By MEL FRYKBERG (Middle East Times)
Published: March 11, 2009
JERUSALEM — Shortly after the guns fell silent over Gaza, during Operation Cast lead, Israel’s three-week bloody onslaught over the coastal territory which left over 1,400 Palestinians dead and over 5,000 wounded, most of them civilian, the Israeli Foreign Ministry stepped up its ‘soft war.’
This ‘soft war’ or intensive public relations campaign was meant to try and undo some of the damage done to Israel’s reputation abroad as an international chorus of condemnation expressed disgust at the indiscriminate attacks on Gaza’s mostly civilian population, which was trapped with nowhere to run.
The Israeli foreign ministry sent six ministers on a blitz tour of European and American cities to try and explain to politicians and media groups Israel’s version of events in Gaza.
The Jewish State has one of the most organized and efficient publicity machines abroad known as Hasbara, which means ‘explanation’ in Hebrew.
For years Hasbara has operated from Israeli embassies and consulates abroad disseminating pro-Israeli propaganda.
Several pro-Israeli public relations organizations also work for Hasbara and are involved in intensive letter-writing and talk-back radio call campaigns aimed at challenging any views critical of Tel Aviv.
Many journalists covering the Middle East will confirm that this area is one of the touchiest in regard to hyper-sensitive lobby groups.
Editors too are regular recipients of a flurry of mail protesting any articles deemed too critical of Israel.
Students, supportive of Israel, on university campuses throughout the United States have also been supplied with the Hasbara Handbook, which details how to promote Israel and counter criticism of the country.
While Hasbara has been active for many years, the movement went into overdrive in the light of Operation Cast Lead.
The Israeli Consulate in New York embarked on a Web site mission several days ago to “fight search results showing images of war-torn Gaza” when the word “Israel” was typed in a Google search.
The mission included a plan to “flood” the Web with positive images of the Jewish state courtesy of professional photographers.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry in conjunction with the consulate decided it was time “to fight back” in a hitherto unprecedented manner.
The consulate has been behind several positive publicity spin campaigns and as part of its new mission it will be flying seven media experts to Israel, including video and stills photographers who will try to present a more positive side of the country.
The foreign ministry is also trying to organize an aerial tour of Israel for the mission, to obtain a bird’s-eye view of the country’s sights.
The photos are to be loaded up to prominent Web sites including Wikipedia, Wikimedia, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, as well as be featured in several blogs.
This latest move came after Google refused to back down to Israeli demands not to show distressing images of war-torn Gaza.
“We’ve protested Google allowing photos of bombarded Gaza to be included in search results about Israel, but it has made it clear that users can upload any photo they please and that it has no control over it,” said David Saranga, Consul for Media and Public Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York.
The aim is to fight the media and Web war against Israel for Israel by blogging and using social networks.
The latest step in the propaganda war came after the Israeli Foreign Ministry established StandWithUs, an earlier campaign to argue Israel’s case on the Internet.
StandWithUs in conjunction with the ‘Web Situation Room’ were set up in New York to spearhead the U.S. Internet offensive.
Some 3,500 volunteers, including prominent media names, were recruited around the clock to respond in real-time to online criticism of Israel and to “help counter misinformation about the situation.”
The situation rooms were linked to all the relevant authorities’ spokespeople and to people reporting and live-blogging on the scene as Israel launched its bloody offensive over Gaza.
StandWithUs Israel Director Michael Dickson said, “This is Internet advocacy on a war footing and we are making a significant difference.
“It’s a combination of using the technology that is out there, innovation and harnessing together people who care, which is making an impact in Israel’s favor,” he said.
The organization went on to call on activists around the world to get involved via a new Web site www.helpus.win.
This plan involves people adopting special Israel profile pictures on their social networks and also a Web application which changes people’s status on Facebook or Twitter every time a Qassam rocket falls on Israel.
StandWithUs also organized mass demonstrations in major cities across the United States, Canada and in Israel to counter the large, ubiquitous pro-Palestinian demonstrations which took place in capitals around the globe.