‘Hasbara’ is Hebrew coinage for Israel’s informational campaign abroad. Its origins lie in facilitating the truth about Israel’s history (including its defensive/offensive wars), as well as its myriad – and out-sized – accomplishments.
And the fact that it is necessary, to continually beat the same drum, attests to the delicate tightrope Israel is forced to walk, unlike ANY other nation in the world. But even so, the paltry budget assessed to effectuate this delicate task is less than a piker’s. This blogger knows this for a fact…don’t ask how she knows.
So, it begs the question: if the leadership believes in its efficacy, why don’t they back it up by more than a pittance of funds?
And it is not as if young adults (unaffiliated with officialdom), hither and yon, aren’t doing their part, and without much more than “out-of-the-box” thinking.
Consider: one such major effort (out of many others) has been undertaken by none other than this blogger’s son, Chaim Kutnicki.
While a student at MIT ‘HIBUR’ was born; an exchange program between MIT & its Israeli counterpart, the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology – http://www1.technion.ac.il/en). Its full-fledged program rocks on. The seeds were planted as a student-founded hasbara initiative, and they can be found here:
‘Student-founded Hibur connects MIT with Israeli university’
“In Hebrew, the word “Hibur” means connection — an appropriate name for a program designed to create a connection between MIT and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.
Hibur: An MIT-Technion Link is an MIT-Hillel-sponsored program started by students last year.
“We see the Technion and MIT as a perfect match,” said third-year electrical engineering and computer science major Chaim Kutnicki, one of Hibur’s co-founders.
Kutnicki was interested in studying at the Technion following his freshman year at MIT. While exploring the possibility, he found that many professors had formed personal relationships with the Technion over the years, but that “there were no institutional frameworks in place,” he said.
Kutnicki went to Israel on his own, but when he returned, he and co-founders Maxim Shusteff (S.M. 2003) and Sam Korb (S.B. 2005) sought funding for a program that would make it easier for future students to study at the Technion and vice versa.
“Hibur really started as a grassroots effort,” said Kutnicki.
The three secured funding for Hibur’s first year from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies Boston-Haifa Connection, Avi Chai Grants of International Hillel, MIT Hillel’s Israel Initiative and the Technion.
In its first year, 2005, the program attracted 18 MIT members, including both graduate and undergraduate students.
Over the course of the year, students bonded through a pen-pal program, video conferencing and conference calls and then finally, groups from each university visited the other’s campus.
MIT participants were matched with 14 Hibur members in Haifa. They exchanged weekly e-mails, becoming friends through the exchange of ideas, photos and personal anecdotes.
Sophomore Talia Gershon of materials science and engineering played matchmaker, trying to connect students with similar interests. It was a success, she said. “The relationships became more than just professional.”
Kutnicki agreed. “There are a number of people who are actually pretty good friends now,” he said.
Students and faculty used technology to deepen the bond, holding a series of video lectures simultaneously in Haifa and Cambridge.
MIT speakers at the lectures included Institute Professors Robert Langer and Joel Moses as well as Frederick Salvucci, a senior lecturer in the Center for Transportation and Logistics and the former Massachusetts secretary of transportation, and members of the Technion faculty.
During the video conferences, MIT students were able to sit facing a screen showing the Technion students, with the speaker in the middle. After months of corresponding via e-mail, “it was very exciting to virtually meet,” said Miriam Rosenblum, Jewish chaplain and director of MIT Hillel. Rosenblum has served as advisor to Hibur.
The conferences also afforded students and faculty a chance to glimpse the cutting-edge research at each other’s schools.
“The presentations were fascinating and informative,” said Rosenblum, who recalled one small quirk: a time delay, which sometimes meant the students on the live side laughed at a joke the other side did not hear for another couple of seconds. “They could tell when something was about to be funny,” she said.
Twelve MIT participants made the first campus visit, arriving in Haifa on May 22. In the two weeks they spent in Israel, they toured the Technion, attended classes, visited companies, went on day trips, had dinner in the homes of host families and attended a holiday bonfire on the beach before coming back to the States on June 1. “It was an intense schedule,” said Rosenblum.
When the Israeli students came to Boston in September, the schedule was similar. Still, students found the time to form relationships — and potential partnerships — that will last a lifetime. “It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” said Gershon.
Hibur continues to evolve. At the end of 2005, Hibur accepted applications from MIT students interested in internships in Israel during the summer of 2006. They are currently matching resumes with companies.
“We are working on several different levels,” said Kutnicki, who hopes that someday Hibur will become an official MIT program.
In September 2005, Chancellor Phillip Clay spoke at a faculty and administrator dinner held for the Technion students. “Hibur is one of a growing number of programs that allows students to get a taste of what it is like to work in an international setting,” he said. “I believe this is an undervalued part of undergraduate education at MIT and one that we should support for more students.”
Back to the Professor.
Now, few know the political score better than Professor Paul Eidelberg – his bona fides are found within - http://adinakutnicki.com/about/ – therefore, his take on the subject at hand requires our due deliberation.
By Prof. Paul Eidelberg
“A most pervasive and pernicious error in Israel is the belief in hasbara, that is, in information campaigns to improve Israel’s image abroad, especially as concerns the Arab-Jewish conflict. Not that hasbara should be ignored, but the importance attached to “marketing” Israel is grossly exaggerated and even indicative of a national flaw.
Too many Jews believe that Israel’s problem in foreign affairs consists in changing the attitudes of the nations when the real problem is to change their own attitudes, including their fearful concern about Israel’s image.
Politicians and intellectuals constantly boast that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. By so doing they condition their counterparts in the democratic world to expect Israel, far more than any Arab despot, to make political and territorial concessions in the so-called peace process. Only democratic Israel is expected to “take risks for peace” which no other government would dare ask of its people.
The fact that Israel is reputed as a democracy does not win the support so much as the contempt and even the hostility of many gentile politicians abroad, their statements to the contrary notwithstanding. It can be stated as an axiom: The more Israel’s government seeks to win the approval of the nations, the more it will be despised by the nations.
By seeking the approval of others, Israel’s political leaders must imitate others, which means they must act less like Jews and more like gentiles. Such self-abasement betrays their lack of pride in the Jewish heritage, and this is exactly why Israel is so often humiliated.
Of course, Israel’s leaders attribute the negative attitude of the nations to anti-Semitism. Here they often confuse cause and effect. For the truth is that a great deal of anti-Semitism is the consequence of Israel’s failure to comport itself as a Jewish nation. Indeed, anti-Semitism serves the historical function of reminding Jews that they are Jews. Not only will assimilation fail to placate the nations; it will arouse their contempt.
Especially appalling is the imitation of American culture, which is hardly a culture. How can there be a culture in a multicultural society where all “lifestyles” are morally equal, where moral relativism is rampant—the logical consequence of American democracy. Hence it is sheer folly to try to improve Israel’s image abroad by extolling “Israeli democracy.” It is precisely the banalities of Israeli democracy that undermines Israel’s image.
I will anticipate two objections to this iconoclastic statement. One is this: “What would you have Israel become, a theocracy?” A theocracy, however, is a state ruled by a priestly caste, which is foreign to Judaism. In Judaism there is no “clergy” and no “laity.” The most authentic form of Jewish leadership is that of the teacher, whose power is not political but intellectual and moral.
A second objection is this: “Israel’s economic and military dependence on the U.S. prevents it from taking a more independent stand in Arab-Jewish affairs.” Here I am reminded of a remark by former U.S. Undersecretary of State Joseph Sisco to Israeli author Shmuel Katz in 1989: “I want to assure you, Mr. Katz, that if we were not getting full value for our money, you would not get a cent from us.”
That same year a conference on “American Aid to Israel and Its Effect on the Israeli Economy” was held at Tel Aviv University. The country’s leading economists, industrialists, and banking figures concluded that American aid to Israel results in “loss of motivation, absence of will to be independent, a craving for luxuries, waste, and emphasis on immediate fulfillment rather than long-term planning… American aid corrupts the economy, inflates the public sector without justification and indirectly causes high taxation and growing deficits.”
In short, the growth in American aid leads to a decline in productivity, the rapid transfer of capital from investment to consumption, and the sharp increase in government spending. From this it should be obvious that Israel’s political elites have a vested interest in American aid. But this makes Israel all the more inclined to imitate American democracy and thus become all the more contemptible.
Needed is not better hasbara so much as but a better system of government, one composed of JEWS, not Hebrew-speaking gentiles.”
One may have their own ideas on the issue, and surely others are free to disagree. But mine are more in line with Professor Paul Eidelberg’s, but with a caveat.
How about disseminating in various languages – throughout embassies, academia and other ‘go to’ addresses – copies of ‘Start Up Nation’ (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704779704574553884271802474.html, and as a companion piece ‘Battleground:Fact & Fantasy in Palestine’ http://www.amazon.com/Battle-ground-Fantasy-Palestine-Samuel-Katz/dp/0929093135).
The above are the yin and yang of Israel’s struggle. On the one hand, the first book demonstrates the incredible, incontestable, humanity-enriching accomplishments of tiny Israel. The other attests to the heart of the matter – the constant battle against fact and fantasy; the fuel of the wars waged against us.
IF the above are not convincing enough, then the rest is a waste of time and energy, better spent elsewhere. One has to recognize when enough is enough!