Israel has long struggled with the PR challenge of fighting terrorist groups like Hamas whose strategy is based on putting their own citizens in harm’s way and counting on a sympathetic (or easily duped) media to play along. But it’s been clear that Israel has made some headway in recent conflicts. An indication of this improvement in the information war is one aspect of Gallup’s latest poll on American attitudes toward the current conflict in Gaza.
Of those who are following the news “very closely,” 71 percent say Israel’s actions are justified. Gallup notes: “A majority of Americans interviewed July 22-23 say they are following news of the conflict very (22%) or somewhat (37%) closely. The more closely Americans are following the news about the Middle East situation, the more likely they are to think Israel’s actions are justified.”
Why might that be? Certainly the mainstream media has maintained its traditional bias against Israel, and alternative sources have in many cases been even worse. One explanation, then, for Israel’s support among those who are actually following the conflict could be that Hamas’s conduct is so inhumane and grotesque that even a broadcast slanted against Israel could not rehabilitate Hamas’s genocidal behavior and use of human shields.
Another is that trust in traditional media is falling. This might make consumers of news more careful readers. No one who knows about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would think they are getting the full story from these traditional news organs. That doesn’t mean they won’t read them, but they’ll supplement them with other sources or do their own limited fact checking.
Another explanation has to do with the current Israeli prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu speaks fluent English and has cultivated relationships with American politicians on both sides of the aisle for decades. When a conflict happens, Netanyahu happily goes on the Sunday shows to make Israel’s case. He understands not only English but American politics and society far better than most foreign heads of state or government.
But, crucially, it’s not just Netanyahu. His first ambassador to the U.S. was Michael Oren, a brilliant historian and U.S. citizen who had been teaching at Georgetown before his appointment as ambassador. Oren is also the author of the definitive history of America in the Middle East. He made for an erudite and universally respected advocate for Israel’s strategic and political actions.
Oren has been succeeded in that post by Ron Dermer, who was also born in America and even worked in American politics earlier in his career before becoming an advisor to Netanyahu. Dermer offered a great example of his effectiveness as a spokesman for Israel yesterday on CNN with host Erin Burnett. The Right Scoop has the video, which is well worth watching.
The pattern throughout the interview is of Dermer not only rebutting accusations against Israel but of filling in missing information from previous CNN broadcasts and interviews–all in the four-minute interview. When Burnett admits that information Dermer is providing is relevant for CNN’s viewers, Dermer says:
But Erin I’ve been listening for two hours of reports on CNN. I have seen split-screens, horrible pictures. Horrible pictures that any decent human being would be horrified by, [and] I have not heard a single person say what I just said to you now. And I think that that does a disservice to your viewers to not give them the context they need to make these judgments. Hamas is placing missile batteries in schools, in hospitals, in mosques, and there must be outrage by the world at Hamas to end it.
There’s nothing groundbreaking in the words themselves. But viewers tuning in at home will see an Israeli ambassador not back on his heels meekly explaining how Israel is doing its best or stumbling over his words. And they won’t have to decipher heavily accented English. During the Netanyahu years, when Americans see Israeli representatives they see not just people who could have been their schoolmate in Florida or their professor at Georgetown, but people who, in some cases, actually were their classmates and their teachers. So the familiarity probably adds a dimension to the Gallup results.
And there is also the fact that war is messy, complex, and rarely presents easy answers. It’s one thing to have an instinctive opposition to war and to be horrified, as Dermer concedes, by the images war produces. But when you then drill down and try to get a sense of what the conflict is about and how it all came to pass, you realize that Israel did not choose war over peace or death over life–but that Israel’s enemies did.