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Israeli universities becoming Hasbara mills

Two universities, Tel Aviv and Haifa, now offer programs in Hasbara. Both feature Neal Lazarus, the man behind the fake “gay flotilla” video.

Two Israeli universities, Haifa University and Tel Aviv University, now offer programs in Hasbara. The Haifa course is meant for Israeli students, the Tel Aviv one for foreign students. Both are supported by Israeli ministries: the Haifa one by the Ministry of Propaganda and Diaspora (Ministry of Hasbara, in Hebrew) and the Tel Aviv program by the Foreign Ministry.

The Haifa program is public and can be viewed here (Hebrew.) It has also been covered by the Canadian Jewish News. It’s called “Ambassadors in the Net,” and its stated purpose is to prepare students for online Hasbara. Among other issues, the students (the university proudly said it selected an elite of 30 students from many applicants) will practice debating with anti-Israeli activists, and will try their hands at PR – and at editing Wikipedia. Students who finish the course will win the so-called “prized ambassador in the net diploma.” The chair of the program is Dr. Eli Avraham. He refused to talk to me and referred me to the university’s spokesman – a somewhat surprising position, coming from someone who purports to teach others on Hasbara.

The Tel Aviv program seems more secret. I did not find any publications about it, and was only informed of its existence by a source. The plan is called “Ambassador Club,” is intended for foreign students – presumably Jewish – and consists of seven meetings. All of those meetings, aside from one with Dr. Khalil Shikaki (a well-known Palestinian pollster) are with right-wing and Hasbara people. There are no leftist guests. The “Ambassador club” plan will grant academic points to students who attend all seven meetings. It is also supported by Stand with Us.

The first meeting, held this week, was with Ari Varon, a former advisor to the prime minister. The next one will be with Itamar Marcus, the manager of Palestinian Media Watch and a former vice president of the Central Fund for Israel, a right-wing fund that also channels money to Im Tirzu and to Honenu, an Israeli NGO that defends suspected Jewish terrorists (Hebrew). The third would be with Lt. Col. Avital “They had AK-47s, hence they were Gazans” Leibovich of the IDF Spokesman, then it is Dr. Shikaki’s turn, and after him follows veteran Hasbarist Neil Lazarus. The sixth speaker is Col. (ret.) Miri Eizen, who will lead the students on a tour of Jerusalem, and the program is to be closed by Mark Regev, the prime minister’s spokesman to the foreign press.

For this you get academic credits?

Proud partners TAU and Stand with Us. (Yossi Gurvitz)

Proud partners TAU and Stand with Us. (Yossi Gurvitz)

There are several points worth pondering. First of all, Neil Lazarus. Along with Col. Eizen, he appears in both programs. He is described as an “external advisor to the Foreign Ministry.” You may remember him from that botched pinkwashing episode, “Gay Mark is kicked off the flotilla.” Lazarus was the guy who released that video. So, when Tel Aviv University speaks of “ambassadors” and Hasbara, what it actually means is teaching students how to lie for the government of Israel.

The second point relates to Stand With Us. This is an American right-wing organization, which was more than once accused of fostering hate towards Muslims and Palestinians. It makes heavy use of pinkwashing (the brand of Hasbara that goes “leave poor Israel alone, it may bomb and occupy millions of Palestinians, but in some parts of it the gay community is quite cozy, when its members are not being murdered with the police being unable to find the murderers), so heavy in fact that it came under attack by gay activists who did not like the idea of their community being annexed by Israel’s Hasbara apparatus. It also claimed that J-Street “frequently endorses anti-Israel, anti-Jewish narratives.” In short, this is the American version of Im Tirzu. Nice partner, TAU.

Thirdly, governmental involvement. The two universities, starved after years of neo-liberalism, have quietly acquiesced to becoming propaganda arms of the government. In this, they have betrayed their mission. A university is not supposed to sing the praises of its own society; it is supposed to study it and criticize it. Furthermore, when you lie with dogs, don’t act surprised when you wake up with fleas: when TAU collaborates with Stand With Us, when it bestows its academic halo over professional fabricators like Lazarus, it invites international boycott. When it approves the teachings of the settler Itamar Marcus, it can no longer say it has no part in the occupation. When it spreads its aegis over colonels Leibovich and Eizen, it can no longer claim it is not a part of Israel’s military-media complex.

It is worth mentioning that the Foreign Ministry decided, some two years ago, to use front organizations to promote its messages (Hebrew), since it reached the conclusion that Israel’s brand is so poisonous that nobody will take it seriously. If I single out TAU here, it is because it is painful to see your alma mater, where you spent some of your best years, becoming a front organization for Avigdor Liberman.

I asked both universities for comment. None was received so far.

Correction: Itamar Marcus was originally identified in the post as a vice president of CFI. Haaretz reported earlier this year that Marcus no longer holds that title.

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    1. Almost from the beginning Zionist academia was Zionist Hasberia. Just consider the drivel that S.D. Goitein published. It is in fact a longstanding problem of Jewish studies. While Jewish academics often consider Graetz a titan, his work was at least 50% mendacity with the remainder simple incompetence.

      Any here is a relevant review of The Changing Agenda of Israeli Sociology, Theory, Ideology and Identity by Uri Ram.

      Book Review by Joachim Martillo (ThorsProvoni@aol.com)
      [Originally published on Monday, Nov 3, 2003 — republished because of the debate over the proposed UK boycott of Israeli academia]

      Even if The Changing Agenda of Israeli Sociology, Theory, Ideology and Identity by Uri Ram is somewhat dated, this book remains useful because it surveys a lot of the important English and Hebrew sociological literature about the State of Israel. Non-Hebrew readers can thus gain some access to otherwise inaccessible scholarship. Because Zionist censorship for the most part controls US public discourse, the ability to cite genuine Hebrew sources can protect against attempts to silence discussion by means of accusations of anti-Semitism.(*)

      I now understand more why so many Israeli sociologists write history books and articles. So much of Zionist social activity connects to various (mostly false) conceptions of Jewish history that Israeli sociologists need to develop a historical perspective in order to do sociological research.

      Because Uri Ram is a post-Zionist, he tries hard not to act as a Zionist propagandist. He is aware of the complete fabrication of modern Zionist identity. If I am not mistaken, his earliest important work describes how Ben-Zion Dinur and colleagues created the educational system in the 1950s that constructed the Zionist national consciousness first among Israeli Jews and then among American Ashkenazim.

      Before this propagandization, normal Rabbinic Hebrew terminology describes the Jewish community with phrases like klal yisrael, the community of Israel. Thanks to the efforts of the Zionist educational establishment, ha`am hayyehudi (the Jewish nation or people in the Central and Eastern European voelkisch racist sense) has gradually replaced klal yisrael or similar idioms in popular usage and in the dominant consciousness of Israeli Jews, Ashkenazi Americans, non-Jewish Americans and many Europeans. While Ram even correctly labels the 1967 Israeli aggression as a preventive war and not as a preemptive war, he like all other Israel-trained sociologists occasionally shows the effects of the indoctrination of the Zionist educational system.

      Even though this relatively short book (207 pages) is quite lucid in comparison with sociological papers, the text is probably tough reading for the non-sociologist. The first chapters that discuss the initially dominant functional school of sociology are probably the hardest, but they contain useful information. In particular, the discussion supports the contention that Israeli academia does not constitute a system of higher learning in any real sense but plays the role of a system of higher propaganda. The material in these chapters provides support for the boycott of Israeli academics because they are mostly not scholars but serve Zionist aggression and racism on the intellectual front.

      The chapter on the sociology of elitism identifies the intellectual origins of the Israeli polity in Eastern Europe and bolsters the contention that Israel is a formal democracy that combines characteristics of inter bellum Poland and other Eastern European states of that time period with aspects of the Soviet organizational model. Americans often have difficulty grasping this point that Israel is only an apparent democracy because they are unfamiliar with Eastern European pseudodemocratic posturing.

      The reader must approach some of the material in the discussion of elitism cum grano salis because Yonatan Shapiro, the creator of the Israeli sociology of elitism, was himself an unrepentant Labor Zionist and consciously or unconsciously confused the distinct ideologies of Fascism and Nazism. Shapiro has no problem identifying the authoritarian nature of Herut (Begin’s) politics but is blind to the Leninist authoritarian style of the politics of Labor and its predecessors even though Ben-Gurion and most of the founders of Ahdut ha`Avodah were open and frank admirers of Leninist political techniques. Shapiro’s prejudices make it difficult for him to understand of the fall of Labor from power in 1977 or to relate it to similar developments in Eastern Europe.

      The following comment (p. 72) in the chapter on elitism has qualified relevance to the politics of family values in the USA: “As for the role of ‘values,’ Shapiro insists that they are mere derivatives of strategic interests and instruments of domination, which cannot in themselves explain much about any social structure.”

      Sami Smooha introduced the school of pluralism to Israeli sociology. I have not read much of his work, but if Ram describes it correctly, Smooha was daring by the standards of Israeli academia. Yet Zionist indoctrination has distorted his work, for he appears to view the accidentally fabricated Mizrahi (oriental Jewish) identity as comparable to Eastern European Ashkenazi ethnic identity.

      Shlomo Swirski introduced the Marxist perspective to Israeli sociology, but if Ram’s description is accurate, he has not read much of Katznelson’s, Arlosoroff’s or Jabotinsky’s writings, for he is unable to identify Labor Zionism as fascist and fails to perceive the abstract Nazism in Revisionism (Jabotinskian or Likud ideology). Swirski needs to investigate more about the behavior of Zionists in the pre-State period toward `edot hammizrah (oriental communities).

      The actions of pre-State Ashkenazi Zionists toward those few Oriental Jews, who wanted to assist the Zionist movement, shows that Ashkenazi Zionists had no genuine interest in Jewish Arabs or Persians and only worked to bring them to Israel when they realized

      1) that there were not enough Ashkenazi settler-colonists to hold Palestine and

      2) that the Zionist state needed a class of native collaborators as raw manpower and cannon fodder.

      Swirski believes that Israel needs a “second” Mizrahi Zionist revolution to achieve social equality. The point of view looks confused to me but was so offensive to the Israeli establishment that Swirski was driven from the Israeli university system. He is probably better off.

      The discussion of Israeli sociologists of feminism is interesting, but these researchers apparently do not know enough about Eastern European Ashkenazi gender roles or relations to provide much useful information about gender-related developments either among Israeli Jews or among American Ashkenazim.

      Nordau’s concept of Muskeljudentum, which is superficially a call for Jews to be come athletic but at a deeper level proposes to remake Judaism into a religion or ideology of conquest and violence, is probably a direct reaction to the traditional Central and Eastern European perception of Ashkenazi males as weak and effeminate. The gratuitous violence that the IDF commits on all Palestinians as well as the gross vulgarity of IDF soldiers toward Palestinian women and girls is probably a form of psychological compensation for historic European attitudes toward Ashkenazi males.

      In Ram’s book, the best comes last. The Israeli sociology of colonization is closest to the reality of the State of Israel and Zionist crimes against the native population. Colonization sociologists have developed some interesting euphemisms and linguistic distinctions, but to their credit they have made more progress in bringing their analysis into public discussion than comparable American academic investigators and researchers of Israel have achieved.

      I liked the phraseology on page 176.

      “The Israeli economy is unique in that it does not rest either on a profit economy or on the accumulation of debt, but rather on unilateral capital transfers. This enables the Israeli ruling bureaucracy to maintain an enormous military establishment and simultaneously to guarantee a reasonable standard of living to the population.”

      I would have bluntly stated that Israel has no genuine economy but serves purely as a racist Jewish garrison colony in the Middle East for the Zionist Virtual Colonial Motherland and its dependent and intimidated client state, the USA. The public face of the Zionist Virtual Colonial Motherland is the Israel Lobby.

      Either formulation suggests the following obvious questions.

      1. What possible reason could Israeli leaders have to work toward a reasonable modus vivendi with Palestinians? And

      2. what possible reason could Neoconservatives have to work for the stabilization of the ME?

      If there were no conflict over Palestine and if the Middle East became stable, the US-to-Israel capital transfers, which are directly or indirectly the major source of funds for the Zionist and Neoconservative leaderships, would end, for the American political leadership, no matter how dependent and intimidated with respect to the international Jewish Zionist plutocracy, would no longer be able to justify the massive US economic support of the State of Israel.

      Israeli colonization sociologists are unfamiliar with the Czarist colonization enterprise in the Caucasus and Southwest Asia although it provides the template for Zionist efforts in Palestine (think Chechnya). These researchers also seem to lack an understanding of the collectivist nature of traditional Eastern European culture and in particular of traditional Eastern European Ashkenazi culture.

      Israeli sociologists have generally failed to relate modern Israeli culture (and modern Ashkenazi American culture) to traditional ethnic Ashkenazi culture because they are so entranced both by Zionist sloganeering for the negation of the Diaspora and also by Zionist myth of a single Jewish Volk — even those researchers like Ram, who intellectually know that `am yehudi is purely a Zionist nationalist construct.

      The book itself provides inadvertent evidence that the traditional Eastern European Ashkenazi social mechanisms for the control of deviance are still operative (albeit weakened) among Israeli Jews just as they continue to exist among Ashkenazi Americans. Even though Ram is oblivious to the obvious need for a unified sociology of traditional Eastern European Ashkenazi culture in its Eastern European context and of the evolution of this culture both in the American and Israeli context, reading his book is well worth the effort, for gaining an understanding of the historical and current flawed state of Israeli sociology helps the reader to understand the Zionist enterprise and provides him with much data necessary to inform the American public of the truth and to combat Zionist propagandists in the USA.

      (*) Zionist control of public discussion in the USA about Israel is particularly obvious in the current murderous IDF rampage. I have yet to see any English media source connect the ongoing killing of Palestinians with the accusations of corruption against Sharon and his family. When Israeli leaders run afoul of the law or into trouble at the polls, they invariably order the IDF to slaughter Arabs as a distraction because killing Arabs is very popular with Israeli Zionists as Israeli polls have shown since the 1950s. Yet, no hint of the connection of Israeli domestic politics to Israeli murder of Palestinians appears anywhere in the US media.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ohad

      could be interesting actually BC I am an Israeli and I have no idea how the explain (hasbara) what my gov is doing in the occupied territories, or why should we keep occupying them.

      so yeah I need a Hasbara class

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ohad

      but god Joachim you comment gave me a headache you need a hasbara class as well

      Reply to Comment
    4. shongalolla

      The word ‘hasbara’ means ‘information’
      Whenever Israel haters cannot argue facts with Israel, with students of history, with journalists etc. they cry out ‘Zionist! and ‘Israel apologist’ and Mr. Lazarus, like many many clued up people round the world KNOW this, so end your nonsense. You are embarrassing.

      Reply to Comment
    5. shongalolla

      OHAD.. Gaza was given back.. ergo it is not occupied. It is Jew-free. And what is more – Abu Mazen has said “No Jew will be allowed to live there ever. And they speak of Israel being an apartheid state??? Next thing.. West Bank was in Jordanian hands til 1967. Only when Israel occupied it, did they wail “Occupied!!!!!”
      When the Palestinians sit down and talk peace with Israel then occupation will end

      Reply to Comment
    6. Shongalolla, do you speak Hebrew? I guess not, or you wouldn’t spout the nonsense that “hasbara” means “information.” Literally, it means “explaining”, i.e. explaining Israel’s position to an ignorant world. It has nothing to with information and everything with propaganda.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Having an hasbara troll on thread is somewhat meta, no?

      Reply to Comment
    8. @yossi – that was hilarious 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    9. “The word ‘hasbara’ means ‘information’”

      No, it does not. I don’t know what language(s) you do have actual command of, but Hebrew does not seem to be one of them.

      hasbara literally means “to explain”. From the root s.b.r. which gives rise to words ranging in meaning from “supposition” to facial expression and to various conjugations connoting “reason”.

      Hasbara, as I said, means “explaining”, as a present-continuous verb, or the act of explaining. Explanation: Hesber. Explained: Hisbir.

      In Israeli political context, it means various points on the spectrum from diplomacy to propaganda.

      Don’t correct people’s vocabulary choices in a language you obviously have only passing familiarity with.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Bill Pearlman

      this comment was deleted.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben

      Now now, Bill, that was very mean of you. Phil Weiss is wrong in most of his arguments and ultimately a pathetic tool of a movement that will discard him once they don’t need NK-level Court Jews, but he’s a human being–and therefore should NEVER be compared with Martillo (and thank you for noting that Martillo’s equally-lesser half Maria Hussain is also a lying waste of oxygen).
      As for the article, the Far Left whining about conservatism in Israeli universities is analogous to the World Council of Churches whining about Israel controlling all of Jerusalem post-1967: you never had any voice or issues when the shoe was on the other foot, so please stop being so proud of your modern-day hypocrisy on the subject(s).

      Reply to Comment
    12. sh

      Hasbara as a university course in this or that university, taharat hamishpaha and its concerns as a course in another (only open to ladies who have been married for more than a year),
      http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/israeli-university-s-course-prerequisite-one-year-of-marriage-1.418329 … we’re becoming a nation of real academic trail-blazers.
      Nice to learn that the likes of Neil Lazarus (is that his real name?) won’t go hungry and to see the intrepid +972 team explain to presumptive course graduates how the very word hasbara deserves a university course of its own (Minister Edelstein please note – I look forward to the vid).

      Reply to Comment
    13. “The third [meeting] would be with Lt. Col. Avital “They had AK-47s, hence they were Gazans” Leibovich of the IDF”
      It hurts. The laughter hurts.

      Reply to Comment
    14. @Bill: Your insults will get you banned next time.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Bill Pearlman

      That’s your perogative. But if you’ll check out Martillos web site you’ll notice that he wants you and your family dead. I don’t

      Reply to Comment
    16. Piotr Berman

      One should make a general disclamer that Israel has many universities which are very good in sciences, engineering etc., fields where ideology, bias, government pressure etc. do not have detrimental impacts.

      Humanities everywhere represent different perspectives, and clearly some follow ideologies that we do not like, and the state has an impact here. Sociology, history, political sciences and worst of all, “strategic studies” are clearly affected like that.

      Those “hasbara projects” seem rather small and not hugely important in my opinion.

      Reply to Comment