How to sell the Israel brand in these troubled times
Larry Derfner, 2nd March 2011
As you well know, Israel has never been in such peril as it is today. Anti-Semitism has risen to historic levels. Israel’s enemies are arming themselves with weapons that endanger not only its existence, but its very existence. And now, added to these grave existential threats comes the upheaval we’ve seen spreading throughout the Middle East. In these days of uncertainty, a volunteer army of steady, sure, confident voices in Israel’s defense is more critical than ever. Here is a set of talking points for you to use when fighting the information war for Israel’s survival. B’hatzlaha – good luck.
1. “Our hearts are with the protesters in the square, but…” This lets your audience know at the start that you, as a supporter of Israel, are in favor of democracy, even for Arabs. Then you get to the “but,” and after the “but,” you only mention the bad, terrible things that could happen.
For example: “But Islamic fundamentalists could take over, just like they did in Iran.” “But the new leaders could tear up the peace treaty with Israel.” “But they could support terrorists like al-Qaida.” “But they could destabilize the whole region and start World War III.”
You start off paying lip service to the good – democracy – but keep it brief and vague, and then when you get down to specifics, hit them with one doomsday scenario after another. By the time you’re through, your audience will be more scared of Arabs than ever.
2. “Stability.” This was the point to bring up during the Egyptian uprising – not that we were against democracy and in favor of tyranny, God forbid, but that we were for “stability,” i.e. Mubarak. Today, of course, it’s a little late for that argument. But while it’s become dicey to use the stability gambit against Arabs protesting against dictators, it can be adapted to shore up the case for Israel – and, indirectly, still make the case against the Arab protesters.
It goes like this: Instead of saying, “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,” which may not be the case for long and which sounds like you want to keep it that way, you say: “Israel is the only stable democracy in the Middle East.”
This reminds your audience of all the terrible things that could happen with these uprisings, and, again, leaves them more scared of Arabs than ever.
NOW THAT your listeners are in a black mood, now that they’re booing the Arabs again, it’s time to lift their spirits and get them cheering for Israel. Time to switch from negative to positive.
3. “Vibrant democracy.” This is the oldest of old chestnuts in the Israel advocate’s basket of goodies – that Israel is a “vibrant democracy.”
The funny thing is that it used to be true – the Right would fight it out with the Left, they went back and forth from the government to the opposition, there would be huge rallies by the settlers and huge rallies by the peaceniks. Today there’s no Left, there’s no fight, there are no huge rallies. Today the only debate is between the hard-liners who want to jail all the Arabs and leftists today and the moderates who counsel patience. The settlers keep building, the army keeps slugging away and barely a peep is heard in protest. But you can still sell people on Israel’s “vibrant democracy” – show them clips from the shouting matches in Knesset. Remember: It’s not the steak, it’s the sizzle.
4. “Israel is not perfect.” This is indispensable. It shows the audience that you’re not a propagandist, not a shill, not trying to sell them a bill of goods – and that criticism of Israel is welcome, so long, of course, as it’s fair. What is fair criticism of Israel? To say that Israel is not perfect – that’s fair. Israel makes mistakes – that’s fair. And if anybody asks you for an example of a mistake Israel has made, you can say, “Well, we thought the Palestinians wanted peace, but…”
Or, “Well, we thought the world would support us when we tried to make peace, but…”
In other words, Israel’s mistake, Israel’s imperfection, is that it’s too good. That’s criticism, and audiences will be impressed with your candor.
5. “Delegitimization.” A really cool word that you can use against anybody who says anything about Israel that you don’t like. Israel’s oppressing somebody? Delegitimization! Israel’s violating somebody’s rights? Delegitimization! It shuts people up. When you say they’re “delegitimizing” Israel, it’s like you’re saying they’re denying Israel’s right to exist, like they’re calling for the destruction of Israel, like they’re calling for the Jews of Israel to be wiped out! It puts people on the defensive beautifully. It’s like calling them anti-Semites without actually using the word, which was getting pretty stale, kind of embarrassing. Delegitimization sounds a lot more sophisticated, and it does the job more effectively.
6. “Denying Israel’s right to self-defense.” This can be used against anyone who questions the divine justice behind anything the IDF does. Anybody who suggested that maybe Israel should not have banned pasta, for example, from entering Gaza was denying Israel’s right to self-defense. Anybody who wonders whether the army should take more precautions before shooting at Gazan fishermen, farmers and metal scavengers is denying Israel’s right to self-defense. Even Israeli combat soldiers who describe killing, brutalizing and humiliating Palestinian civilians are denying Israel’s right to self-defense.
Again, that’s like denying Israel’s right to life itself, which is a pretty serious charge. And an intimidating one. Use it liberally.
7. “Context” or “contextualization.” This is a fancy way of saying “the background to a story that makes Israel look good and/or the Arabs bad.” If, on the other hand, the background to the story makes Israel look bad and/or the Arabs good, then this is not “context” or “contextualization,” it’s “propaganda.” For instance, if Israel blockades Gaza’s coast and airspace and attacks it with jets, helicopters, tanks and snipers, and you point out that Gazans fire Kassams at Israel, that’s putting the story in context. But if Gazans fire Kassams at Israel and someone else points out that Israel blockades Gaza’s coast and airspace and attacks it with jets, helicopters, tanks and snipers, that’s propaganda.
8. “Lawfare.” Sounds like “warfare,” doesn’t it? That’s the point – to turn lawsuits against the occupation, whether in foreign courts or in Israel’s own courts, into the equivalent of war. In other words, the equivalent of killing people. In other words, the equivalent of terrorism.
Going to court against the occupation is terrorism.
But you don’t want to use the word “terrorism” for a lawsuit, just like you don’t want to use the word “anti-Semitism” for some CNN story. So you call the CNN story “delegitimization” and the lawsuit “lawfare.” You gotta be subtle.
9. “Incitement.” This is the one to bang away at when there’s no, or nearly no, Palestinian terror to speak of, like there hasn’t been for years. When there was terror, you could say, “When the Palestinians stop terror, they will be amazed at how generous we are.” But now we’re in a bit of bind because the Palestinians have basically stopped terror, and, well, what does that leave us to work with? It leaves us incitement! When a Palestinian preacher quotes something gruesome from the Koran, when a Palestinian newspaper accuses Israel of war crimes, when a Palestinian textbook accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, that’s incitement, and they have stop it or there will never be peace.
All right, we’ve got our rabbis, and they’re saying all sorts of crazy things about killing gentiles and how Arabs are animals and God knows what, and we’ve got this foreign minister who says he wants to execute Arab Knesset members who meet with Hamas and bomb Egypt, and the polls say half of Israelis want the Arabs gone, period.
But that’s not incitement, that’s… that’s… Israel’s vibrant democracy! Yeah, say that. If that doesn’t work, then try, “Israel is not perfect.”
And if they still complain, accuse them of “delegitimization.”
Remember, Israel is at war, the information war. All is fair.