The four tools of delegitimization

I’ve talked about the ‘information war‘ being waged against Israel, and how her enemies and their supporters are constantly trying to delegitimize her historically, legally and morally — in order to weaken Western support and clear the path for the physical destruction of the Jewish state that is their ultimate goal:

  • Historically, they attempt to revise history to show that today’s Jews have no roots in the Land of Israel
  • Legally, they try to prove that Israel’s creation was not justified and that her actions violate international law
  • Morally, they accuse Israel as acting for the basest of motives and in the most despicable ways, to show that Israel does not deserve to exist as a nation

While reading the very biased Amnesty International report on alleged war crimes during the recent Gaza war, I started thinking about how they do these things. I’ve discussed the historical revisionism on several occasions (see here and here for example). Today I want to write about how they try to distort perceptions of current events.

They use four basic tools:

  1. Lies
  2. Exaggerations
  3. Facts without context
  4. False imputation of motives

Lies are sometimes just stories about things that never happened. For example, it’s said that such-and-such a woman was denied permission to leave Gaza for medical treatment, but upon investigation it turns out that she doesn’t exist.

Or they can be elaborate hoaxes, such as the videotaped drama of the shooting of the boy Mohammed al-Dura. This was particularly notable because of the far-reaching consequences of the story — “al-Dura” became a rallying cry of the intifada — and the involvement of the well-known France II TV bureau chief Charles Enderlin and even the President of France at the time, Jacques Chirac.

The faked 'death' of al-Dura

The faked ‘death’ of al-Dura

Exaggerations take advantage of the normal tendency to say “the truth lies somewhere in between” when two sides make opposing claims. Start with an outrageous exaggeration when the other side tells the truth, and you have automatically gained ground. An obvious example is the inflated Palestinian figure for civilian casualties in the Gaza war.

Sometimes an exaggeration changes not just the degree, but the nature of  something. Consider the accusation that Israel fired white phosphorus  munitions directly at civilians, a war crime. Israel did use white phosphorus, for smoke and illumination. There undoubtedly were some people injured by the residue which fell from air bursts of such shells.  But the number and severity of these incidents were multiplied beyond measure in Palestinian reports.

White phosphorous over Gaza

White phosphorous over Gaza

Facts without context: Pro-Arab NGOs say that the Israeli navy interferes with Gazan fishing boats. But they don’t tell you the context — that the boats have been used to smuggle explosives, weapons and terrorists.

Half-ton of TNT taken from fishing boat off Gaza

Half-ton of TNT taken from fishing boat off Gaza

False imputation of motives: Palestinians say that Israel’s actions are always designed to punish and humiliate them, not for legitimate security purposes. Israel is accused of deliberately targeting civilians in the Gaza war. But reports of civilian casualties caused international pressure which ultimately forced Israel to withdraw without achieving its military goals. The IDF was aware of this possibility from the beginning; is it logical that it would behave this way?

Note that the first three techniques make the fourth possible. A noncombatant is hurt — was it an accident or was it done on purpose? If such incidents are rare, you can infer that it is probably accidental. But if it seems to be part of a pattern, then maybe it was deliberate — and the lies, exaggerations and facts presented without context are intended precisely to establish such a pattern.

For example, the Amnesty International report mentioned above includes a number of unverifiable second-hand atrocity stories, which it follows by accusing the IDF of remarkably evil intent.  Here is a quotation from the report with the implications of motive highlighted:

Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate, and was carried out in a manner and circumstances which indicated that it could not be justified on grounds of military necessity. Rather, it was often the result of reckless and indiscriminate attacks, which were seemingly tolerated or even directly sanctioned up the chain of command, and which at times appeared intended to collectively punish local residents for the actions of armed groups. [my emphasis]

All of these techniques are designed to work together to produce an image of Israel as an outlaw nation. And they are effective, especially when they fall on the fertile ground of those who are disposed to believe — either for ideological reasons, or because they’ve already been conditioned to do so by the massive flow of propaganda that appears in most media today, or from a predisposition to antisemitism.

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3 Responses to “The four tools of delegitimization”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I wish the Israeli governmental people involved in Hasbara would read Vic Rosenthal’s columns. They could learn so much from them. I wish the ‘Daily Alert’ which gathers together each day the best articles on the situation of Israel and the Jewish people would regularly print FresnoZionism.Org articles.
    Perhaps the most valuable and insightful ‘Hasbara’ writing being done today is being done on this site, but it is not reaching the numbers of people it should be reaching.

  2. Grandma says:

    I would have to agree with you Freedman. When I see Israel portrayed as the “bad guy” in the mainstream media, I come here to find the “other side of the story”.
    I send Vic’s post on to friends in Britain and friends here in the states so it does make the rounds and is getting quite popular. One of my British friends used one of Vic’s posts at his blog in the UK.
    Vic, could you tell us how many hits you get a day?
    This post is expecially enlightening. I will be sending this one on.

  3. Vic Rosenthal says:

    The blog gets about 400 hits a day. About half of these are unique IP’s. This is small potatoes in the blog world. It’s been steadily increasing since I started in December 2006, but the ‘explosive growth’ that would make me happy hasn’t happened!
    There are ways to promote blogs, but I have a full time job which is already impacted enough by writing articles.
    I appreciate both of your comments a great deal.