Saturday, April 26, 2008


Wars are fought in the minds of men at least as much as on the battlefield. Great military leaders have been able to inspire their men to incredible feats against huge odds.

One of the famous examples is the defeat of the powerful French army at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 by an exhausted, depleted British force, a victory attributed to Henry V’s gift of oratory. This was immortalised by Shakespeare 200 years later.


“…But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,…"

But the battlefield today involves whole populations, indeed the global population, as wars are fought out in the minds of civilians as much as in the minds of soldiers. The name of this is PROPAGANDA.

It is important today because the willing consent of civilian populations is required to bear the economic and personal sacrifices of military operations. It is also important because the technological means is available to spread images and words across the world at the speed of light.

We in South Africa are the target of an unremitting stream of anti-Israel propaganda. We need to understand its context, its purpose and its methods to develop the essential antibodies to its insidious poison. This is not simple since propaganda has many guises and disguises. It can aim to inspire and to denigrate and demonise. It can do both. It can be subtle or blatant, honest or dishonest. It can be used offensively or defensively – or both.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. The war against Israel did not end in 1948 or in 1967; it is being vigorously pursued by different groups using different means, but its objective remains the destruction of Israel.

This is not debatable. Despite the work of apologists for Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and others in the ME and beyond, they make their intentions quite clear. None of this has anything to do with Israel’s behaviour. It is a primal battle to replace the Jewish state with an Islamic, Arab entity within an area of the globe which they regard as the domain of Islam and Arabia in its broadest sense.

But why South Africa? Why direct propaganda so far afield to the West? The reasons are relatively simple: Israel is a study in contradictions. It has an immensely powerful and efficient army, at least relative to its local opponents. It has been amazingly successful in economic terms and is thus able to support ongoing military action and preparedness. It has nuclear weapons as a last resort.

But, at the same time, its Jewish population is less than 7 million and its surface area is miniscule relative to its enemies. Israel has no vital resources with which to bargain and it has a restive democratic ethos which makes sustained action difficult to maintain.

Israel thus depends on a measure of international goodwill and legitimacy to continue the battle: to keep the economic engine running and to keep its civilian population willing to sacrifice for the Zionist ideal when other options beckon, including emigration or surrender, in one form or another. Israel desperately needs the support of the Diaspora. These are the chinks in Israel’s armour against which the weapons of propaganda are deployed.

The propaganda need not be sophisticated; that may indeed be a disadvantage. Kasrils and others specialise in the crudest of lies and distortions in order to dirty Israel’s name. But there are somewhat more sophisticated methods and the Jewish population needs to be forewarned.

An Israeli Palestinian rights NGO, called Adalah, has recently landed in South Africa with the purported intent of soliciting international support for its allegations of Israeli brutality at the start of the Intifada. It may well have good reason for at least some of its accusations, but there is equally no doubt that it is knowingly lending itself to the international campaign of anti-Israel demonisation.

Adalah, together with the District 6 Museum Foundation and the Palestine Solidarity Group, will publically present a film and oral testimonies from the family members of the 13 killed in the Intifada riots on Wednesday afternoon, the eve of Yom HaShoah. By such actions Adalah has ceased being a legitimate human rights NGO but is an active fifth column in the war aginst Israel.

This is a propaganda battle Israel cannot win in the short-term. Unlike the Battle of Agincourt, Israel is engaged in a protracted, multi-dimensional, vicious struggle for survival. Those of us who support the basic justice of its cause will need all our courage and clarity to see it through.

Part of this will require us to remain steadfast in our core beliefs while at the same time remaining alive to defects in our own position and responsive to opportunities for progress. Thus the high-profile approach of Carter to Hamas is clearly counterproductive, but in the end Israel will need to reach peace with its enemies, not with its friends. This balance between openness on the one hand and resistance on the other is much more challenging than simple obstinacy.

One catchphrase I've always regarded with suspicion, is that "Israel must take risks for peace". It is usually said in contexts where Israel is giving up quite a lot for little return; given her position that is plain silly. But "settlement building" hands propaganda material to Israel's enemies and makes peace more difficult to achieve. Thus substantial sensitivity needs to be shown in this area, unless the real objective is to scuttle any chance of any realistic two-state solution.

This takes us into quite controversial territory which is not suitable at the end of a post. In the meantime we need to recognise the Adalah cavalcade as part of an orchestrated campaign of denigration and delegitimisation with clear political ends in view - whatever the underlying psychological motivations may be.

Mike Berger

Links to "Propaganda"...

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