Meg Ryan, the “cultural intifada” and stupid PR tricks

First the term was used by Palestinians, referring to artsy events meant as protests against Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank; now Israelis and their supporters here are using “cultural intifada” to describe the accelerating trend of pop music and Hollywood stars who’ve decided to boycott Israel.

Cool; I’m sure Israel’s brilliant PR mavens are patting themselves on the back for co-opting the phrase .

Unfortunately, it’s likely to impress only ardent Israel supporters who already agree that the boycott is unjust. Everybody else will probably just shrug their shoulders and write off the catchy phrase as typical Middle East hyperbole.

But it’s worse than just ineffective; the term diminishes the real meaning of the term “intifada” – which refers, after all, to violent uprisings, not Ghandian protests.

Are we now saying Meg Ryan’s decision to boycott Israel is the equivalent of Palestinians hurling rocks at Israeli troops? (Remember how we used to hear that rocks were lethal weapons – something we don’t much hear now that rock throwers tend to be religious Jews rioting over one complaint or another?) Are we saying the fact Elvis Costello won’t perform in the Jewish state is the equivalent of a Palestinian bus bomber?

This is the same kind of rhetorical overkill we hear when Israel’s supporters compare every last threat to the Nazis. Guess what: use that kind of inflated language enough, and nobody listens to you.

Don’t get me wrong; Israeli officials and their supporters have a perfect right to oppose those who are using pop culture to fight Israeli policy, and maybe in some cases to undercut its very legitimacy. If they want to point out that The Pixies are wrong to single out Israel as the sole culprit in the Middle East mess and explain the reasons, fine.

But calling this a cultural intifada will, more likely than not, make the people you want to convince – people in the amorphous middle, without a firm commitment to either the pro-Israel or anti-Israel point of view – shrug off your wordplay as, well, propaganda.

As I was writing this, I had second thoughts. After all, doesn’t that kind of verbal blunt instrument work at home? Amazingly, the Republican tactic of calling Barack Obama a socialist is obviously working; a recent poll showed a majority of Americans now think it’s a reasonable term to apply to him.

Some socialist; this is the President who presided over record corporate bailouts and whose health reform proposals will enrich big insurance companies.

But this is a nation that seems to be losing interest in the rest of the world and in U.S. commitments beyond our borders; isn’t that inward pull a big part of the Tea Party movement’s appeal? In that environment, it’s hard to imagine how charges of a cultural intifada in remote Israel will impress anybody.

This strikes me as a reflection of what’s wrong with so much Israeli hasbarah. Often the language of Israeli PR seems designed mostly to make strongly pro-Israel Jews feel good, not to win over others who may be persuadable.

Does anybody seriously believe calling criticism of Israeli actions on the Gaza flotilla a “blood libel” is going to convince anybody who doesn’t already think AIPAC’s or ZOA’s word is gospel?

On the contrary: that kind of language, along with the tamer “cultural intifada,” is just a way of preaching to the choir, without regard to its impact on the folks out in the audience.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.