19 February 2007

What is to be done?

For those who do not know about the history of the Russian radical movement I should explain that the title was not invented by Lenin. Very little was. This was a title given to an interminably long and boring novel by Chernyshevsky, which outlined in fictional form the ideas of radicalism. One of the great mysteries of the Russian soul is how a novel of such incredible turpitude should have become so popular in a country, which, at the time, boasted some of the greatest novelist in the world.

The title, however, is useful and can be applied to many problems that we face today, including that of the propaganda war that we, all of us, are fighting. On balance, it is hard to define who “we” are, as the war this country and its allies are engaged in is not immediately obvious to many people, as World War 2 was. Then again, we had the same problem with the Cold War, which occasionally degenerated into a fairly warm one, but mostly went on in a way that was incomprehensible to many, largely because they did not want to comprehend it.

As I have already pointed out, the fight of those who believe in liberty and other loosely defined Western values (I can see this is going to be a fun thread on the forum) is hamstrung by the public opinion created in the West some decades ago by several masters of propaganda. It is only now that we are beginning to fight back seriously, not least with the growing discussion and theories of the Anglosphere.

The front line in the battle has moved to the Middle East (apart from Hizonner the Mayor of LondON nobody has a good way to say about Hugo Chávez, after all, as the man proceeds to wreck a reasonably working economy). Al-Jazeera reports, accurately enough, that the latest summit of Condi Rice, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert has gone precisely nowhere.

There are good reasons for this and Secretary of State Rice seems unable to grasp them. Or, maybe, those who brief her cannot grasp simple facts. The point that seems to be obscured by the mellow propaganda is that neither Hamas nor Fatah want to acknowledge Israel’s right to existence or to agree that terroristic activity should stop.

In his aptly named article “The Stink”, Bruce Thornton on the Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers sums up:
The only honest group has been Hamas, which tells us plainly that it wants to destroy Israel. But if we watch what they do rather than listen to what they say, so do a critical mass of Palestinian Arabs, including the so-called moderate Mahmoud Abbas. His disagreement with Hamas is not over whether the existence of Israel will be accepted, but over tactics and timing: Hamas thinks Israel can be destroyed sooner with more terrorist violence, Abbas thinks later with dishonest “agreements” and demography. Just listen to the so-called “condemnations” of terrorism that issue from Abbas. After last month’s murder of three Israelis by a terrorist bomber in Eilat, Abbas condemned the attack as “not in the interests of the Palestinian people” — which implies that such murder is acceptable as long as it is in the interests of the Palestinian Arabs.
Of course, their efforts to destroy Israel and murder as many Israelis as possible, as well as those Palestinians they accuse of working for the Israelis and, indeed, to harass the Christian Palestinian community out of existence, not to mention destroy historic evidence of the fact that Jews have been in Jerusalem for something like 3,000 years do get derailed by their inability to agree on anything and an ongoing desire to kill and maim each other.

It is, however, extraordinary that these very simple facts and information are so easily buried by cleverly disseminated propaganda.

We followed some of the creation of this propaganda last summer during Israel’s war against Hezbollah, when the latter seemed to be in total control of the “news” output by the MSM and only the blogs managed to speak up about the truth.

One of our complaints at the time was the little help we received from the Israeli embassy in London, from the leaders of the Jewish Community (ably and repeatedly lambasted by Melanie Phillips) and by the Israeli Defence Force.

It is completely untrue that the IDF lost the shooting war against Hezbollah and, of course, it is completely untrue that Lebanon is now happily at peace, with the Israeli forces out of the country and UNIFIL patrolling the border without any rights to disarm terrorist organizations. Hezbollah, as we have reported on numerous occasions, is still interested in destroying Lebanon rather than allow it to become a more or less peaceful, pro-Western state that is not controlled by Syria or Iran.

What the IDF and Israel lost and lost heavily was the propaganda war, largely because of their ineptitude in this field. It is hard to tell where this ineptitude comes from. It has been suggested to me that Hebrew culture is too straightforward to play “linguistic jiu-jitsu” but I find that hard to accept completely. Not that I know a great deal about Hebrew culture but I do know that some of the best propagandists of the twentieth century have been Jews and I cannot see why this talent, present in so many should not be used to Israel’s advantage.

The problem, I am happy to say, has been noticed in Israel as well, as this no-holds-barred article in the Jerusalem Post indicates.

As the author Amotz Asa-El puts it, Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, new Chief of General Staff, may not put this at the top of the agenda but it really ought to be:
The problem is simple: In last summer's war, what began with Israel's portrayal as a just victor ended with its depiction as an unjust loser. It is even more perplexing considering that the IDF Spokesman's Office was reasonably budgeted, staffed and trained. In fact, the IDF's media operation had been revolutionized since the days when it saw the press as an intrusion on the battlefield.
Amotz Asa-El goes through the whole sad saga of incompetence and wrong persons being appointed. Clearly, it has not really sunk in deeply that the IDF’s media operation should be conducted by someone who knows what the media is like, how it operates, what kind of stories it likes.

Furthermore, the someone should have a clear idea of the importance of instant (and I do mean instant) rebuttal. Even Mr Asa-El seems unable to grasp what actually happened at Qana (or Kana). Perhaps we should send him a copy of the pdf so painstakingly prepared by my colleague.

As the blogs proved conclusively, at Qana and in other places, Hezbollah simply concocted news stories that were then reproduced as real by the Western media. The IDF media sector should have pounced on every single one of them, demanding explanations, evidence and independent confirmation. Instead, they apologized, then muttered about things being not quite the way they were depicted.

The Israelis should have had the world media in the northern towns and villages that had been consistently shelled for a long time before the attack, not accept the “world’s judgement” that they simply over-reacted to the kidnapping of two soldiers (not the murder of eight others, oh goodness me, no).

The trouble goes back to at least 2,000 with the Mohammed Al-Dura story, which we have written about on this blog. Terrorists blow up children with impunity. Those pictures are too horrific to show.

Therefore, the iconic picture of the way children are affected, has been the little boy of unknown provenance, unknown name and unknown destiny, crouching behind his father at one of the carefully staged “battles”. Did the Israelis demand explanations, evidence and independent confirmation? Did they heck. Just rolled over and apologized, only then muttering about it not being quite like that.

The point is that the Western media is already predisposed to creating a certain story in which Israel is the aggressor; the Jews having arrived from Eastern Europe, have taken over land that has “always” been Palestinian (whoever the Palestinians may be) and every problem in that part of the world is caused by Israeli aggression.

Hamas, Hezbollah and the others use this. Israel has been outmanoeuvred on the battlefield of propaganda. The IDF has been slow to react, unable to deal with the Western media, incapable of understanding the growing importance of the blogosphere, large tranches of which are on her side.

Of course, the problem may be rooted in even older matters. There is no need to discuss that here. We have to deal with the situation as it is.

Mr Asa-El puts blame for the latest debacle squarely on the previous Chief of General Staff, Dan Halutz, and his protégée, the lady who is still in charge of the IDF media section, Miri Regev.[The two are pictured at the top.]

With all due respect, one has to say that Ms Regev has been an unmitigated disaster and one wonders what General Halutz was thinking of in appointing her.

The lady, it would seem, does not speak English, the language of the international media. She has no interest in the international media but only in promoting her boss in the Israeli one. As if it mattered how many pictures of General Halutz appeared in Israel.
Regev's career as a press officer focused on dealing with the Hebrew press and with logistics. To her, the foreign press - the alpha and omega of that fourth arena where Israel was taking a beating, and which she was assigned to conquer - was but a sideshow. And so, rather than spend the war personally briefing the world's major media figures, she spent it behind Dan Halutz's shoulder, evidently thinking her job was to push her boss into Israeli papers, rather than get her own face on foreign TV.

At the same time, when the IDF began its frantic search for a "victory photo," Regev failed to supply it. True, this task would have been simpler had there been a victory to photograph, but the fact is that some things could have been done. For instance, after the war I learned from combatants that when surrounded, Hizbullah troops would often commit suicide, in some cases shooting themselves in the temple with pistols in the very presence of approaching Israeli troops.

I doubt this could have been photographed. Yet had this been made known immediately, it would have proven valuable to the press as a story, and to the IDF as a reminder to the foreign press that Israel's enemy was not the freedom fighter it tried to portray, but the fanatic suicide attackers who have been haunting the West from Bali to Madrid.

Why was this lost on Regev? Because she has poor English and has never been a journalist. How can she know where to lead the foreign press if she can't read an issue of The Economist or hold a serious conversation with a New York Times editor? Regev was as clueless about the foreign press as Halutz was about the ground forces.
Replacing Ms Regev with a savvy Anglophone journalist would be a step in the right direction. I suspect, more is needed by way of mentality change in the Israeli military apparatus.

Why does this matter? Why should we not simply shrug our shoulders and say, well, if they are that stupid, let them get on with it? Because, as I have said before, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, surrounded by tyrannies and terrorists, all intent on destroying it. Because Israel is fighting our battles and we need to support the country. But, hey, guys, meet us half-way.