Here's how Israel can have better hasbara - opinion

Hasbara (the overall public relations efforts to defend abroad the point of view of the State of Israel) must change in three broad areas: Messaging, Resources, Execution.

 PRO-PALESTINIAN demonstrators protest at the Washington Monument earlier this year. (photo credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)
PRO-PALESTINIAN demonstrators protest at the Washington Monument earlier this year.
(photo credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)

Two headlines this summer caught my eye. One from The Times of Israel: “50 US professors quit union after it calls Israel a ‘settler-colonial state’,” and the other from the Forward: “I resigned from the CUNY union because of its antisemitism.” While the articles were about professors at the City University of New York (CUNY), I had also just resigned from my union at Rutgers University for the same reasons.

My ex-union, the PTLFC-AAUP-AFT, issued a statement in Solidarity with the Palestinian People on June 12. I resigned shortly thereafter.

The union’s statement made unfounded and unsupported claims that were lies, libelous, slanderous, as well as antisemitic and racist. Even after I refuted each false statement, with links to facts and original source material, the union ignored my meticulously detailed supported claims and facts.

The union’s statement contained some of the usual tropes:

• Illegal acts (war crimes) committed by Israel against defenseless civilians.

• Israel targets the destruction of schools and hospitals.

• Israel is an apartheid regime.

These lies live and get so much traction that even when confronted by facts, they are ignored, evidenced by recent actions of academic unions.

'Long live the Intifada': Palestinians and pro-Palestinian supporters protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza amid days of conflict between the two sides, in Brooklyn, New York, US, May 15, 2021.  (credit: RASHID UMAR ABBASI / REUTERS)'Long live the Intifada': Palestinians and pro-Palestinian supporters protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza amid days of conflict between the two sides, in Brooklyn, New York, US, May 15, 2021. (credit: RASHID UMAR ABBASI / REUTERS)

This is the result the Big Lie, a gross distortion or misrepresentation of the truth, used especially as a propaganda technique for political purposes. The German expression (grosse Luge) was coined by Adolf Hitler, in his 1925 book Mein Kampf, to describe the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” (Wikipedia)

How do we combat the Big Lie? Holding more conferences/workshops, taking out ads or writing articles is not the best way to combat the Big Lie. We just end up talking to ourselves. More importantly, we do not reach a large enough audience to have any impact.

Consider this: compare the circulation of the New York Times vs. the number of social media followers of any celebrity. The Times reported a total of 7.8 million subscribers across both print and digital platforms. However, according to the Visual Capitalist’s ranking of the “World’s Top 50 Influencers Across Social Media Platforms,” the last placed social media influencer had 134 million followers (circulation). Therefore, one social media influencer, who placed 50th on that list, has 17 times more followers/readers than The New York Times.

How does one fight the Big Lie on a battlefield that has no accountability to facts and lacks proportionality?

We need a new plan.

Hasbara (the overall public relations efforts to defend abroad the point of view of the State of Israel) must change in three broad areas: Messaging, Resources, Execution.

• Messaging: Looking at the bigger picture, the communication problem becomes clearer. Jews have a vast, historically-based and therefore complicated story. While those who represent the victimized “Palestinians” and their plight at the hands of the big, bad Israelis have a simpler message.

Israeli activists and responders cannot easily counter each gross misstatement. It has been proven that classic successful marketing and advertising messaging is single-minded in its focus and message. Don’t confuse the consumer.

By focusing on just one fact or truth, the message immediately becomes much simpler to understand. Importantly, it chips away at the enemies’ credibility by sowing doubt in their gullible followers by showing that the lie is so “colossal” that perhaps someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Also, repetition is very important in messaging. In media planning, it is termed “Reach & Frequency.” It is a measurement of how much of the audience is reached with the message and how often, over a period time.

Additionally, tag lines that often convey the Mission or Vision are a good way to deliver repetition and hammer home the crux of the message.

The hasbara unifying tag line could be: “Who ya gonna believe – them or yourself? Verify it!” (See more under Execution to explain where this might appear.)

• Resources: Jews have a wide range of organizations, spokespeople, independent websites, bloggers, etc., and even a few celebrities, all posting pro-Israel rebuttals. This is all good, but there is a desperate need for more synergy in the messaging.

Hasbara needs a portal to, and database of, source material and videos.

Imagine short videos, made by a range of mostly non-Jewish individuals (mostly young) who can start off by saying something like “Hi. My name is (blank). I am a poly-sci, international law, (or whatever some of the new relevant majors/jobs are these days), student/position (grad student, professor, etc.) at (blank) university/company/organization.”

The speaker can then knowledgeably refute whatever the single topic is by talking about personal experience in school, work, research they’ve done, etc. because it is their area of study or profession. The conversation should sound peer-to-peer. Simple graphics can be incorporated as well.

• Execution: Misleading social media “news” is posted by anyone with an Internet connection. Combine that with a biased main-stream news-media, and it seems difficult if not impossible to fight. However, the constant Big Lie needs to be fought.

We can turn the weapons Israel’s opponents use against themselves and challenge its gullible followers by sowing some doubt in their minds to dig (okay, maybe just scratch) below the surface and take a second look at what is being said to them. By giving people raw and unbiased information that clearly lays bare the lies, it should chip away at their perceived credibility.

For format, think TikTok, Instagram, and Danny Ayalon’s great whiteboard animation YouTube videos. The videos should have links to original sourced information that the speaker references. There can be longer videos for viewers to learn more and to see the original sourced material to decide for themselves. After all: “Who ya gonna believe – them or yourself? Verify it!”

To counter any claims of bias, it is important that most of the speakers and the source material be non-Jewish or non-Israeli.

This unique portal concept as source material to fact-based links and videos would be helpful tools for any pro-Jewish and Israeli bloggers to link to on their social media platforms.

The actionable results of this plan:

Instead of just “yelling” at Bella Hadid, Roger Waters, AOC, etc., on their Instagram, Facebook or Twitter feeds, followers can simply search the portal by topic, grab the link, and post “Who ya gonna believe – them or yourself? Verify it!”

Instead of being shouted down by the avalanche of hateful rhetoric spewed at the mere posting of a positive or pro-Israel/Jewish message, just auto reply, “Who ya gonna believe – them or yourself? Verify it!” and include a link.

Instead of knowing you want to respond to some unfounded, untrue, and libelous claims being made but can’t seem to write it or find the material you need to refute it, just search the portal, grab the link, and say, “Who ya gonna believe – them or yourself? Verify it!”

How will this plan be accomplished? Perhaps there could be a council of an umbrella Jewish and Israeli organizations (non-profits and as well professional for-profit marketing/advertising/public relations firms) with academic (history, political, international law) advisers. Funding could be seeded from the Israeli government and supplemented by private and foundation donations. Employees and volunteers could contribute to the effort.

False claims would be studied, prioritized, followed by research, recruitment, scripting, filming, and posting on the portal. Users could subscribe and be notified of new material for them to use.

Though simple in concept, this is an admittedly long-term effort that would pay off greatly in Israel’s hasbara efforts that have been sadly ineffective to date. We can do better.

The writer is a former NYC advertising agency and marketing executive. He has been an officer/board member/speaker of industry, educational, and community organizations, as well as several new business startups. He made aliyah in 2015 with his wife, is currently semi-retired but continues as an instructor at Rutgers University School of Communication & Information and a consultant.