Ali Abunimah — Electronic Intafada Feb 23, 2016
Israel’s efforts to use “girls in bikinis” and Nazi genocide to sell itself abroad are not working, a secret conference of the country’s hasbara – or propaganda – chiefs has been told.
According to Israel’s NRG news site, 150 “Jewish leaders” from around the world took part in the meeting, which “dealt with the fight against BDS” – the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel.
Journalists were not invited and participants were asked to maintain secrecy, NRG reported.
Erdan’s office supposedly insisted on secrecy because “exposing the information about the conference participants could be life endangering” – a smear against the BDS movement, which is avowedly committed to nonviolence.
Jewish students turned off
The conference heard from Frank Luntz, the prominent US Republican pollster, that Israel’s propaganda messaging was failing even among American Jewish students.
According to Luntz’s findings, only 42 percent of Jewish students believe that Israel wants peace, just 39 percent view Israel as a “civilized and Western country” and a mere 31 percent consider Israel to be a democracy.
As many as one fifth of Jewish students believe the US should support the Palestinian side and a similar proportion sees Israel as racist.
One of the conference participants told NRG that Israel’s tourism ministry “came out very badly.”
The participant characterized Israel’s marketing in these terms: “ ‘we have girls in bikinis, we have beaches, we have beer and bars – come to us,’ and this does not work.”
Indeed, Israel’s tourism industry went into freefall as a result of Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, and has still not recovered.
The conference was also told that instrumentalizing 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.
“They explained that the moment an Israeli speaker speaks about the Holocaust or about Nazis it hurts us, it doesn’t come across well on campuses,” one participant recalled.
Participants were also given ideas on language choices that are supposedly more successful at discrediting the BDS movement.
For instance, a slide presented at the conference instructed the propagandists to calls BDS activists “anti-Israel” rather than “anti-Semitic.”
The recommendation not to try to smear all supporters of Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic echoes the findings of other major anti-Palestinian organizations in recent years.
In 2012, for example, The David Project, an Israel lobby group that works to suppress support for Palestinian rights on North American campuses, found that efforts to portray universities as hotbeds of anti-Semitism were not working.
“Campus is largely not a hostile environment for Jewish students,” the group found.
“Casting the issue [of criticism of Israel] as campus hostility to Jews, therefore, does not jive with the lived experience of most Jewish students and has not to date significantly altered the dynamic on campus,” The David Project stated.
Yet despite such advice, Israel and many of its advocates still often insist that opposition to Israel’s violence against Palestinians is driven by hatred of Jews.
The flailing around for a message that will work reflects confusion among Israel’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.
Yet despite spending tens of millions of dollars on propaganda, Israel’s image continues to slide.
At least one participant was not convinced that the new buzzwords would make any difference.
The participant, described by The Jerusalem Post as a person who worked with advocacy and Jewish organizations, called the new language recommendations “same old, same old.”
“I’m not optimistic. Our track record is weak. The penny still hasn’t quite dropped in Israel,” the participant added.
It may also be because the carrot approach – trying to seduce young people to Israel’s side – is failing so badly, that the Israel-led anti-Palestinian movement is relying ever more heavily on the stick: bullying and censorship in the hope of intimidating people into silence.
Dena Shunra contributed translation