Maybe it was when Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond to flaming kites from Gaza with an “iron fist.” Or maybe when 13 senators bucked the Israel lobby to call for an easing of the siege on Gaza. Or maybe when five young American Jewish women walked off their “Birthright” trip saying they needed to see the occupation.
Or maybe it was the election in a New York Democratic congressional primary of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even after she described Israel’s actions in Gaza as a “massacre.” Or maybe it was the two Israeli government ministers who issued statements justifying the deportation of an American who supports boycott against Israel, with one minister saying, “This is a Jew who tried to abuse this fact.”
Hasbara has died. The Israeli effort to “explain” its actions to the world– that era is over. Israel has given up trying to explain itself to fair-minded people. Because the fair-minded have all made up their minds; the slaughter in Gaza has seen to that. And Israel doesn’t think they are fair anyway.
No, its explanations are reserved now for the hard-core supporters. The hasbara is pure propaganda, aimed at rallying the base. And everyone else is tuning out.
It didn’t used to be this way. Hasbara was a successful euphemism because Israeli propaganda was treated as being of a higher order, and so got wide pickup in the mainstream press and from American politicians. Even when segments of Europe and the left were against Israel, the Jewish state could count on a generous hearing in the hallways of power. Leading journalists such as Jeffrey Goldberg, Tom Friedman, Wolf Blitzer and Terry Gross were happy to carry water for Israel’s side of any controversy and malign those who questioned it, and Dennis Ross was on NPR morning noon and night.
These days the streetwise are steering clear. Goldberg spent a chummy hour with Ben Rhodes at Politics & Prose on June 15 and didn’t touch the Israel/Palestine topic. “Not one Democrat has defended Israel over Gaza massacre,” was a headline in Electronic Intifada.
Some of this is Trump. Along with Sheldon Adelson, he has made Israel a rightwing cause in the U.S. and compelled any writer/player on the lib-left to support an anti-racist program in which Israel can only be an embarrassment. Jeffrey Goldberg now has a leadership role in the opposition, as Atlantic editor, so he can’t afford the baggage (as he charts his course toward anti-Zionism).
Then there’s Israel’s embrace of apartheid and massacre as its only answer to its constitutional problem, the Palestinians. There is no vision in Israeli leadership, and after four Gaza massacres, everyone knows it. At a July 4th party a guest who used to love Israel admitted it may not be around 30 years from now. Netanyahu is said to harbor the same doubts.
The Jewish defection is key, of course. Jews have a privileged position in the global discourse of Israel, and the Jewish monolith is crumbling. The young Jews of IfNotNow are conducting a full-scale assault on the Jewish establishment. “Israel doesn’t have a public relations crisis; it has a moral crisis,” IfNotNow says (quoting Avrum Burg), while a Jewish leader howls to a synagogue full of older Jews: “Where did we go wrong in our homes and our schools!?”
Rebecca Vilkomerson of the burgeoning group Jewish Voice for Peace observes that everyone from her daughter’s New York public high school to Bette Midler are openly critical of the massacre, even as Israelis endorse it overwhelmingly, and when the New York Times said dozens of Palestinians “died” in protests in Gaza, Judd Apatow had enough.
“Have died.” Shame on you. This is like calling Trump’s lies “factual innacuracies.” Please tell me an intern is running your twitter feed.
The Democratic political establishment is even beginning to steer clear of this mess. Vilkomerson (to the Real News):
I think with the exception of [Chuck] Schumer, no Democrats have been defending Israel’s actions. In fact, quite a number, in fact over a dozen, have spoken out against what Israel has done over the course of the last six weeks. And you contrast that with 2014 [when Israel killed over 2200 in Gaza, including 500 children], when I think it was something like 78 senators signed a statement supporting the Gaza war. So there has been a shift. in terms of Congress and who’s willing to speak out and being able to speak out. And that there’s enough backing from their own constituents to speak out that they’re not going to be punished by AIPAC or other organizations…
This puts the Israeli government in a new position. It is just another rightwing authoritarian country with a story to tell about why change isn’t necessary but force is that talking heads in the U.S. are going to ignore or make fun of.
Hasbara always relied on a passive American press and active advocates for the Israeli line who got airtime. Time was when Michael Oren could go on CNN to say that Palestinians staged fake deaths for sympathy, and even the Atlantic followed suit. When Abba Eban could say that Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and Palestinians could never live it down. When Alan Dershowitz slammed Jimmy Carter by referencing “Auschwitz borders,” and US presidents talked about Israel’s narrow waist, and a historian coined the word “Pallywood,” and Time Warner executive Gary Ginsberg wrote speeches for Netanyahu, and Jim Clancy lost his job at CNN for accusing pro-Israel activists of practicing “Hasbara.”
Those dynamics have changed. The advocates have become more and more rightwing, and the press corps is less accepting. The New York Times is still on board, with its murderers row of Bret Stephens, Shmuel Rosner and Bari Weiss, but fewer and fewer intelligent people elsewhere are buying Israel’s story. Even David Brooks is getting cold feet, citing Israeli “ethnocentrism” and “segregation.”
The LA Times lately took an uncharacteristically hard line on legislation aimed at circumscribing criticism of Israel on campus. “Enough already. Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism,” it wrote. The Labour Party in Britain has also declined to endorse a definition of anti-Semitism that includes harsh criticism of Zionism, Israel, and its lobby, and after years of sitting on its hands the Episcopal Church is finally moving to end its “complicity” with occupation.
Zionism is becoming an ever more problematic brand, even for erstwhile liberal Zionists. Dahlia Scheindlin is talking about a confederated state. So is Bernard Avishai. Publications that once toed the line seem to have had enough of the bullshit, notably The New Yorker. While other writers are considering an idea that cost a Yale chaplain his job during the last slaughter: Israel is fostering anti-Semitism. Tony Klug told J Street that Israel’s actions are putting world Jewry in a “precarious” position, and Sarah Helm of the Guardian and New York Review of Books wrote, “Israel’s own increasingly shocking policies towards Palestinians does more to fuel anti semitism than anything.”
Hasbara is today the preserve of the converted: right wingers talking to rightwingers. Settler/author Yossi Klein Halevi lately gave an AIPAC-sponsored talk to a Connecticut synagogue and mentioned the Gaza slaughter just once, and he seemed confounded.
Until the outbreak of violence on Gaza border, [my] plan was to do a book tour in American mosques, and I don’t know where that stands now. The temperature in the American Muslim community now is very high. And we’re going to have to wait for things to cool down at least for a few months before I can revisit that.
He still has hopes of talking to them, though.
I don’t think most Palestinians or Muslims know our narrative.
Ah but that’s the problem. We all know the story too well now, and we’ve had enough.