THE MEDIA MONOPOLY: ‘Hasbara’, The Occupation of the American Mind

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“…What we’ve seen is another kind of occupation – an occupation of American media and the American mind by a pro-Israel narrative that’s deflected attention away from what virtually everyone recognises as the best way to resolve this conflict: end the occupation and the settlements so that Palestinians can finally have a state of their own”

The Occupation of the American Mind 

Despite receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from those who have actually seen it, The Occupation of the American Mind has been repeatedly attacked and misrepresented by right-wing pressure groups and outright ignored by virtually all mainstream media outlets and North American film festivals.

Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory and repeated invasions of the Gaza strip have triggered a fierce backlash against Israeli policies virtually everywhere in the world – except the United States. The Occupation of the American Mind takes an eye-opening look at this critical exception, zeroing in on pro-Israel public relations efforts within the U.S. Narrated by Roger Waters and featuring leading observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. media culture, the film explores how the Israeli Government, the U.S. government, and the pro-Israel lobby have joined forces, often with very different motives, to shape American media coverage of the conflict in Israel’s favor.

From the U.S.-based public relations campaigns that emerged in the 1980s to today, the film provides a sweeping analysis of Israel’s decades-long battle for the hearts, minds, and tax dollars of the American people in the face of widening international condemnation of its increasingly right-wing policies. Featuring Amira Hass, M.J. Rosenberg, Stephen M. Walt, Noam Chomsky, Rula Jebreal, Henry Siegman, Rashid Khalidi, Rami Khouri, Yousef Munayyer, Norman Finkelstein, Max Blumenthal, Phyllis Bennis, Norman Solomon, Mark Crispin Miller, Peter Hart and Sut Jhally

A look at the information wars waged by Israel and its supporters to win the hearts and minds of the American people

A film by Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp
Narrator : Roger Waters
Executive Producer : Sut Jhally
Associate Producer: George Matta

The 2014 war on Gaza saw the Israeli military launch a devastating attack on the Gaza Strip. Over the course of 51 days, Israel dropped nearly 20,000 tonnes of explosives on Gaza, killing more than 2,000 Palestinians, wounding tens of thousands and obliterating countless homes. The overwhelming majority of the casualties were civilians.

The attacks sparked mass protests around the world, including a thousands-strong march in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, with a clear divide between anti-war and rightist protesters. However, the American reaction held firm in its support for Israel, in spite of the atrocities taking place on the ground. A CNN/ORC poll conducted in July of 2014 showed that only four in 10 Americans believed that Israel was using too much force against the population of Gaza. The same poll showed that 12 percent of respondents believed Israel was not using enough force.

However shocking, the unrelenting American support for Israel was nothing new. The Israeli perspective dominates the American media and pro-Israel talking points are repeated by the highest government officials and recycled endlessly by the media. How, if at all, can propaganda be uncovered if the mainstream point of view is so dominant?

Zionism, born in the late 1800s, saw the idea of Jewish entitlement to Palestine come to fruition. From an estimated 7 percent, the Jewish population of Palestine grew exponentially to a third of the total population by 1947. The events of World War II and the Holocaust contributed to the number of Jewish settlers arriving in Palestine. It was then that the British colonial government handed matters over to the newly formed United Nations.

UN Resolution 181 awarded the smaller Jewish community a significantly larger percentage of historic Palestine than its Arab population – 56 percent to Palestine’s 44, respectively. Arab leaders rejected the proposal but their protests went unheard as Zionist leaders declared Israel a state under the new UN borders, triggering the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948. A crushing defeat of the military coalition of Arab states – including Jordan (then known as TransJordan), Egypt and Lebanon – saw Israel take control of 78 percent of historic Palestine by the time armistice was declared in 1949.

In 1967, the Six-Day War would see Israel defeat much stronger Arab armies, once again. The state would lay claim to whatever remained of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. In spite of the UN Security Council passing Resolution 242 – a call for Israel to withdraw its armed forces as per international law forbidding the takeover of territory by war – American public opinion of Israeli actions did not waver.

The 1982 invasion of Lebanon, however, saw a change in the favoured tides for Israel. As images of the Sabra and Shatila massacre flooded into American news media, Israel suddenly needed to defend itself. The war in Lebanon would trigger the need for an official public relations strategy, known in Hebrew as “Hasbara”. The basic strategy would be to push back with footage of Palestinians fighting against the occupation, highlighting Israel’s role as “underdog” and “victim”.

However, with the internet and the rise of social media “news”, the Israeli government and pro-Israel groups have had a harder time managing American perceptions of the conflict. How can these changes – if any – be sustained in the long-term and will the US government ever manage its media support for Israel’s position in conflict?





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