One of the fascinating dimensions of the battle between Israel and Palestine is how Israeli leaders and their American apologists keep changing their propaganda message aimed at generally ignorant Western audiences. The core, but always evolving, message that Zionists keep sending out is that Palestinians who challenge Israel are part and parcel of a larger universe of frightening figures that espouse criminal values, and represent a direct, mortal threat to Israel and also to all Western civilization.
The latest version of this fear-mongering campaign of lies and fantasy seeks to paint Hamas and others militant Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza as integral elements in the world of vicious actors and terrorists who fight in the name of Islam, such as the Salafist-takfiri extremists Islamic State in Syria-Iraq, Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban in Afghanistan. Most people in the United States or other Western lands who hear these messages lack the base of factual knowledge to understand that Israel’s accusations are bold and ridiculous lies; yet these lies often strike a receptive chord among uninformed audiences that only have two images drilled into them year after year: Israel and Jews are threatened with death and extinction in the Middle East, and the region is full of rabid killers who want to kill Christians and Jews and turn the world into one big Islamic society that enslaves women and martyrs its children.
The problem with this latest twist of Zionist propaganda is that it tries to put into a single basket a series of very different groups with totally unrelated inspirations, agendas and operating methods. It aims to tar Hamas, and also Hezbollah in Lebanon, with such extreme attributes that foreigners refuse to deal with them, and only see them as part and parcel of that frightening body of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda killers who claim to speak in the name of Islam and go around crucifying and cutting people’s heads off.
This strategy has actually worked for some time, as most Western powers have shunned dealing with Hamas or Hezbollah. Yet that pattern has started to break down in recent years, as foreign governments and civil society activists alike come to understand that groups like Hamas and Hezbollah essentially are locally anchored, state-based resistance groups that fight two battles at once: They seek to reverse the Israeli occupation, colonization and subjugation of their countries (Palestine and Lebanon), and they seek to create a more efficient, less corrupt domestic governance system that responds to the needs of all its citizens. (On balance, they have done much better at fighting Israel than at generating better domestic governance).
Resisting and reversing Israeli actions forms the core of Hamas and Hezbollah strategies, therefore the Israeli spin masters try at all costs to prevent anyone abroad from seeing these Lebanese and Palestinian groups as having been born primarily to fight back against Israel’s excessive occupation and colonization. The easiest way to do this in the fact-light minds of many Western citizens and politicians is simply to associate Hamas and Hezbollah with Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Taliban.
This strategy has started to wear thin and collapse in places because reasonable people in the world have repeatedly seen the overwhelming evidence of Israel’s own violence and occasional criminal atrocities in Lebanon and Palestine. The many pictures of Lebanese and Palestinians simply protecting their lands from repeated Israeli attacks — including by attacking Israel with small rockets and as yet mostly harmless projectiles — have been coupled with repeated Israeli destruction of thousands of Arab homes, and many schools, hospitals, power plants and other civilian facilities.
More and more governments and observers around the world have realized that Hamas and Hezbollah have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, whose agendas reflect bizarre religious fantasies rather than state-based resistance goals. We started to see this rejection of Israeli propaganda over a year ago when Americans and Europeans ignored the wild scare tactics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and went ahead with negotiations with Iran on nuclear and sanctions issues. The Western ability to ignore Zionism’s wild men in favor of a more rational approach to the world was also evident after the formation of the Palestinian national unity government several months ago, which the United States and EU among others accepted to engage with, rather than to boycott, as Israel desired.
Israel and its howlers in Washington will continue to try and lump nationalist resistance groups like Hamas and Hezbollah with criminals like Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, but the efficacy of such crude propaganda is steadily decreasing. This means we should be alert to the next set of exaggerations, diversions and lies that Israel and its Western hit men and women will use in their attempt to prevent any rational accountability of Israeli actions.
Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.