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OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Why Israeli ‘hasbara’ has failed     

The problem is a lack of critical thinking. A new approach should focus on challenging assumptions and raising questions, as well as providing answers.

Supporters of the BDS movement against Israel. Photo by Alex Christy/Flickr.
Supporters of the BDS movement against Israel. Photo by Alex Christy/Flickr.
Moshe Dann

 Why do many people think that Israel is a “racist,” “apartheid” state that oppresses Palestinians and engages in “ethnic genocide”?

Why do they think that Israel is “illegally occupying Palestinian territory” and “stealing Palestinian land?”

Why do they think that giving terrorist organizations, such as the PLO and Hamas, money and a state will bring peace? Why do they support NGOs that demonize Israel and seek to destroy it? Why do they support BDS against Israel?

Although all of the above is false and has been refuted, why do people still believe them? It makes no sense.

The problem is a lack of critical thinking—something that higher education used to and should still be about. We are no longer taught to ask questions; we rely on “experts,” politicians and communal leaders for answers. We are fed slogans by the media and organizations with an agenda.

Although the importance of critical thinking is discussed in books and on the Internet, few are willing to engage in the challenging and often upsetting process, which requires intellectual effort and self-examination. It is, however, essential to creativity and self-improvement.

It is necessary in order to be truly informed, rather than “woke.” It requires going beyond meaningless mantras and labels, such as “progressive,” “liberal” or “conservative.”

Public diplomacy (hasbara) on behalf of Israel has thus been ineffective, as it ignores the resistance of those who believe that they already have all the answers and refuse to engage in critical thinking. It cannot compete with anti-Israel academics and biased journalists who are assumed to be objective.

It cannot successfully refute anti-Israel NGOs and Muslim organizations dedicated to Israel’s destruction. It won’t prevent European countries and the United Nations from opposing Israel’s existence in order to achieve “Palestinian self-determination.”

Efforts to present Israel’s case, moreover, are stymied by those who promote a phony “peace process”—a PLO/Hamas-run state—and advocate Israel’s withdrawal from areas that it conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War. Some of the latter support the Palestinian narrative of the nakba (Arabic for the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment in 1948), and bemoan its victory in the “war of annihilation” waged against it by five Arab nations and the Muslim world.

Fundamentally, the real question that Israel’s existence presents is the possibility of another holocaust, which Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, proclaim as their goal. It is what the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s sponsor, declares.

It is explicit in the PLO Covenant and Hamas Charter. It is the reason for Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. It’s why the PLO and Hamas promote terrorism and are willing to sacrifice their own populations in order to attack Jews.

It is what David Brooks called the “cult of martyrdom;” it’s the focus of Matthias Kuntzel’s book, “Jihad and Jew-hatred; Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11.”

Rather than face this reality, many Israelis prefer to ignore it. As a result, Israel loses not only its battle for the truth, but its war for the hearts and minds of future generations.

Based on critical thinking, a new approach to hasbara should focus on challenging assumptions and raising questions, as well as providing answers. It requires making sense. As the great French philosopher, René Descartes, observed, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am.”)

Moshe Dann, Ph.D., is a historian, writer and journalist living in Israel.

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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