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Israeli government leads 150 Christian journalists on “hasbara” tour

Jerusalem24 – A delegation of some 150 foreign journalists met with Knesset members yesterday on the last leg of a hasbara tour organized by the Israeli government.

Participants from 28 countries, employed by Christian publications worldwide, checked in on Sunday at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem for the sixth edition of Israel’s annual Christian Media Summit.

The summit is organized by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage.

What is Hasbara?

Hasbara is a form of propaganda aimed at an international audience, primarily, but not exclusively, in western countries. It is meant to influence the conversation in a way that positively portrays Israeli political moves and policies, including actions undertaken by Israel in the past. Often, Hasbara efforts includes a negative portrayal of the Arabs and especially of Palestinians.

The Hebrew meaning of the word Hasbara (הסברה) is “explanation” (the term “propaganda” has a different word in Hebrew – תעמולה).

Source: +972 Magazine, Hasbara: Why does the world fail to understand us?

“A vital channel of information”

The Christian Media Summit’s website’s About section is transparent about the nature of its government-run mission: “The government of Israel views the Christian media as a vital and professional channel of information to Christian viewers, readers and internet users across the globe.”

The 2022 summit schedule showcases a slew of Israeli political and media personalities, as well as military personnel, speaking on topics including “Iran” and “Hasbara”.

The Israeli army’s International Spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, and Br. General Bentzi Gruber, Vice Commander of Division 252, an armored division of 20,000 soldiers, both featured as speakers in the event.

They were joined by personalities associated with lawfare center Shurat HaDin and UN Watch, a pro-Israeli lobby organization with close government ties which monitors United Nations actions it perceives as “biased” against Israel, as well as several international organizations known for peddling pro-Israeli propaganda and coordinating harassment and defamation campaigns against pro-Palestinian activists, journalists, and organizations worldwide, including HonestReporting, CAMERA UK, NGO Monitor, and Palestinian Media Watch.

Hananya Naftali, a social media influencer who is known to Palestinians for his racist remarks and who boasts 189,000 followers on Instagram, as well as a job offer by former Prime Minister Netanyahu, also made an appearance.

Conspicuously, the schedule announces an intervention by “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” – a position Netanyahu has not yet assumed in the incoming government.

“This is how Israeli hasbara is done”

While the first two days of the summit focused on speaker interventions and meet-and-greets, the group took a field trip on Tuesday to the Tze’elim “urban warfare center” military training base in the Naqab desert in southern Israel.

A GPO press release, which has since been deleted from the Israeli government’s website, showed photographs of the journalists entering and emerging from underground structures mimicking Hamas-dug tunnels surrounding Gaza.

An earlier press release which also covers the visit to the base claims the journalists were “exposed to Israel’s struggle” and “experienced first-hand the threat that terrorist organizations pose to communities in Israel.”

“This is how Israeli hasbara is done,” the press release concludes.

The group wrapped up the four-day tour yesterday afternoon in the Knesset, where they were scheduled to engage in an “interactive dialogue” with Israeli MKs.

A journalist enters a tunnel at the Tze’elim military training base, 13 December 2022. [Source: Israeli Government Press Office]

Evangelical support in free fall

Evangelical Christians have traditionally been a strong ally of Israel’s, with former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer calling them the “backbone of Israel’s support in the United States”, because of “their passionate and unequivocal support for Israel”.

Evangelicals believe they have a duty to support Israel because Jews must be physically present in Jerusalem in order for the Second Coming to take place.

But a study published in June by the University of North Carolina at Pembroke found that support for Israel among Evangelicals aged 18 to 29 is in free fall, decreasing from 69% in 2018 to just 33.6% in 2021.

According to Dr. Motti Inbari who conducted the research, “we believe the reason for this drop is connected to the way in which young Evangelicals perceive the concept of justice. The young Evangelicals think that from a just point of view or a Christian point of view, they should develop more compassion toward the Palestinians.”

Inbari added that younger Evangelicals tend to be more educated than their parents and grandparents, “so it might be that exposure to a [pro-Palestinian] campus climate created these changes.”

Inbari also ventures that Donald Trump’s presidency caused the younger generations to shift towards the Democrat party – and away from Trump’s unprecedented measures in support of Israel, such as the recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights and the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Dr. Yoav Fromer, head of the Center for the Study of the United States at Tel Aviv University, told the Jerusalem Post in June 2021 that Israel is losing its “most important strategic pillar” due to support for Israel not being transmitted to younger Christian generations. “For more than a decade, the Israeli government has put all its eggs, when it comes to American politics, in one basket – that of the Evangelical voters in the Republican Party.”

The Christian Media Summit is just one of the ways in which Israel seeks to maintain that strategic pillar.

Evangelical meets far-right

While one of the Christian Media Summit’s overall goals may be to renew support for Israel from younger Evangelicals, the summit annually attracts household names in the US Evangelical community, who run their own ventures to garner support for Israel.

Dr. Ruth Pauline Plummer, seen in a picture embracing Israeli GPO Director Nitzan Chen, and herself a featured speaker at the event, is the President and CEO of the Covenant Daughters Television Network in the US. Plummer’s biography on the network’s website features an Israeli flag and a view of the Dome of the Rock in occupied East Jerusalem. Plummer calls herself “The First Lady of Israel”.

Bishop Robert Stearns, a long-time supporter of Israel and featured speaker at the summit, runs a program called Eagles Wings which identifies “young, emerging Evangelical leaders who have a growing sphere of influence and pay[s] their way on a trip to Israel”.

Dr. Ruth Pauline Plummer with Israeli Government Press Office Director Nitzan Chen in Jerusalem, 11 December 2022. [Source: Israeli Government Press Office]
These household names, as well as first-time summit participants, ended their tour yesterday with a meet-and-greet at the Knesset with members of Israel’s incoming far-right government.

Far-right extremist and incoming National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir addressed the participants during their visit to the Knesset on Wednesday afternoon in his first public to foreign journalists.

“I want to take care of everyone in our country, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs, so that our children can walk the street safely,” Ben-Gvir told the crowd.

Ben-Gvir has openly called for shooting Palestinians, is considered one of the greatest admirers of the openly racist rabbi Meir Kahana who promoted the deportation of Palestinians, and has accumulated over 50 charges for incitement to racism.

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