even though they were a rather small minority at that time.). Israel has not become rich at the expense of the Palestinians. Israel is (relatively) rich despite the Palestinians. Besides, prior to 1967 Israel did not receive significant foreign aid from the USA other than donations of US Jews, and it absorbed over a million refugees from Europe (including some 250,000 penniless Holocaust survivors) and from the Arab countries without any aid from the international community.Israeli Hasbara people are unwise to boast about how successful they are, while the media overtly blame Israel for the Middle East conflict, and Western journalists seem just too eager to point out how powerful and professional the Israeli lobby is. If Israeli Hasbara would be really successful, such stories would not fill our newspapers; instead they would focus on the 'sneaky' tactics of Israel's enemies. Having PR people in charge who say they are successful is not at all proof that Israeli Hasbara is successful, quite the contrary, and most journalists know this. The fact that they deliberately tell such stories about the successful Israeli propaganda machine, casts serious doubts on their motives and integrity.It will not be long before the European newspapers write in the same words about the new 'brand Israel' project, which aims to improve Israel's image as a country that is modern and high-tech, has the most scientists per 1000 inhabitants of any country in the world, and is attractive for tourists and investors. It is meant to show to the world the Israel behind the conflict, and to stress all kinds of positive things about the Jewish state. This will however grant greater credibility to people claiming that the Zionists are arrogant and powerful, and that they don't care about the Palestinians.Such campaigns don't make people think: "Oh really! Now that I know about the beautiful Israeli children and the green forests in the north, I think they are right in building a big wall and uprooting Palestinian olive trees for that". It will be explained widely as diverting attention from the conflict and the occupation because those are indefensible, so it is better not to talk about hem Israel's image will only improve if it shows compassion for the Palestinians, and if people will understand its actions because they see Hamas and Hezbollah for what they are, and see that Israel is the only country whose right to exist is widely questioned and even denied.
Ratna Pelle

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