maandag 15 april 2024



Western politicians are absolute clowns, but they have no self-awareness. “Iran’s actions are reckless!” Surprisingly, this interviewer had a logical follow-up question:

J. Dylan van Houcke: An Introduction to Hasbara Propaganda


An Introduction to Hasbara Propaganda

Israel’s war on the truth

J. Dylan van Houcke
Anti-Hasbara Handbook
·11 min read·Mar 19, 2024

Anyone active in the Palestinian solidarity movement will have been bombarded by identical pro-Israel and pro-Zionist arguments. More often than not, these arguments come straight from either the Hasbara Handbook— sponsored by ‘The Jewish Agency for Israel’ and the ‘American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’ — or the ‘Israel Project’s’ 2009 Global Language Dictionary.

These propaganda manuals teach the basics of Hasbara — a word in Hebrew that roughly translates to ‘explaining’. Hasbara propaganda is used by a range of pro-Israel propagandists, from spokespeople for the Israeli government and military to pro-Zionist students both within the state of Israel and campuses around the Americas and Europe.

The arguments promoted by Hasbara propaganda have even seeped into the rhetoric of many Zionist politicians in the Americas and Europe. They are often repeating Hasbara talking points without having checked their factual accuracy.

Recently, the Canadian post-secondary education minister for British Columbia, Selina Robinson, was forced to resign after having regurgitated the Zionist project’s colonial myth that Palestine was “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it”.

Even though Israeli government officials, Zionist organisations and Israeli politicians set the tone that all Hasbara propagandists follow — it does not take long after Israel’s government’s spokespeople have debuted a Hasbara argument before the Hasbara propagandists flood the internet with multiple variations of it — one of the tactics of Hasbara is to advance its propaganda through people without a known connection to those organisations and politicians.

The idea is that people are less distrustful of information and arguments that comes from perceived independent voices. An uninformed audience is more willing to accept such information and arguments as truth. The Hasbara Handbook calls this the ‘plain folks’ technique.

Student propagandists

Zionist organisations like the New York-based Hasbara Fellowships provide training in Hasbara propaganda and other support for students in North America who want to become “effective pro-Israel activists on college campuses”. As part of its Israel Programs, Hasbara Fellowships “brings hundreds of students to Israel every summer and winter, giving them the information and tools to return to their campuses as pro-Israel activists and leaders”.

In 2013, the BBC reported that Israel’s Prime Minister’s office recruits Israeli students to a government-funded ‘covert units’ to defend the country on social media. The more than 500 recruited student propagandists were instructed to withhold the information that they were on the Israeli government’s payroll, to make their activity on social media appear as the work of politically neutral observers.

Propaganda cells like these are particularly active during Israel’s wars. During Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, the Israeli Ynet reported that students from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya — now called the Reichman University — set up a ‘war room’ for what they considered an equally important mission as those that recruited to fight, the dissemination of Israeli propaganda. More than 400 students volunteered with the goal “to convey a very clear message: Israel has the right to defend itself”.

The Hasbara misinformation war

During Israel’s current war on Gaza, the American and European corporate and state-owned media, as well as social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, are bombarded with Hasbara propaganda.

Not only Hasbara propagandists but also journalists spread such propaganda by, without questioning, repeating Hasbara fake news stories like the 40 beheaded babies story, the baby that was thrown into an oven story and the now largely debunked and controversial article by the New York Times on the alleged use of systematic rape by Hamas.

All these stories lay the foundation for Western governments to support Israel’s war on Gaza without enforcing the restrictions set by international humanitarian law. They were instrumental in the creation of the anti-Gaza sentiment that caused Western governments and politicians to support Israel’s war crimes and their failure to prevent the Gazan genocide.

In the United Kingdom, the leader of the once-leftist British Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said that Israel has the right to collectively punish the Gazan population by shutting down the electricity and power to Gaza. When pressed on this, Labour’s shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, seemed to imply that this blatant violation of international humanitarian law falls within what she believes is Israel’s “absolute right to self-defence”.

In the United States, one of the few members of Congress who openly spoke against Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, the only Palestinian American member of Congress, Rashida Tlaib, was censured by a vote by the House of Representatives. More than twenty members of the Democratic Party joined the Republicans in favour of her censorship.

The offences levied against Rashida Tlaib by her colleagues in the House of Representatives were that she called for the destruction of Israel and accused Israel of genocide. Her detractors based the former accusation solely on her use of the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. The fact that she accused Israel of genocide cannot possibly be a valid reason for a censure, as the International Court of Justice has found that Israel is ‘plausibly’ guilty of violating the Genocide Convention.

Another member of the House of Representatives, Ilhan Omar, was stripped of her role in the Foreign Affairs Committee for her remark that “we must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity”. A statement that was criticised by members of the Democratic Party for “drawing false equivalencies” between the actions of a democracy like Israel and “groups that engage in terrorism”.

The role of Hasbara propaganda in the Gazan genocide

Following Israel’s claims that employees of UNRWA were involved in Hamas’ attack on the 7th of October and that UNRWA is a proxy of Hamas, the USA was quick to cut their funding to the UN agency. The United Kingdom, Germany, some other, mainly Western, countries and the European Union soon followed suit. This has aggravated the already dire situation in Gaza by limiting the work of the most important organisation for the distribution of aid in the war-torn region.

According to Reuters, a UNRWA report included allegations of UNRWA staff, who had been detained by Israel and released back into Gaza, that Israel coerced some agency employees to falsely admit Hamas links through the use of torture methods like “waterboarding”, “severe physical beatings” and “threats of harm to family members”.

In an interview with CBS News, United States Senator Chris Van Hollen said that based upon the classified report prepared by the Director of National Intelligence, “there’s no doubt that the claim that Prime Minister Netanyahu and others are making, that somehow UNRWA is a proxy for Hamas, are just flat out lies.”

Reporting by the Financial Times and Channel 4 News exposed that Israel’s intelligence assessment provided “no evidence” for its claims, and, as reported by The Guardian, two months after the initial allegations, Israel has yet to provide any evidence that employees of UNRWA are part of Hamas, let alone that UNRWA as an institution was involved.

AustraliaCanadaSweden, and the European Union have reinstated their aid to UNRWA, and government officials from countries that suspended their funding are now openly speaking of the agency’s importance.

Recently, Hasbara propagandists have argued that Israel allows more than enough food into Gaza but that Hamas takes this aid for themselves.

In response to this Hasbara line, Senator Von Hollen stated that the United States Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues, David Satterfield, “has said very clearly that when it comes to UN provided humanitarian assistance, like humanitarian assistance through UNRWA, there’s been no evidence of diversion to Hamas.”

In an interview with Mondoweiss, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, accused Israel of “engineering famine”. In modern history, “we have never seen a civilian population made to go hungry so completely and so quickly”, Michael Fakhri said.

European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is “manmade and when we look for alternative ways of providing support by sea, by air, we have to remind [ourselves] that we have to do it because the natural way of providing support through roads is being […] artificially closed”, Borrell said.

The latest Hasbara claim is that plenty of food is available in Gaza. This grotesque lie made its debut in statements by the IDF and has been adopted by pro-Israel propagandists like the British rightwing commentator Melanie Phillips, who repeated it on the BBC Question Time.

The World Health Organisation is sounding the alarm because an ever-growing amount of children in Gaza are dying from malnutrition. Fifteen children have already died of malnutrition at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza City alone. Fears are that the figures are higher in other hospitals.

The UN reported that in northern Gaza, one in six children under the age of two “were found to be acutely malnourished”. Another UN report concluded that “famine is imminent and likely to occur by May in northern Gaza and could spread across the enclave by July”, Reuters reports.

Now, even the Israel-apologist-in-chief, the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has admitted that the entire population of Gaza is experiencing “severe levels of acute food insecurity”.

The Hasbara propaganda on UNRWA has contributed to inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the Gazans, which is an act of genocide.

Read more about Israel’s restrictions on aid in my article ‘Restricting Aid as an Act of Genocide’ and about the Hasbara lies about UNRWA in my article ‘Israel’s War on UNRWA’.

The Hasbara approach to propaganda

The expressed goal of the Hasbara Handbook is to provide pro-Israel and pro-Zionist students with the tools to influence public opinion, public leaders and the leaders and opinion formers of the future. The 2009 Global Language Project’s expressed goal is to “help you communicate effectively in support of Israel” with many specific words and phrases.

The Hasbara Handbook outlines two main approaches to their advocacy for Israel: ‘neutralising negativity’ and ‘pushing positivity’. The former approach concerns defending Israel by countering harmful impressions and accusations.

In its own words, this “often involves arguing over sequences of events, attempting to reframe debates to focus on different issues, and placing events in a wider context, so that the difficulty of Israel’s situation is understood in a more positive light”.

Recently, the most used tactic of Hasbara propagandists is to ‘neutralising negativity’ surrounding Israel’s war on Gaza by referring to the ‘October 7’. They like to push the message that Israel’s most recent war on Gaza history began on the 7th of October, that everything that has happened since is purely a response to Hamas’ attack and that this attack itself was unprovoked.

Another common Hasbara propaganda attempt to dissolve Israel from the culpability of its war crimes is that the war would be over if Hamas surrendered itself. Implicit in these comments is that all crimes committed by Israel are Hamas’ fault. In the mind of the Hasbara propagandist, Israel is made a victim of Hamas by being forced to commit war crimes.

The most egregious example of these mental gymnastics came from the fourth prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir, who stated that they “can never forgive the Arabs for making us kill children” — framing themselves as the victim absolves them from all feelings of responsibility and guilt. They claim not to be responsible for their crimes because others have forced them to commit them. This logic is a central aspect of many Hasbara arguments.

The approach of ‘pushing positivity,’ aims to gain sympathy for Israel by highlighting what it believes are topics that show Israel in a positive light. This approach “often involves setting the agenda, focusing on some of the more positive features of Israel, and taking the lead in attacking the Palestinian leadership in an effort to allow people to view Israel favourably in comparison”, the Hasbara Handbook states.

As future articles on this blog will show, Hasbara propagandists often pair both approaches with disingenuous arguments, a flawed interpretation of principles of international law, and an attempt to distract from issues related to Israel’s war crimes and oppression of the Palestinian people.

The Hasbara propaganda technique of ‘setting the agenda’

“By setting the agenda Israel activists get to determine what to talk about, and can therefore discuss the things they feel help promote the pro-Israel message”, the Hasbara Handbook states. Moreover, by setting the agenda, they can avoid being forced into a position where they must defend the indefensible to not surrender the argument.

To avoid such a position, the Hasbara Handbook teaches people not to “allow themselves to be placed in a position where they are likely to get out of their depth”. It even states that “an Israel activist should not agree to speak in a debate against someone likely to be much more experienced and well versed than they are”.

Hasbara propagandists nowadays usually attempt to frame the discourse as a dichotomy between supporting Israel and supporting Hamas, both to promote the idea that everything that Israel does is part of their objective to defeat Hamas and to equate support of the Palestinian people and criticism of Israel with support of Hamas and its reactionary views.

The former ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mark Regev, was caught on a hidden camera of Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit instructing members of the Labour Friends of Israel group to question Labour Party members why “people that consider themselves progressives support reactionaries like Hamas” and to frame it “in the language of social democracy”.

The Hasbara Handbook teaches ‘Seven Basic Propaganda Devices’ meant to “engage the emotions, and downplay rationality, in an attempt to promote a certain message”.

It cynically teaches the use of fear as one of these basic propaganda devices because the audience is “too preoccupied by the threat of terrible things to think critically” about the message. Fear “is easily manipulated in a climate that is already steeped in fear by the threat of global terror”, the Hasbara Handbook states.

Hasbara propagandists often pair their goal to frame the debate as a Hamas versus Israel dichotomy with arguments that play into their audience’s racism and fear of Arabs. The Hasbara Handbook states that “deep-seated fear” of the audience “can be tapped into” by creating such dichotomies.

In the last months of 2023 and the first months of 2024, we have seen the use of a false Israel versus Hamas dichotomy and the use of fear as propaganda devices in action in the statements of Western government officials and other politicians who called the protests against the Gazan genocide “pro-Hamas rallies” and “hate marches”.

Or by warning that we should not let “extremists hijack your marches”. Even though, throughout the world, the Palestinian solidarity protests have been remarkably peaceful for demonstrations of their size.

Pro-Israel journalists also try to manipulate their audience by using this false dichotomy and their audience’s fear through their constant need to question whether their pro-Palestinian guests “condemn Hamas”.

More often than not, this is done at the start of an interview to immediately frame the discourse in a way that puts pro-Palestinian guests in a position in which they has to defend his humanity in order not to lose their credibly.

Another technique that Hasbara propagandists use is to infuse the discourse with words and phrases that are inherently positive to Israel and negative to Palestinians. The Hasbara Handbook calls this ‘name calling’ when used to portray Palestinians negatively and ‘glittering generality’ when used to portray Israel positively.

The Hasbara Handbook includes sections called ‘What’s In a Word?’ and the 2009 Global Language Project has similar sections called ‘Words That Work’ and ‘Words That Do Not Work’ to provide the language needed to frame the discourse in a way that benefits Hasbara propagandists.

The Hasbara Handbook provides many examples such as the use of ‘terrorist’ instead of ‘militant’, ‘freedom fighter’ or ‘activist’ to describe Palestinians that resist their oppression, the use of ‘riot’ instead of ‘demonstration’ to describe Palestinian protests and conversely ‘demonstration’ instead of ‘riot’ to describe the protests of Israeli settlers, the use of ‘town’ instead of ‘refugee camp’ to describe the settlements of Palestinian refugees, and the use of ‘suburb’, ‘village’, ‘rural community’ or ‘planned community’ instead of ‘settlement’ to describe the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

This blog will provide a guide on how to debunk the Hasbara propaganda arguments. Articles will include news stories, explanations of international law, summaries of relevant literature, and NGO/UN reports necessary to debunk these arguments.


  S.L. Kanthan @Kanthan2030 Western politicians are absolute clowns, but they have no self-awareness. “Iran’s actions are reckless!” Surpr...