Israel is losing battle for public diplomacy

Opinion: Despite Israel's efforts to portray the horrors of Hamas' attack, Western media's immediate acceptance of the Palestinian narrative shows that the battle over the narrative is not about the truth
Josh Feldman|
As an Australian Jew, the last thing I expect from the international community is sympathy for the State of Israel. While Israel has many supporters throughout the West, it’s impossible to escape the pervasive anti-Israel bias in the media’s framing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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And so, after the October 7 massacre, I was taken aback by the global outpouring of sympathy for Israel and Diaspora Jewry. The sheer indescribable horrors that Hamas terrorists committed against Israelis had truly shocked the world.
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סיור בקיבוץ בארי
סיור בקיבוץ בארי
Aftermath of Hamas' attack in Kibbutz Be'eri
(Photo: Dana Kopel)
As footage of Hamas’ depravity emerged, Israel and its supporters were given a new tool – albeit a tool we wish we never had – in the battle over the narrative. The logic was simple: if we just show people these atrocities, if we show people what Hamas did to grandmothers and babies, the world will understand why Israel must eradicate Hamas. Perhaps, some of us dared believe, now that Hamas’s pure evil was on full display, global opinion would finally favor Israel.
But as Israel began retaliating in the Gaza Strip, and as the Palestinian death toll reached the thousands, our hopes were quickly dashed. Once again, we were forced to reckon with a world that is all too ready to accept the image of Israelis as oppressors.
There’s an English saying often used to explain the media’s extensive coverage of Palestinian suffering: “If it bleeds, it leads.” For some, the fact that readers are drawn to gruesome stories explains the media’s obsessive focus on Palestinian deaths during violent flare-ups between Israel and Palestinian terrorist groups. As the people who suffer most in this conflict, the argument goes, newsrooms see in Palestinians easy headlines that tug at the heartstrings.
But that can only go so far in explaining this phenomenon. As Matti Friedman, who worked at the Associated Press’s Jerusalem bureau from 2006 to 2011, wrote in 2014, “a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills” has become “something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry” for journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Many reporters,” Friedman explained, “are committed to a narrative wherein Israelis are oppressors and Palestinians passive victims.”
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הפגנה פרו פלסטינית בג'קרטה  אינדונזיה
הפגנה פרו פלסטינית בג'קרטה  אינדונזיה
Pro-Palestinian protest in Indonesia
This shouldn’t surprise students of Jewish history. For centuries, Western societies have been educated to view Jews as untrustworthy; any evil in the world can, and should, be traced back to Jews. This idea is built into Western DNA, and it shows time and again in the ease with which Western audiences swallow up stories of Israel as a callous state guilty of countless war crimes.
There is no better example of this than the global reaction to the explosion at Gaza’s al-Ahli Baptist Hospital. The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry told reporters Israel bombed the hospital, killing hundreds of Palestinians, and news outlets worldwide took the baseless accusation at face value.
This was not, however, simply because reporters trust Hamas. Rather, as they demonstrated during the Battle of Jenin in 2002, journalists are happy to regurgitate lies about Jews, so long as they fit into age-old antisemitic stereotypes. And their readers were equally eager to accept the blood libel as truth, as they have done for centuries.
Meanwhile, with the world assuming without proof that the IDF targeted a hospital, Israelis are simultaneously facing sickening skepticism towards the crimes Hamas committed against our people, forcing the government to invite journalists to a screening of unedited, previously unseen footage of the October 7 massacre captured on Hamas terrorists’ body cameras.
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תיעוד ממצלמת האבטחה של מושב יכיני
תיעוד ממצלמת האבטחה של מושב יכיני
Hamas terrorists at the gate of Yakhini
The footage, according to government spokesman Eylon Levy, is “so gruesome and horrifying that Israel does not want to release it,” but it nevertheless feels compelled to do so, due to what Levy calls “a Holocaust denial-like phenomenon unfolding in real time.”
And so, as Israel and Diaspora Jewry frantically share horror stories from October 7, hoping they will convince the world of the righteousness of our cause, we must accept an uncomfortable reality. The battle over the narrative is not about the truth. It never has been.
Those who gladly assumed Israel bombed a Palestinian hospital don’t care for the truth. Neither do the journalists demanding “proof” that Hamas beheaded Jewish babies. The Jews are guilty of any crime, just name it. No amount of traumatizing footage of Hamas’ atrocities will convince them otherwise.
This is not to suggest that Israel has no friends abroad. Indeed, Israel has many supporters throughout the West. Australia, for example, has a long history of bipartisan political support for Israel, and such sentiment can certainly be found among the general public, the majority of whom have no personal connection to the Middle East and know very little about it beyond the headlines they read.
ג'וש פלדמןJosh FeldmanPhoto: Courtesy
Similarly, despite the disturbing surge in antisemitism since October 7, Australia very much remains a safe place for Jews — one of the safest, I’d wager, outside Israel.
But as the battle over the narrative rages on alongside Israel’s campaign to uproot Hamas from Gaza, we mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking we can convince the world to stand behind Israel. While those who have long supported Israel will continue to do so, this is simply not a war Israel can win. For far too long, people’s minds were conditioned to blame Jews for all that is wrong in the world. Nothing we do will change that.
  • Josh Feldman is an Australian writer who focuses primarily on Israeli and Jewish issues.
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