Yesterday I called attention to an article in Hebrew (appearing on an Israeli website) with the extraordinary headline: “The painful truth: Haiti’s disaster is good for the Jews.” Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel has now translated the whole article which appears at Mondoweiss. It begins:
At a time when our country is under media attack on the basis of harsh and anti-Semitic reports, and we are forced to contend with terrorists who have assumed the winning image of victims of war, one could say that the Haiti disaster is the best thing that could have happened to us. So why are blood, destruction, poverty, hunger and orphans good for the Jewish State? First of all because global attention has been drawn elsewhere and the international media have a more interesting story to cover. Second, because every disaster-area needs a hero, and right now we are it. I must admit that I would not be surprised if the image aspect of setting up a hospital in Haiti, as well as the IDF rescue efforts, was given greater weight than humanitarian considerations. If I am right, then finally, someone in the Knesset has done the right thing, deciding to take advantage of the opportunity to prove to the world how kindhearted and capable we are. And if the Foreign Ministry manages to make further use of the Israeli success stories in Haiti and market them to the world, all the better. We can only hope that none of our talented politicians is caught in front of a camera saying “We showed the world. We were really awesome in Haiti,” or something like that – a distinct possibility considering the recent mess with the Turks. Better to be modest.
Those in Charge Don’t see Hasbara as Warfare
The tough question raised by our success in Haiti is why we do well in the media only when we have the opportunity to star in another country’s disaster, and not on a regular basis? After all, you can’t have a natural disaster every day. The answer to the question is a lack of concerted effort to garner sympathy from the countries of the world, alongside behaviour that actually creates antagonism, such as humiliating ambassadors on camera. Before criticizing current hasbara practice however, we must realize that our biggest problem lies in the way we approach the entire issue of image. First of all, our elected representatives see themselves as politicians rather than statesmen, and so prefer to focus on their own personal interests, rather than on those of the country. Every Israeli citizen is knows this, to the point that we can’t stand our own leaders, so why does it come as surprise that the rest of the world isn’t too crazy about us either? Second, those in charge of the country’s PR don’t see hasbara as warfare, just like any military operation, intended to safeguard and promote our national and security interests.
Depending on where you stand politically, hasbara is either Israel’s public diplomacy or pro-Israeli propaganda.
Let’s at this juncture set aside the issue of how obscene and self-defeating it is for some Israelis to turn a humanitarian relief effort in Haiti into a schmaltzy stage-show. What strikes me as particularly interesting in the argument that Tamir Haas is clumsily pressing is that once again we see how warfare has become the single lens through which Israelis see the world.
Hasbara is a form of warfare, Haas asserts, and I am reminded of Ariel Siegelman’s presentation of what he called a new kind of war as this American-Israeli reservist last year celebrated “victory” in Gaza:
After the Second Lebanon War, we learned some very valuable lessons. We learned that we had been living in an imaginary world and that the most dangerous type of war is the one that you call peace. We learned that we are not in fact in a “peace process” at all. We are at war…
The war is ongoing, with periods of more violence and periods of less violence, during which the enemy regroups and plans his next attack. When we feel the enemy is getting strong, we must be prepared to make preemptive strikes, hard and fast at key targets, with viciousness, as the enemy would do to us. Only then can we acquire, not peace, but sustained periods of relative calm.
If Tamir Haas and Ariel Siegelman happen to be two relatively unknown Israelis, what should concern those outside Israel is not whether their views exercise much influence but to what extent they reflect a generational mindset.
When war has become the principal force shaping life, there is indeed no peace process.