Zionist Ideology and Propaganda
The following introduction originally appeared as an essay on our blog Palestine Square, and is being reposted here in slightly amended form.
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Zionism’s material and cultural conquest is a manifestation of the axiom long voiced by its partisans: the Arabs may have rights on the land but only Jews have rights to the land. Every movement needs its propaganda and Zionism has been the colonial master of marketing. Certainly the French in Algeria and the British in India never came close to crafting the agitprop that early Zionists so skillfully produced in abundance. While their overbearing power was sufficient to establish dominance, neither France nor Britain sought to wholly re-imagine their colonial possessions as revived kingdoms linking past and present. Absent tangible power, Zionists had to win an ideological war prior to the ground war. Their propaganda thus had two dual threads: A Biblical narrative suited to the sensibilities of Western patrons of a Jewish “return” to the Holy Land; and, to assuage the minor concern, if any, that Zionism might harm existing indigenous communities in Palestine, they had to present the land as an empty desert whose settlement would prejudice no being—encapsulated in the notorious phrase, “a people without a land for a land without a people.”
Simultaneously, Zionist propaganda had to rally European Jewry to immigrate to Palestine in the name of “redemption” and then indenture the Jewish settler community, the Yishuv, to lay the groundwork for an eventual state. Its colorful posters presented a hardy people tilling the soil (“making the desert bloom”) and encouraged a self-sufficient economy of so-called “Hebrew labor” and “Hebrew produce” necessary for constructing a proto-state that was independent of the Palestinians and eventually confident enough to subjugate them. Anchored in a powerful story, Zionism enlisted Western benefactors and molded a discrete community whose only commonality was a shared faith tradition into a linguistically and culturally unified nation capable of establishing a cogent state.
By 1947, the Yishuv bore all the hallmarks of a nation-state and deployed militias better equipped and trained than their Arab antagonists, but propaganda was essential to Zionism’s conquest of Palestine. In that sphere, its victory was hegemonic in comparison with its meager landholdings on the eve of the Nakba (less than a tenth of Palestine).
As Edward Said observed, Israel won the war in part because it had already won the “political battle for Palestine in the international world in which ideas, representations, rhetoric, and images were at issue.” That political battle, that propaganda victory, was the ultimate triumph over the Palestinians. Injustice unresolved but acknowledged has been the fate of many people, but for a time Palestinians suffered injury and erasure. “They did not exist,” in the infamous words of one Israeli prime minister.
Today, even ardent backers of Israel acknowledge the existence of the Palestinians if only to continue to deny past injustice and curse them in the same breath. The old tropes of Zionism, however, remain stubbornly common in American discourse. That Palestine had few inhabitants, that the Jewish settlers really did perform agrarian miracles in the desert, and (for fundamentalist Christians) that the Jews were only reclaiming the land they had been promised all along. Israel still promotes a glorified image of Hebrew labor and goods, albeit in amended form as part of its “Brand Israel” campaign. While, in the past, Hebrew labor and goods were promoted to expand the Yishuv’s resources, today Israel parades its artists and celebrities along with its innovative technologies to derail attention from its occupation and win public sympathy by marketing its putatively glamorous lifestyle.
Narratives repeated long enough will always find credulous believers, and the narratives instrumentalized by the modern State of Israel are rooted in pre-state Zionist propaganda campaigns. Jewish settlers and, later, Israelis manufactured posters in order to recount their ambitions and affirm their presence on the land, legitimizing claims not only to tracts of property but to the very “land of Israel,” and utilizing propaganda in the cause of nation-building. Edward Said famously remarked that the Palestinians have been denied “permission to narrate.” Telling the Palestinian story (which has no need for fiction) and winning the “political battle” requires taking stock and discrediting the myths of Zionism. In order to understand the potency and longevity of Zionist propaganda, unraveling its source is crucial.
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For our April Special Focus - Zionist Ideology and Propaganda, we have made available a series of articles from our Journal of Palestine Studies archives. These articles, inter alia, relate the emergence of a Zionist vanguard in France; recount the Jewish Agency’s propaganda campaign during the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt; the manner in which Zionist publications presented Arabs to Western audiences; the class origins of Zionist ideology rooted in the model of White settlerdom and capitalism; a three-part series on post-Zionist critique in the Israeli academy, media and popular culture; and strategize how Palestinians can refute Zionism’s myths and disinformation and “express the reality of their own historical and actual circumstances” to American audiences.
Journal of Palestine Studies:
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Spring 2014), pp. 26-39
This article focuses on intellectuals—writers, philosophers, academics, scientists, and artists—who, by virtue of their accomplishments and talents, or simply because of their renown, wielded such moral authority that they became at times veritable “leaders of conscience,” influencing public opinion and, indeed, government policy in France. Responding to major events, whether colonial wars, international crises, or significant domestic political battles, French intellectuals weighed in time and again, from the Dreyfus affair to the bogus Sarkozy debate on “national identity.” This article reviews the stance of French intellectuals on the question of Palestine and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, and examines how the ideological and political assumptions underlying their positions were not always amenable to rational explanation or easily ascribed to traditional attitudes of the Left and Right.
Designed by artist Louis Guerry, this French tourism poster of Palestine may be the first ever with the country's name. (Paris-Lyons-Mediterranean Travel Co., 1898)
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Winter 2013), pp. 6-25
Based on declassified reports in the Central Zionist Archives, this article brings to light a virtually unknown disinformation project implemented by the Jewish Agency (the governing body of the Yishuv before 1948) in the Arab world during the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt. Operating via a JA front organization—an Arabic-language news agency set up in Cairo—and out of the Jerusalem-based JA Political Department’s intelligence services, the project involved inter alia the planting of fabricated articles in the Lebanese and Syrian press with the aim of influencing public opinion. Whatever the project’s impact, the article provides insights into the Zionist leadership’s thinking, internal debates, and operating methods, and shows the degree of corruption that existed in certain segments of the Arab elite.
"Watch your tongue! Remember! The enemy is listening." (Israel Defense Forces, Circa 1948)
Steven A. Glazer
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter 2007), pp. 25-38
This article examines the terminology used in the Hebrew Labor picketing campaign of the 1920s and 1930s. It considers the framework within which the Histadrut conceived its efforts—using metaphors of war, religion, morality, and medicine and illness—and surveys the terms used to describe the Palestinian worker. Finally, the language of Hebrew Labor opponents—grove owners and parties to the left of the mainstream Labor Zionists—is examined in the context of rebuttals to Histadrut claims and charges.
"Vote for the Zionist list (No. 6), all who believe in the rebirth of our land through Hebrew labor." (The Zionist List [Russia], 1917)
Saree Makdisi, Jaleh Bisharat
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Spring 2006), pp. 72-82
Israel’s defenders have to weave an ever more tangled (and ever more fragile) web of half-truths and outright lies in order to justify their position, a position which is entirely out of synch with the world in which we live and which uses language—as Harold Pinter put it recently in a not dissimilar context—to keep thought at bay. By contrast, and no matter how naive this sounds, all the Palestinians have to do is to express the reality of their own historical and actual circumstances.
This poster by a Palestinian artist is a reinterpretation of Franz Krausz's famous "Visit Palestine" by poster. (Amer Shomali, 2009)
Rebecca L. Stein, Ted Swedenburg
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Summer 2004), pp. 5-20
The marginalization of popular culture in radical scholarship on Palestine and Israel is symptomatic of the conceptual limits that still define much Middle East studies scholarship: namely, the prevailing logic of the nation-state on the one hand and the analytic tools of classical Marxist historiography and political economy on the other. This essay offers a polemic about the form that alternative scholarly projects might take through recourse to questions of popular culture. The authors argue that close attention to the ways that popular culture “articulates” with broader political, social, and economic processes can expand scholarly understandings of the terrain of power in Palestine and Israel, and hence the possible arenas and modalities of struggle.
(Palestine Foundation Fund [Keren Hayesod], Circa 1930)
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Winter, 1997), pp. 29-41
This three-part article describes changes in how Israelis scholars, writers, poets, film makers, and others on Israel's cultural scene-view themselves and the "Other." Part I presents the scholarly debate on Israel's past and present that laid the groundwork for the transformation of the cultural discourse described tn the second and third parts. The debate, launched by new findings in the Israeli archives and encouraged by an ideology critical of Zionism, also was influenced by sociopolitical and economic changes in Israeli society in the wake of the October 1973 war. The various aspects of the post-Zionist critique-the challenge by the "new historians" and "critical sociologists" not only of the Zionist interpretation but also of the role of Israeli academia in providing the scholarly underpinnings of this interpretation are examined.
(Jewish National Fund, Circa 1950)
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Spring, 1997), pp. 37-43
The academic debate in Israel on Zionism and its implications for the way the society views itself and the "other" were discussed in part one of this article. This part examines the press, which with partial privatization and the cumulative impact of the Lebanon war and the intifada has undergone a transformation since the late 1980s. While a wider diversity of views and bold reporting on events are now current, the article concludes that the representation of the Palestinians and Arabs in the news columns is fundamentally unchanged. The last part will follow the manifestations of the academic debate in film, theater, novels, music, and poems and will assess the significance of these changes in the culture and worldview of Israeli society as a whole.
(Jewish National Fund, Circa 1950)
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Summer, 1997), pp. 60-69
This third and final part of a summary of post-Zionist critique follows the manifestations of new ways of looking at Israeli history and the "other" in film, theater, novels, music, and poetry. Cinema has the greatest potential for influencing the public and has gone further than the other media in challenging traditional views. The author concludes that the cultural products that have seriously transcended the Zionist narrative and its negative portrayal of the Arabs remain outside the Israeli canon and have limited impact, though the groundwork has been laid for what is clearly a growing trend.
"There are those who gaze out on a pastoral landscape. Others view an urban landscape. And there are those who see nothing." (Association for Civil Rights in Israel, 2009)
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Winter, 1995), pp. 48-59
Since the middle of our century, the Palestinians' cultural connection with the past has deteriorated significantly. More than half of their villages have been razed, their inhabitants made refugees. Towns for immigrant colonists have replaced the destroyed villages. One of the depopulated villages left more or less standing (Lifta, near Jerusalem), presumed to be on the site of the biblical Mei Neftoah, is being restored by an Israeli government agency as a natural history and study center emphasizing the Jewish connection with the soil of Palestine. It is clear that the story communicated by the winners is heavily biased, filtering out the unwelcome "noise" of the vanquished. If it is true that the cultural heritage of a land belongs to all its inhabitants, it would seem to follow that the task of excavating, interpreting, and presenting the archaeological evidence of the past should fall to agencies less eager than governments to defend claims to legitimacy.
"From Road from Egypt to Canaan." (Israel Defense Forces, 1949)
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 66-89
In recent years, a more or less cohesive body of work has emerged which challenges the received wisdom on the origins of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Its authors, mostly Israeli, argue five major points: 1) the Zionist movement did not enthusiastically embrace the partition of Palestine; 2) the surrounding Arab states did not unite as one to destroy the nascent Jewish state; 3) the war did not pit a relatively defenseless and weak Jewish David against a relatively strong Arab Goliath; 4) Palestine’s Arabs did not take flight at the behest of Arab orders; and 5) Israel was not earnestly seeking peace at the war’s end.
(Source unknown, Circa 1935)
Janice J. Terry
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 67-78
In light of the United Nations’ decisions to include the Palestinians in the debates on the Arab-Israeli conflict in January 1976 and the earlier UN General Assembly resolution, November 11, 1975, condemning Zionism as a racist phenomenon, it is instructive to look at the attitudes toward Arabs, and Palestinians in particular, displayed in a cross-section of Zionist publications aimed primarily for a Western audience.
"And Set A Watch Against Them Day and Night Because of Them." (General Federation of Workers in the Land of Israel [Histadrut], 1947)
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Autumn, 1972), pp. 86-110
A frequent tendency of contemporary Zionist writing has been to minimize the colonialist and class features of the Zionist movement prior to the creation of the State of Israel. These interrelated features nevertheless emerge clearly in the works of the original Zionist leaders, and are very prominent in the writings of Theodore Herzl, founder of organized Zionism. In addition to his willingness to identify Zionism with the cause of white settlerdom, a striking theme to be found in Herzl’s writing is the orientation of the proposed Jewish state to the requirements of private capital.
(Jewish National Fund, 1920)
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All posters are from The Palestine Poster Project Archives.