Probably the most common Israeli propaganda tactic is the smear: an attempt to discredit enemies by making spurious associations and linkages, as well as outright fabrication of allegations of impropriety.
In Victor Ostrovsky’s By Way of Deception, an old book by a disgruntled Mossad agent, he recounts that the Mossad often tried to do this to Palestinian leaders, with mixed results. It usually aimed to outright murder them. But when it was unable to, or it was thought politically inopportune to do so, it instead tried character assassination.
Ostrovsky says that because the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was well supported by the Palestinian population, and was known by everyone to not be personally corrupt, living a frugal lifestyle, they could not successfully smear him by claiming he was a corrupt dictator in the mould of other Arab leader such as Saddam Hussein. Instead they spread lurid rumours about his sex life, some of which still live on in the world of the most crude Israeli propaganda.
The most common form of Israeli smear of course is the claim of “anti-Semitism” by Israel’s enemies. It is a dirty tactic, but is one practically as old as Zionism itself. Anyone who speaks out in defence of the Palestinian struggle for justice and who has any kind of public profile will sooner or later be accused of anti-Semitism by Israel and its propagandists.
This explains the manufactured scandal in the Labour Party last year, which briefly threatened Jeremy Corbyn’s position as leader. This systematic and long-standing Israeli strategy is wrong on the most fundamental level of facts and justice for those so falsely accused, but it is also wrong because of the harm it does to the Jewish community.
False and politically motivated smears of “anti-Semitism” in defence of Israel distract from and damage the struggle against genuine cases of anti-Semitism, which overwhelmingly come from the political right. In fact, many of Israel’s best friends around the world in positions of political influence are increasingly associated with “alt-right” anti-Semites. Richard Spencer calls himself a “White Zionist.” Former top Trump adviser Steve Bannon is set to speak at November’s annual gala for the Zionist Organization of America. Even the far-right in Britain seems to be in love with Israel, operating as it does as an anti-Muslim bulwark (while conveniently removing Jews from Britain – a project anti-Semites and Zionists both support).
But another smear strategy Israel has long indulged in, increasingly since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, is the attempt to claim its critics are motivated by violent Islamic extremism. In the last few years, this has taken the form of Israel attempting to lump “Islamist” parties and movements all in together, as if groups with widely differing aims and methods were a monolithic bloc.
“Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly in 2014. But the reality could not be more different.
The truth is that Hamas is at war with the Daesh group, and has successfully held it at bay for years now. The two groups have very different visions, motivations and methods. Daesh considers Hamas an apostate movement which participates in democratic elections, and because it is an essentially nationalist Palestinian movement. Daesh, on the other hand wants to see a supra-national state which would stretch from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east and wipe out existing national borders.
With Daesh’s horrendous attacks against civilians, and its brutal methods of dealing with even the most timid of critics, it is no wonder it wishes to attack Hamas. The most recent reminder of this reality came in August.
A Palestinian border post in the southern Gaza Strip was attacked by an Daesh suicide bomber, resulting in the death of Nidal al-Jaafari, a Hamas security man. Daesh and other extremist groups have been fighting Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula for years.
Although this is the first time Hamas forces have been targeted by a suicide bombing, it marks the latest in a longer history of Hamas struggle against Daesh and other such extremist groups.
Israeli propaganda assaults on Hamas for its supposed closeness to Daesh are particularly ironic considering Israel’s openly expressed support for al-Qaeda and Daesh in Syria.
Last year director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies Efraim Inbar claimed that Daesh was “a useful tool in undermining” Iran. Furthermore the former Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon said at a conference that if he had to pick a side out of Iran and Daesh in Syria: “I choose the Islamic State”. He argued that “our greatest enemy is the Iranian regime”.
Which possibly explains why, unlike Hamas, Israel is content to leave Daesh well alone.