FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States

by

In the conflict over the land of Palestine, Israel’s overpowering military superiority has produced decisive battlefield victories. But just as crucial to Israeli dominance in that region is its supremacy in the U.S. news media, which is captured in the title of an important new film from the Media Education Foundation, “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States.”

[Disclosure: I have been a consultant to, and interviewed for, other documentaries produced by MEF, including the 2004 film “Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land” and the 2006 film “Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire.”]

The film’s analysis is crucial to understand why—given the longstanding international consensus for a peaceful settlement that would give both Israelis and Palestinians a secure national homeland—the conflict drags on in its seventh decade. Whatever one’s position on how to resolve the conflict, it is uncontroversial that Israel could not continue occupying Palestinian territory without U.S. diplomatic, military, and economic support, and it’s unlikely that support could continue without the backing—or, at least, acquiescence—of the U.S. public.

Israeli officials understand that, and “The Occupation of the American Mind” offers a sophisticated analysis of their strategy to keep both policymakers and the public in the United States on their side, illustrated with detailed examples of how Israel successfully borrows from the contemporary advertising/marketing/public relations industries—the folks who produce what is best described as propaganda.

The basics of that propaganda are easy to identify: simplistic phrases, repeated over and over, designed to engage emotions rather than produce rational arguments, all shaped to fit into a narrative of good (Western-oriented Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy) versus evil (Arab/Muslim terrorists who seek not only to destroy the Jewish state but kill all Jews).

To accept this impoverished account of the conflict, we would have to rewrite history, reject international law, and ignore the struggle over land and resources that is at the heart of the conflict. Because those realities have been so obscured, “The Occupation of the American Mind” begins with a straightforward account of the politics of the conflict. No summary of such a contentious issue is neutral, of course, but the film explains clearly the 1948 and 1967 wars that left Israel in its current position of overwhelming dominance. Israel’s image as an underdog fighting for survival became difficult to sustain after those military victories and the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That’s where the propaganda campaign becomes central.

Israel invested considerable resources in the media project after its brutal 1982 invasion of Lebanon started to turn world opinion toward support for the Palestinian cause. Rather than reconsider its policy of maximal expansion and crushing Palestinian aspirations for a state, Israel ratcheted up its media campaign, dubbed hasbara, which translates as “explanation.” In combination with aggressive lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, that campaign has been amazingly effective at undermining an open debate in the United States.

Viewers expecting conspiracy theories about how Jews control the media or secretly run the U.S. government will be disappointed. “The Occupation of the American Mind” analyzes how the professional practices of U.S. news media—primarily a slavish reliance on official sources, combined with the unexamined ideological assumptions about the rightful dominance of the United States in world affairs—leave journalists susceptible to manipulation by the Israeli public relations machine. That media strategy supports the efforts of the Israel lobby that targets elected officials, who also have their own strategic interests in allying the United States with Israel.

All of this is the way media and politics work in the real world, where money and power so often trump law and moral principles. “The Occupation of the American Mind” explains how that works in the case of Israel/Palestine, a conflict in which cynicism and despair come easy for many in the United States. But the film is, in the end, a hopeful one, based on the belief that accurate information can be the basis for rational discussion that can change public policy in a democratic society.

How rational we humans really are, well, that’s an open question. But nowhere is such faith in education, dialogue, and people more needed than Israel/Palestine

“The Occupation of the American Mind” is available via streaming and DVD at http://www.occupationmovie.com/. For information on the Media Education Foundation, visit http://www.mediaed.org/.

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail