September 30, 2009
If you have ever visited a blog or on-line discussion group on the Middle East you have doubtless had the misfortune to run into them.
They are known by the language they use: depraved sexual insults, bile, bigotry, threats, disinformation and character assassination. That’s right: I’m talking about “hasbarats,” zionist trolls who infect the Internet with hasbara, pro-Israel propaganda. Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have “hasbaratchiks,” fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel. The Internet, though, is the latest, some might say the greatest, propaganda playground, and Israel cannot cope with factual, passionate, well-documented stories that expose its war crimes and unrepentant criminality.
If you’ve come across a hasbarat, on-line or otherwise, you have learned that no amount of reasoned argument or intellectual maturity has any effect. That’s because hasbarats don’t care if they come across as ignorant, obnoxious, nasty or inane. All that matters for them is sabotaging criticism of Israel and support for Muslims. They're like anti-intellectual stink bombs: designed to cause maximum discomfort but have little if any real power.
This deliberate proliferation of on-line hasbarats raises two points. The first concerns why anyone would spend hours a day to prostitute themselves for Israel. Money, of course. Ilan Shturman, deputy director of the Israeli foreign ministry’s hasbara department (!), told an Israeli business newspaper in July that US$150,000 had been allocated for the first stage of a campaign to seed the Internet with hasbarats:
“Our people will not say: ‘Hello, I am from the hasbara department of the Israeli foreign ministry and I want to tell you the following.’ Nor will they necessarily identify themselves as Israelis. They will speak as net-surfers and as citizens, and will write responses that will look personal but will be based on a prepared list of messages that the foreign ministry developed.”
The second point is why Israel felt it had to resort to intellectual fraud on an international scale. The Internet has shown that Israel is a failed oppressor state that commits crimes against humanity as a matter of policy. The last straw for many was “Operation Cast Lead,” an act of such unspeakable unapologetic sadism that allusions to Nazi Germany are entirely appropriate.
Every day, it seems, the mythic foundations of Israel’s legitimacy—the holocaust, Jewish victimhood, Jewish “people,” Israeli “democracy,” “evil” Muslims—are exposed for all to see.
TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALA major tactic of hasbarats is to project the illusion that Israel is a normal Western democracy, thereby taking focus away from Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. Also, countries that buy into the deceit will be unwilling to criticize Israel for fear of calling into question their role in covering up zionist war crimes.
This tactic was tried at the recent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as Tel Aviv was spotlighted in a City-to-City program with Toronto. The ostensible purpose was to use an apolitical, cultural event to obscure the tyranny that Tel Aviv represents, but more than 1,000 filmmakers and performers, weren’t fooled. They put their names to The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation, an open letter to the TIFF that protested the co-optation of the festival by the Israeli propaganda machine.
The protest accomplished precisely what the hasbarats tried to prevent. “Rather than talking about Israel’s rich cinematic culture, the buzz this week in Toronto has centered on the one thing Israeli officials had sought to avoid: the conflict with the Palestinians,” reported the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
The hasbara campaign to ‘re-brand’ Israel during the Toronto International Film Festival failed miserably. So much attention was paid to the protest that it overshadowed the political objectives of Israel’s propaganda machine.