Is Israel’s foreign ministry involved in UOIT/Hasbara clash?

“(This is) ‘outright, explicit, unapologetic discrimination… this is an issue of freedom of expression… social justice means banning any group they disagree with” – Hasbara Fellowship Canada director Robert Walker.

“(The student union’s goal is to) work towards an environment free (of) systematic societal oppression and decolonization… This is not about the Jewish ethnicity being discriminated against, it’s about violating international law and colonizing Indigenous peoples” – UOIT Student Association president Jesse Cullen.

And so the battle lines are drawn, and here is the text of a letter I just sent in to my local newspaper on this issue:

Re “UOIT student association bans pro-Israel Hasbara group from social justice event” (News, March 22): This is not simply “an issue of freedom of expression”, or “banning any group they (UOIT) disagree with” as suggested by Hasbara Fellowship Canada’s Mr. Walker. If the UOIT Student Association does not wish to do anything that could be construed as supporting or acquiescing to Israel’s brutal military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, they have no obligation to do so. It is important to remember that “hasbara” is defined by Wikipedia as “…public relations efforts to disseminate abroad positive information or propaganda about the State of Israel and its actions.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry has a hasbara department, which very likely provides guidance and marching orders to groups such as Mr. Walker’s. In my opinion, the Students Association is being strong-armed by what is for all practical purposes a highly-organized and well-funded extension of a foreign government, and I regard this as a matter of Canadian sovereignty. If people who support Israel’s wanton disregard for human rights in the Occupied Territories wish to hold their own functions, they are welcome to do so in their own name. End of story. – Jeff Goodall, Oshawa”

What we are seeing is a classic example of the Israel Lobby in action.

While groups such as Mr. Walker’s have undoubtedly existed in one form or another for a long time, there is no doubt in my mind that at some point in the past, the Israeli government “formalized” such groups and provided them with rules, information, talking points, and guidelines for action.

Indeed, according to Wikipedia, “Also in 2001, the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry, the diplomatic arm of the Government of Israel, was an original co-sponsor of the Hasbara Fellowships activities of Aish HaTorah. The Jewish Agency for Israel, Department for Jewish Zionist Education, operates a campaign called ‘Hasbara, Israeli Advocacy, Your Guide to the Middle East Conflict’…” (Emphasis added).

Wikipedia administrators subsequently wrote that “Wikipedia’s open nature ‘is fundamentally incompatible with the creation of a private group to surreptitiously coordinate editing’.”

We are also told by Wikipedia that in 2002, the Israeli State Comptroller’s office issued a report critical of Israel’s PR efforts, complaining of “A lack of an overall strategic public relations conception and objective”. Thus, there can be little doubt about the importance that Israel attaches to its “hasbara” propaganda activities, and my subsequent belief that organizations such as Hasbara Fellowship Canada are for all practical purposes an arm of the Israeli government’s propaganda efforts, despite Mr. Walker’s claim that his group is “a grassroots pro-Israel campus advocacy organization”.

I notice also that efforts have been made to “demonize” the BDS movement so that simply suggesting that an organization supports the BDS movement will instantly brand it as hateful and anti-Semitic.

Wikipedia quotes Hasbara advocate Neil Lazarus as saying that “low budget, grassroots Hasbara 2.0” has come of age, and commends web sites that keep track of what supporters see as anti-Israel media bias, and that promote e-mail campaigns on behalf of Israel. Lazarus is also quoted as observing that “Israel’s hasbara seems to be becoming more dynamic, as the Diaspora takes responsibility… Even day schools and MASA programs have been conscripted to the task.”

Conscripted to the task, indeed!

Let’s hope that Jesse Cullen and the UOIT students can stick to their principles and withstand the onslaught of organized Israel Lobby smears and accusations of “discrimination”. I would hate to see yet another well-intentioned group fall victim to smears and bullying.

Jeff Goodall.

Read “UOIT student association bans pro-Israel Hasbara group from social justice event” here.

Read the Wikipedia entry on “hasbara” here. I suggest you read the entire entry if you have time.

Here is a link to a number of my posts on this issue. I particularly recommend “Israel desperate to improve image” and “The Israeli propaganda machine”.

Update: Doing further research, I found this item – see the reference to “Hasbara Fellowships” in item #2 – “…Hasbara Fellowships can send you Israel Peace Week posters, postcards, t-shirts, a (sic) Israel Flag, banner, and more!”

See their home page here, and take a look at this also.