By Omar Mansour
“I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.” This quote from current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to Israeli settlers in the West Bank in 2001 shows why Americans would do well to educate themselves as to how they can be so easily moved when it comes to the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
This is why Students for Justice in Palestine will be screening “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in The United States.” The film sheds light on the mainstream media’s role in creating a pro-Israel narrative. Tune into most mainstream news outlets and you will find much more coverage in line with the Israeli narrative that ignores the Palestinian perspective. As a result, it leaves Israel’s human rights abuses largely unchallenged on the air. If they are challenged, they may be dismissed by the anchor and will usually go back to a core talking point.
Any American who follows the news will hear regular accounts of Palestinians committing acts of violence. Israeli government officials and spokespeople will be called on the air, and the message will reaffirm Israel’s right to defend itself. However, these news stories tell us almost nothing about why this violence exists in the first place. The media leads us to believe that Palestinians are inherently violent, anti-Semitic terrorists who cannot accept Israel as a Jewish state.
Yet the media ignores subjects that effect Palestinians every day: the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the continued expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements in Palestinian territory, home evictions and demolitions by the Israel Defense Forces, the separation wall, military checkpoints, bombing campaigns and the utter denial of Palestinians’ most basic human rights.
This elision of context is the essence of what is called “Hasbara,” or “explanation” in Hebrew. As the magazine Haaretz explains, “Hasbara” is a form of propaganda on an international scale, sanctioned by the Israeli government and primarily aimed at western countries and is meant to influence conversation in a way that positively portrays Israeli policies. “Hasbara” targets political elites and the public simultaneously through the mass media, and is carried out by government agencies, nonprofits, lobbying groups, students, journalists and bloggers.
Popular discourse about Gaza provides one good example of the effectiveness of “Hasbara.” Many argue that Israel withdrew all its settlements from Gaza in a gesture of good will and peace, when all they got in return was Hamas firing rockets at them. Israeli officials have repeated this go-to talking point in the midst of Israel’s horrific bombing campaigns on the Gaza Strip in 2008 and 2014.
Given this set of facts, one would be inclined to side with Israel. However, reality paints a different picture. The fact is that Israel never left the Gaza Strip. They withdrew their settlements, but they retain complete control over Gaza through land, air and sea; the Israel Defense Forces use giant walls, watchtowers, gun boats and military aircraft overhead. No Palestinian is allowed in or out of Gaza without Israel’s permission – for this reason, Gaza is often compared to an open-air prison. With these important details left out, Americans are left with only the pro-Israel narrative to refer to when forming their opinions.
The arguments raised in this submission are explored in greater detail in “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in The United States.” The film takes a close look at pro-Israel public relations efforts inside the U.S. and shows how the Israeli government, the U.S. government and pro-Israel advocacy groups work together to direct U.S. mainstream media coverage in favor of Israel and against Palestinians.
The film provides a complete analysis of Israel’s long fought battle for the minds of the American people, which has only intensified over the years due to widening international condemnation. As long as the United States continues to support Israel and its oppressive policies, Palestinians will see no change for the better. And the American government will support these policies as long as the American population tolerates them.
As a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, I would like to invite those who completely disagreed with this piece as well as those who know nothing about the conflict to come watch this film with us and join in on a discussion with the executive producer Sut Jhally and founding Pink Floyd member Roger Waters.
The screening will be held Wednesday in James Bridges Theatre at 7:00 p.m. You can visit our Facebook page for more information and to reserve a free ticket. The worst it will do is change your mind.