The worldwide reactions to Israel’s Operation Protective Edge have shown once again the strong impact of sentimental appeal and how it often supersedes rational analysis. In many Western societies, the emotional plea for pity and the inclusion of the poverty aspect within an issue frequently dominate judgment on all other factors involved. One does not have to be an expert on the effectiveness of false arguments in order to observe how this technique is used for propaganda.
Hamas and many of its various allies among Western journalists have understood this fact. Appealing to the world audience’s emotions takes the focus away from facts and sound logic. Showing videos or photographs of dead Palestinian children, of homeless people and of the destruction of homes often has far more impact than pointing out the long list of crimes committed by Hamas. This Islamo-Nazi movement wants to kill all Jews in its dedicated pursuit of pleasing Allah. Its leaders repeated this aim several times during the Protective Edge campaign.
Hamas launched rockets from civilian centers and openly acknowledged that it was doing so. It used human shields. The IDF forces in Gaza even found a manual published by Hamas’s military wing titled, “Urban Warfare.” It explained how the Palestinian civilian population could be used against the IDF forces and revealed that Hamas is well aware that the IDF is committed to minimizing harm to civilians.
Throughout the campaign, Hamas promoted its love of death. Hamas seems to have a continued interest in increasing Palestinian casualties. Publicizing the number of dead children becomes a particularly useful tool in appealing to the world’s emotions.
The impact of sentimental appeals in many parts of the Western world has dominated the Israeli discourse on the importance of taking great care to minimize hurting civilians. By international standards, the casualty ratio of the Protective Edge campaign between civilian and terrorist deaths was low.
On the basis of the names of the Palestinians who were killed, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center calculated that 52 percent of those killed in Gaza were Palestinian combatants.
Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, has stated that on a global average, the casualty ratio is four civilians killed for each combatant killed.
The use of sentimental appeal by Israel’s enemies returns frequently and then often overrides Israeli arguments and the consideration of facts. Its use was prevalent during previous Israeli campaigns in Gaza. It is also used in regard to security measures Israel is forced to take, such as the establishment of checkpoints. The purpose in having security checkpoints is to prevent Palestinian murderers from illegally entering Israel and killing people. The issue has been manipulated, however, into a source of pity for the Palestinians who have to endure security checks.
A Christian conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint” is held in Bethlehem every other year. In 2012, Munther Isaac, its organizer, said that it “was also held to discern what Jesus Christ would do and say if he walked through a checkpoint on a daily basis, and determine how he would deal with feelings of anger and bitterness caused by the checkpoints.”
Similar arguments are used in regard to the separation barrier, which was built in order to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel. Colonel Danny Tirza, who was the head of strategic planning for the barrier, explained what considerations went into its design.
“We had to consider Israel’s security needs, and also the rights of the people who live in the area in order to minimize the disruption of their lives.
Israel’s Supreme Court said we had to give greater weight to the daily life of the Palestinians, so we changed the route in some places, and in other places we changed the procedures that enable people to cross from one side of the fence to the other.”
Yet the security barrier has come under major criticism, including from the International Court of Justice.
Many reactions to the Gaza flotilla issue were yet other examples of the effective use of sentimental appeal. The main flotilla organizers were the Turkish IHH, a body strongly suspected of having terrorist links. Individuals with terrorist links were aboard the Mavi Marmara, the largest vessel of the flotilla. It was purported to be an aid mission, yet this ship held no aid resources whatsoever. Several of the activists on the Mavi Marmara were well prepared for violence and were armed with weapons which were used to attack the Israeli soldiers. Seven of the nine activists on board who were killed had expressed their wish to die as martyrs before they departed on the journey. Despite all these facts, Erdogan’s Turkey managed to turn the Gaza flotilla and the killing of several fighting activists into a huge international tragedy.
The Israeli authorities have apparently understood very little of how sentimental appeal works and of what makes it effective in the propaganda battle.
This despite its repeated and successful use by Israel’s enemies. Whenever a military campaign is planned, some attention is given to how to portray it to the outside world. This is only a very partial approach in dealing with the major use of sentimental appeal by Israel’s enemies.
The issue of sentimental appeal and how to confront it effectively is a complex matter. It is not an issue for which lay people can design solutions. A team of psychologists should systematically analyze the successes of anti-Israeli sentimental appeals of both past and present. This in tandem with other specialists, including lawyers and public relations experts. Effective methods should be developed and subsequently tried out by the Israeli authorities to diminish the continued impact of sentimental appeal. In fact, this should have been done many years ago.
The author is the former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.