Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hasbara: Facts or Fiction?

Miri Eisin / Is only the Israeli narrative 'the truth' and all the others wrong? ~ Ha'aretz

Israel has a national obsession with everything concerning hasbara (a Hebrew word for "explanation" and referring to information, spin, propaganda or a strategic public relations policy).

Every time a warlike event takes place, the Israeli broadcasting networks turn to hasbara experts with the recurring question - what must we do to improve Israel's international image?

They really mean "how can we prove to everyone that we're right, they're wrong and everybody hates us and they're anti-Semites?"

In the 22 days of fighting in the Gaza Strip, as in the 33 days of fighting in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the war was presented in very different ways - informed by three parallel narratives.

The Israeli narrative focuses on us, our war, our suffering, the families and reserve soldiers, the home front and decision making.

The other side is shown only on the margins as part of the spin.

The three Israeli broadcasting networks turn into news channels, zooming in on every local aspect and become part of the national effort during the fighting.

The Western media's narrative concentrates on showing both sides - Israel's dilemma and its right to self defense, but also the Palestinian tragedy, with an emphasis on the proportionalism of Israel's actions.

In both wars of the last few years the gap between the two narratives - Israeli and Western - was very pronounced.

Most Israelis would be profoundly shocked by the way the foreign networks present the wars.

In Israel it was clear that it was a war of self defense and many people can't understand how the world doesn't see that.

But is the narrative presented by the foreign networks false? Isn't there more than one way to present a war?

The narrative shown in the Western media, especially in Europe, is based on a different world of cultural references than Israel's.

It says the era of wars is over, that military force is not the way to solve disputes and that there is a direct link between occupation and violence.

The challenge facing Israeli hasbara is not simple - certainly as long as the Palestinians' tragedy is shown to the world. The Western media scrupulously present the Israeli side, but does not accept its narrative.

The third narrative is the Arab media's, especially since Arab broadcasting networks like Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya have started operating. They focus on the Palestinians' tragedy (or the Lebanese tragedy of 2006), see the Israel Defense Forces as an occupation army and stress its conduct during the fighting.

The Arab media, unlike the Western, show extensive horror footage of dead bodies and wounded people. Israel is described as an occupying force, belligerent, expanding, lacking moral values, in contrast to the Palestinian, who has nothing.

However even here the Israeli voice is heard. T+he Arab networks are ready to interview Israeli spokespeople and confront them on the air.+ It's not that they accept the Israeli point of view, but their very readiness to hear it is a new approach.

Israelis are exposed mainly to the domestic networks and are shocked to hear how we appear to others. But is only the Israeli narrative "the truth" and all the others wrong?

The challenge facing Israeli hasbara is to understand the cultural world and conceptual approach of other target audiences and talk to them in their language.

Israel's national fortitude would not be impaired if we learned to look at reality in a more complex way. If we know, without renouncing our truth, how to open up to the existence of another narrative.

Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1059104.html

The writer was formerly the prime minister's foreign media adviser.


Fascinating article. So the question is:

(a) Is only the Israeli narrative "the truth" and all the others wrong?

(b) Do you think that if Israelis were presented with both sides it would reduce the violence in this region?

(c) Would a less biased media - in the West & in Israel - help to bring about a peaceful solution sooner?


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