With Israel’s loss of international public standing due to its never-ending occupation and violence against the Palestinians, Israel’s spokespeople and operatives in the U.S. and Europe are jumping heads-over-heels into Islamophobia to reverse the trend. At present, Israel’s propaganda machine is so intensely Islamophobic and constantly working to demonize Palestinians by resorting to every orientalist trope imaginable in the hope of reversing the erosion of its destroyed public image. Israel’s image is at an all-time low, and Islamophobia in a delusional way is thought to be the magic bullet that can bring about a reversal.
The strategy posits Islam as the new threat that is confronting western civilization and democratic societies. In addition, it focuses on terrorism from the Muslim world as the primary threat faced by the West. In this context, Israel, as the Islamophobic propagandists assert, has the experience and a long history of confronting terrorism that makes the country the natural leader in this effort. Since Israel’s role in a unipolar world is diminished, the construction of a Muslim menace makes it possible for the small state to cast itself as a major and front-line player in the “war on terror” campaign. Islamophobia is a powerful weapon no less damaging than a missile fired from an F16 plane since it allows Israel the ability to punish the Palestinians while claiming its actions to be in defense of western civilization. Terrorizing Palestinians under the rubric of fighting the global “war on terror” becomes Israel’s go-to instrument to cement and solidify its occupation and standing around the world.
Israel has created a locked ideological box inside historical Palestine and its current leaders have no intention of ending the occupation or expanding settlements any time in the future. Thus, Islamophobia becomes a smoke-and-mirrors strategy whereby Israel hides its occupational tracks by claiming an existential threat from the global Muslim bogeyman that prevents it from recognizing a Palestinian state. If the Muslim bogeyman is constantly threatening Israel then the state, according to its own strategic argument, is justified to use all measures to secure itself, including confiscation of Palestinian lands and expansion of settlements. Here, Israel uses its own fomented Islamophobic fear to engage in state-sanctioned robbery, continued occupation and massive human-rights violations.
Since Israel’s successive military campaigns in Gaza, belligerent attitude by its current rightwing crop of leaders and constant expansion of settlements has cemented the country’s negative standing around the globe, then Islamophobia is the magic cure. The failure of the peace process and the inability of Israel to confront its addiction to coddling and nurturing extremist settlers has resulted in a collapse of support for the country, and Islamophobia is the magic bullet that sets up the needed diversion.
Today, Israel’s brand is toxic and is less appealing to a rapidly changing and well-connected world. Israeli strategists have come upon Islamophobia as the new weapon, to be used to defame, neutralize and target pro-Palestine activists. Israel’s Islamophobic discourse is seen in attempts to label Students for Justice in Palestine, American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement as supporters of or being funded by Hamas.
The strategy has been in the works for quite some time, even before the emergence of the “war on terror” that has focused attention on Islam and Muslims. Beginning in the early 1980s, Israel propaganda efforts shifted to target both nationalist and Islamic-oriented groups in the Middle East and abroad. As the Cold War came to an end and a new Muslim enemy was minted, and terrorism replaced the communist menace as the threat to civilization itself, Israel retooled its PR and Hasbara machine accordingly.
When examining the 33 inner core organizations in the U.S. Islamophobic network, we find the predominance of pro-Israel groups and individuals who help shape the discourse and frame the negative messaging around Islam and Muslims. Critically, financing for the Islamophobic network, estimated by the newly released CAIR-IRDP report at around $206 million between 2008-2013, is heavily dependent on pro-Israel sources. Investing in Islamophobia and promoting bigotry and racism toward Muslims in western societies is deemed as a sound strategy to keep U.S. and Western Europe unconditional support for Israel.
Stoking anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S. and Europe is believed by those at the hub of the Islamophobia network to make Israel indispensable for the long-term clash of civilization underway and the open-ended war on terror, where Islam is identified as the enemy. “The case for Israel” no longer sways anyone to stay silent to the on-going calamitous conditions in the Occupied Territories and social media has made it impossible to keep the ugliness behind closed doors, which leaves Islamophobia as the last frontier to defend the indefensible. Here, Israel’s Hasbara network has been working overtime to label and tarnish every pro-Palestine activist with the Islamophobia smear. Targeted killing in civil society by means of the Islamophobic magic bullet is hoped to rescue Israel from confronting its own man-made ideological litter box, the close to 600,000 entrenched rightwing settlers.
Racism, bigotry and Islamophobia in defense of Israel is no vice should be the motto of the Hasbara network that is active in the campaign to demonize Islam and Muslims in the West. So far, the campaign has been successful and negative attitudes toward Muslims and Islam are at an all-time high. This is not to imply that this is solely because of Hasbara activities since a case can be made that terrorist attacks have made the demonization task much easier across many countries. No one knows when this campaign will come to an end but certainly awakening the racist giant in the U.S. and Europe is not in the best of interest of Muslims, Jews or communities of color. Defending Israel through racism and Islamophobia is shortsighted and in the long run will fail since the strategy is dependent on a shrinking demographic base that is challenged by a new and diverse majority.