‘Hasbara’: Fostering counter-narrative engagement

Who practices apartheid if not Arabs who, for example, permit every visitor to the Temple Mount to drink from the water fountain there, except the Jews?

The front page of the Mandate for Palestine and Transjordan memorandum, presented to the British Parliament in December 1922, prior to it coming into force in 1923. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The front page of the Mandate for Palestine and Transjordan memorandum, presented to the British Parliament in December 1922, prior to it coming into force in 1923. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Yisrael Medad
Yisrael Medad is a researcher, analyst and opinion commentator on political, cultural and media issues.

Zionists explain themselves. That is what is at the root of the Hebrew term hasbara.

Although the pro-Zionist information campaign really got started on a professional basis in 1946, efforts 30 and 40 years earlier to employ the medium of the press, at that time the sole mass-media instrument, were promoted, as in the case of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, journalist and propagandist (before the term took on its negative connotation) on behalf of Zionism and, specifically, the campaign on behalf of the Jewish Legion.

On the other hand, there were Vincent Sheean of The New York World (see pages 101-102) and The New York Times’ Joseph Levy, the latter for more than a decade, who used their newspaper activity to push the Arab side. Today, the situation is exponentially different. There are hundreds of younger generation media personnel, and I include editors and producers, as well as cameramen, who simply do not know history and their liberal worldview lends itself to the “Palestinian cause.”

Here is an example of Yousef Munayyer, tweeting out his version of the latest Gaza incident:

You can’t deny people rights, deny them a state and deny them means and then complain they are fighting back as non-state actors with rudimentary means.

I replied:

Who denies who a state? Hamas denies Jews all national identity rights. No state. No resettlement. No immigration. Since 1917 (and earlier, actually. Mufti & Arafat too).

What I tried to do is not only to counter his “facts,” but present a counter-narrative. The Arabs of the Palestine Mandate not only rejected all diplomatic or political compromises and plans since the removal of Transjordan from the mandate’s territory, the Arab Legislative Council (twice), the 1937 partition scheme and that of 1947 but every other post-1948 plan, too, from autonomy to statehood.

But it is not enough just to correct facts. The Arab narrative need be portrayed as hollow. For too many Jews and pro-Israel activists, taking a further step beyond hasbara is, in my experience, just too much. It is “extreme” or “not nice.” Or it is “too much.”

I am sorry, but words have become implements and tools of the struggle for truth, morality, and yes, sanity.

What does the other side do? Take this example I caught at EOZ. Mustafa Youssef Alddawi, writing in the Jordanian Al-Madaneh on Nov. 12, just takes your breath away:

“There is no doubt that Palestine was the greatest victim of the First World War, the most vulnerable to harm and harm, which afflicted its land and its people, deprived of its sanctities and heritage, and desecrated its history and plotted its future … ”

Alddawi happens to be Gazan-born with a doctorate in political science. He also was jailed nine times and finally deported in 1991. But his message, just like that of describing Gaza as a “concentration camp,” is the type that catches on. I do not know exactly why it does but I do know that there is a need for a counter-narrative, and it must be expressed in clearly defined tropes and memes and not necessarily always in up-until-now acceptable conversation parameters.

Let’s return to Munayyer above. Here is Einat Wilf’s response:

Only people denying Palestinians a state are Palestinians themselves. In repeatedly rejecting proposals for Arab Palestinian state (1947, 1967, 2000, 2008) in PART of land while fighting ALL or nothing wars against Jewish sovereignty in ANY part of land, they were left with nothing.

But why start at 1947? They rejected the St. James Conference proposals that were the basis of the 1939 White Paper. The 1937 Peel Partition plan. The 1922 Legislative Council. Churchill’s 1921 truncation of the territory of the Jewish National Home in historic Palestine. No compromise was acceptable. Ever. Peace is not a goal. That is the narrative.

Hamas is anti-Semitic. Its “struggle [is] against the Jews,” and it “aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise [of] Moslems killing the Jews” while Jews engage in “Nazi treatment” of Arabs. The object of Hamas is not a state but the killing of Jews. That is the narrative.

Who practices apartheid if not Arabs who, for example, permit every visitor to the Temple Mount to drink from the water fountain there, except the Jews? Jews are prohibited by the Palestinian Authority from purchasing property in Judea and Samaria (and Jordan). Is that not apartheid, considering Arabs own property and reside in Israel? On the other hand, no “apartheid roads,” as it is claimed, exist in Judea and Samaria as everyone who drives along them knows as he/she sees the Palestinian Authority license plates on perhaps 60 percent of the vehicles.

A counter-narrative is also raising the question if the Arabs of what we know as Palestine actually viewed themselves as “Palestinians” or as Southern Syrians? If our Jewish national identity is questioned, and unfortunately more by Jews than Arabs, their status is also a legitimate issue? Are they not occupiers themselves, coming out of Arabia in the early seventh century? Did they ever establish any political institution as native sons to this land?

Critics of Israel imply Israel is a less-than-democratic state. When were the last elections in the Palestinian Authority? Are its residents or more to the point, the leadership of that body either capable or have proven their ability to maintain a democratic regime?

Counter-narratives do not explain one’s own positions, but highlight the failings, the limitations of and the inadequacies of the other side. It is an attack, not a defense.

And it is time Zionism went on the offense.

Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and commentator.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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