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Hasbara Spam Alert
Hasbara Spam Alert

With Israel's foreign ministry organising volunteers to flood news websites with pro-Israeli comments, Propaganda 2.0 is here

By Richard Silverstein

January 11, 2009 "The Guardian" -- -The hasbara brigade strikes again! You always hear about Israeli attempts at media manipulation. Everyone knows it's going on but usually the process happens through cyber insurgents like those involved with Giyus (and its media monitoring software, Megaphone). Now, we know that the Israeli foreign ministry itself is orchestrating propaganda efforts designed to flood news websites with pro-Israel arguments and information.
A reader of my blog has received the following email which documents both the efforts and the agency that originated them. The solicitation to become a pro-Israel "media volunteer" also includes a list of media links which the ministry would like addressed by pro-Israel comments:
Dear friends,
We hold the [sic] military supremacy, yet fail the battle over the international media. We need to buy time for the IDF to succeed, and the least we can do is spare some (additional) minutes on the net. The ministry of foreign affairs is putting great efforts in balancing the media, but we all know it's a battle of numbers. The more we post, blog, talkback, vote – the more likely we gain positive sentiment.
I was asked by the ministry of foreign affairs to arrange a network of volunteers, who are willing to contribute to this effort. If you're up to it you will receive a daily messages & media package as well as targets.
If you wish to participate, please respond to this email.

My friend did so and received this official communique from the ministry with talking points about Operation Cast Lead which s/he was to use in her/his propaganda efforts. Among the links was was a Peter Beaumont Cif piece. The following were identified as "target sites": the Times, the Guardian, Sky News, BBC, Yahoo!News, Huffington Post, and the Dutch Telegraaf. Also targeted were other media sites in Dutch, Spanish, German and French considered critical of the invasion.

Locally, here in Seattle, peace activists held a rally at our federal building attended by 500 protesters. In the foreign ministry communique issued the next day, activists were directed to comment in the Seattle Post Intelligencer's article about the demonstration. The comment thread for the article is riddled with clear hasbara "plants" who distort the balance and tone of the discussion with their programmed arguments, making it much more favorable than it otherwise would be.
Here the foreign ministry's coordinator describes a meeting he attended at the government's offical office:
Hi all,
I had a meeting in the ministry of foreign affairs today, and was very happy to hear that their metrics show that Israel's position in the internet is getting better every day. It means that you're doing a good job! MFA are concerned with the biased public opinion in Europe. So please focus your efforts on European media.
What can you do to help?
- Identify internet battle-grounds in different languages, and let me know
- Comment/post/vote in the listed links and others; you can use the material attached below
- Write letters to authors and editors. Identify yourself as a local resident
- Have your friends join this activity

This message was meant to encourage the pro-Israel activists in their work:

World governments are still patient with Israel's justified operation in Gaza. The [sic] public opinion, on the other hand, is impatient, to say the least. This gap will soon close – it always does.
It is our goal to shift the public opinion, as conveyed in the internet; avoiding, or at least minimising, sanctions by world leaders. We need to buy the IDF enough time to achieve its goals.

Besides the talking points provided by the foreign ministry to the pro-Israel web activists, they are offered online pro-Israel material to link to in their comments such as these:

Aish HaTorah's What Really Happened in the Middle East
YouTube video: Amid Gaza violence, Israeli and Palestinian doctors save baby's life -
CNN's Amanpour interviews Tzipi Livni
Military incursion should be seen as part of War on Terror
Blog from Southern Israel, Morit Rozen
Remember when the defence department was paying public relations companies and Iraqi newspapers to insert articles praising the Iraq war? The companies also attempted to plant coverage favorable to the US military in US newspapers. There rightly was a media uproar about the manipulation. We'll see whether the same happens over this.
The foreign ministry shouldn't get a pass on this one. It may view such hasbara as maximising its efforts to "explain" Israel's position in the world media. I view it as a cynical attempt to flood the web and news media with favorable flackery in a vain attempt to tilt public opinion toward Israel. Not only does it do Israel a disservice, it stains every legitimate effort that the ministry might make to explain Israel to the world, since no one will believe a word it says knowing it engages in such outright propaganda.
Not to mention that this is such cheap pennyante stuff. What do they gain by this? How effective can it be and how many can be convinced? By the way, I've even noticed the hasbaraniks in my own blog. You can see them a mile away because they've never published a comment before yet write something like: "I've enjoyed your blog for a long time, but anyone with a brain in their head knows that Hamas is out to destroy Israel blah, blah blah." Pretty formulaic stuff. Also, you can Google a few phrases of the comment and if you find it appears elsewhere on the web you know you either have a hasbaranik or someone who has repetition compulsion.
In some instances, western media may intentionally or unintentionally fall victim to manipulation. Tony Karon points out that pro-Israel journalist-historian Michael Oren has published several stories since the Gaza incursion began in US media outlets like the New Republic and Los Angeles Times. He is also on active duty with the IDF in Gaza serving as a public affairs officer liasing with foreign media. You will find nothing noting this in the Los Angeles Times op ed. In effect, the media is allowing advocates like Oren to pass themselves off as disinterested experts when they are anything but. It behooves editors to do some due diligence when they publish any piece that advocates for one side or the other to determine whether there may be conflicts of interest or other unacknowledged factors influencing a commentator's judgment.
It seems we are now well and truly in the world of Propaganda 2.0.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

"Hasbara" courses at Israeli universities exposed in new report

Yara Sa'di
The Electronic Intifada
15 July 2013


Tel Aviv University students hold anti-Palestinian signs during a protest of an event last year commemorating the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

Various Israeli academic institutions have introduced courses and programs on hasbara the Hebrew-language term used to describe Israel's attempts to re-brand its image as its occupation and military aggression makes it increasingly unpopular worldwide.
A new report from the Academic Watch Project shows that instead of promoting critical thought and inquiry, these courses at academic institutions serve to promote the policies of the State of Israel and the whitewashing of its crimes. The Academic Watch Project is a group of Palestinian students at Israeli academic institutions dedicated to exposing discrimination within Israeli academia and its connection with Israel's military occupation and apartheid policies.
"A Word on Hasbara" aims to uncover the content of these courses and programs and their funding. It also seeks to reveal their connections with the ministries of foreign affairs and public diplomacy and international Zionist groups.

"Unofficial ambassadors"

One such course "Ambassadors Online" (or "Ambassadors on the Web") offered at Haifa University boasts the slogan "Volunteering, Zionism, Digital Diplomacy."
The course's webpage features the logos of two Israeli ministries as well as those ofBirthright Israel and StandWithUs, groups which aim to promote Israel among US college students and offers the synopsis: "[the] goal is to provide Israeli university students with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to become unofficial ambassadors of Israel. The cadets of the project receive training which prepares them to effectively challenge the de-legitimization claims, engage in a dialogue with anti-Israeli activists and improve Israel's image abroad by expanding the positive knowledge about the country."
Eli Avraham, a co-founder of the "Ambassadors on the Web" course, said in an interview with The Canadian Jewish news: "when false claims are made about Israel, such as labeling it an apartheid state, people need to be equipped with knowledge and tools to speak out against those claims."
He added: "The main idea is that this is about how to use the new media to reclaim Israel's narrative and promote Israel's point of view" ("Haifa U course teaches web hasbara strategies," 13 March 2012).

Year-long hasbara program

IDC Herzliya's Ambassador Club is a year-long program for more than two hundred students from thirty countries run in partnership with StandWithUs. The program includes lectures on media, economy and history in order to "arm the students with the latest surveys and data and to teach them how to present the Israeli narrative" in North America and Europe. At the end of the course, each participant receives "an accreditation endorsed by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs," according to the StandWithUs website.
Student unions at Israeli universities also provide hasbara programs. The National Union of Israeli Students aims to fight "anti-Semitism" and "delegitimization of the State of Israel" by paying Israeli students $2,000 in return for writing comments and letters on social network sites promoting Israel and "refuting" criticism of the state's policies for five hours per week.
These hasbara courses were put into practice last November, when Israel bombed Gaza for eight consecutive days. The student union at IDC Herzliya, in coordination with the ministries of media and public diplomacy, formed "a war center" to promote the Israeli army and its aggression. The "war center" received information directly from the Israeli army and the prime minister's office.

Coexistence lie

Even more cynically, these programs are being used to promote a false narrative of coexistence, like the one boasted in a recent Times of Israel piece on the Ambassadors Online program at Haifa University. The article, titled "Muslim, Druze and Jewish students band together to improve Israel's global image," describes how students are trained to undermine the global boycott Israel movement.
But despite the hasbara lie of Israel being a bastion of peace and coexistence, as the Haifa University program trains students to promote, the reality for Palestinian students at Israeli universities is much different.
While the Ambassadors Online participants "monitored the media for biased coverage and took part in the shaping of positive public opinion towards Israel" during the bombing of Gaza last November, Palestinian students at Haifa University who protested the attacks were demonized by the city's mayor as "terrorist supporters" and banned by the university from demonstrating on campus.
What these hasbara programs ultimately reveal is that Israel is losing the public relations battle and is desperately investing massive resources into improving its image. The role of Israeli academic institutions in these deceptive efforts reaffirm their role in serving the policies of the state, rather than promoting academic values and integrity.
Yara Sa'di, a postgraduate student and activist from Haifa, drafted the Academic Watch Project report

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

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