Documentary argues that American public is manipulated to sympathize with Israel in conflict against Palestine

By Brendan Deady

(Daily Collegian Archives)
(Daily Collegian Archives)

Approximately 80 people filed into room N251 of the Integrative Learning Center Tuesday night for the first public screening of “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States,” a documentary film depicting the alleged manipulation of media narratives to garner American support for Israel’s actions in the Palestinian territories.

The film was produced by the Media Education Foundation, an organization that produces and distributes documentary films and other educational resources to inspire critical thinking about the social, political and cultural impact of American mass media, according to its website. Sut Jhally, a communications professor at the University of Massachusetts, is the MEF’s founder and executive director, and and also provided testimony throughout the film.

The documentary delivered its core argument by presenting first-hand footage of the violence occurring during the Israeli occupation of Palestine, followed by testimony from a number of academics to support the points made by the clips. The film referenced primary documents generated by the Israeli government’s public relations wing.

The underlying narrative pushed throughout the film is that throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli government officials have deliberately tried to influence the framing and consequential reactions to each instance of violent conflict. The film alleges that Israel harnesses the narrative of themselves as victims of history who are only reacting to aggression from Palestinians.

The film alleges that Israeli officials employ the tactics generally used by propagandists: Manipulation of perspective, control of language, agenda-setting, repetition of favorable narratives and the eschewing of context when instances of violence occur in order to serve their own purposes.

Israeli favoritism is a phenomena concentrated within the U.S., according to the film. One segment analyzes news coverage of a particular period of fighting and reveals that Israeli standpoints were represented three times as much as Palestinian ones on American network shows. The film argues that not only were supporters of Israel given more air time, but anchors framed the questions in a way where the only logical answer is to support Israel’s justification for bombing Palestinians as an action of defense.

After a series of opinions and images were presented to argue that a media bias exists toward Israel, the documentary then traced the history of the establishment of the Jewish state. Contributors to the documentary acknowledged that the crimes endured during the Holocaust were horrific, but said they did not justify the uprooting of an established population.

Israel was established in 1948 and immediately entered a war with neighboring Arab nations over the decision to carve a Jewish settlement over disputed, historically religious land. After its victory, Israel experienced a period of general sympathy and was referred to as a modern-day David versus Goliath.

In 1967, Israel was attacked once more over border disagreements and had victory, even increasing its land holdings by claiming territory in Egypt and Palestine. Following the war, Israel began transporting its citizens into settlements to territories previously held by Palestinians, violating United Nations security Resolution 242. The resolution bars an occupying power from relocating its citizens to solidify its claim on an area. The film alleges that Israel established martial law, violated the human rights of Palestinians and began its transition from its position as the underdog to a bully.

Here the documentary explained that the trend of applying a narrow focus to an issue regarding Israel’s actions emerged. The narrative of human rights violations, the death of Palestinian civilians, their cultures, history and attachment to the land were pushed to the side to make room for the narrative of Israel protecting itself in a hostile territory.

By supporting the narrative that Palestinians only attack Israelis because they’re evil to the core and are irrational delegitimizes the hardships experienced by its people that could shine light on the explanations of their actions, according to the film.

Following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the massacre of Lebanese citizens by Israeli allies, a global backlash ensued. Israeli government officials reacted by organizing a conference, “hasbara,” dedicated to shaping the presentation of events from a pro-Israeli standpoint.

The conference drew top ad and public relation executives whose sole directive was to soften Israel’s image as a victim and dedicate a branch whose purpose is to explain Israeli actions in a way that sounds justifiable.

The Israeli government repeated this course decades later when they hired  public relations expert Frank Luntz, who drafted a 2009 report “Global Language Dictionary” outlining specific tactics Israel should take to influence how the public views their actions. The report suggested Israel emphasize its role as the victim, claim Palestine is forcing its hand and avoid discussing the victims in Palestine as a way to prevent too much empathy. It advised Israeli defenders to focus on a Hamas charter dated from the 1940s that called for the killing of all Israelis.

The documentary highlighted that the current Hamas body, which is the pseudo form of governance in Palestine, has since denounced the document but that detail does not make it into the conversation whenever the topic is broached in American media.

The documentary argues that politicians funded by pro-Israeli sources, refer to the same document to justify Israel’s continued occupation of the Gaza strip. Media outlets repeat the same phrases such as terrorism, aggression and defensive mechanisms to support a pro-Israeli reading of the situation. What is presented as objective reporting is actually the intentional exclusion of details that would provide a broader perspective on the issue, according to the film.

In the documentary’s conclusion, Jhally appears on screen to state that the real battle needs to take place in the minds of the American people. Citizens need to be illuminated to reality of the deliberate favoritism, and once shown the true picture, they will come to see the presented truth as the manipulation it is.

Brendan Deady can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @bdeady26.