In the print edition of the New York Times today, Robert Mackey writes about a global twitter campaign undertaken by Israelis to highlight the case of the three teens who disappeared in the West Bank last week and are thought to have been abducted:
a group of Israelis trained to promote their country online started a#BringBackOurBoys campaign last week after three teenagers disappeared on their way home from religious schools in the occupied West Bank…
#BringBackOurBoys was started by graduates of the University of Haifa’s Ambassadors Online program, which was set up to train students to use the web for “hasbara,” a Hebrew term for public diplomacy. Part of their instruction, The Jerusalem Post reported in 2012, was learning how best “to use social networking sites to defend government policies” and “utilize online platforms to convey a pro-Israel message.”
Robert Mackey is an excellent reporter, but his definition of hasbara is incomplete. “Public diplomacy” makes it sound like Israelis are just encouraged to defend their country overseas– engage, speak out, advocate. Like Avi Mayer, who likes to say: “Just some guy living in Israel, trying to help advance the Jewish people and repair the world. No big whoop.”
But there’s a lot more to hasbara than that, and the practice deserves to be scrutinized. Hasbara, which comes from Hebrew for “explaining,” has come to mean chiefly propaganda: concerted and tireless efforts to pressure newspapers and governments whenever they say a word in favor of Palestinians or Arabs, efforts to swarm websites that make the same mistake. The activity is concerted, organized, and subsidized; and the organized component is partly concealed. Anyone who’s seen the regular shift changes in commenters at this site knows what I’m talking about.
New York Times readers are apparently not aware of this term, and they should be. Thanks to Mackey, we want Americans to start using the word hasbara with all its cynical implications. After all, other foreign words have entered our language because we need them– schadenfreude, apartheid, chutzpah, glasnost, to name a few. We need hasbara too. It describes a concerted form of propaganda that no one word in English captures.
Everytime Americans read a pro-Israel comment, we want them to think this might not just be some innocent soul moved to comment– though yes it may be that– but it could well be part of a propaganda campaign on behalf of the Israeli government.