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by media influence for fun and profit
Wednesday, Oct. 04, 2006 at 3:52 AM
Propaganda is used by those who want to communicate in ways that engage the emotions, and downplay rationality, in an attempt to promote a certain message. To effectively present Israel to the public, and to counter anti-Israel messages, it is necessary to understand propaganda devices.
This article applies a list of seven propaganda devices to the Israeli situation, and by doing so allows an understanding of some of the ways in which public opinion is fought for in the International arena.
Through the careful choice of words, the name calling technique links a person or an idea to a negative symbol. Creating negative connotations by name calling is done to try and get the audience to reject a person or idea on the basis of negative associations, without allowing a real examination of that person or idea. The most obvious example is name calling - "they are a neo-Nazi group" tends to sound pretty negative to most people. More subtly, name calling works by selecting words with subtle negative meanings for some listeners. For example, describing demonstrators as "youths" creates a different impression from calling them "children".
For the Israel activist, it is important to be aware of the subtly different meanings that well chosen words give. Call 'demonstrations' "riots", many Palestinian political organizations "terror organizations", and so on.
Those opposed to Israel use name calling all the time. Consider the meaning of the word 'settlement'. When applied to Gilo, a suburb of Jerusalem over the disputed 1967 borders, the word 'settlement' creates the unfortunate impression that Gilo is located in the middle of the West Bank, and occupied by religious and political extremists (the image many people have acquired of settlements). That's how the media and opponents of Israel use name-calling. Other examples include referring to the 'war crimes' of Ariel Sharon, talking about 'invasion' of the West Bank when an army unit enters territory under PA sovereignty in order to find terrorists, and so on.
Name calling is hard to counter. Don't allow opponents the opportunity to engage in point scoring. Whenever 'name calling' is used, think about referring to the same thing (e.g. Gilo), but with a more favourable description (e.g. suburb). Consider calling settlements 'communities' or 'villages'. Use the same names back; if somebody talks about Sharon's 'war-crimes', talk about Arafat's war crimes and involvement in terror.
Simply put, the glittering generality is name calling in reverse. Instead of trying to attach negative meanings to ideas or people, glittering generalities use positive phrases, which the audience are attached to, in order to lend a positive image to things. Words such as 'freedom', 'civilization', 'motherhood', 'liberty', 'equality', 'science', and 'democracy' have these positive associations for most people. These words mean different things to different people, but are used to gain the approval of an audience, even when they aren't used in their standard ways. Consider the use of the term 'freedom fighter', which is supposed to gain approval for terrorism by using the word 'freedom'. Or, consider why it is so beneficial to bring home the point that Israel is a democracy.
Israel is a Western democracy in the middle of the Middle East. It stands for freedom, equal rights for all; it is a civilized country whose opera, ballet, and world-class universities ensure that Israeli culture is very advanced. These points can be made again and again, so that listeners in the West associate the country with positive concepts, and come to side with Israel.
Enemies of Israel will be keen to cast doubt on Israeli claims to be democratic, to guarantee freedom for all, and so on. In place of these 'glittering generalities' favourable to Israel, they will associate Palestinian behaviour, including terrorism, with terms like 'anti-colonialist' and 'freedom'.
Combating the use of 'glittering generalities' requires undermining the use of a positive term. For example, if a Palestinian speaker claimed that Palestinian terror is only carried out to gain freedom, it might be worth asking if "freedom means killing young children and leaving their parents to bury them?" In this new context, 'freedom' doesn't seem like an appropriate description of Palestinian terrorism.
Transfer involves taking some of the prestige and authority of one concept and applying it to another. For example, a speaker might decide to speak in front of a United Nations flag, in an attempt to gain legitimacy for himself or his idea. Some of the symbols that might be used in discussing Israel might include the Israeli flag, or Star of David; Islamic symbols, which might lend a militant speaker the apparent support of Islam, even when what they are saying goes against mainstream Islamic beliefs; non-denominational prayer, which gives a sense of religiosity to a speaker even when his message is not 'religious'; and the national symbols of a speakers' own country - such as the American flag - which create the impression that the speaker is presenting 'American values'.
Jewish student groups in the Diaspora can use the flag of their own country side by side with the Israeli flag, where appropriate, to lend support to Israel. In a sports-loving country (such as Australia), students can make people aware of famous Israeli sportsmen and sportswomen, in order to transfer positive feelings (about a football team) to Israel.
Palestinian groups notoriously attempt to enlist the symbols of the international community to transfer support and legitimacy. Arafat and the UN flag is a sight we are all accustomed to. These efforts can be undermined by trying to enlist the same symbols, or more powerful ones, first.
Testimonial means enlisting the support of somebody admired or famous to endorse an ideal or campaign. Testimonial can be used reasonably - it makes sense for a footballer to endorse football boots - or manipulated, such as when a footballer is used to support a political campaign they have only a limited understanding of. Whilst everybody is entitled to an opinion, testimonial can lend weight to an argument that it doesn't deserve: if U2's Bono condemned Israel for something that it didn't do, thousands would believe him, even though he was wrong.
Enlisting celebrity support for Israel can help to persuade people that Israel is a great country. Obviously some celebrities are more useful than others. Students are probably a little too sophisticated to be affected by Britney's opinion on Israel, but those associated with intelligence like professors, actors, radio hosts, sports managers and so on can be asked to offer testimonial.
A celebrity doesn't have to fully support Israel to be useful. Quotes can work as testimonial, even when they might be old or out of context.
Opponents of Israel can use celebrity support to strengthen their own message. Undermine this by drawing attention away from celebrity advocates towards 'the issues'. It is not useful to attack celebrities openly, or even to imply that they don't know what they are talking about - this will alienate their supporters. If celebrity support for Palestinian causes goes beyond humanitarian issues to the political, consider coordinating an organized protest. Most celebrities will care more about their public image than they do about the Middle East. Threats of tainting a celebrity's image will usually persuade them to back away from controversial political issues.
The plain folks technique attempts to convince the listener that the speaker is a 'regular guy', who is trust-worthy because they are just like 'you or me'. Often politicians present themselves as being from outside the standard 'political cliques' and above political bickering, and then call for tax cuts to help the 'regular guy'. More often than not these politicians are multi-millionaires financed by large corporations, but the plain folks technique allows them to obscure that fact by presenting their 'common' characteristics.
Support for an alleged underdog in a certain situation can often be part of a 'plain folks' agenda. Critics of Israel can paint the Palestinian people as the underdogs, and Israel as an 'oppressor' of a weaker people. This sort of populist position can best be combated by shifting blame for the Palestinian predicament away from Israel and towards Yasser Arafat. As the famous saying goes, "Yasser Arafat has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity". Point out that the reason Palestinians are still stateless is because their leadership have, tragically and repeatedly, sought war instead of peace, and turned down offers of land for peace.
Pro-Israel activists can use the 'plain folks' technique by speaking as a 'person from the street' whilst supporting Israel. The 'average guy in the street' would happily condemn terrorism in all its forms and support 'Western ideals'. In the context of a debate on the Middle East, this can easily be equated with support for Israel.
Care must be taken when adopting populist positions. There are some ethical boundaries that ought not to be crossed - for example tapping in to general anti-Arab feeling, or Islamaphobia. Remember that Israel can be supported without resorting to mass generalizations or racism.
When a speaker warns that the consequences of ignoring his message is likely to be war, conflict, personal suffering, and so forth, they are manipulating fear to advance their message. Listeners have deep-seated fears of violence and disorder, which can be tapped into by creating false dichotomies - 'either listen to me, or these terrible things will happen'. Listeners are too preoccupied by the threat of terrible things to think critically about the speaker's message.
Fear is easily manipulated in a climate that is already steeped in fear by the threat of global terror. Arab and Islamic fundamentalist terror has been responsible for 1000s of deaths in the West, and has threatened to bring the entire world into deep economic recession. Nobody wants to face physical risk, or financial ruin. Fear can be successfully utilized by pointing out the consequences of terror. Reminding people that Palestinian terrorists have, in the past, operated throughout the world would strengthen this perception of threat.
Of course, Palestinian speakers can also tap in to fear to strengthen their message. Many people are scared of the instability that might be triggered in the oil-exporting Middle-East if regional conflict erupts. Economic instability could be blamed on Israel by a speaker intent on manipulating his audience.
Fear is difficult to counter, but the Israel activist can do one of two things. First, activists can attempt to decrease fears by calling for rationality - "let's be reasonable here, I think that these ideas are pretty far-fetched, and it's irresponsible to try to scare people for cheap political points". Second, activists can shift the blame for the fearful event - "instability in the Middle East would of course be a terrible thing, which is why Israel is doing all it can for peace. Yasser Arafat on the other hand seems content on supporting terrorists instead of diplomacy, which could drag the whole region to a war than only Arafat seems to want."
Most people, when in doubt, are happy to do what other people are doing. This is the bandwagon effect. People are happy to be part of the crowd, and subtle manipulators can play on this desire by emphasizing the large size of their support. Although it is reasonable that people are given a chance to find out how many other supporters a speaker or movement has, often it is possible to create the impression of extensive support - through gathering all supporters in one place, or through poorly conducted opinion polls - in an attempt to persuade people who are keen to follow the crowd.
Israel activists can commission opinion polls amongst groups who favour Israel, and use these to give the impression that Israel is the 'team to support'. Demonstrations, and even photos that give the impression of large numbers can help to create the impression that Israel is even more popular than it is.
Remember that playing with perceptions of numbers supporting a cause can be problematic if this means that genuine supporters become complacent.
Palestinian activists' success at creating the impression that they have enormous support is hard to counter. The most obvious and most effective response is to try and seem even better supported. Otherwise, simply start to deal with the issues, especially using 'plain folks' techniques, to gain support that is committed, and not just jumping on the bandwagon.
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