Despite the UK Government’s rhetoric (Suella Braverman was not alone, merely the worst), I cannot think of a more appropriate event on a Armistice Day than a march for peace. In London an estimated 300,000 people took the streets to call for a ceasefire in Gaza in a protest organised by Stop The War. The sheer numbers are telling in a city that is itself no stranger to terrorism and whose immediate sympathies lie with the victims of such attacks. It suggests that the Israeli PR strategy, which for decades has sought to present itself as a victim despite its ongoing occupation of Palestine, is finally failing.
The very day after the Hamas attacks in Israel, I saw paid adverts on social media platforms like Tik Tok denouncing the attack and extolling Israel’s resilience. There was nothing wrong with this message but — as a Londoner who has seen (and even written) similar messages after terrorist attacks — I found it strange for two reasons: firstly, the speed with which they had been produced; and secondly, in age of target advertising, these were clearly seeking an overseas audience, not the population directly affected. This deliberate propaganda response became clearer over the coming week with a deluge of adverts on platforms like YouTube which listed the number of dead, injured and missing civilians. They ignored, of course, that within just a few days of carpet bombing those numbers were dwarfed by Palestinian casualties. Strangely, not all of my friends seemed to receive this propaganda blitz. That is the problem with algorithms that control our viewing diet based on “engagement” as — even if we inhabit the same platforms — we truly have no way of seeing what our neighbours do. It is not a case of simply reading multiple news sources. We do, to a material extent, now inhabit different realities.
Propaganda during conflict is nothing new, though Israel’s hasbara is a particularly acute form in the digital age, a broad information warfare strategy to bolster domestic belief, maintain support from allies and delegitimise critics. It has been incredibly successful, convincing Western allies to overlook repeated breaches of international law for decades by exploiting Western Islamophobic sentiment whilst accusing critics of anti-Semitism. In reality, it is not anti-Semitic so much as anti-semantics, objecting to Israel’s description of apartheid regime and colonian occupation as “self defence”. As Israel hides behind the Jewish community (many of whom joined Saturday’s protest) its actions make them less safe.
Perhaps it was complacency from past success that led to a lie about babies being beheaded during the Hamas attacks, walked back almost immediately by Israeli ministers — those lies continued to circulate in the USA and there seemed to be little ramification for peddling falsehood in a post-truth world. The trouble is that is that once such blatant lies were exposed, there was no reason at all for the rest of the world to believe the IDF’s purported exculpatory analysis of the Gaza hospital explosion. Even US ministers must be cautious having been embarrassed by unquestioningly parroting the first lie.
Western mainstream media continues to be slanted in favour of Israel but in the UK the extent appears to be waning as biases become increasingly obvious to viewers (if not Britain’s responsibility for creating these circumstances in the first place) and mercurial presenters like Piers Morgan detect the shifting tide of public sentiment. In the UK and US political support remains strong but the reasons are increasingly transparent: a video resurfaced of Biden in 1986 declaring Israel America’s “best $3 billion investment” to protect its interests in the Middle East, and the financial incentives are similarly clear — just two weeks ago, Israel granted 12 gas exploration licences off the coast of Gaza to giants like BP and Eni. Platforms like Twitter and Tik Tok allow this information to circulate more widely, whilst Palestinian citizen journalists document attacks in real-time, and users can respond and dismantle the messages fed by hasbara. Support for Palestine is less stark than social media may suggest, though that reinforces the idea that younger people may be the ones shifting away from historic Western support for Israel whilst the older generations remain unswayed.
Hasbara evidently remains effective within the global Zionist community, with many returning to the IDF ahead of its ground offensive, and even moreso within Israel (though of course not all support the war). It is horrifying to hear some Israelis describe Palestinians as “animals”, parroting the dehumanising language of their right wing politicians, the same dehumanising language that allows them to justify the incarceration of generations of Palestinians in the inhumane conditions of Gaza and the West Bank, the same dehumanising language that finally led to Suella Braverman’s sacking, and the same dehumanising language that Israelis ought to remember all to well was previously levelled at the Jewish population in Nazi propaganda. When the powerful phrase “never again” is being weaponised to justify genocide, it should be clear to all that hasbara has overreached.