There is no front in any war that takes people by more surprise than a propaganda battle front. The views about Israel and Palestine have shifted dramatically from indifference through sympathy to a level of antipathy in the last 64 years. This series of articles explores some of the origins and possible influences on and changes in the Western viewpoint about Israel and her position in the world in relation to Gaza and Palestine.
The Media Front
The “evil genius” of media manipulation par-excellence was probably the Nazi leader Josef Goebbels. He classically said “It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise them.”
Additionally Goebbels believed that the secret of propaganda was “the saturation of a group of people with propagandist ideas without their noticing it”. He managed to achieve this with the German people on a grand scale, and this was with the technology of his day, which included the film-reel and photography as well as carefully designed, rehearsed and targeted speeches.
After World War Two, the world wished to believe that the good had conquered and the bad had been vanquished, along with it the horrors of anti-Semitism and hate speech. And it did seem to be this way for a fairly long period of time. Palestine and later Israel had been established out of the carved-up remnants of the pre-World Ward One Ottoman Empire. Israel was accepted by the United Nations and given validity. As a start-up nation, supported by America, it grew in success and managed to survive despite the continual military threat from most of its borders and all seemed manageable. None of the European or American peoples seemed to be concerned about the new country, and Israel had their full support to grow as a haven for the Jewish people after a long history of persecution in the world.
What Israel may possibly have underestimated however, despite its scientific expertise in the area, is the power of new media, social media and rapidly developing technology and communication, to convey emotion and damage Israel’s reputation, however incorrect the content is. As Goebbels also said, repetition of a few key points will have an impact. In Europe, somehow, the constant dripping of a few key points have stimulated the sympathy for a perceived underdog and led to the saturation of anti-Israel opinions inside a large group of armchair advocates. Although Israel won her wars and established herself, the hidden front had begun. This hidden front was that of emotional manipulation of masses and the New Media War.
Where did the Arab-Israel Media War begin?
An exploration of history reveals that this new battle-front was opened up, probably inadvertently, by the British. After World Ward One and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate divided it up, alongside France and other allies. France established Syria. Britain set up and controlled Palestine, through the 1920’s and 1930’s onwards.
The war of words began with the enthusiastic installation and later alienation of a new Grand Mufti (Sunni Muslim leader) in Jerusalem. They installed a 25-year old, initially pro-British, former Ottoman artillery officer, whom they felt they could manipulate, called Haj Amin Al-Husseini. Despite his age, the new Grand Mufti managed to develop and maintain his role. He actively opposed Zionism and campaigned for an Arabic-ruled, independent Palestinian nation, through both open opposition and surreptitious means, including his secret society, Al-Fida’iyya (The Self-Sacrificers). This group played an important role in many of his clandestine anti-British and anti-Zionist activities.
Already with an understanding of the use of information and the power of groups to win support, Al-Husseini in the 1920’s, often accused Jews of planning to take possession of the Western Wall of Jerusalem, which then belonged to a key waqf (finance and property body), and rebuild the Temple over the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He took certain statements, for example, by the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook regarding the eventual return in time of the Temple Mount back to Jewish hands, and turned them to a concrete political plot to seize control of the area. These statements and other careful re-organisation of facts, began to filter into the minds of Arabs living in Jerusalem at the time. Appeasing the British by superficially using his influence to keep peace, behind the scenes the Grand Mufti was setting up the prodromal mechanisms for removal of Jews from the area, and the development of Palestine into an annex to one of the larger Arabic states, such as Syria.
After the Balfour Declaration was announced by the British, with the plan to establish a National Home for the Jewish People in Palestine, Al-Husseini instigated a riot in Jerusalem. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by the British for it, ‘in absentia’, because he had in fact fled to Syria, and was later pardoned.
Al-Husseini’s hatred towards the British grew and he found his way, via France and Iraq, into the bosom of 1940’s Nazi Germany, who sympathised with his anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist viewpoint. He asked Hitler for assistance to oppose the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine and for backing for Arab independence. In a meeting with Hitler and Ribbentrop, he assured Hitler that ‘The Arabs were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies… namely the English, the Jews, and the Communists’.
While in Germany he began to write, systematically, to Arab leaders, such as those in Iraq, inciting the Baghdad pogrom; and those of other countries worldwide and to make radio broadcasts about his desire for Jews to be prevented from migrating to Palestine plus his view that the “duty of Muhammadans in general and Arabs in particular to … drive all Jews from Arab and Muhammadan countries”. In one broadcast on 1 March 1944, while speaking on Radio Berlin, al-Husseini said: “Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor. God is with you”.
Al-Husseini himself successfully blocked several efforts to transfer large numbers of Jewish children and adults out of Germany, with the result that they were murdered in the Nazi death camps. For his efforts to influence Arab opinion, he was paid extremely well by the Nazi regime, earning around 50,000 Marks a month.
In this writing and broadcasting Al-Husseini highlighted, encouraged and stimulated anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic sentiment; supported by the Nazi regime; and no doubt by its experts on media manipulation. He studied the Nazi methods and even helped set up three Muslim divisions of the Waffen SS, by recruiting Bosnian Muslims. His speeches and charismatic authority proved instrumental in improving enlistment notably.
At the end of World War 2, he was arrested by French troops. After a period of cooperation with the French Al-Husseini escaped to Egypt, with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood, which exists to this day as one of the hidden partners behind the anti-Israel propaganda machine.
In Gaza in 1948, Al-Husseini set up the “All Palestinian Government” in resistance to attempts by Jordan to control the area. He became its president and the first cabinet included members of his family and his followers. This initial effort failed and Al-Husseini was removed from the Supreme Muslim Council, yet remained Grand Mufti until December that year. The Palestinian Government he had created was relocated to Cairo, became a government in exile and gradually lost its influence, or so it seemed. All that happened was that Al-Husseini’s networks had gone underground. The Yishuv, the group of Jewish inhabitants in Mandatory Palestine, believed that Al-Husseini’s hand could be detected “behind every anti-Jewish pogrom, murder, and act of sabotage” (Source: Morris, 2011)
It is suggested that Al-Husseini’s organisation was behind the assassination of King Abdullah of Jordan.
After Al-Husseini’s death in 1974 his organisation continued its clandestine work. His daughter was married to the man who set up Black September, the Palestinian gang that murdered the Jordanian Prime Minister in 1971 and 11 Israeli athletes plus a German policeman at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The terrorist group were involved in several significant violent acts in European cities. Black September had many cells in Europe and around the world, made up of Palestinians and other Arabs who had lived in their countries of residence as students, teachers, businessmen, and diplomats for many years. The cell structure ensured that the apprehension or surveillance of one cell would not affect the others. This structure allowed the leadership, which was from an organisation called Fatah, who are now in government in the West Bank, could distance itself from Black September operations.
Other organisations continue where Black September left off. Hamas is a terror group funded by Qatar and other states. They successfully set up what is effectively an armed terror base in Gaza and have managed to persuade many European media that Israel is the problem whilst continually firing rockets into Israel from inside and behind civilian buildings. Al-Husseini’s original aim of removal of the Israeli state and the Jewish population in the area, appears to live on.
Media influence, terror events and efforts to set up anti-Israel demonstrations and actions continue to this day across Europe. It is highly likely that the networks once established by Al-Husseini continue to exist and act to fulfil his vision. The new front is a media front and with a few carefully constructed messages, Al-Husseini’s network are managing to convince and soak an unwitting Western audience with anti-Israel and anti-semitic messages.
As Goebbels said: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” We will explore what this has possibly involved in the next article.
Morris, Benny (2011) Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict. Knopf Doubleday Publishing. ISBN 978-0-679-74475-7.