Israeli hasbara is failing

Sir Richard Ottaway: Israel "has made me look a fool". Photo: Dean Calma, IAEA, via Wikimedia Commons

Last night British members of parliament voted overwhelmingly for recognition of "the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution".

Although many of the 650 members were absent or abstained, especially on the Conservative side, only 12 – less than 2% – opposed the motion and 274 voted in favour (see voting list).

Earlier this month Sweden became the first long-term EU member to announce that it would recognise Palestine. Several other members – Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – had already recognised Palestine before joining the EU.

The House of Commons vote last night was not binding on the government, so it won't immediately change British policy, but is still very significant because it shows how the climate of opinion is changing – and not in Israel's favour.

Two particularly strong speeches criticising Israel came from prominent Conservative MPs, Sir Alan Duncan (see the Guardian's report) and Sir Richard Ottaway, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee.

Ottaway told the house that Israel's recent annexation of more West Bank land had angered him "more than anything else in my political life". The Guardian reports:

"The Conservative MP said he had been a supporter of the state of Israel before he became a Tory and had close family connections with the generation that formed the Israeli state. He explained: 'The Holocaust had a deep impact on me growing up in the wake of the second world war,' adding that he had been a strong supporter of Israel in the six-day war and subsequent conflicts.

"He told MPs: 'Looking back over the past 20 years, I realise now Israel has slowly been drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life. It has made me look a fool and that is something I deeply resent.'

"He said he was not yet convinced that Palestine was fit to be a state due to its refusal to recognise Israel, adding that 'in normal circumstances' he would have opposed the motion. But, he said, 'such is my anger with the behaviour of Israel in recent months that I will not be opposing this motion. I have to say to the government of Israel: if it is losing people like me, it is going to be losing a lot of people'."

Speeches like that provide further evidence that Israel's once-formidable hasbara machine is becoming less and less effective. There are limits to what propagandists can do when the policies they are trying to sell are wrong and the public can see they are wrong. 

Rather than focusing on the middle ground, Israeli hasbara is now directed mainly at shoring up support on the far right – among the sort of Americans who watch Fox News, and even racists

Claiming that critics of Israel are apologists for terrorism, anti-Semites or ultra-leftists may have some appeal in the US but elsewhere it's so obviously wide of the mark as to be counter-productive. 

Among the public in Britain, for example, Israel/Palestine is not particularly a left-versus-right issue. A YouGov poll during the recent Gaza war found that 62% thought Israel was guilty of war crimes there, while only 12% thought it was not. Substantial majorities held this view all across the political and social spectrum, regardless of whether they supported Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, or UKIP, and regardless of gender, age, social class or the region where they lived. 
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Tuesday, 14 October 2014