Israel won the war against Hamas, weakening their terror capabilities; however, they lost the war for public sympathy. As of now, Israel does not have a strategy that can win the social media war. This needs to change.
The Two Wars
Every modern conflict seems to be fought on two fronts: one on the ground and another in the realm of public opinion. Nowadays, the latter category consists of influencing youth through social media, universities and the use of celebrities. Social media, short celebrity statements, and protest slogans, which have little room to elaborate on issues and provide context, have more influence on today’s youth than conventional news sources. The war for public opinion is vital to Israel’s long-term stability. So long as terrorists know that firing rockets at Israel will lead to ostracization of Israel and outbursts of support for their cause, Israel can bomb all the terror tunnels it wants, but one of the core incentives for terror will remain.
Our Failing Strategy
The current PR strategy the mainstream pro-Israel community employs is a combination of posting that x number of rockets have been fired into Israel, maintaining that Hamas is a terror organization, and taking a reactionary position to any problematic material that arises. Even the book The Case for Israel is reactionary – the book tries to defend Israel from accusations and does not spend much time making a case for Israel beyond the fact that Israel is not committing atrocities.
Some argue that J Street is like a dam preventing a flood of Liberal US Jews from becoming anti-Israel and helping corral non-Jews who do not see eye-to-eye with the Israeli Government into the pro-Israel movement. J Street, however, has failed to prevent the flood of anti-Zionism from progressives. Additionally, J Street has caused a lot of harm by falsely suggesting that the occupation and evictions – not terrorism – are the root causes of the conflict and by requesting restrictions on aid to Israel, something President Biden has deemed “absolutely outrageous.”
The Strategy of pro-Palestine Activists
The strategy pro-Palestine activists use now is essentially throwing around mud and seeing what sticks. Many lob baseless claims with charged words like apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide. For the most part, these claims are not supported by any evidence. On Instagram, people are accustomed to getting political information from a few words on a picture slide which allows unsubstantiated posts to thrive.
Our Less-Than-Effective Response
The response to their accusations is, as of now, mostly defensive. We counter that “Israel is not a genocidal, apartheid state engaged in ethnic cleansing.” Even in the best-case scenario where informed, well-spoken pro-Israel social media users can refute false anti-Israel claims, the person they are arguing against will not support Israel simply because Israel is not committing ethnic cleansing. We need to do more to show that Israel is worthy of their support and that Israel’s enemies are unworthy of it.
As part of the progressive doctrine of intersectionality, different oppressed groups are invited to latch onto movements created by other groups. Many progressive LGBT activists use BLM as an opportunity to advertise Black Trans Lives Matter, highlighting the struggles transgender people face through the perspectives of Black transgender individuals. Indigenous advocates have the ‘I’ in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) acronym and use the BLM movement to promote their vision of decolonization. So far, this has been overwhelmingly successful, despite colonialism being virtually non-existent today, use of the word colonialism is at an all-time high.
Pro-Palestine Activists and Intersectionality
Pro-Palestine activists have inserted themselves into the intersection of intersectionality. They have used the same recognizable buzzwords painting Palestinians as oppressed indigenous people and Jews as settler colonialists who support systems of oppression. They (aided by Human Rights Watch) also try to paint themselves as people of colour in contrast to the ‘privileged’ Jews. Millions of progressives bought into the Palestinian narrative hook, line and sinker, as a result of Palestinians importing American racial politics. The pro-Palestinian activists have made progressives angry and use anger to fuel their social media war against Israel.
Weaponizing Progressive Language
If Israel truly wants to succeed, we must use progressive terminology and cater to progressive viewpoints. Ideally, this will create a scenario where more progressives become like Ritchie Torres rather than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We frequently call Hamas a terror organization (a supposedly right-wing term since the war on terror), but how often do we call Palestinian leaders oppressive? We severely downplay one of the strongest cards we have with the left, the fact that Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel; we must, therefore, emphasize that Zionism is a movement for indigenous sovereignty. When we mention that Israel is the best place in the Middle East for the LGBT community, we are accused of pinkwashing. Perhaps, if we instead employed the strategy of talking about how LGBT people are oppressed in Palestinian areas we would have more success since, in progressive circles, the focus is on criticizing the oppressors rather than congratulating those who are not oppressors. The same goes for women’s rights and civil rights. These strategies would expose how un-progressive Palestinian leaders are and undercut progressive support while shoring up support for Israel by advancing progressive pro-Israel talking points. Accusing those who attack Zionism as a white colonial movement of Black-Jewish erasure could prove effective as erasure is one of the last things anyone on the left wants to be guilty of.
A Need for Proactive Impact
The Instagram account Impact posted the following two statements: the first said: “if we say it’s transphobic it’s transphobic” captioned with “listen to marginalized people.” That same day they said that Jews “have the right to be offended, but… do not have the right to falsely accuse Palestinians of antisemitism.” This post suggested that Jews who witness Palestinians engaging in what they believe to be antisemitic behaviour should not come forward. What happened to “listen to marginalized people?” Afterwards, many posted on social media showing the post and saying “Jews don’t count.” The responses pointed out the blatant hypocrisy of the post, but if we had been more vocal in saying, “if a Jew says it is antisemitic, it is antisemitic,” perhaps the post would not have been made in the first place. The same would apply to our defences of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, we should be more vocal in saying, “Jews have a right to define antisemitism.”
A Less Nuanced Approach
Something pro-Israel activists stress is leaving room for nuance – the antithesis of the infamous Instagram infographic format. With social media, arguments have to be bold to work. Since most on social media view the conflict as Israel vs Palestine rather than the Netanyahu Caretaker Government vs Hamas, explaining the intricacies of Hamas vs the P.A and the difference between Area A, Area B, Area C, and Gaza does not make for a quick, bold and shareable post. Unfortunately, this means that we will have to dumb down pro-Israel posts, remove them of nuance and say, for example, “Palestinian Militants attack Israel” instead of “Hamas attacks Israel” if we want to succeed in the social media war.
Many of you reading may not be fans of modern identity politics and would be hesitant to employ these strategies in support of Israel. However, I see no viable alternative that will help Israel win the support of the left. If we as a community allow the Palestinians to monopolize support from progressives it will only result in more hostility against Israel and its supporters – on social media, in celebrity circles and on university campuses. We need to keep our shield up, but crucially, we also need to go on the offensive and take a few jabs of our own. With social media leaving little room to elaborate, we need to play our cards right, assume people know less rather than more, and properly cater to a young progressive audience.
I hope that though we have to use tactics many are uncomfortable with, in the end, this will leave us better off. Anti-Israel activists will see that they can no longer have a new wave of support from progressives and will open their eyes and acknowledge that Israel is here to stay. Ideally, the Palestinians will realize that the only way to shore up international support is through increased cooperation and diplomacy rather than increased isolationism. When presented with strong progressive arguments that support Israel and burst the current echo chambers, I hope people will realize that they need to learn more before formulating opinions about complex issues and that Instagram is not a good source for information on the conflict. Who knows? Maybe some of them might find The Times of Israel instead.