#HasbaraFail Part 1 – Always being wrong

We’ve all heard the question; “if Israel is so amazing, why is its hasbara so horrible?” Sadly, there’s no one way to answer that question. This concise eight-part weekly series will address some of the central conceptual constructs that make hasbara-niks fail, time and time again.

First off, the term “hasbara” is a nonstarter. The literal translation of the word varies between “explanation-ism” and “explanatory-ness” (don’t worry – the term would sound highly unusual in Hebrew too if we hadn’t grown so accustomed to using it). Even if the word “hasbara” made sense, it would not serve Israel’s interests.

Explanations are for losers, justifications are for the guilty and apologetics are for agenda driven theorists.

Hasbara might sound like a great idea for the Israel-loving individual or community, but – by definition – it assumes an apologetic, guilt-ridden posture that reinforces the position of the anti-Israel aggressor. Explanations about Israel, its people and its policies are viewed as excuses. That’s how hasbara opponents characterize it. And, although I hope this isn’t the case, that may be how some hasbara activists see their role as well.

You may be driven to stand up for Israel, either because you believe that Israel has an exceptional story to tell or because you’re floored by the disproportionate negative press and animosity directed at the Jewish State. But, to be effective you need to use not only your heart but your mind. That’s what Israel’s propaganda adversaries have been doing. Why should you be left in the dust?

Part of using your mind requires you to understand the tactics of Israel’s PR foes. It’s critical to note, for example, that they’re all about negativity and ridicule. They thrive not by making a strong case in favor of anyone or anything, but by undermining Israel and her advocates. They don’t have to be right about anything to declare victory. All they have to do is make you sound wrong.

So, when speaking Israel’s virtues be sure not to play into the hands of those who work to de-legitimize and demonize. Anything you say can and will be used against you. Whether Israel is a country that you respect, adore or both, make sure not to project a sense of guilt even before you open your mouth.

A hasbara mindset is a losing approach. But that doesn’t mean that the other extreme is a quick fix solution. After all, the only thing worse than being wrong all the time is always being right. More on that in next week’s HasbaraFail installment.

I’m no fan of closing on a disappointing note – even for a series such as this. That said, my concluding remarks may not resonate with the heritage-phobic hasbara-nik. Since we will not be dealing with historic-arc related contexts until week 6, the following lines are only for the truly unapologetic.

NOTE: The following lines are officially beyond the 500-word ADD, multitasking, smartphone-scrolling limit. They are not required reading.

Yesterday marked the 3,329 year anniversary of the Jewish people’s first colossal PR failure. Long before the destruction of the first and second Temples, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av commemorates the anniversary of 10 massive-grape-carrying spies convincing the People of Israel that it would be a bad idea to enter the promised land. Tragically, their campaign was successful.

What goes around comes around. If leaders of the Jewish people can disengage Jews from Israel way back then while trudging through the wilderness, than they can do so far more easily from the comfort of their private residences today. If Jews question the relationship between the people of Israel and the land of Israel, then nothing more can be expected of the way that we’re viewed by other nations.

Sounds like a guilt trip? Sort of.

Part of not always being wrong is being brutally honest. It’s knowing when to say when we’ve messed up, and knowing when to say when we’re doing things right. Jewish guilt is destructive, but collective introspection paves a progressive path forward.

We’ve got eight weeks to go until Rosh Hashana – when the Jewish people remember the creation of Adam and Eve – the birthday of humanity. These two months are as good a time as any to take stock, look at where the Jewish people have been and consider where we’re headed.

Let’s look at ourselves inside and out. Once we give careful, honest thought to the way we perceive ourselves, we will be able to inform the way that others will perceive us as well.

About the Author
Avi Zimmerman is the City of Ariel's international representative. He is the Executive Director of American Friends of Ariel and the Founder of TALK17.
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