Failing to get the word out in the information age

When I read media reports about Israel, it’s clear to me that we are losing the war of words. “Occupation” … “occupied territories” … “settlers” — these words are commonly found not only in articles by those who desire the destruction of Israel, but also in the pro-Israel media.

A search of j.’s Web site alone produces thousands of uses of the word “settlers,” which the “Oxford English Dictionary” defines, in one sense, to mean “colonists.” Also, in a seemingly innocuous New York Times article in the travel section this month, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Steven Erlanger used the word “occupation.”

This is a tragedy, and we must not only ignore this patent propaganda device, but also stop aiding and abetting its dissemination by repeating these words, without qualification, in our own publications.

In a forceful op-ed in the Jerusalem Post last month, Arthur Cohn, producer of the 1970 Academy Award-winning film “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” expressed his extreme concern on the subject. “Those who declare that great parts of Israel are occupied territories also indirectly support the Arab’s claim that the Jews really don’t have any true roots in the Holy Land at all.”

When we accept false imagery, we also accept by implication, its negative connotations, to wit: that Israel has acted illegally, in violation of international law and the norms of proper conduct.

The New York PR firm Hill and Knowlton, just one of the Arab media managers, receives huge sums of Arab money for manipulating spin and imagery. The infection is so insidious and of such nefarious genius that those who have incorporated this usage into their vocabulary, are apparently unaware that they are being exploited as tools of the pervasive Arab propaganda apparatus.

The majority of the world opinion is that everything from the intifada, kidnappings, threats to journalists, the Danish cartoon riots and the French riots of “disaffected and unemployed youths” are grass-roots movements, instead of the product of a coordinated, albeit perhaps loosely, but nevertheless effective, worldwide Arab conspiracy.

The advocates of U.S. open-borders policy use the same technique, though I am not arguing a particular point of view on undocumented aliens in this article.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, we have a population of about 12 million undocumented illegal Mexicans in the United States. I believe most people are in agreement that no modern industrial country can effectively function without some form of border control.

Regardless, according to federal law, these people are “illegals,” not “immigrants.” But as the case with “occupation,” the spinners nevertheless imprint the word “immigrants” onto our consciousness. Former Arizona Sen. Dennis Deconcini recently gave a speech in which he identified these illegal felons with his immigrant parents, again inappropriately invoking false imagery through the use of the word immigrants because his parents came here legally.

My parents arrived in the United States in the wave of immigration in the 1920s, but they came here legally, learned the language and participated as aboveground members of our society. I knew of Italian immigrant families who, at the time, would not allow Italian to be spoken at home so as to more effectively integrate with their new country.

In my past career as a lawyer and having managed litigation, I am very aware of and have utilized trained psychologists with focus groups and one-way mirrors to evaluate how particular words might resonate with a jury. This is the same methodology employed by advertising firms to gauge public reaction to their clients’ product messages. The jury in this instance is the world at large, rather than 12 people in a courtroom, but the principles remain the same.

There are some answers to Israel’s PR problems, and those answers can be found by digging through the annals of American history.

During World War II, the United States established the Office of War Information, headed by a prominent journalist at the time, Elmer Davis. Great Britain had a counterpart, the purpose of which was to counteract enemy propaganda and disinformation, and to disseminate aggressively what we wanted the enemy and the world to hear and read. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower felt this function was so important that he made David Sarnoff, CEO of RCA, his personal full-time assistant on propaganda matters.

For the last few years, at some expense, I have attempted without success to convince the state of Israel that it needs its own Office of War Information. I could not get past the Israeli bureaucrats who wanted to guard their turf at all costs.

It is absolutely crucial in this war for its survival that Israel establish a functional Ministry of Information, headed by a czar who cannot be circumvented by the bureaucrats. The Arabs, no matter whom the spokesman, are always on message: The West Bank (Judea and Samaria) has always been their ancestral patrimony; the Israelis are wrongful occupiers and colonizers.

This false propaganda is so consistently repeated that it becomes the Goebbels-esque truth. Israel requires a bench of photogenic, young and articulate spokespersons, mirroring U.S. TV marketing — not some stern army officer who has a less-than-admirable command of English — with a coordinated message of its own. If I were successful in the heightening of consciousness on this issue, it would be a major service to the state of Israel, of which I would be very proud.

Sanford Diller is a Peninsula-based businessman and philanthropist.