Notebook, 18 December 2012: Hasbara

hasbara: (Hebrew: הַסְבָּרָה hasbará, “explaining”) Public diplomacy. hasbara

I see this so often that posting about it would go a long way toward meeting last year’s New Years resolution that I post something daily. Maybe I will make it a regular thing. There’s an abundance of material and a critical look at Israeli press relations, while dealt with in the academic literature, would benefit from regular scrutiny.

I don’t know what the connotation for hasbara is in Israel, but I do know what it means for Palestinians—LIES

First of all, I’m not talking about nonsense from pundits like David Frum trying to sell us on the notion that Israel once felt all those Jewish settlements would eventually be turned over to Palestinians after a peace deal was reached. No, this is not an Onion story, he expected us to take him at his word:


What I’m talking about here is the dissemination of news which is, on the surface, accurate. Certainly it is believable enough, but it is also information that requires a little knowledge or digging to realize that it is all a public relations exercise designed to mislead, and paint a rosier picture of Israel’s actions and intent than they really deserve.

In 2009, Israeli ambassador Michael Oren was (again) given space in the Wall Street Journal to tout the economic miracle of the West Bank under Israeli occupation: West Bank Success Story, with the subtitle, “The Palestinians are flourishing economically. Unless they live in Gaza.”

Imagine an annual economic growth rate of 7%, declining unemployment, a thriving tourism industry, and a 24% hike in the average daily wage. Where in today’s gloomy global market could one find such gleaming forecasts? Singapore? Brazil? Guess again. The West Bank.

Oren, whose military service was in IDF public relations, no surprise, goes on to describe an Israeli paradise of law abiding citizens enjoying the benefits of economic growth and “state of the art malls” and that, in contrast to the lack of progress in the top-down peace process, Palestinians are “building sovereignty from the bottom up” through the rule of law, entrepreneurship and investment. While I have no trouble believing that neoliberal economy is growing on the West Bank, I also realize that the blessings of, if not liberty, then occupation are somehow limited to the half million Israeli settlers who are eligible for generous government subsidies, while the Palestinians are left behind. For the sake of time, I will not try to prove this directly, but we can infer this assumption from other data points and come to a reasonable hypothesis. We might, for instance, look at Palestinian unemployment rates, which for the same time period Oren describes lie somewhere in the neighborhood of 23%. Or more. What I recalled was a Jpost story about Palestinian unemployment rates I had seen recently, where they had kindly reported on what UNRWA found:

  • 2009, 3Q and 4Q unemployment rate among Palestinians: 23.6%
  • 2010, 1Q and 2Q unemployment rate among Palestinians: 21.7%
  • 2010, 3Q and 4Q unemployment rate among Palestinians: 25.0%

The story goes on to say that with this economic miracle, Palestinians, particularly refugees, were being squeezed:

Research shows that in the second half of 2010, unemployment grew much faster than employment, and the purchasing power of average working people’s wages continued to decline in the face of persistently high unemployment rates and consumer price inflation.
These trends disproportionately affected refugees.

Please note that out of a total West Bank population of some 4 million, (Source: World Bank), almost one quarter of those, about 771,000 are registered Palestinian refugees (Source: UNRWA), and you can begin to discern the tell-tale odor of disturbed manure.

Furthermore, if you happen to know of the existence of one other trend, you know that chances are, Oren applies his shovel with admirable gusto, and it all has to do with one precious commodity on the West Bank:

But you have to know these things, and sadly, Americans are clueless. A story entitled, Lack Of Reason, Lack Of Interest – CBSNews, on a survey taken of American college students shows that perhaps Israel’s greatest asset is America’s ignorance:

In a new study of media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a group of American college students was asked, “Who is occupying the occupied territories, and what nationality are the settlers?” Fairly simple questions, but only 29 percent knew the correct answers. The Israelis are both the occupiers and the settlers.

Some thought the Palestinians occupy the occupied territories, but the Israelis are the settlers. Others thought the Israelis occupy the occupied territories, but the Palestinians are the settlers. A smaller number thought the Palestinians were both the settlers and the occupiers. The rest simply could not answer.

All of which has been simmering at the back of my mind for quite awhile now, until I came across this little nugget today, Israel allows Gaza produce export:

Israel Sunday allowed the export of strawberries, herbs and cherry tomatoes from the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said.


The consignment includes seven trucks of agricultural products destined for Europe.

While I realize this story comes from a Palestinian source and so cannot be hasbara, it struck me because I happen to know of one other piece of data: Gaza exports, in truckloads, by year – ReliefWeb:

I don’t know who the Indo Asian News Service, reporting this story, is but they got my attention. Seven whole trucks . . . .


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