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Hasbara group wants you to infiltrate human rights NGOs

A private, low-profile ‘public diplomacy’ outfit is setting out to train ‘Secret Hasbara Agents.’ But don’t worry, it’s not propaganda.

Screenshot of an email from "The Centre for Public Diplomacy"

Screenshot of an email from “The Centre for Public Diplomacy”

A private Israeli hasbara – or “public diplomacy” – organization on Wednesday put out one of the weirdest responses yet to the incitement campaign by far-right group Im Tirzu of two weeks ago.

The original Im Tirzu campaign described Israeli human rights advocates as “planted” agents serving foreign agendas because the organizations they work for receive funds from European governments.

The response ad published on Wednesday called for — presumably right-wing — Israelis to be “planted” inside the “plants,” a reference to the human rights organizations Im Tirzu put in its cross-hairs.

The ad says that following Im Tirzu’s report, the “Centre for Public Diplomacy and Hasbara” is organizing a “reprisal action” against the human rights groups. It wants to encourage people to apply for jobs at the human rights organizations in order to “oppose the dissemination of their lies.”

Cadets in our secret hasbara agent training course will track the wanted ads of these organizations and publish them, with the goal of “planting” employees there who will oppose the dissemination of lies about Israel abroad.

Yes. The Centre for Public Diplomacy & Hasbara runs a program, according to its website, to train “Secret Hasbara Agents,” who become “certified” – it’s not clear by whom – to the “Secret Hasbara Agent Network.”

Participants of the course will be sent on “missions abroad.” Moreover, the website promises they will earn a “big reputation as graduates of an elite, prestigious and impressive program from the Centre…”

The “secret agent network” and the ad for the “reprisal operation” marked “top secret” were published on the organization’s web page, as well as its founder’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.

The organization is the brainchild of an attorney named Davidi Hermelin. The “contact us” section of the website lists his mobile phone number. Hermelin has served as chair of the Young Likud committee, he made a run for Knesset, and consults for certain government agencies.

Asked by phone what exactly the concept of “secret agents” means, Hermelin explained to +972 Magazine that his approach is not to engage in hasbara proper or even necessarily Israel-related forums. Instead, the workshops offer participants a range of topics about Israel that they can select for training.

The courses “stress complexity,” he emphasizes. They are not trying to convince participants or their future audiences of any given position. He just wants them to know the facts on any given issue, and have the skills to convey their own ideas.

His example is a lengthy explanation of why Jews in Israel have the exclusive right to settle all the land west of the Jordan river under international law — “by contrast to the other bon ton explanations in the media about international law. They’re just not correct,” he says.

Once participants have completed the course, Hermelin’s organization then actively seeks out any type of forum for the graduates — about 100 since he began in early 2014, he says — to attend abroad. The goal is for them to just interact at these conferences, seminars, or gatherings, to raise conversations spontaneously, prompt questions and then give the answers with the skills and facts they have learned.

Hermelin says that the “plants in the plants” initiative is not meant only for trained members of his workshops, but for anyone: “a broad range of people who don’t want Israel to be presented wrong.”

The ad is currently running links to the employment opportunities page of veteran Israeli NGO “HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual,” which protects Palestinians from occupation-related human rights violations.

The ad also contains the sentence: “Our goal is not to sabotage the activities of the ‘plants’ themselves…but to prevent the false defamation of Israel, to the countries of the world, particularly with foreign government funding.”

The page also reminds “friends” of the organization to avoid breaking Israeli law.

***

It might tempting to dismiss the organization as an eccentric one-man show, but for some very serious implications.

First, the existence of this “Centre,” however off-grid, is part of a frenzy of private hasbara efforts. It is part of the national obsession with propaganda fostered and funded by the government through numerous bodies, public and private. The Israeli Foreign Ministry itself functions largely as a Ministry of Hasbara these days. As I have argued, this hasbara obsession is damaging to the national psyche, especially when presented as an educational endeavor to shape the thinking of young people.

Second, the idea that impostors might apply for jobs in a human rights organization — not as committed employees but to police their activities — is not impossible at all. And what do they mean by “opposing” the dissemination of lies abroad? Would such “planted” employees covertly record conversations? Testify for Im Tirzu’s next report? Create situations to make the organizations look bad, just as Likud MK Oren Hazan tried to do by giving a made-up testimony to Breaking the Silence? Why does Hermelin need to remind interested people to obey the law?

Third, the mechanism of disguise is like a mental double gag order to suppress what hasbara really is. Hermelin says time and again that left and right wingers alike are welcome, he just wants them to know facts — that is, right-wing facts taught by far-right-wing speakers. The ad itself may just be a gimmick, a distraction turning attention to this wacky initiative while the organization is regularly turning out people who are hasbara-ists, but who pretend they are not.

Finally, the whole thing reminds us how easily other groups are jumping onto Im Tirzu’s mission – a proto-fascist organization whose main activity is inciting and threatening civil society, academia and left-wing causes.

Im Tirzu’s report calls for shutting down those civil society organizations altogether. “If the state of Israel wants to continue to exist as an independent, Jewish and democratic state, it has no choice but to dismantle propaganda organizations that work among us and are funded by foreign money.”

Any new partners to this endeavor, eccentrics or not, strengthen the cause.

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    COMMENTS

    1. bar

      Oh please, this is about as real or meaningful as the possibility that Lisa Goldman is a plant. Give it a rest.

      Reply to Comment
    2. “And what do they mean by “opposing” the dissemination of lies abroad? Would such “planted” employees covertly record conversations? Testify for Im Tirzu’s next report? Create situations to make the organizations look bad, just as Likud MK Oren Hazan tried to do by giving a made-up testimony to Breaking the Silence?”

      DING! DING! DING! We’ve got a winner. I predict we will see these secret hasbarists plant intentionally false and easily exposed stories under the names of human rights organizations in order to set them up for an easy attack. If they weren’t planning something less than above board, why the need for secrecy?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ginger Eis

      Ms. Sheinlin, this is tabloid. And it oozes paranoia all around. Pls. raise the bar – not just on the choice of subject, but also on the discussion of the substance as well as the presentation thereof. I would give folks of the caliber of Ms. Zonszein (who has banned me from her channel), et al. a pass for this kind of mediocre, gossipy, small-minded article, but NOT you. You hold a phd for goodness sake! Then, pls. stay away from this kind of gossip one would normally find in the National Enquirer – not that +972mag is better than the National Enquirer though, on the contrary.

      Reply to Comment
      • Cindy

        It’s Ms. Scheindlin, not “Sheinlin”, Ginger. I think you made a typo there. Anyway, there are lots of “he says….. she says…..”, lots of conjectures, lots of assumptions and fantasies in the article, etc. You took the words outta ma mouth. Lol

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “…folks of the caliber of Ms. Zonszein (who has banned me from her channel)…”

        How gossipy of you, Eis. How tabloid.

        Reply to Comment
      • Weiss

        Gossip?

        A pathetic excuse for arrogant & blatant disregard for international law.

        All the Hasbara Shekels in the world won’t change the fact that Israel currently is an Apartheid State.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Liza Jones

      Hasbara is NOT propaganda. Propaganda is deliberate falsifying or misrepresenting. Hasbara explains and given the massive efforts by many groups to delegitimize Israel by deliberately falsifying and misrepresenting Israel’s position, Hasbara is an essential component in the struggle to defend this country. More of it needs to be done, not less and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be spearheading every effort to stop the vilification that threatens to destroy Israel’s international standing and make it a pariah state.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Hear hear! More hasbara! That’s the ticket!

        http://972mag.com/against-hasbara-explaining-ourselves-to-death/107603/

        “The Israeli obsession with showing ‘our side’ of the story not only guzzles financial and human resources — it is a conscious attempt to distract the world from policies of occupation.

        Hasbara-ists may be exposed to “a range” of political perspectives, but not in order to listen. They speak to B’Tselem prepared only to refute it; how can they possibly encounter Palestinians? They listen in order to not listen. Hasbara also taints the good: Kavana, or the intention deep in our hearts, is an important concept in Israeli society and in Judaism. What happens to a cultural, scientific, social-improvement pursuit when it is done for some other kavana – when its real goal is to improve Israel’s image rather than the thing itself?…But the reaction to every negative development is to demand better and better hasbara as a replacement for better policy.”

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Noam Sheizaf on Hasbara:

        “There is an interesting tension in Israel between the tremendous efforts put into Hasbara – Israeli advocacy is probably the most widespread and ambitious state-run propaganda effort in the world today – and a sense of “Hasbara failure” in the Israeli public. Rants about the fact that Israel is misunderstood and complaints about the incompetence of those dealing with Hasbara are often heard in the popular media. In my opinion, “the failure of Hasbara” is actually a failure of policy – especially, but not limited to, that relating to the occupation and the control over the Palestinians.
        Understanding this point could shed light on a self-defeating element in the Hasbara battle: as Israel loses interest in finding a solution to the Palestinian question that would meet the minimal moral standards of the Western World – either “one man one vote” or complete Palestinian sovereignty over a contiguous territorial unit – Hasbara efforts are just likely to draw more attention to the ongoing Israeli failure to live up to the promise of its talking points, and will shed more light on the ever-growing gap between the model, picture-perfect democracy reflected in brochures and the grim reality on the ground.”

        http://972mag.com/hasbara-why-does-the-world-fail-to-understand-us/27551/

        Reply to Comment

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