Monday, July 28, 2014

The Pro-Israeli Defense Script

Sometimes when you listen to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or other representatives of the "Israel's right to exist" movement speak to the media, you'd swear that you were listening to an American politician.  As you will see in this posting, you're not far from wrong.

The Israel Project (TIP) is an American-based "non-partisan" educational organization that claims  to be "a one-stop source for detailed and accurate information" that is "dedicated to informing the media and public conversation about Israel and the Middle East."  TIP has an Arabic Facebook page, Israel Uncensored, as well as an Arabic language news site, Al-Masdar, that "delivers a balanced and honest picture of the Jewish world, Israel and the international scene" although when you look through their coverage, you'll find that it's pretty much pro-Israel/IDF.

Now, that we have a bit of background about The Israel Project and have a sense of its leanings, let's look at a publication from TIP that gives us a sense of how Israel is using the world's media to promote its agenda.

In 2009, The Israel Project asked a Republican Party strategist, pollster, political consultant, commentator on FOX, author and communication specialist by the name of Dr. Frank Luntz to prepare a media guide for those who were on the front lines of Israel's media war, noting that the publication was quite clearly "not for distribution or publication".  This report was commissioned when public sentiment towards Israel turned negative after Israel's 2008 war with Gaza and after President Obama denounced Israeli settlements on the West Bank.  In case you've never heard of Dr. Luntz, here is a YouTube video of his “Words that Work”, a set of suggestions that can be used to persuade people see things the way that you see them:

Back to the TIP 2009 Global Language Dictionary.  Here is a screen capture showing the cover:

Now, let's look at some interesting extracts from Dr. Luntz's guidebook, starting with the opening paragraphs:

"Persuadables won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show Empathy for BOTH sides! The goal of pro-Israel communications is not simply to make people who already love Israel feel good about that decision. The goal is to win new hearts and minds for Israel without losing the support Israel already has. To do this you have to understand that the frame from which most Americans view Israel is one of “cycle of violence that has been going on for thousands of years.” Thus, you have to disarm them from their suspicions before they will be open to learning new facts about Israel.

The first step to winning trust and friends for Israel is showing that you care about peace for BOTH Israelis and Palestinians and, in particular, a better future for every child. Indeed, the sequence of your conversation is critical and you must start with empathy for BOTH sides first." 

Here's how those involved in discussing Israel's relationship with Palestinians can get around the sticky issue of Hamas:

"There is an immediate and clear distinction between the empathy Americans feel for the Palestinians and the scorn they direct at Palestinian leadership. Hamas is a terrorist organization – Americans get that already. But if it sounds like you are attacking the Palestinian people (even though they elected Hamas) rather than their leadership, you will lose public support. Right now, many Americans sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians, and that sympathy will increase if you fail to differentiate the people from their leaders."

Here are some talking points, or what Dr. Luntz calls "Words that Work", suggestions that make the speaker look more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian children:

Are Israelis perfect? No. Do we make mistakes? Yes. But we want a better future, and we are working towards it.
  And we want Palestinians to have a better future as well. They deserve a government that will eliminate the terror not only because it will make my children safer—but also because it will make their children more prosperous. When the terror ends, Israel will no longer need to have challenging checkpoints to inspect goods and people. When the terror ends we will no longer need a security fence.” 

This is a rather telling paragraph:

"A patronizing, parental tone will turn Americans and Europeans off. We’re at a time in history when Jews in general (and Israelis in particular) are no longer perceived as the persecuted people. In fact, among American and European audiences—sophisticated, educated, opinionated, non-Jewish audiences—Israelis are often seen as the occupiers and the aggressors. With that kind of baggage, it is critical that messages from the pro-Israel spokespeople not come across as supercilious or condescending.”  (my bold)

I find it interesting that Dr. Luntz terms those who are less than sympathetic toward today's Jews as "opinionated".

Here is a paragraph that can be used to show skeptics the lengths to which Israel has gone to improve the lot of its Muslim neighbours:

"Americans want a team to cheer for. Let the public know GOOD things about Israel.
 Once you have established that you care about both Israelis and Palestinians and that Israel wants peace, you can begin the process of establishing a strong connection between Americans and Israel based on shared values and interests, including:
--  Israel’s cooperative efforts with Jewish and Muslim citizens working together to create jobs, cutting edge technology, science and research;
--  Israel’s remarkable advances in alternative energy;

--  The work Israel has done in Arab neighborhoods and communities to raise health and living standards, including access, as full Israeli citizens, to Israel’s world-class national health care system. 

Information about the cooperation of Israeli doctors and scientists – Jews, Muslims, Christians and others alike - in solving important health and technological challenges can be helpful. So can demonstrating that Israel and America share a commitment to freedom of religion, press, speech as well as human rights, women’s issues, and the environment.”.

Here are some suggestions that can be used for those who argue against Israel's continued occupation of lands taken in the 1967 war:

"Americans agree that Israel “has a right to defensible borders.” But it does you no good to define exactly what those borders should be. Avoid talking about borders in terms of pre- or post-1967, because it only serves to remind Americans of Israel’s military history. Particularly on the left, this does you harm.  
For instance, support for Israel’s right to defensible boarders drops from a heady 89% to under 60% when you talk about it in terms of 1967.
  In fact, when you talk about land in terms of 1967, you can completely flip public sentiment against you. But if you call into question the danger of terrorists shooting down planes, you shore up support. 

Last but not least, by drawing parallels between the United States and Israel, a skeptical audience will be won over to the Israeli side by the similarities between the two nations, particularly in their approach to the dreaded spectre of terrorism:

Draw direct parallels between Israel and America—including the need to defend against terrorism. From history to culture to values, the more you focus on the similarities between Israel and America, the more likely you are to win the support of those who are neutral. Indeed, Israel is an important American ally in the war against terrorism, and faces many of the same challenges as America in protecting their citizens. For example, on September 11, nineteen suicide terrorists hijacked American planes and killed our citizens. Today, when we go to the airport, we are screened and checked. Following an attempted “Shoe Bombing” we now have to take off our shoes. It slows travel down, is expensive, and invades our privacy. But imagine what we would do if more than 250 times terrorists had crossed into our land and killed our children while they were riding buses or eating pizza? What would America do? What would America do if America’s neighbors in Canada or Mexico were firing rockets into America? 
These four words are at the core of the American political, economic, social, and cultural systems, and they should be repeated as often as possible because they resonate with virtually every American. This is not rhetoric. It is fact. Despite the non-stop coverage of Israel in the press, the positive news about Israel remains untold.”.
 (my bold)

With this information in mind, we now know why so many interviews with representatives of the Israeli government sound like they are coming from the mouths of American politicians and why we often seem to hear the same talking points again and again from those who defend Israel’s right to exist no matter what happens in Gaza and the West Bank.