The war of attrition Hamas launched against Israel on March 20, 2018, with the “March of Return” campaign at first attracted great interest in the Western media. Foreign reporters came to the Israel-Gaza border each Friday to cover the events and the “Palestinians’ peaceful protests against the Israeli occupation soldiers.”
At first, Israel was harshly criticized when casualties among Palestinian civilians, including paramedics, women and children sparked outrage in the Western world.
In recent weeks, however, starting even before the contacts began on a possible ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas, Western media coverage of the marches has declined drastically.
This sharp falloff in the level of coverage may have been one of the reasons that Hamas—with the Western world losing interest in the issue—decided the time had come to reap the political fruits of its war of attrition against Israel.
Palestinians propaganda campaign waning, Israeli ‘hasbara’ gaining
The Palestinians are very worried that they are not successfully marketing their narrative in the Western countries. They are no longer automatically regarded as the underdog, and the Israeli hasbara effort is managing to market the Israeli narrative.
On Aug. 18, the newspaper Al-Araby al-Jadid—one of the mouthpieces of Qatar, which supports Hamas—published an article headlined “The Western Media and the Palestinian Narrative: Perennial Obstacles.”
The article gave a litany of explanations for the failure of the Palestinian propaganda effort in the “March of Return” campaign:
- The media message the Palestinians purvey is ill-suited to Western culture, and Israel exploits this to spread its own narrative countering the Palestinian narrative.
- The Palestinians have made mistakes in their advocacy, and Israel has exploited them with declarations, images and video segments that it has broadcast to its advantage.
- The Palestinians do not monitor publications in the foreign media, while Israel diligently monitors anti-Israeli messages and demands corrections in reports.
- The Palestinians concentrate on the Arabic-language media to portray the events and the Palestinian suffering, while neglecting the English-language and other foreign media.
- Israel wields diplomatic and financial influence over the media in the Western countries. For example, after a demand by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the BBC revised one of its reports about a pregnant Palestinian woman and her daughter who were killed in an Israeli airstrike.
- The Palestinians have neither foreign-language experts nor the ability to create a media message that jibes with Western society.
- The Palestinians are not providing enough information to those in the Western countries who identify with and support them.
- Israel has established the Strategic Affairs Ministry and the Hasbara Ministry (sic) to produce the Israeli narrative; the Palestinians have not done anything comparable.
- Israel has influenced groups and pressured groups in the West that it uses to apply pressure to the Western media.
The Israeli hasbara apparatus with its different branches should be very much encouraged by the Al-Araby al-Jadid article, which indicates that it is moving in the right direction.
That does not mean complacency is called for. The Palestinian propaganda effort has not failed completely; it has succeeded to give Israel a bad name in the world. Israel, however, has fought back intensively and managed to expose the many lies in the Palestinian narrative.
The main thing worrying Hamas is that the Western world no longer buys its message that the March of Return is a march of peace by innocent civilians.
Israeli efforts have succeeded to expose this lie and has been helped in doing so by the many mistakes Hamas made.
When it comes to hasbara and bringing the Israeli narrative to the Western countries, the main lesson that Israel should draw is to increase its use of the social networks with videos, images and interviews in all the languages, especially those foreign languages that are an Achilles’s heel for the Palestinian propaganda effort.
The political echelon, for its part, needs to boost the Israeli hasbara apparatus as a whole by giving it the budgets it needs. It has proved that it can get good results.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.