Reality Check: Heavy-handed 'hasbara'

Boteach’s tirade against Lorde provides more oxygen for BDS.

January 7, 2018 21:49
4 minute read.
Reality Check: Heavy-handed 'hasbara'

Lorde appears in Inglewood, California, earlier this year, before her decision to cancel her show in Israel. (photo credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

Last month, the government approved the allocation of NIS 260 million to set up a non-profit organization, in conjunction with deep-pocketed Diaspora donors, to combat anti-Israel deligitimization and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in particular.

The brainchild of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Gilad Erdan (does nobody in government see the irony of having the internal security minister, Erdan’s main hardline role, also the face of soft, public diplomacy?) this new organization is meant to provide fast and furious responses, unshackled by any government approval system, to combat attempts to smear Israel’s name.

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Imagine, one unnamed official told Yediot Aharonot, what would happen if immediately after Lorde’s move (the immensely popular singer recently canceled a performance in Tel Aviv following pressure from the BDS movement), she was the target of an Internet campaign and full-page adverts in leading international newspapers. This is something, the official went on to say, the government can’t do, hence the need for this new organization.

Well, we’ve just had our first taste of such activities and my advice to the Diaspora donors (this government is a lost cause) is to find a cause more worthwhile for their donations.

In one of the most embarrassing attempts ever at pro-Israel advocacy, publicity hound Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (remember his stint as Michael Jackson’s unofficial spiritual adviser?) followed the guidelines laid down above and published a full-page advert in The Washington Post, calling the 21-yearold a “bigot.”

In the wordy, rambling tirade protesting Lorde’s willingness to perform in Russia “despite [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s support for Assad’s genocide in Syria” but not Tel Aviv, the American rabbi proclaims, among other things: “Let’s boycott the boycotters and tell Lorde and her fellow bigots that Jew-hatred has no place in the twenty-first century.”

And then, after having accused of Lorde of antisemitism, Boteach turns his ire on New Zealand, the singer’s home country. He blasts the country for voting in favor of the UN resolution calling on the United States to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and cites its support of another UN resolution condemning Israel settlement building in the West Bank as evidence of anti-Israel prejudice.

The New Zealand Jewish Council wisely and quickly issued a statement distancing itself from the advert and what it termed “the inflammatory and aggressive material that stoops to the level of BDS.”

More to the point, just exactly what has Boteach achieved with this ad? Has Lorde canceled her cancellation and restored Tel Aviv to her concert schedule?

Will New Zealand suddenly change its diplomatic policies on West Bank settlements and the status of Jerusalem, which are in line with the majority of the international community? Of course not. All this advert has accomplished, aside of course from propelling Boteach back into the headlines, is to amplify the news that Lorde has canceled her Tel Aviv gig and give further oxygen to the BDS movement. Instead of letting this minor BDS victory die down – far bigger stars have performed in Israel in recent years – Boteach has given it further momentum, for example providing an opportunity for the Artists for Palestine group to write a letter with over 100 signatories to The Guardian newspaper in support of Lorde and a boycott of Israel.

This heavy-handed approach to countering pro-Palestinian propaganda is also the hallmark of official Israel, with the Ahed Tamimi case being the prime example. We’ve all seen the video of the blonde 16-year-old Palestinian girl slapping and provoking a pair of soldiers on duty outside her house and the two men responding with admirable restraint.

But rather than allow the world to digest this image of IDF soldiers behaving humanely and ignoring a staged provocation – following IDF chief-of-staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s instructions that he doesn’t “want a soldier to empty a magazine on a girl with scissors” – the Israeli establishment has managed to turn Tamimi into a wronged victim.

Instead of simply bringing Tamimi in for questioning the following day, and then releasing her until military justice takes its course, as was the case with Kiryat Arba settler Yifat Alkoby, who slapped and scratched a soldier earlier last year, the IDF launched a dramatic nighttime operation to arrest Tamimi and she has been kept behind bars ever since.

Tamimi is no existential threat to Israel, and all the authorities have achieved, in their desperation for revenge on a young girl who in some people’s eyes humiliated two soldiers, is to turn her into the perfect poster girl for Palestinian protest against the occupation.

The fact is though, as long as the occupation continues and deepens, protests against Israel and pop-star concert cancellations will continue, no matter how much money the government pumps into to hasbara efforts that are clumsy and ineffective at best, harmful at worst.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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