by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director
Over the past 63 years, Israel has progressed from a third-world to a first-world nation; has become a world leader in science, technology, communications, and medicine; has established itself as a first-responder for other nations that are in the throes of natural disaster recovery; has established a military that ranks far above that of nations many times its size; and has built a vibrant democracy based on the free and open exchange of ideas. Yet, it has failed repeatedly in its attempts to tell its own story to the rest of the world. If hasbara means explanation, Israel finds itself in need of such diplomatic effort more often than any other nation on earth, but somehow nearly always fails to get its point across.
There is another word that has critical implications for Israel’s ability to explain itself to the international community and, in many ways, is the opposite of hasbara. That word is “propaganda.” In years past, propaganda actually had a positive connotation, referring to attempts to encourage the masses to do things that were good and right, but in the 20th century, it became a disparaging term. Today’s dictionary defines it as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view and/or the dissemination of such information as a political strategy.” Unlike hasbara, which speaks of an honest and reliable explanation of a situation or event, propaganda refers to using loaded messages to manipulate public opinion, often by-passing reason and ignoring truth in order to influence the attitude of an audience.
In the past six decades, we have watched as Israel’s adversaries have become masters at the art. Used as a kind of political warfare, pro-Palestinian propaganda has successfully impacted the thinking of the world and has repeatedly crippled Israel’s attempts to simply explain to that world what is actually going on.
An Ugly History
The history of the use of propaganda against the Jewish people is long and ugly, but it was most skillfully used by the Nazis in the years leading up to and during Adolph Hitler’s leadership of Germany. Nazi propaganda was actually a tool very successfully wielded to gain and maintain power and implement policies that resulted in the extermination of six million Jews. In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler dedicated significant space to the study of propaganda. He clearly recognized the power of emotional appeal and negated any commitment to truth. In a speech to his generals in August of 1939, he stated, “I will provide a propagandistic casus belli [justification for war]. Its credibility doesn’t matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth.”
The Nazi propaganda machine systematically delegitimized and then demonized the Jewish people. With the simple premise, “We are good. They are bad. We cannot let them destroy us,” they succeeded in convincing the bulk of European civilization that a peace-loving people that had lived among them as friends and neighbors for centuries were, in fact, non-human vermin whose existence threatened Europe’s very life.
Moving from “They have no right to live among us as Jews,” to “They have no right to live among us,” and finally to “They have no right to live,” the march to Hitler’s final solution was made possible by his incredibly effective use of propaganda.
Since Israel was reestablished in 1948, the Arab world has watched as various false accusations and erroneous reports leveled against her have been met by naïveté and, in many cases, deep-seated anti-Semitism by the international community. Such responses have, over the years, been the impetus for increasing use of propaganda as well as a refusal to engage in honest discussion on the part of the Palestinians. With each lie accepted and embraced, the next became easier and larger. Today, the Palestinian propaganda machine nearly rivals Hitler’s in its effectiveness.
Today’s Western Media
The Western media has, unfortunately, become a willing partner in the slander of Israel, often repeating accusations and retelling stories that have not been verified and, in the end, prove to be false. Tales of terrible harm done to Palestinian children by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strike an emotional chord with Western journalists and produce strong reactions against Israel. Even though Israel is nearly always vindicated, the damage is irreversible.
For instance, in June of this year, a photo was released by “Freedom Will Come to Palestine” of a terrified Palestinian girl on her back on the ground. A soldier, whose head was not visible in the photo, threatened her with a gun as he held her down with his foot on her chest. However, on closer examination of the uniform, the boots, and the gun, it was discovered that none of them were Israeli issue. The photo was obviously staged. Unfortunately, the image of the evil IDF soldier abusing a frightened Palestinian child was already implanted.
Another propaganda tool has been the implanting of terminology into the Western mind through the media. Terms such as “refugee” camp (instead of Palestinian towns and cities), plastic-coated steel bullets (instead of rubber bullets), Al-Aksa Mosque complex (instead of Temple Mount), “occupied” territories (instead of “reclaimed” territory—legitimately given to Israel by the UN, captured by Arab forces in 1948, and re-acquired by Israel in 1967), and even the term “Palestine” (instead of Judea and Samaria) are all intentionally used to conjure up visions of Israel as a military giant using force and persecution to oppress the poor Palestinian people in order to steal their land.
One of the most unfortunate outcomes of this Palestinian propaganda war has been the brainwashing of a huge segment of the Christian church. As the historical Church—as well as many among evangelical denominations—has succumbed to the idea that the modern state of Israel is, in fact, an “occupier” with little or no right to a presence in the region, they have lent their support to a variety of anti-Israel activities and campaigns.
A few years ago, the Presbyterian church in America began a campaign to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel. Since that time, a variety of divestment and boycott campaigns have sprung up around the world, many either instigated or supported by Christian churches or denominations. Some Christians have also been actively promoting an anti-Christian Zionist stance through Bible studies, print media, and even film. One of the most insidious of such movies was produced by Rooftop Productions and released in 2010. Called With God on Our Side, it made the news through publications such as Christianity Today when it was first released. It has recently seen a resurgence of attention with a series of tours to various Christian colleges in the West as well as a strong presence on the Internet.
Porter Speakman, the movie’s producer, has explained that it “takes a look at the theology of Christian Zionism, which teaches that…the Jews are God’s chosen people and have a divine right to the land of Israel.” The film’s trailer claims: “Palestinian Christians lived here for centuries in this land. Suddenly they meet Christian groups of people who say you [Palestinians] are obstacles to the second coming of Jesus. You need to move out to make room for the Jewish Diaspora to come here.”
Every effort is made to negate Israel’s right to the land and promote the image of Israelis as occupying monsters. Scripture is manipulated, and there is no factual explanation or historical context given. The real message of the film is that a pro-Israel stance was forced on the United States and the Western world by a strong religious Right, based on their end-times theology, creating untold suffering among largely innocent Palestinians. Relying heavily on emotionalism and rife with stereotypes and propaganda, the film portrays evangelicals as simplistic, self-serving, and only interested in Israel as a means to usher in their apocalyptic dream of the Second Coming.
The film interviews such outspoken foes of Israel as British journalist Ben White, Wheaton College Professor Gary Burge, and Bethlehem Bible College professor Salim Munayer. Also featured is Stephen Sizer, well-known evangelical Anglican and replacement theologian. His book, Zion’s Christian Soldiers?, was used heavily by the producers to create the film and its accompanying study guide.
Both of these “exposes” of Christian Zionism are meticulous in their efforts to rewrite history, present Zionism in the most negative of terms, and define Israel as an apartheid state. Not only does Sizer exaggerate the influence of today’s Christian Zionist movement in the film and in his book, his assertion that dispensationalism is the basis for all Christian Zionist belief is simply incorrect. Further, he claims that Christian Zionism was birthed in the 19th century, which is also erroneous. Since at least the 16th century, every age has produced Christian men of influence who believed the Bible and were passionate in their commitment to the restoration of the Jewish people to their promised biblical homeland.
There are countless other examples of the Palestinian use of propaganda in its most insidious forms to indoctrinate their own people and manipulate the thinking of the nations. As Bible believers, it is our responsibility to recognize this kind of rhetoric and to have the facts, history, and context to counteract it. As supporters of Israel, it is imperative that we do our part to speak the truth when others would speak falsehood. We are, after all, called to help the Israel we love by doing hasbara.
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