Readers comment on previous issues of the 'Magazine.'

Letters (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Arguing ‘hasbara’
Sir, – Daniel Gordis (“Can we please stop talking about ‘hasbara’?” A Dose of Nuance, November 7) cites a number of attacks against Israelis that would not have been prevented by even the best public diplomacy.
Sadly, there will always be those who hate Israel irrationally, no matter what the truth might be. Yet that does not reduce the importance of hasbara to Israel’s survival.
Contrary to what many in this country might think, Israel is not the central issue on the minds of the vast majority of human beings. In fact, huge numbers of people around the world have only the vaguest information about Israel (if any at all), and have yet to make up their minds.
Without vehement hasbara, those who know little about this country could reasonably conclude there is no valid defense to the unending criticisms being hurled at Israel at the UN and elsewhere. Israel’s hasbara efforts must be directed toward these “undecideds.” If it can win them over, they will exert the necessary pressure on their governments and the media to oppose Israel’s enemies.
While hasbara by itself will not guarantee Israel’s survival, abandoning the playing field could well contribute to victory for the other side.
Gordis asks the right question: “Why has the international moral compass become so utterly dysfunctional” when it comes to Israel? Part of reorienting that compass is showing people who are as yet uninformed the true north to which the needle should point.
Zichron Ya’acov
The writer, a retired US diplomat, served in the Office of Public Diplomacy at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Sir, – I agree with every word by Daniel Gordis. But he has missed the point.
It is true that hasbara seems pointless when everybody out there seems to dislike us. But the failure of our hasbara is not because of that. The failure is because Israel does not have what hasbara always requires: a clear, consistent, coherent policy vis-avis the Palestinians and the territories.
The other side certainly does have such a narrative: They, the Palestinians, claim they are the original inhabitants of the land, which is theirs, while Israel is a colonialist usurper with no organic relationship to it. Violence in restoring their stolen rights is therefore justified.
Any person with half an education knows this is historical nonsense. But it doesn’t matter whether this account is true or false. For the purposes of hasbara, it’s all there: a narrative that is clear, coherent and consistent.
(The same is true of American and European foreign policy about the Green Line and a two-state solution, by the way.
It doesn’t matter that they think Ramat Eshkol and Gilo are settlements on occupied territory, rather than neighborhoods of Jerusalem; the position has what’s required: It’s clear, consistent and coherent – and therefore permanent.) Compare Israel’s muddle on dealing with the territories and the Palestinians living there. On the one hand, we agreed in the amazing Oslo talks of 1993 to recognize a Palestinian people, and therefore a land and a state.
And the government, whether willingly or under coercion, has reiterated this two-state solution as official policy ever since. On the other hand, anybody with open eyes knows the two-state solution can never be allowed to happen because the security threat – Hamas rockets over the airport – would be intolerable.
So the government is, in fact, pursuing both halves of a mutually exclusive policy.
Under these circumstances, it wouldn’t matter if every one of Gordis’s assertions turned out to be wrong, that in fact they all love us, etc. There is still no way one could ever mount an effective hasbara campaign to advance this position. It is neither clear nor coherent, and certainly is not consistent.
The problem is that the solutions to this dilemma are either illusory (negotiate patiently until the Palestinians come around to seeing the justice of our position), or politically impossible (annex all the territories, make Israeli citizenship available to everybody and offer free resettlement to anyone who doesn’t like it). The problem of hasbara is therefore simply unsolvable.
We should, however, keep trying. After all, it does offer employment to any number of talented people. But we should not take the effort seriously, as it is doomed to failure – not because of external pressure, as Gordis suggests, but because of its own internal logical impossibility.
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