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

December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline Decision
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail