The Republican pollster Frank Luntz is a guru for Israeli Hasbara. His job has been to teach thousands of “warriors” for the Israeli government how to sell human rights violations and settlement expansion to increasingly dubious audiences.
As I explain in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, his project is called the Global Language Dictionary. His most recent Hasbara, a power pint presentation entitled Communicating the Truth about Israel (post Gaza 2014) is available for download. The presentation includes current research on what Americans think about Israel, and what words test well in responding to their doubts. The video calls for a war against “radical, hate-driven organizations,” any organization that supports Palestinian rights.
In his presentation Luntz relies on thinly veiled racism and attacks on peace and justice advocates, blaming church groups and pro-BDS Jewish college students for gradually closing the door on a two-state solution. He tells attendees to talk about Israel standing on the front line against global terrorism, a beacon of civility in a tough neighborhood, to trot out the constant line about Hamas using human shields and to blame Palestinian rejectionism for their suffering and to divert the conversation away from Israeli occupation and repression. Luntz’s reminder to his audience is always the same.
“It’s not what you say that counts. It’s what people hear.”
Minister Gilad Erdan recently organized a secret conference in Jerusalem with 150 top supporters of Israel and Frank Luntz was there to present some disturbing statistics:
The Ministry of Tourism’s attempt to market Israel as a cool destination with girls in bikinis has failed.
Jewish American students have an increasingly negative image of Israel.
Just 42% believe Israel wants peace.
Just 38% believe “Israel is civilized and Western.”
Just 31% believe Israel is a democracy.
No less than 21% believe the US should side with the Palestinians and a similar proportion sees Israel as racist.
Luntz’s recommendation: Israel’s supports should say that they are in favor of a dialogue and peace-building through diplomacy and accuse BDS supports of obstructing dialogue and spreading hate.
The attendees were also told that using the Nazi genocide of European Jews—a favorite tactic to deflect criticism of Israel’s occupation and violent colonization of the Palestinians—is also not a winning strategy.
Participants were given ideas on language choices that are supposedly more successful at discrediting the BDS movement. A slide presentation instructed the propagandists to call BDS activists “anti-Israeli” rather than “anti-Semitic,” and to use words like “dialogue” rather than “discussion” and “open-minded” as opposed to “balanced.”
The flailing around for a message reflects the level of confusion among Israeli’s marketers. Hasbara chiefs still appear to be convinced that the problem is not the product—brutally enforced occupation, war crimes and state-sanctioned racism—but simply the packaging.
It may also be because the carrot approach—trying to seduce young people to Israel’s side—is failing so badly that the Israeli-led anti-Palestinian movement has resorted to using the stick in the hope of intimidating people into silence.
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