Misinformation warfare is transforming historic anti-Semitism into raging Israelophobia, informs Telegraph.co.uk.
How Hamas is winning the propaganda war against Israel
Hamas-Israel War Propaganda
Take a step back and the morality of the matter should be simple. A jihadi group carries out what may be the worst terrorist atrocity in history against the civilians of a liberal democracy. Facing an existential threat, that country – which for almost two decades has been providing the enclave with electricity and water while its leaders spend their funds on terror infrastructure – launches defensive military action.
Civilians die in the crossfire; such is the hell of war. There are only so many beheadings a nation can take.
Yet YouGov polling has revealed that the sympathies of the great British public are divided. Of those surveyed, 21pc support Israel, while 17pc side with the Palestinians. Even this level of support is likely to collapse in the coming weeks, as Hamas gains ground in the propaganda war. Mass rallies are being held on the streets of our major cities, while on social media, hashtags like #palestiniangenocide are trending.
The BBC until a few days ago refused to call Hamas terrorists; it reported an explosion in a hospital with a heavy implication that Israel is to blame, based on information from officials allegedly from the very same gang that reportedly beheaded the babies. In the days since, a wealth of evidence proved that it was a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket. Regardless, 91pc of respondents to an X/Twitter poll of more than 710,000 people continued to insist that it was the Jews.
The National Jewish Assembly protests the BBC’s refusal to label Hamas as terrorists CREDIT: Guy Smallman/Getty Images Europe
Partly, this is enabled by modernity. No conflict in the world is as closely documented as that between Israel and its enemies, and nowhere is such material so intensely weaponised. In Gaza, Hamas ensures that foreign journalists only have access to dead or wounded civilians, not terrorists, creating the impression that Israel is only killing the innocent.
Nor are cameramen allowed to record hostilities; in 2014, some Indian journalists managed to film Hamas terrorists launching rockets from a densely populated civilian area near to their hotel. It created a sensation, since such footage was normally repressed by Hamas.
Scenes of civilian suffering from Gaza are heartbreaking. But it is a sad truth that they are being exploited by an organisation that places as little value on the life of its own people as it does on those of Jews.
Hamas is renowned for its use of human shields. This week, it reportedly blocked civilians from fleeing the zone of conflict. It operates on a win-win basis; losses on its own side also make a valuable contribution to the war effort in moulding public opinion against its enemy.
The stream of footage emanating from Gaza is part of this project, released in the knowledge that it will be amplified by armies of useful idiots in the West. Indeed, such is the weight of the flow that it is rapidly swamping Britain’s sympathies for the victims of Hamas terror, which started this tragedy in the first place.
These useful idiots tend to be found on the political Left. As the YouGov polling revealed, while 39pc of Conservatives favour Israel, just 9pc of Labour voters hold the same view. Support for the Palestinians, by contrast, attracts 27pc of Leftists and only 6pc of those on the Right. Among 18 to 24 years olds, 39pc support the Palestinians compared to just 11pc for Israel.
Needless to say, supporting the Palestinians is a perfectly respectable cause. But when the context is a jihadi massacre by Palestinian fanatics, and when such support is accompanied by open expressions of sympathy for Hamas, it becomes rather more shadowy.
Palestinian civilians deserve our sympathy, of course, but we cannot allow this to blind us to reality. It was their fanatical leaders who brought destruction on their heads, as Israel can no longer tolerate such a threat on its border. Its first obligation is to protect its own civilians, like any other state.
‘Jews are held responsible for their own massacre’
The extent of the misinformation is staggering. Underpinning the wave of equivocation afforded the Hamas murderers is the suspicion that Israel somehow drove them to it. Gaza is an “open-air prison”, we are told, subjected to a “siege” and under “occupation”. Murder, rape and mutilation is ugly, of course, but how else were these people expected to respond.
None of this reflects reality. In a desperate attempt to win peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the territory in 2005, leaving the infrastructure intact. It was subsequently taken over by Hamas, leaving the Jewish state no alternative but to seal its border to avoid a massacre the likes of which we have now tragically seen play out in southern Israel.
Hamas went on to crash the economy, neglect the infrastructure and direct much of its funds towards the creation of the mechanisms of terror. Frequently, it would attack its neighbour. Nonetheless, Israel continued to supply Gaza with water, fuel and other supplies. Yet fast forward to the last two weeks, and Israel is blamed in many quarters for the atrocities it has suffered. Once again, Jews are held responsible for their own massacre.
This information warfare has an effect in the real world. On Thursday, when a mob surrounded a campaign van that was displaying pictures of the Israeli hostages, the police stopped the van, capitulating to the aggressors. Even some Leftist Jews are not immune, making a louder noise about the unintended deaths of Palestinian civilians than the wilful butchery of their own people.
In Tel Aviv, families of Israeli hostages mourn next to a set table, surrounded by 203 empty chairs waiting for the missing to return from captivity CREDIT: Heathcliff O’Malley
Judging from past conflicts, pro-Palestinian agitation will carry all before it until Western support for Israel evaporates. British Jews, who – according to the Metropolitan Police – are suffering an 1,350pc rise in anti-Semitism on top of the mass slaughter in Israel, are finding themselves increasingly isolated and alone.
It is dispiriting that so many Britons are succumbing to the siren call of Israelophobia. We have felt the chill of the jihadi knife ourselves. Hamas shares a common ideology and history with both Al Qaeda and Islamic State, who butchered British innocents in New York in 2001, in Manchester in 2017 and on several occasions in London. Our own people – Alan Henning, David Haines – have been reportedly beheaded by Islamists. A decapitation is a decapitation, and the perpetrators were devotees of the same creed.
Like Israel, Britain responded to this threat by going to war, joining with the Americans to kill hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and Iraq. More recently, when the RAF pulverised Islamic State from the air in Iraq and Syria, many civilians, including children, lost their lives. Israel’s war may be darker and more deadly, but it is of a piece with the struggle against global jihadism that we in Britain know all too well.
What makes it all so ironic is that those on the Left will find themselves equally in Hamas’ sights. A recent Internet meme summed it up: a photograph of a group of young people holding a banner reading “queers for Palestine” was juxtaposed with an image of a cockerel with a sign saying “chickens for KFC”.
In a video last year, the Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zatar could not have been clearer. “The entire 510 million square kilometres of planet Earth will come under (a system) where there is no injustice, no oppression, no Zionism, no treacherous Christianity,” he ranted. No Christianity? As the late Rabbi Lord Sacks famously said: “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.” If only the Left realised that it is acting as the midwife of its own destruction.
‘Oldest hatred has become Israelophobia’
At the heart of the outrage is propaganda. It’s an old-fashioned term, but it is the only way to describe the vast apparatus of disinformation and bias that has long surrounded the Israeli-Arab conflict, which was fired into action even before the blood in southern Israel was dry.
The themes are the same as they have been for centuries: the demonisation of Jews as blood suckers, manipulators, backstabbers and thieves. Only the lexicon has been updated. Given the ancient history of anti-Semitism, it should perhaps be no surprise that it persists; the only real surprise is the thinness of its new mask.
Anti-Semitism has always had the ability to appropriate the morality of the day and subvert it as a vehicle for hatred. In medieval times, hatred of Jews was made respectable by religion, as they were figured as the killers of Christ. In the 20th century, the same bigotry was repackaged in the language of pseudo-science, in which Jews were seen as an inferior and malevolent race that had to be exterminated for the good of mankind. In both cases, the anti-Semites placed themselves on the side of the angels. They have never possessed the ability to see into their own hearts.
Today, with brute racism discredited in the West by the Holocaust, the oldest hatred has moved on to become Israelophobia. With the public wise to its old vehicle of racial theory, it has repositioned itself as opposition to the Jewish national home. This allows it once again to pose as a virtue.
Israel is falsely accused of all the cardinal sins of the day, including racism, colonialism, white supremacy, ethnic cleansing, genocide and apartheid. If you are against these evils, it whispers, you will stand with us against the Jews. Once again, the oldest hatred beckons as the preserve of the righteous. Our values are turned against Israel, and in the same movement, turned against ourselves.
This demonisation of Israel has been under way long before the current war CREDIT: Shafiullah Kakar/AFP
This demonisation was underway long before the current war. Indeed, it has been part of the debate since Israel’s birth, 75 years ago. Consider the way information has long been packaged. When a video of Israeli police brutality circulates online, it is seized as a chance to denigrate the country itself as racist or white supremacist rather than condemning the officers responsible.
By comparison, our own police service is hardly beyond reproach. Of the three thousand children humiliatingly strip-searched by British police in the past four years, black children were six times more likely to be targeted, figures revealed in March. Last year, a black teenage girl said she would sue her school and the Metropolitan Police after she was pulled out of class and forced to remove her sanitary towel in a fruitless search for drugs.
In France, meanwhile, President Macron vowed to reform the police after four white officers were caught on camera beating up an unarmed black music producer in his Paris studio in 2020. The tarnished record of American policing speaks for itself. Yet the foundations of these states are not questioned.
Erasure of the Jewish state
Propaganda is in the nature of demonisation, and demonisation has always called for destruction. After all, if you continually blacken the name of a race of people, the conclusion – their extermination – is obvious. This template has been widely deployed against Jews in different societies and different times.
Take Nazi Germany. Old anti-Semitic tropes were blended with a toxic cocktail of pseudo-science, conspiracy theories and superstition. Jews were dehumanised as rats, vermin and manipulators, both degraded and figured as all-powerful.
After years of exposure to such propaganda, the German public was ready to accept the “annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe”, as Hitler infamously put it. In 1941, Joseph Goebbels was able to write in an article: “The Jews are meeting with a fate that may be harsh but is also more than deserved. In this case, pity or regret is completely inappropriate.” Few people turned a hair. How else were decent Aryans expected to deal with such a dangerous and malignant race in their midst? How are right-thinking people supposed to deal with the dangerous and malignant state of Israel?
These mechanisms of racial and religious anti-Semitism have been transferred largely intact into the political vehicle of Israelophobia, seen running riot across our country as I write. The same propaganda narrative stands: Israel is evil so it must be eradicated.
Echoing not only 20th century anti-Semitism but that of the medieval blood libel – which began in England in 1144 and spread throughout Europe, Russia and the Middle East – contemporary Israelis are accused of gratuitously murdering Palestinian children and are dehumanised as “descendants of apes and pigs”.
The myth of Judas and his 30 pieces of silver became the Jewish moneylender, which became the Jewish banker controlling world finances, which has become the Zionists buying up politicians. The greedy Jew has become the Israeli, with his troubling taste for other people’s land. The depiction of Jews with horns, cloven hoofs and tails, popular in 11th century Christendom, is mirrored in the portrayal of Israelis as Nazis, the modern devils.
The old tropes are so deeply embedded in so many cultures that Israelophobia has seamlessly absorbed them. This is the stuff that has been swirling around public discourse over the past two weeks. And it’s only getting louder.
An Israeli soldier stands next to a Hamas propaganda poster seized during a raid, at an Israeli army base in Hebron CREDIT: Jacqueline Arzt/AP
Among the many cartoons that have been circulating online in recent days is a depiction of an octopus Israel clamped over the Capitol Building or the Statue of Liberty. This is derived from a Nazi cartoon that portrayed the Jew as an octopus with the world in its grip. Similarly, the way that today’s Israelophobes talk of the “Zionist lobby” that holds Western governments in the palm of its hand has obvious antecedents in Nazi rhetoric, which alleged shadowy Jewish control of international finance and politics.
In this postwar age, the time when people in the West could call for the liquidation of the Jews has passed. But it is perfectly acceptable to use the current argot, in which demonised Israel faces self-righteous demands for its destruction. If the Jewish state is indeed carrying out a “genocide” in Gaza, has it not forfeited its “right to exist”? So ubiquitous have these notions become that people rarely wonder why no other country in the world is said to lack that right.
As the Home Secretary pointed out last week, the popular chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, which appears to be a slogan of resistance and liberation, contains a demand for the obliteration of Israel, which is located between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea.
We have heard it echoing across our streets loudly in recent days. Even calls for a “one state solution” – which on the surface appear equitable – are used as code for the erasure of the Jewish state.
The Left ‘pleads ignorance’
All too often, the breadcrumbs lead to the Left. But many of those who amplify this propaganda have no idea they are doing so. They believe they are simply doing the right thing. Because it is the language of social justice that is used so effectively as a Trojan horse for the oldest hatred, well-meaning liberals are most easily co-opted into the Israelophobic movement.
We have seen this before. Last year, Eleven Days in May, a film about the previous year’s Gaza conflict was released. Narrated by Kate Winslet, it examined the deaths of 60 Palestinian young people in a highly emotive manner, while ignoring the threat to Israel.
Before long, people began noticing inaccuracies. It suggested that Israel had “loaded up its fighter jets” with bombs and missiles after “plastic bottles” were thrown at security forces in Jerusalem and just seven rockets were launched from Gaza.
In truth, Israel had taken military action against Hamas targets after 76 rockets had been launched indiscriminately at its civilian populations; the documentary made no mention of the 4,360 rockets fired at Israel during the ensuing conflict, or the 13 Israelis who had lost their lives. These numbers seem inconsequential today, but it was a trial run for the current bloodbath.
The more the film was subjected to scrutiny, the less it was able to withstand it. Seven of the dead Palestinian youngsters it featured had actually perished when Hamas’ own rockets mistakenly hit Gaza, it emerged, while several others were underage combatants, killed while mounting attacks alongside adult militants. The whole thing began to resemble a stitch-up.
How could this have happened? There were clues. The distinguished British director, Michael Winterbottom, had not travelled to the region for the making of the film. Instead, he had relied on Mohammed Sawwaf, a Gazan, for on-the- ground material.
On social media, Sawwaf – who was billed as co-director – had celebrated the launching of rockets at civilian targets and stated that the map of Palestine should extend “from the sea to the river”, code for the dismantlement of Israel. Hamas had granted him an award for “countering the Zionist narrative”. Was there any wonder that the film was not impartial?
When the controversy erupted, the actress pleaded ignorance. “That my participation could be interpreted as taking a stand on the rights and wrongs of one of the world’s most tragic and intractable conflicts never entered my thinking,” she said. “War is a tragedy for all sides. Children have no voice in conflict. I simply wanted to lend them mine.”
‘Demonisation demands destruction’
There is no reason to doubt Winslet’s intentions, or indeed her naïveté. Observing liberals’ sensibilities, terrorist groups attempt to lure them into furthering their cause by using the language and themes of the social justice movement as a Trojan horse. In January, Deutsche Welle, Germany’s state-funded international broadcaster, was forced to apologise after airing an interview with Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for Hamas, as if he was a respectable commentator.
At the time, the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu had just formed a coalition government that included several religious chauvinists and far-Right ideologues, causing consternation both in Israel and in Jewish communities worldwide. The Hamas spokesman exploited this febrility.
Israel’s new government was, he told millions of Western viewers, “terrorist, fascist, racist like never before”. So now Hamas cares about terrorism, fascism and racism? The irony was breath-taking.
For an official from a repressive Islamist regime to weaponise liberal buzzwords to smear a democracy was the very epitome of chutzpah. It was even more astounding to see the terrorist spokesman taken seriously by Germany’s equivalent of the BBC World Service. Here, in real-time, was the cross-fertilisation between western liberals and Islamist fanatics.
Thousands gather in San Francisco to protest and condemn recent actions by the government of Israel CREDIT: Anadolu Agency
The unedifying spectacle of western progressives allying with the most fanatical, racist Islamist groups on Earth is responsible for turning public opinion against the Jewish state, even as it tries to defend itself. In any other circumstances, regimes that enforce Sharia law, carry out shootings and suicide attacks, execute homosexuals and imprison and torture their own citizens – let alone butcher 1,400 civilians in the most savage way imaginable – would be condemned outright by liberals. But not when they stand against Jews.
To have succeeded in embedding this groupthink in the mainstream, especially on the Left, is an astonishing achievement on the part of the Israelophobia movement. Its final grim achievement would be to undermine Western governments’ support for Israel in its hour of need, leaving the Jewish state more vulnerable to attack by Hezbollah and Iran and opening a deadly second front.
It is almost unthinkable. But if it ever happens, God forbid, the narrative will be predictable: the Jews brought it upon themselves. Demonisation demands destruction.
Jake Wallis Simons