GAL GADOT at the May premiere of ‘Wonder Woman,’ in Los Angeles. Does Israel really need hasbara? .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I may be late to the party, but this week at a Shabbat meal with my father, he asked if I had seen Wonder Woman starring Gal Gadot. Somewhat surprised and disappointed when I answered “no,” he urged me to hurry and see it – if only for its hasbara (“public diplomacy”) aspect, thus voicing an opinion held by many Israelis nowadays.
“You must go see it! Gal Gadot has become Israel’s greatest hasbara agent in modern history! The first Israeli-born actress to star in a wide-screen blockbuster!” he said.
“But what about Natalie Portman?” I replied. “Born in Jerusalem, starred in cult films such as Star Wars and Léon: The Professional – she’s even won an Oscar for her role in Black Swan in 2010.” I left my father speechless.
I love pretending to be a movie critic as much as the next guy. However, the cinematic differences between Wonder Woman and Black Swan aren’t as important to my everyday life as the underlying premise beneath all the hype over Gadot’s role in Hollywood today, worthy and incredible as her achievements may be.
The premise behind the notion held by many of the Israeli admirers of Gadot’s Wonder Woman – that she is the greatest agent of public diplomacy the State of Israel has today – is that Israel in fact is in need of hasbara.
Google translates the term “hasbara” as “explanation; lehasbir means ‘to explain.’” But what is it we are in need of explaining? And to whom must we explain? Thankfully, we may be able to gain more insight into the subject by considering human nature, and our own consciences and everyday experiences. Think back to the last time you explained something to someone. Think of the reason you felt a need to explain, the context of the incident and your feelings at the time.
We have a reliable little compass within ourselves that tells us when we have offended or hurt someone; when we have made a mistake that needs fixing. This compass is also known as a conscience and it is very important, for without one we are no better than animals.
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In the words of Jiminy Cricket: “A conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to. That’s just the trouble with the world today....”
What happens when we listen to someone else’s conscience? When we act counterintuitively and against our better judgment? Do you feel that something Israel has done requires explaining? Are we in the wrong in certain aspects? Let’s have a look at the Foreign Ministry’s hasbara efforts in past years and see if we can’t find a collective conscience at play.
Apparently, Israel as a sovereign state feels that the “occupation” in the disputed territories – as opposed to the ongoing illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus by Turkey, Crimea by Russia, Tibet by China, the Falkland Islands by Britain, or Catalonia by Spain – is in need of explaining.
The public expenditure on hasbara in Israel is well over a billion shekels a year, divided among a large number of government-funded organizations, ministries and programs. This is a lot of money being spent to quiet someone’s conscience – but is it that of most Israeli citizens? Moreover, since the world’s love for the Jewish state and its policies is in an ever-increasing downward spiral, we cannot say this is money well spent. Maybe this hasbara thing really isn’t working out after all.
Perhaps a different perspective would be more useful, maybe one that is a little more historically inclined. Put simply, there is no need for hasbara in a world populated by some eight billion humans who are mostly illiterate and don’t know where Israel is on a map or why they should care at all, especially on an empty stomach.
The truth is that the world’s opinion of the Jewish state cannot be improved due to a small inconvenient truth: the anti-Israel bias is rooted in good old classic antisemitism. No amount of explaining will convince two billion Christians that the Jews are not responsible for the death of Jesus, or one billion Muslims that the Koran’s opinion of Jews is faulty.
That said, the premise that Israel’s actions need explaining will inevitably lead to a failing foreign policy, as conducted by the government over the past decade, to say the least. It also inevitably results in a much broader and more serious ethical and philosophical shot in the foot. This is because reality should need no explaining.The writer is a staff member at the Begin Heritage Museum.
The thoughts expressed are his own.
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