Last week the IDF responded with bombings on Gaza targets to the rockets shot from there on southern Israel. It took little time for some foreign media to equate the Palestinian aggressor with the Israeli aggressed. It took only slightly longer to mainly highlight Israel’s actions while shoving continued Palestinian aggression into the background.
Such distortions of the truth have to be seen in a much wider context. The overall propaganda war against Israel includes frequent falsifying of facts and many fallacious arguments. Among the latter are the use of double standards, moral equivalence, distorted analogies, appeals to pity and poverty and so on.
Turning the Palestinian aggressor into the aggressed is a prime example of how emotional appeals triumph over facts. Such appeals have a prominent place in contemporary society. The poor are considered victims, even if they are criminals. In the case of the Palestinians, there is sympathy for them in many circles as underdogs. This is not undone even by the fact that Hamas, the largest political party they voted in, has genocidal intentions. Its leaders declare this openly.
The Palestinians have understood for many years how to use sentimental appeals as part of their overall propaganda strategy. In this way, they mask the long-term profound criminal ideologies that permeate their society. As one has to pose as a victim to benefit from sentimental appeals to the world, the Palestinians have aimed to become super-victims. And if the Palestinians are super-victims, then Israelis can be presented as quintessentially evil.
Palestinian sentimental appeals are not incidental but systematic. Their greatest success was at the beginning of the second Intifada. The killing of Muhammad al-Dura in 2000 was perceived internationally as an Israeli crime. It is now known that the boy was most probably killed by Palestinian fire.
There are many other examples of similar sentimental appeals. Israel has constructed a fence – which at some points is a wall – to protect itself against Palestinian suicide terrorists. Their friends abroad present this as Palestinians having been shut out by Israel arbitrarily. Those politicians calling for removal of “the wall” present themselves as humanitarians. Yet in fact, they are facilitators of the future murder of Israeli civilians.
Israeli checkpoints are also in place to prevent murderous attacks by Palestinians. In the Palestinian propaganda machine, they are another subject for sentimental appeals. They are hyped up further by the emotional emphasis placed by their foreign allies on the fact that even pregnant women are subjected to checkpoints. As if Palestinian terrorists would hesitate to dress up as pregnant women.
The flotilla sham
Until now, the success of the al-Dura fallacy seems unbeatable as the Palestinian sentimental appeal par excellence. A good runner up is the fraudulent Gaza flotilla. It was presented as a humanitarian aid effort. However the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship, carried no humanitarian aid. Neither did two others. Some goods transported were for military purposes. Other items of the aid included pharmaceuticals which had already expired. Seven of the nine people killed on the Mavi Marmara had declared their desire to die as martyrs before setting sail.
None of this was relevant for the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Affairs Catherine Ashton, or the European and German parliaments, as well as many others who condemned Israel. This despite the fact that Israel had the legal right to uphold a blockade on Gaza and thus stop the ships. The international reactions to the flotilla were a great victory of the sentimental Palestinian appeal over the legal rights of Israel.
The recurrent success of Palestinian sentimental appeals should have alerted the Israeli government long ago that these are not unrelated incidents. After more than a decade, it should have figured out that they are an integral and systematic part of Palestinian strategy in the propaganda war. Thus, Israel should have analyzed many years ago the impact of these appeals and how to counteract them.
Unfortunately, the precise nature of this process has escaped the Israeli authorities. Some senior people in the government have even told me that nothing can be done about the defamation of Israel. To make matters worse and in an act of major stupidity, the IDF apologized incorrectly for killing al-Dura.
The issue here is not that the Palestinians have won the propaganda war and Israel has lost it. The problem is that the winner of the propaganda war may ultimately defeat the winner of the physical war. The fight against this war is painstaking. It cannot be resolved by isolated actions. It is a complex process which requires money, time, multi-disciplinary teamwork, systematic application of methodological analysis and management skills. It is a hard road, but the horrible alternative is almost certain defeat.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has published 20 books. Several of these address anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism