THE MIDDLE EAST PROPAGANDA WAR
By David M. Jacobs
Anyone reading the World's press or listening to radio broadcasts during the past decade would get the idea that Israel is one of the worst violators of human rights. This impression would have been backed up by the fact that Israel has been condemned at the United Nations more than any other country -- more than China, Iraq or Iran. However anyone with direct knowledge of Israel or who has taken some trouble to analyse the facts would have realized that Israel's human rights record, and standard of democracy, is far higher than that prevailing in any of its neighbouring states.
How has this extraordinary situation come about? The clue lies in the way that the Israeli government and Jewish communities throughout the World have responded to the enemy propaganda onslaught. They have tried to defend themselves by using Public Relations. Now Public Relations were designed for purely peacetime, mainly commercial, purposes. In a conflict situation they are useless. The Israeli Foreign Ministry even calls the department handling counter propaganda the Department of Hasbarah. This Hebrew word, always mistranslated by Israeli diplomats as 'information', actually means 'explanation'. This shows the subconscious defensive role that they take when they 'explain' themselves in public.
The problem is that propaganda or Psychological Warfare, PW for short, is an effective weapon of war, and has little in common with PR. In fact during the Second World War the Americans found that PR specialists tended to be ineffective at propaganda (see Daniel Lerner, Psychological Warfare against Nazi Germany, Cambridge Mass., 1971, p.71).
The purpose of PW is the same as that of all warfare. It is in fact one of the arms of a war machine, and has been referred to as the Fourth Arm, following the Army, Navy and Air Arms. The aim of war as summarized by Clausewitz is 'an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.' PW is more gentle. It employs persuasion and psychological manipulation to achieve the same end. The ancient Chinese sage Sun Tzu, who lived in the Fifth Century BC, who is often considered to be the greatest of all writers on war, wrote: 'To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.' This statement is a good summary of modern propaganda warfare.
PW is operated through Front Organisations and Agents of Influence. There are three types of Front Organisation. Firstly the overt organizations such as the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding or the British Soviet Friendship Society. Secondly the covert ones such as Medical Aid to the Palestinians, which appears to be about giving help to suffering Palestinians whilst its real aim is to rally support for the Arab and Palestinian campaign against Israel. The third type is the infiltrated organization. This is where agents of influence have infiltrated an organization set up for another purpose, and then used it to promote their own cause. The Arabs have been very successful in infiltrating many charities and Church groups in this way. Government departments may also find themselves subject to this type of treatment. There are two types of agents of influence. Firstly the 'useful idiot'. This uncomplimentary term was coined by Lenin to describe the kind of naive ass, often a person in a prominent position, who fell for his propaganda and could be manipulated to publicly aid his campaign. The second type is the conscious agent who fully understands what he is doing and works behind the scenes. Often referred to in the press as a 'mole', he has nothing to do with espionage and his job is to influence policy.
There are various actions that propagandists have to carry out. Some of which need to be described here. One of these is Concealment of Motive, that is pretending to be supporting something, but in reality promoting something else. Next comes Demonisation, this is an unpleasant operation which involves vilification of the opposing side. Then comes an obvious operation, namely Repetition. This is vital in getting ideas across to the public by continuously returning a simple message. Finally comes a complicated concept known as the 'Holy Phrase'. Lasswell (Propaganda Technique in World War, New York 1927, p.66) says of this: ' A propagandist must always be alert to capture the holy phrase which crystallizes public aspiration about it, and under no circumstance permit the enemy to enjoy its exclusive use and wont.'
The great masters of PW were the Soviets. The department concerned with what the Soviets called 'Active Measures' was the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. From there were run all the agents of influence and the front organizations. They were extraordinarily effective in getting their propaganda across. It was they who invented the concept of dezinformatsia, or disinformation. This was not exactly lying, but the putting out of distorted information to confuse, or alter, an opponent's policy.
The reason for the Soviet involvement in Arab PW is that the Arab defeat of 1967 was felt by the Soviets to be a major defeat for Soviet policy and a triumph for the United States. The Soviets also had a traditional Russian reason for supporting the Arabs. For two hundred years the Russians had wanted a 'warm water port' which would give them the opportunity of operating freely in the Mediterranean without worrying about an opponent blocking the Dardanelles. There were a number of Arab ports which could be ideal for this role. Before 1967 Arab propaganda had been totally ineffective. After 1967 with Soviet help Arab PW increased by leaps and bounds. The Arabs were able to use the Soviet front organizations for their own PW as well as many of their agents of influence. Some of the most effective of these were the church organizations, in particular the World Council of Churches which had been set up in Prague in 1948. From that base it was possible to infiltrate not only other church bodies, but the various international charities, especially those giving aid to the Third World.
We now come to the core element in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, which is the Islamic dimension. Mohammed got his basic monotheistic ideas from the Jewish and Christian tribes living around him in the Hejaz. He therefore felt that he should get support for his new religion from the Jews. When this failed to materialize it led to bitterness. Islam's relationship with Jews and Judaism thus started off in the Seventh Century very badly, with attacks by the nascent Muslim war band on the local Jewish tribes in the Hejaz, eventually driving all the Jews out of the region. Following these events came the very rapid creation of a mighty Moslem empire stretching from the Indus in the East to the Atlantic in the West and including virtually the whole of the Iberian peninsula, its expansion only being stopped by Charles Martel at Poitiers in 732. This vast conquest took place within a century of Mohammed's revelation. The Moslems regarded the territory they had conquered as the House of Islam and considered it inalienable. The territory outside was regarded as pertaining to the House of War.
With this conquest came the regulation of the status of the non-Moslems, more particularly the Christians and Jews, within the Domain of Islam. These were regarded as the People of the Book as they already had scriptures of their own. They were given an inferior status as dhimmis or protected people. They were protected as long as they accepted this secondary status towards their Moslem overlords. The pact, dating rom the Eighth Century, under which this was laid down was known as the as the Pact of Omar. The jews were automatically regarded as inferior to the Christians as, unlike the Christians, there were no Jewish military powers against whom the Moslem forces were fighting.
Islam and the Arabs had traditional PW techniques long before the modern concept of propaganda had been invented. There are two concepts in particular. These are the idea of Taqiya, or dissimulation, and that of the hila, or ruse. Taqiya implies outward conformity to alien customs whilst remaining faithful to Muslim beliefs. Thus the Arabs are able to maintain outward agreement with Western concepts of international law and practice, whilst keeping faith with Islamic tradition which says that Israel is a dhimmi state and stands on which is part of the Domain of Islam, and therefore must be removed. The doctrine of the hila is based on the saying of the Prophet Mohammed when he stated 'War is a series of actions for deceiving the enemy'. Another statement by the general and politician Al-Muhallab in the generation following that of Mohammed was: 'Have the heart to use deception in war, for it enables you to arrive at your goal more certainly than in a bloody body to body battle.'
The combination of traditional ideas of taqiya and the hila combined with Soviet dezinformatsia have enabled the Arabs to run rings round, not only the Israelis, but the whole of the West.
The reason that I stated that the Islamic component constitutes the core of the Arab-Israeli Conflict now becomes clear. It is essentially the resentment of Islam at the rule of the Jews over part of what they regard as the Domain of Islam, not only that but by setting up a Jewish state in such an area in such an area, defeating several Muslim armies, and ruling over Muslims, the Jews have abrogated their dhimmi status and thus torn up the Pact of Omar. It is this, not the percentage of Israeli withdrawal on the West Bank, which has brought about the sense of Moslem fury and humiliation, which is what the conflict is about. By making the World think that the conflict is about the Palestinians, or the minutiae of Oslo, is thus an excellent demonstration of the PW doctrine of Concealment of Motive.
The term Palestine is a post-Biblical expression. It was originally coined by the Romans following the fierce wars that they had to fight against the Jews in the First and Second Centuries AD. In the early part of this century the concept of Palestine was automatically associated in everybody's mind with the Jews. This continued throughout the 1940s. In 1938 when George Antonius wrote his famous book 'The Arab Awakening', in support of the Arab Nationalist position, he made no mention of the existence of a Palestinian People, because at that time such a concept had not come into being. The first moves in this direction were made at an Arab League Council meeting in Cairo in March 1959, and in September 1963 the Council appointed Ahmed Shuqairi as the 'representative of Palestine' to the Arab League. This was the same man who, as the representative of Syria, had said in the Security Council in May 1956 that 'It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria.'
In October 1965 the PLO was still being referred to by the Arab states as representing 'the Arab people of Palestine'. It was not until 1974 that the PLO was invited to participate in a General Assembly debate as 'representing the Palestinian People'. The PLO had managed to gain a platform within the United Nations normally reserved for sovereign states. It subsequently built an impressive power base at the UN, including in the establishment in 1977 of a 'Special Unit on Palestinian Rights'. This meant that the UNICs (United Nations Information Centres) throughout the world were forced to carry PLO propaganda. The final passing of the name Palestine to the Arabs came when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in September 1993 stated that 'the Government of Israel has decided to recognise the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian People'. The Arabs had captured the Jewish 'Holy Phrase'.
The Israelis however seemed sublimely unaware that anything had happened, in what had been a brilliant Arab PW operation carried across several decades. The result of this particular PW operation in the military and political spheres has been considerable. It means that the Israelis instead of having merely a frontier problem with the neighbouring Arab states are confronted with a land and people which is virtually coterminous with their own.
The PLO issued its Covenant calling for the destruction of Israel in 1968. This, though they agreed to change it at Oslo, has never been changed. In 1974 the Palestine National Council had issued a 10-point programme, in which Article 8 had stated that 'the Palestinian national authority, after its establishment, will struggle for the unity of the confrontation states for the sake of completing the liberation of all Palestinian soil and as a step on the path of comprehensive Arab unity.' This doctrine has been reiterated many times by Arafat and Palestinian officials since Oslo, but only to their own people. To the West they say something rather different. This is why, until these ideas have been genuinely given up, any withdrawals by Israel constitute a foolhardy strategic risk. However the Israelis seem unable to get this point across to the outside World, nor even to many of their own people, particularly to those on the Left.
One of the aims of a good PW campaign is to get behind your opponents' guard. Here the Peace Campaign comes in. Targeted at the Left Wing of both the Israeli and wider Jewish communities it has had a lot of success. The desperate desire of all Israelis and Jews for peace has been successfully exploited by the Arabs, who have copied the old Soviet Peace Campaigners. It is interesting to note that in Daniel Lerner's book (see above) on PW written originally in 1947, he wrote: 'The will to resist dissolves into a desire for 'peace soon', and finally crumbles into a desire for 'peace now'.' It is interesting to note that these words were used many years before the Israeli Peace Now movement came into being. Although Peace Now is very much a minority movement in Israel, its influence is widespread, and many of the Left refer to themselves as the 'Peace Camp', which gives the impression that only they want peace. In their desperation these people have swallowed the PLO propaganda line put forward to the West. The Peace Now propaganda line gets widely reported in the Western media, and helps to undermine the Israeli government's position.
Another facet of the Israeli Left is its secularism. Because they themselves have largely abandoned Judaism, they cannot accept that Arab policy has an Islamic basis. This enables the PLO to emphasise more effectively the Palestinian Nationalist position. Though a Palestinian identity has been created now, while Article 12 of the Palestine National Covenant stresses that this is just temporary, the ultimate loyalty remains to Islam. The PLO regularly use Christians to front their propaganda operations. The Christians are a tiny minority in the Arab population and need, for their own political security, to keep in with the Muslims. By using them the PLO is able to emphasise the nationalist position, which the Israeli Left, as well as the international Left who share their secularist attitudes, easily swallow.
An important development in the propaganda war has been the affair of Mordechai Vanunu. He was convicted of high treason by publicizing Israel's nuclear secrets abroad. High treason in time of war in virtually all other countries, besides Israel, carries the death penalty. Vanunu was thus very lucky that the country he betrayed was Israel. Instead of being sentenced to death he received a long prison sentence. Nonetheless a huge campaign was launched to free him. It was presented as a humanitarian campaign, but its prime purpose was to deprive Israel of its nuclear deterrent. The 'Campaign to free Vanunu and for a Nuclear-Free Middle East' is another example of the PW principle of Concealment of Motive. Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a nuclear deterrent. The object of the campaign is to shift the balance in favour of the Arabs and Iran with their much larger conventional forces. The campaign, apart from the usual CND crowd, was operated through the 'useful idiot' type of agent of influence. Many of these were actors, who can be very useful in this role, being as articulate as they are politically ill-informed.
In order to deal with the problem of Israel's lack of a propaganda section in the style of Britain's wartime Political Warfare Executive or the post-war Information and Research Department of the FCO, it will be necessary to change the Jewish and Israeli mindset. This is going to be difficult, as centuries of irrational hatred directed at the Jewish People have resulted in a desire to be loved. Hence the emphasis on PR as opposed to PW. Some of the problems of Jewish identity that were examined by the Chief Rabbi in his article in The Salisbury Review (Summer 1998), are very relevant to the ability of Jews to deal with their neurotic block against using PW.
The other issue that has to be faced is the nature of the conflict itself. This is that it is primarily a conflict between Judaism and Islam. Most Jews and Israelis, even those who are not secularists, are very scared of this fact. Once they are prepared to admit it, the problem can be handled in a more intelligent manner.
If Israel's long term diplomatic and strategic position is not to be further undermined, thus putting the whole state in danger, then Israel and the Jewish People will have to copy the rest of the World and run their own PW agencies.
David M. Jacobs is writing a study of the Middle East Propaganda War. This article was first published The Salisbury Review Winter (1998). It was subsequently reprinted as the editorial of Christian Action for Israel (1st Quarter Newsletter 1999).