Another Tool in the Search for Peace in the Middle East?
By Joseph Gottfried
The train was rumbling through the Hungarian plain, on the way from Budapest to Belgrade. It was 1981. In the compartment, beside myself and my wife, was a distinguished looking gentleman reading POLITIKA, the popular Yugoslav daily, printed in Cyrillic. The proper assumption would be that the gentleman was a Serb, or at least a Yugoslav citizen. As frequently happens on trains, we struck up a conversation. At one point I must have asked, "And where are you from, sir?" "From Moscow, the Soviet Union" came the reply. Well, it was not every day that I had a chance to talk with a Soviet, so I became rather inquisitive. Politely, I answered his questions and we began an interesting conversation. When the issue of our respective occupations came up, my interlocutor volunteered, "I am professor at the University of Moscow, and I teach PROPAGANDA." My surprise must have shown on my face, or perhaps because I was speechless, the gentleman looked at me and said something like this: "Yes, I know that in the West people think that propaganda is unethical, unfair, or subversive. But in the Soviet Union we know better. Propaganda is a legitimate subject for study, necessary for the proper public orientation. Somebody has to explain state policies, or the scope of national policies. Armed with western skepticism, and as an avid follower of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Lincoln, I naively pressed the issue, "But sir, the state should not control the means of public information to disseminate its specific point of view." "Young man," (even though this happened 28 years ago, it seems he was being a tad gracious) you should study a little more about this subject," the professor said. "You will find that one way or another, governments and political movements almost always use propaganda." But, I was not about to give up so I asked the professor, "Is 'propaganda' the same as 'psychological warfare' or 'mind control'?" He explained that each of these is slightly different, with its own scope and target.
Upon returning to New York, I began to research the subject more closely. The first thing I found was that 18 years before (cca 1962/63), the late President John F. Kennedy made significant remarks about the use or misuse of propaganda. I have since followed the subject, and over the years I have accumulated a fair amount of insight about the area of propaganda.
When writing an essay, it is customary to save the conclusions for the end. Nevertheless, I am tempted to offer some conclusions right at the beginning!
As an observer of what is often described as the 'Middle East situation,' my assessment is that the Palestinian narrative has currently won wide acceptance among nations, specifically in the Islamic world, (57 countries), a significant part of Europe, and to some degree, even in the U.S., including certain Jewish constituencies. Israel has become the villain. Even in Israel, it is not uncommon to hear Arab-Palestinian slogans. Israeli conduct is questioned, and, in extreme cases, the wisdom of having enabled the creation of a sovereign Jewish state is fair game. Yes, some errors have being made, partly due to Israel's rapid development and partly because dramatically different components of Israeli society result in a highly mixed culture. No country is perfect. Yet none of Israel's policies deserve the virulent antagonism they encounter. WHAT HAPPENED?
I submit that, by design or instinct or cleverness, Arab-Palestinian leaders or their elites, realized from the beginning that distortion of reality and cultivation of "martyr status" would serve them well, first, among the world's billion-plus Muslims, and later by a large part of the world, which accepted the "bully-victim" explanation of the conflict. By now, most Muslims believe that a colossal injustice has befallen the "poor people of Palestine" and that the legitimate owners of the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, are the Arab-Palestinians. Moreover, the Arab-Palestinians are convinced of the basic injustice of their fate.
A Primary Belief System
In many encounters with Muslims in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey, I found a uniformity of views largely separated from facts. An entire popular belief system, which has little or no connection with reality, has taken root. To narrow the discussion, let me describe certain notions that are commonly accepted in the Muslim world.
1. "Palestinians" are a separate people having fundamental rights that emanate from present or past owners or inhabitants of the land. At best, this is a complex issue, since many "Palestinians" came to the area in the 19th and 20th centuries. No occupiers of the land, Ottomans, the British, Jordanians, or Egyptians, have ever issued any charter of Palestinian independence to their subjects in the geographic area defined as PALESTINE. The large-scale agitation for independence in its present form started only after the establishment of Israel. To be absolutely precise, there were some Arab-Palestinians who demanded autonomy, but in Europe and in the Middle East, few took them seriously.
2. Independence for an Arab-Palestinian state will happen only after an agreement is reached with Israel, and the international community will, through the United Nations Security Council, issue a charter of independence. That is when the Arab-Palestinians will be able to assert their "rights" and sovereignty. Most of this is not clear to Arab-Palestinians. They still cling to "rights" they do not have, or the use of force, which has failed them so many times.
3. A little easier argument is the distinction between the "Green Line" and accepted international borders. Contrary to any logic, Arab-Palestinians have convinced themselves and others that the Green Line, the cease fire line between warring factions in the West Bank, is the national border of the Palestinian state. On the face of it, this is plainly absurd! No Palestinian entity, any time in the past or present, exercised sovereignty over the West Bank, which has been alternately controlled by the Ottomans, the British, and the Jordanians; Gaza, on the other hand, has been under Egyptian sovereignty.It may be argued that the Jordanians have waived or relinquished their rights in the West Bank, transferring them to the Arab-Palestinian organizations. This could become binding on Israel if it accepted that arrangement, but not before!
4. A separate West Bank issue centers on the settlements. There exist specific international agreements regarding the transfer of populations into conquered or occupied territory. Here, Israel has not judiciously exercised its power. Years later, this has become a difficult internal problem for Israel that Arab-Palestinians are leveraging to their advantage.
5. The future status of refugees remains a complex issue. The Israeli explanation consists of two general components. Arabs became refugees because they were instructed by various Arab military forces to leave their towns, facilitating the advance of Arab soldiers, or, the refugees abandoned their homes simply to avoid being caught in a war zone. It must be pointed out that those who remained continued to live in their homes, and most are still where they lived before. To counter the Arab propaganda, Israelis have recently provided statistics revealing that most refugees never saw a single Israeli soldier during the hostilities. On the other hand, it is undeniable that in some situations, Israelis "stimulated" the Arab exodus. One way or another, persons who owned confiscated property in the present State of Israel have certain specific rights. In a peaceful environment, it should be possible to identify such properties and individuals, case by case, to provide compensation. Ideally, such procedures also should be followed in cases of Jewish properties that were confiscated in many Arab or Muslim countries.
What does this have to do with propaganda? Again, the "Palestinians" have skillfully established the notion that only they suffered loss of wealth due to hostilities in several wars, whereas in fact, thousands (and tens of thousands) of Jews also lost centuries worth of homes and possessions when they fled Arab lands.
There are a number of other areas in which the "Palestinian" narrative has excelled, particularly with Muslim masses who, without question, accept the central notion that the Arabs of Palestine suffer because they are Muslims. On a different level, it is an Islamic tenet that land once possessed must not fall into the dominion of others. This makes Israel an unacceptable occupier of land considered Islamic patrimony. The internal and external propaganda of the Islamic world makes sure that this theological axiom remains uppermost and is reflected in its policies.
I submit that these beliefs are engendered and reinforced through the constant, well financed, intelligently constructed use of propaganda that employs every known feature of mass-influence. In the last decade, the added religious fervor of the Islamic world has created an environment that will make it very difficult to structure peace in the area. The Israeli Response?
And what is the Israeli response to this massive Arab and Muslim propaganda? Israelis feel, as do most others in Western societies, that propaganda is a bad, unfair, unjust, or misleading instrument of policy, with few redeeming features. I will attempt to demonstrate, however, that this attitude is naive and that given Israeli realities, propaganda is of the utmost importance, perhaps as vital as defense, foreign policy, and the economy. Propaganda must be understood as THE FOURTH LEG OF A CHAIR!!
HISTORY OF PROPAGANDA
Before offering a partial history of propaganda, it may be useful to consider the origins of modern Islamic extremism. The Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb is credited with advocating the notion that Islam contains the seeds of a world revival, and that ultimately it will prevail over all other religions. Observers of the Muslim world, such as Professor Bernard Lewis, duly noted Qutb's and others' writings encouraging such extreme views. However, visits to Islamic countries provide glimpses of ongoing transformation of Muslim societies. Where once women freely moved about without covering their heads in cities such as Cairo, Amman, and Istanbul, they now cover their faces or at least wear a scarf. This is an outward symbol of identifying with the new spirit of Islam. On my last visit to the Balkans, I saw hundreds of new minarets over the vast landscape. A simple question received a simple answer. Who is financing the building of these new mosques? In every case, the reply was Libya, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic countries. It is clear now that this is not just a local phenomenon, but a serious worldwide attempt by Islam to assert itself, mostly by radicalizing millions of Muslims. It may be argued that this does not justify terrorism or other violent acts, but it does supply the faithful with sufficient ambiguity about the use of violence to achieve ultimate aims. The Islamic effort is not uniform, as should be clear from the diversity of Muslim nations. Yet, there is a certain unity of views that prevails among this group of a billion-plus people.
In this reality, Israel not only confronts the Arabs of Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, but also the larger world of some 57 countries. That, I submit, is one more reason that the external profile of Israel must be defended with much more vigor than currently demonstrated by Israeli governments or understood by the Israeli public. Perhaps this illustrates the difficulty of brokering an agreement between Israel and the Arab-Palestinians. While it is possible to imagine that directly interested parties might be able to come to an understanding, any agreement would also be subject to pressures from distant Muslim governments. Teheran, Riyadh, or Damascus can, by activating hostilities or just voicing opposition, stop or torpedo bilateral agreements.
How is Arab-Palestinian and general Islamic propaganda furthering their views? How is it possible to sell the Palestinian version of reality to billions of people? It seems inexplicable, particularly because many Arabs consider their Palestinian brothers exceptionally intelligent. The acknowledgement of the Palestinians as a talented people is reflected by the fact that they are sometimes referred to as "the Jews of the Middle East."
Key messages are propagated in multiple ways, and at considerable financial cost: vast TV networks targeting specific audiences, radio stations servicing over a billion people, printed materials freely distributed within and outside the UMMA (Muslim community). Most issues, especially about Israel, receive similar treatment. "Visuals," which present one-sided reality, always have exceptional impact. All of these tactics, augmented by Friday noon exhortations by Islamic clerics, are the main sources of information that create the Islamic perception of the world.
DEVELOPMENT OF PROPAGANDA AS A TOOL OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Most historians and academic observers note that some kind of propaganda has existed in most societies. Modern analysts can point to specific activities by states or rulers that tried to influence their citizens or other states into accepting a given point of view. Specifically, it is accepted that contemporary use of such tactics to influence others dates to 1622, when Pope Gregory XV founded the "Sacred Congregation of Propaganda" (Sacra congregation christiano nomini propaganda) or briefly "propaganda fide" (faith). Its mission was to spread Catholicism and the regulation of certain ecclesiastical affairs. The means of doing so comes close to what we today call psychological warfare, or "mind control."
Principles of Propaganda
In early 20th century, psychologist Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud) and American journalist Walter Lipman were among the first to codify some principles of propaganda. They were hired by the United States President, Woodrow Wilson, to channel public opinion in favor of entering W.W.I. on Great Britain's side. Edward Bernays saw propaganda "as a modern instrument by which…….intelligent men can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos." And, during WW II, using various methods of "persuasion," Nazi minister Joseph Goebbels instituted the "PROMI" (German abbreviation for "Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda).
In broad terms, propaganda may take 3 forms. WHITE propaganda comes from a clearly identifiable source; BLACK propaganda, which appears to be derived from a friendly origin, but is really from the opposite side; and GREY propaganda, which appears as if it is emanating from a neutral side, but is really originating in the adversary's camp. Islamic propaganda uses all available methods, but is characterized by rapid reaction to events and immediate visual (selected) evidence to support their cause. To them, it is less important that the information may be found to be incorrect or even a complete fabrication AFTER the fact; the key to its impact is its initial, often visceral, effect. It often seems as if the Jihadists' propaganda crosses the line of credibility, inspired by a consideration that "shading" the truth in the service of Islam is permissible.
There exist today many books, internet sources, and publications dealing with the subject of propaganda. Here are excerpts from a few.
PROPAGANDA COMES OF AGE, by Professor Michael Choukas (Public Affairs Press). "The assertion has been made that the educator teaches us how to think, but the propagandist teaches us what to think." Professor Choukas also wrote: "Science is fundamentally informative; propaganda is exclusively manipulative."
The Propaganda Analysis Institute offers the following definition: "Propaganda is the expression of opinion or action by individuals or groups deliberately designed to influence opinions or action -to achieve predetermined ends."
PSYCHOLOGY - THE THIRD DIMENSION OF WAR, by C.C. Pratt. In this treatise, we find the following assertion: "We live in an age of intense propaganda, of intolerant and strident promulgation of ideologies. To turn a deaf ear is to court disaster, for no man can live completely outside his time and place. Better to sharpen the wits in order better to appreciate truth that lies concealed in many a verbal distortion." Even Plato considered the meaning of propa-gandistic endeavors. He maintained that the use of falsehood by those who rule should be condoned if done for the benefit of society.
JACQUES ELLUL, the French writer on this subject states that "Propaganda is a technique rather than science." Today, this is open to argument because norms have been established by several practitioners indicating how propaganda came of age and how practical application is often connected to s c ientifically sensitized doctrines.
JOHN C. CLEWS offers several interesting observations such as "The Muslim technique had much in common with those used by dictatorships in modern times….between conversion and extinction."
He observed that in ancient Rome, Emperor Nero formed a group of 5,000 young men called AUGUSTALES, who were trained to deliberately incite crowds .. .when fervor had to be established for the execution of the Christians. Clews also noted that Goebbels used to say, "Propaganda need not necessarily be true, but it must be credible." Other gems from Clews include, "Many people are indignant about the application of propaganda in defense of the country….because to ignore realities and to dismiss propaganda, simply because it contains obvious lies and offends our intellectual senses, but if it achieves its purpos - what reason is there for us to laugh, or to feel indignantly and morally superior."
SUZAN LABIN, in Il EST MOINS CINQ reminds us that systematic propaganda can be a cheap weapon, whether in terms of financial cost or the saving of manpower.
MURRAY DYER, in "The Weapon on the Wall" synthesized the general theory of propaganda validity by writing that "for furthering national policy in a modern world.requires equivalent status with the three established branches of government to which we have been long accustomed - the diplomatic, military and the economic." Mr. Dyer has served as the instructor of the Imperial Japanese Naval Engineering College and senior researcher at John Hopkins University.
The reader of this essay may also explore other texts, such as PROPAGANDA by Kendall Taylor, (2003); THE ART OF PERSUASION by Jane DeRose Evans, University of Michigan Press, (1992);
AGE OF PROPAGANDA by Anthony R. Pritkanis and Elliot Aronson (1992); INSURGENT TERRORISM AND WESTERN NEWS MEDIA by Alex Schmidt and Janny De Graf; and AL-KAI'DA by Vlado Azimovic, Radio Free Europe, Prague, 2007.
It is not impossible to assume that in this field (i.e., propaganda or ideological warfare) Israeli elites will continue to ignore the importance of this science or art. The world will continue to be inundated by Islamic and anti-Semitic distortions, and that, as a state and society, Israel will continue to suffer the consequences. Many Israelis are against propaganda as a matter of principle. Others, in or out of the Government, can conclude that a concerted, large-scale effort to initiate propaganda on behalf of Israel is beyond the financial capacity of the state, which also assumes that tanks and planes can solve most situations.
Nevertheless, the question of how Israel could avail itself of the advantages derived from a well organized propaganda campaign remains a legitimate one. Such a campaign could start with the gradual development of concentric spheres of activity, with the first wave consisting of 16 hours of daily TV broadcasts offering Arab news, analyses, and commentary tailored to Arab audiences in the West Bank, Gaza, and within Israel. Stations would have to have sufficient broadcasting power to be seen and heard in every city, town, and hamlet where the Arabs of Palestine live. The TV enterprise would have to be managed and staffed by the best minds Israelis can muster, becoming a believable source for instant challenges to the inaccuracies, distortions, and lies of other Arab-Palestinian media outlets. A powerful radio network should complement the mega TV effort in reaching the same target-audience. Filling 16 hours of programming will be a challenge, but should include positive and factual images from the lives of ordinary
Arabs and Israelis. All programming should be honest, precise, visual (in TV broadcasts), verifiable, and above all, believable.
TV and radio are not the only tools in the propaganda war. Print and online media, arts, science, and general education, are all vehicles that can be utilized to influence the vast Arab-Palestinian audiences. The ultimate target of this huge enterprise would be to generate an atmosphere in which the people of the area could visualize a modus vivendi for the two societies. There should be no illusion that this will be easy. For Israel, this would be a big change. Israelis will have to accept propaganda as an important weapon in their arsenal, one that can be very effective in their struggle to survive. Even now, as I write this essay, a number of non-Islamic states have started questioning the legitimacy of the State of Israel. In time, this chorus will only become louder and Israel will be placed in an ever more precarious position.
After the initial regional wave of Israeli propaganda takes shape, targeting the West Bank, Gaza, and Israeli-Arabs, it should be followed up with initiatives targeting neighboring countries, namely Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Given the anti-Semitic virus that appears to be endemic in Europe, and assuming physical and/or technical feasibility, Israel may attempt to extend its propaganda all the way to Scandinavian countries.
With diminishing alliances, an insecure future with a political umbrella of only one major power on the Security Council, and a rich and vitriolic Islamic World bent on the annihilation of Israel, Israel is left with few realistic options. Placed on the scale of probability and effectiveness, propaganda may be the best chance and perhaps the cheapest defense mechanism available. In or out of Israel, does anybody see other alternatives? The unique Israeli situation demands sophisticated intervention within the Islamic world. Those who have to make decisions about the present and future of Israel do not have clear cut choices.
Propaganda on a large scale is just one possible tool.
Joseph Gottfried (ten.htuoslleb|iznifttog#ten.htuoslleb|iznifttog)