28 February, 2024
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Hasbara is failing: the rising tide of public opinion against the impossible ebb of imperial “reporting”

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The 21st century has witnessed the rise of alternative media outside of the journalistic framework of the Western world. Where alternative source collection frameworks such as OSINT have existed since the 20th century, there had never been a decentralized form of mass communication before the upturn of social media in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

According to the pew research center, about half of Americans get news on social media “at least sometimes”. And the demographic profile of those who do skews younger, about 52 percent report getting their news from Tiktok, 42 percent from Twitter, and 63 percent from Snapchat. This development has distanced us from the days of opinionated reporting from the outlets of western media which brought us the classic “WMDs in Iraq” articles and the public acceptance of State Department lines. Today, these intelligence reports are challenged.

Recently, the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital was bombed in Gaza, with reports exceeding more than 500 casualties. [1] Both sides claimed the source of the explosion came from the other side, with Hamas claiming it was the Israeli-Defense Force, and the IDF first claiming it was Hamas, and then correcting their reports on further intel and reporting the source of the blast to be Palestianian Islamic Jihad, an offshoot religious extremist group that also operates out of Gaza. [2]

This incident, shrouded in the fog-of-war made waves in the alternative media community as reports from both sides flooded websites like X (formerly Twitter.) and Tiktok, with public opinion swaying in real time as the facts came out. Users report Hananya Naftali [3], a social media content creator for the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel claiming responsibility for the bombing of the hospital, later deleting his post as reports of the number of casualties flooded the website, while screenshots circulated of the IDF Arabic facebook page claiming responsibility.

Shortly after, the IDF released what it claimed to be a recording of two Hamas operatives over comms, discussing a “misfired rocket” from the Palestianian Islamic Jihad lamenting the blast. This recording was quickly challenged in the court of public opinion on social media websites such as Tiktok and X (formerly Twitter), with Arabic content creators claiming that the recording was not in a Gazan accent as it purported to be. The New Arab reports discrepancies in dialect and the usage of colloquialisms absent from the recording. [4]

In global conflicts journalism and the propagation of information suffers from a phenomenon known as the “fog-of-war”. The uncertainty experienced in situational awareness by combatants in military conflicts then extends also, to those reporting from the frontlines. As such, information coming out of a warzone is often blurry and oft downright contradictory.

Hasbara (literal; explanation in Hebrew) is the term used by the IDF for the control of the dispersion of information and the manipulation of said information. Several Israeli officials have admitted in the past to the usage of Hasbara as a tool that manipulates the fog of war to delay public perception of the state’s military and diplomatic actions. [5]

As was the case with the murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the IDF initially denied any involvement, later admitting in late 2022 that an IDF sniper did kill her. [6]

We have seen this precedent set through the obfuscation of fact coming through the fog of war, as Israel holds a hegemony over the media presence over Gaza and the West-Bank, but we can see this failing in the modern era with the usage of social media for independent analysis of these facts.

These failings of course, aren’t on one side of the conflict, Hamas and its long alleged relations with Iran have led to the escalation of conflict and the exacerbation of Israel-Palestine relations. [7]. Sources allege that Hamas’ use of optics during this asymmetric warfare have led to the escalation of this conflict and the repudiation of calls for a ceasefire. For instance, Hamas issued statements that they had attempted to release critically ill hostages for whom they could not afford medical treatment as a result of the long standing blockade of Gaza that limits medical resources, food, water, and fuel; but this offer was rejected by the IDF. These actions constituting alleged humanitarian “hostage release” have been noted as “propaganda” by the IDF and have been criticized as an attempt to garner western support, painting the group as “humane” and “kind”. [8]

More recently, Hamas issued a video of three Israeli hostages condemning the failure of the Netanyahu administration to issue a ceasefire and ensure a safe hostage exchange, this video and rhetoric from Hamas using hostages as mouthpieces have also been lambasted by the IDF as “cruel propaganda” by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. [9]

We are seeing the real-time undoing of Hasbara and the fog-of-war propaganda by forces involved in the conflict and their ability to manipulate information to win the global information war.

[1]. Al-Mughrabi, Nidal. “In Deadly Day for Gaza, Hospital Strike Kills Hundreds.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 18 Oct. 2023, www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/least-500-victims-israeli-air-strike-hospital-gaza-health-ministry-2023-10-17/.

[2]. Jobain, Najib, et al. “After Blast Kills Hundreds at Gaza Hospital, Hamas and Israel Trade Blame as Rage Spreads in Region.” AP News, AP News, 19 Oct. 2023, apnews.com/article/israel-palestinians-gaza-hamas-war-biden-rafah-e062825a375d9eb62e95509cab95b80c.

[3]. 15, Facebook postsstated on October, et al. “Politifact – Explaining a Deleted X Post That Said Israel Is Responsible for Gaza Hospital Strike.” @politifact, www.politifact.com/article/2023/oct/19/explaining-a-deleted-x-post-that-said-israel-is-re/. Accessed 26 Oct. 2023.

[4]. Nick McAlpin, Anas Ambri. “Gaza Hospital Strike: Is Israeli Audio Proof Disinformation?” The New Arab, The New Arab, www.newarab.com/news/gaza-hospital-strike-israeli-audio-proof-disinformation. Accessed 26 Oct. 2023.

[5]. Diwakar, Amar. “The Art of Deception: How Israel Uses ‘Hasbara’ to Whitewash Its Crimes.” TRT World – Breaking News, Live Coverage, Opinions and Videos, TRT WORLD, 17 May 2021, www.trtworld.com/magazine/the-art-of-deception-how-israel-uses-hasbara-to-whitewash-its-crimes-46775.

[6]. Gold, Hadas, and Abeer Salman. “Israeli Military Admits Shireen Abu Akleh Likely Killed by Israeli Fire​​​​, but Won’t Charge Soldiers.” CNN, Cable News Network, 6 Sept. 2022, www.cnn.com/2022/09/05/middleeast/idf-shireen-abu-akleh-investigation-intl/index.html.

[7]. “Hamas and Israel: Iran’s Role.” Wilson Center, www.wilsoncenter.org/article/hamas-and-israel-irans-role. Accessed 31 Oct. 2023.

[8]. “Israel Calls Hamas’ Claim It Rejected Hostage Release ‘Propaganda.’” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 21 Oct. 2023, www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/hamas-says-israel-declined-receive-two-hostages-it-intended-release-2023-10-21/.

[9]. Presse, AFP – Agence France. “Israel PM Calls Hamas Hostage Video ‘Cruel Propaganda.’” Barron’s, Barrons, 30 Oct. 2023, www.barrons.com/news/israel-pm-calls-hamas-hostage-video-cruel-propaganda-79cc66c5.

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