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How Israel turned world opinion against itself

December 21, 2023 at 8:08 am

A man chants slogans and holds a placard reading ‘Israel’s liar propagandist, Europe, responsible for massacres’ on Taksim square in Istanbul during a protest against European governments on October 27, 2023 [BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images]

Propaganda is an essential tool of war and can be as effective as actual fighting, as it helps sway public opinion one way or the other. Lies, though, are lies and, in many cases, fail even to be included in our understanding of propaganda since they are clear untruths that inflict more damage than the finest pieces of propaganda. Repeated lies make things worse, not better.

During its current military offensive against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where some 20,000 have already been killed, Israel has deployed an unprecedented number of individuals working day and night on social media around the world to push its “self-defence” narrative. They cover not only the events of 7 October, but also the progress made on the front line, as its army of uniformed terrorists continue to obliterate the enclave. The ultimate aim is to make sure that the Israeli version of what is going on, and why, dominates the public and political discourse. The first major step that Israel took in this regard was to ban all international media from Gaza unless journalists agreed to be embedded with its armed forces and subject their reports to the scrutiny of the military censor.

However, that strategy has backfired from day one, because the occupation state was caught lying repeatedly and doing so at the highest level.

The first lie came just two days after the daring Hamas attack when Israeli officials, including the prime minister, started to talk about “beheaded babies” and showing pictures of charred babies to Western leaders, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had rushed to Israel three days after the attack. Blinken described the pictures as “depravity in the worst imaginable way.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was shown a video of what Israeli Defence Minister claimed were the “heinous” crimes committed by Hamas fighters. Stoltenberg said that what he saw confirms “the brutality of the attacks.”

READ: Israel continues to target hospitals in northern and southern Gaza

That same lie about “beheaded babies” went all the way to the Oval Office, where the octogenarian US President Joe Biden — known for occasional memory lapses — said “I never really thought that I would see… have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.” Shortly before this, Biden was on the phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who fed him the lie as a confirmed fact. Hours later the White House said that not a single US official, including the president, could confirm the existence of such pictures. CNN reporter Sara Sidner reported the story on live TV, only to be forced to apologise on 11 October after discovering it was a lie.

Nevertheless, Israel kept peddling the claim, even showing Elon Musk a crib riddled with bullet holes on 27 November, 51 days after it was alleged to have happened. When the lie was exposed, Israel lost whatever global sympathy that it had managed to sway its way.

We have also heard Israeli President Isaac Herzog, a man who lacks charisma and whose TV appearances give the impression that his IQ is below average, say that an Al-Qaeda manual for making chemical weapons was found on the body of a Hamas fighter. Herzog looked as if he was making a joke out of a tragedy. Analysing this claim, one X user commented, “Hamas fighter brought the manual along to sit in a cafe and study it thoroughly.” By the end of that day, 23 October, Israel had killed its first 5,000 Palestinians in Gaza, most of whom were women and children, which fast became the defining characteristic of the Israeli offensive.

By that time, Israel had already lost the battle for public opinion. This has been confirmed by the millions of people protesting against the Israeli onslaught in major world cities, including New York, Washington, London, Sydney and Paris. Israel was already condemned millions of times on social media. Undeterred, Herzog came back with another ridiculous lie, this time on 12 November, when he appeared with an Arabic version of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and claimed that the book was found on the body of another dead Hamas fighter. He was the laughingstock of social media.

READ: Israel shocking video emerges of analyst calling for ‘100,000’ Palestinians to be killed

Numbers are usually hard to refute, and just as hard to fabricate, because it is difficult to back up any lie in today’s world where wars are observed in real time on social media. Between 7 October and last week, Israel revised the number of Israelis killed during and since the daring attack by Hamas on three occasions. First it was 1,400, which kept going for the first three weeks before it was revised to 1,200 and then just days ago the figure was again revised down to 1,139. This figure includes Israelis killed by their own security forces when they, chaotically, responded to the Hamas attack. An initial Israeli police investigation said that many of the victims attending the Nova Music Festival were killed by an Israeli attack helicopter while it fired on what the crew thought were Hamas fighters. Israel never fully disclosed the report nor updated the world on the investigation of what went on at the festival site on that day. Almost all mainstream media reports cite the figure of 1,200 civilians killed as a fact, whereas MEMO, for example, now points out that “1,139 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed, many of them by ‘friendly fire’ from the Israel Defence Forces”. In terms of helping to sway public opinion — and with no disrespect intended — this pales into relative insignificance when compared with the 20,000+ Palestinians that Israel has killed in the Gaza Strip, as well as the estimated 301 in the occupied West Bank.

Israel was shocked by the audacious Hamas attack, and it appears to be just as shocked that the general public, particularly in Western countries, are no longer taking its claims as facts, which has always tended to be the case in the past.

The problem with Israel’s lying propaganda machine is that it does not pause to reassess its own lies and try to correct itself to regain some of the public trust that it has already lost. It will take years for Israel to regain any degree of public trust, if it ever does, which is doubtful. Even mainstream media outlets will be very careful when quoting Israeli officials, particularly those speaking on behalf of the terrorist Israel “Defence” Forces.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.