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Eldad Tzioni

Hasbara 2.0: What Is Effective Hasbara?

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Posted on February 9 2011 3:00 pm
Eldad Tzioni has blogged as The Elder of Ziyon since 2004.

We have already defined hasbara as promoting Israel’s message, but we need to go a little bit further than that: we need to define what effective hasbara is.

I would define effective hasbara as having two critical components:

1. It improves public opinion of Israel

2. It is accessible to a large audience

The first part, improving public opinion of Israel, is actually easier than it sounds.

Zionists have over the past couple of decades acclimated themselves to being on the defensive — to arguing that Israel is not the evil entity that it is portrayed as. We have lost the forest for the trees. We are so stuck in the arguments on the haters’ frameworks that we never come up for breath and show them Israel as it is.

Step back, forget being on the defensive, take the conflict out of the picture for now, think about everything you know about Israel from personal experience — and tell the world about that.

Recently, someone sent me some photos he took at a supermarket in Gush Etzion. It is an ordinary scene of people shopping, that just happened to be in one of those notorious “settlements” that everyone hears so much about. And in the center of the scene we could see this:

A religious Jew, a “settler,” was smiling and apparently joking with an Arab woman who was also shopping there.

Scenes like this take place thousands of times every day in Israel. However, the rest of the world is clueless about it. They think of Israeli Jews as monsters, and no one is showing them the truth.

After I posted this photo on my blog, a number of sites in Europe copied my post — an ordinary photo of people shopping became news!

This is only a tiny example. If you have snapshots from your last visit to Israel, look through them and see which show parts of Israel that people don’t see, and just tweet them or put them up on Facebook. Try to come up with a title that would make people want to click on them (I called my post “Photo of an oppressed West Bank woman.”)

Videos are even better. Here’s one of many flash mobs that Israel enjoyed last year:

Who, besides for people who will hate Israel anyway, can resist smiling when watching something like this?

People who have visited Israel don’t only have to post photos or videos. Stories and anecdotes about your “only in Israel” experiences are valuable as well.

Even if you don’t have firsthand experience of visiting Israel yet, there are plenty of other things that you can blog, or post on Facebook, or tweet, today. Look at articles fromIsrael21C or Israelity or the Israelli blog, and, if they catch your fancy, post them as well. They reflect what is really going on in Israel, and they are entertaining to boot.

In a way, it is sad that Israel’s reputation has been so stained by the haters that ordinary events seem extraordinary — but that is the entire point. If the truth about Israel would flood the Internet, then the haters would be the ones on the defensive. Make the Ziophobes insult good-looking people on the beach or Israel’s latest high-tech invention that is saving lives. They will end up looking like the fools that they are.

The second component of effective hasbara is that it needs to be widely available. This means that the hasbara must not be limited to certain limited websites or placed in places where they will not be seen after a short while.

It is admirable to stand up for Israel in message boards or in the comments section of major newspapers. If you think about it, though, the audience is often quite small and the devastating arguments that you crafted will disappear within hours or days. Even worse, the people that you end up arguing with are not usually going to be convinced because they are already emotionally invested in hating Israel — and the lurkers are often past caring.

I’m not saying to cede those venues entirely, but start to consciously think about getting the most “bang for the buck.” To give a simple example, while Yahoo News message boards might be entertaining and filled with passionate people, the message boards on Amazon reviewing books are much better venues for putting forth a pro-Israel message. After all, people will be looking up book reviews for years, and if they are searching for a book they already are probably smarter than most people — and more amenable to the truth.

For example, I once did an Amazon review of a book called “Who Speaks for Islam” which, in my opinion, was propaganda masquerading as science. People who read my review were most appreciative that they didn’t waste their money on the book, and how I exposed the deception by the authors of the book. That review is still there for anyone to find.

If you like to write letters to the editor of your local paper, consider taking the same letters and putting them up on the Web. Increase your potential audience by many orders of magnitude with the same effort.

Today, the easiest way to reach a large audience is YouTube. Even people who simply speak to the camera can gain large followings. There is no comparison between the number of people who view videos on YouTube and those who look everywhere else.

This doesn’t mean you have to be a video producer (although that certainly helps.)

Just last week, there was a Grad rocket that nearly hit a wedding in Israel. This is something that the world needs to see. A number of Israeli websites had video — some of them only in Hebrew — but Israeli news sites make it notoriously difficult to transfer their videos to YouTube, meaning that the world at large cannot find videos like this without great effort. I got lucky in finding a way to download this video.

Videos such as this one can have a tremendous effect on public opinion — but they must be available for ordinary people to view! By moving this video from Yediot Aharonot’s site to YouTube I have made it available to the entire world, not just YNet readers.

This doesn’t mean that the world will watch it, but making it available is the first step. You cannot predict what video will got “viral” but it is obvious that if videos are not on YouTube, they won’t go anywhere.

And some videos do very, very well. Last year one of the best hasbara videos, in my opinion, was the “We Con the World” music video by LatmaTV.

It was effective in getting a message across — that so-called “human rights activists” on the Mavi Marmara were really terrorists. It was effective in that it was viewed by millions of people. And it is very funny, so it broke out of the corner of cyberspace that is concerned with the Middle East and it made an impression on many, many other people who were otherwise uninformed about the truth of the flotilla.

That is effective hasbara. And while we won’t always make such a splash, it doesn’t hurt to swing for the fences.

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