Media Opinion

Why Israeli digital propaganda doesn't work

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Some of the more awkward moments from recent Israeli social media (Screenshots via Instagram, TikTok)

By featuring cringeworthy content aimed at an unknown audience, Israeli social media content is backfiring and failing to achieve its goal. Tom Tanuki reports.

ONE OF THE WORST THINGS I've ever seen in my life is a video of an Israeli singer or influencer or whatever, Noy Eisen, performing an RnB/rap number. She urges us to lend critical support to Israel by being less critical of its retaliatory massacre of Palestinian civilians after 7 October

Now you have to watch it, so, suffer:

She begins with a bit of “evil nursery rhyme” corniness about how hard it is to live on occupied Palestinian land while your politically imprisoned Arab neighbours fire crude rockets at the cities you stole. Then she does a rap, which hurts a lot.

She raps:

“In 9/11 nobody said, ‘Hey, I support both sides.’”

Israeli social media propaganda is leaning very heavily on the hope that enough 9/11 references will activate an Islamophobic sleeper cell mentality in all of the West, renewing our appetite for endless Muslim slaughter.

But it’s not working. The worst video I have ever seen is not increasing everybody’s appetite for genocide. Funny that!

Every single bit of Israeli pro-massacre propaganda I have seen since 7 October is the worst thing I’ve ever seen, each video more rubbish than the last. Whether state, military or influencer-generated, it’s all as bad as the abovementioned musical war crime.

I was recently shot in the face by another cringe bullet via U.S. commentator and veteran Greg Stoker. Greg diligently shares lots of terrible Israeli pro-genocide propaganda.

Witness the pinnacle of “children’s entertainer-schtick”, as a comrade of mine described it, and be dismayed:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Shai Albrecht (@shaialbrecht)

Eyes too wide. Talking to the camera like I’d talk to babies to get them to smile at me. Watching these TikTok creators feels like a terrible mistake has been made. This woman should be doing recap videos of last night's Housewives episode for Tiktok, or whatever normies like now. Instead, she's been waylaid by the urgent need to run cover for a genocide. But she’s still operating in Wiggles mode.

It’s so hard to envision exactly which audience they think they're capturing with this shit. Is she talking to kids? Or adults who like to be talked to like kids? This mystery is true of all official Israeli propaganda media. Perhaps the worst of all is the official stuff, in fact.

One of the strangest videos was a Christmas-themed one in which Santa learns about Hamas from some children's letters:

@israel This is a letter no child should ever have to write to Santa. While families all over the world mark #Christmas with their loved ones, more than 100 Israeli men, women and children are being held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Every minute counts. #BringThemAllHome ♬ original sound - @Israel

Again, who is this Santa video meant to sway? The children or their parents? Christmas lovers more broadly? Judging from the round mocking this content received online, this material isn’t actually working on anybody. Every normal person thinks it’s creepy.

As Felix Biederman of Chapo Trap House tweeted:

This NQR dreams-of-a-dog vibe permeates all Israeli and Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) propaganda. Remember when we were told by the IDF that soldiers found a copy of Mein Kampf sitting in the abandoned room of a child in Gaza that they probably murdered? We were all scratching our heads trying to understand what they want us to think about that information.

Were they saying it’s good they probably killed the kid because the kid was becoming a Nazi anyway? That everyone in Gaza is secretly a Nazi and they all give their kids “My First Mein Kampf” copies to grow up with? Were we meant to dwell on the inherent evil of these little Arab children, thereby making the wanton infanticide since 7 October easier to swallow?

It didn’t work. Nobody thought about these things. Most people thought it was a lie.

Remember when the official Israel Twitter account posted a picture of Hamas represented as Voldemort?

Was this meant to light up the imagination of Harry Potter fans? Or kids generally? Or their parents? I’m repeating myself. I’m so confused. This made sense to nobody. It was pure cringe.

Why is all Israeli propaganda social material all so unbearably shame, then? No matter who’s creating it, it never lands. There is something structurally cringe at the foundation of all this material.

A major problem is that it continually contradicts itself. Take the Santa video. Despite how bad it is, I still recognise that it’s meant to make me feel pity for the victims of 7 October. The motive for that is clearly to help furnish popular consent for ongoing Israeli retaliation in Gaza.

The message is: violence against civilians bad.

This is then completely contradicted by a deluge of unspeakably nasty and brutal content posted by IDF soldiers and supporters. Soldiers publish content detonating entire Gazan residential zones, the screams of residents still in those homes audible as the buildings cave in above them. IDF soldiers shit on prayer mats in the abandoned homes of fled (or dead) Gazan families. Israelis create trending material on Tiktok cosplaying as toothless, hungry Palestinians with no electricity or water to drink, even as those conditions are now killing Gazans. The IDF is running a gore video Telegram channel celebrating graphic media of dead Palestinians.

So now, the message is: violence against civilians good and funny.

A right-minded person’s instinctive reaction is to be repelled and confused by this. So it’s bad propaganda.

A comrade suggested that some of this more brutal material is crafted in the same vein as, say, viral videos of Jewish people celebrating in Auschwitz. They intend this material to resonate as a joyful reminder of Jewish “resistance” and “survival” in the face of oppression. Just as Israel's angle has been to centre the violence of 7 October over all the bloodshed that came after (and before) it, perhaps this is the modus operandi of people creating these brutal videos.

But the world knows there are tens of thousands of Palestinians dead and dying right now, including 10,000 children who are either dead or presumed buried under rubble. We don’t know this because of clever TikTok dance videos. We know it because social media is thick with the documentation of it. To log on right now is to be awash in unbearable videos of innocent children dead and dying, their grief-stricken parents wailing in the street. The world is watching.

A world that has just seen these unforgivable atrocities could never view an “LGBT parade” on the beach of Beit Lahia as queer liberation. It could only view it as a gruesome display of military might, steeped in the blood of Palestinian children. A gleefully macabre celebration of mass-scale Arab death.

So it's bad propaganda.

A host of “independent” creators around the world, like Eve Barlow, vie for the right to champion Israel by pumping out zealously pro-Israel social media of their own. But the world is aware that these influencers stand to benefit from championing Israel and this undermines their popular credibility.

Eve complained on Twitter a few months ago that she had been very loyal to Israel but hadn't received a free junket like all the other celebrities. Two months later, she was flying to Tel Aviv. She recorded a giddy video on the plane excitedly saying “I'm going to the war!” like a child headed to the candy shop. She was sporting a bit of jewellery that looked like a dog tag, presumably to lend an air of military ambience.

We have our own creators like this, like Australian religious fundamentalist creator Natebuzz. Nate first went to Israel in 2017 and a couple of years later began to create specific content around it. Now he has been to Israel no less than – wait for it – 26 times in 7 years! I'm sure Nate loves Israel, but I suspect he also loves free plane rides, too.

Does a host of influence-generated propaganda really work if most normal people's reaction is: Do you really love Israel, or do you just love free stuff?

Israel’s hasbara propaganda apparatus is legendary, but in truth it has until very recently been focused strictly on furnishing the complicity of the powerful. Heads of state, politicians, diplomats, journalists, business leaders and celebrities are all targeted by lobbyists in the real deal hasbara machine. These are the leaders abroad that Israel really needs to agree to its brutality.

What do the rest of us plebs matter? We were only taken into consideration by what came to be termed “Hasbara 2.0”, after the reputational damage Israel suffered after the 2006 Lebanon War and 2008's Operation Cast Lead. They extended their efforts into social media then, infamously at one point paying laypeople to spam pro-Israeli comments online.

But all in all, it isn’t working. I think it’s making things worse for them. All the state and influencer-generated propaganda makes Israel come off like a combination of Marie Antoinette and Nero. They wring one hand in theatrical grief over 7 October, feigning a sense of helplessness over the “inevitability” of what they wrought afterward. With the other hand, they jerk off over Gaza burning for a viral TikTok video. To most normal people, they appear cruel and unhinged.

Israel has probably decided it doesn’t need us plebs anyway. We’re all rallying for Palestinian safety and liberation while they have many heads of state and politicians on their side. And that has worked so far. But the slow turning of the tides against this unfolding genocide is unmistakeable. Without our enduring, global cries for a cessation of this madness, I truly don’t think they’d be facing the International Court of Justice as I write this. 

In a world of diffused poles of independent and social media power, the bloodshed we are all compelled to watch in a thousand gruesome videos daily is working against Israel’s bloodshed, however slowly.

We must continue fighting around the world to pressure our governments to heed the will of the masses. We can afford to because we aren't dying like our brothers and sisters in Palestine.

(I might feel like I’m dying from some of these videos, but I’ll survive.)

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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