‘Peace, Politics and Propaganda’: An insider’s look at Israel's military, media and political battlefields
Attendees already knew that what they read and hear in the press, particularly when it comes to Israel, is often slanted. But the extent still surprised them, according to Norman J.W. Goda, director of the Shorstein Center for Jewish Studies.
Gil Hoffman, an American Israeli journalist who worked with the newspaper The Jerusalem Post for 24 years and now runs a pro-Israel, non-governmental organization called Honest Reporting, talked on peace, politics and propaganda at the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center at the University of Florida Wednesday evening.
Hoffman, 46, detailed his last four trips to Israel to remind the room of the kind of devastation and destruction that occurred four months ago on October 7. He transitioned from the battlefront to discuss the media and its role in the longevity of this war.
“Winning on the media battlefield is key to winning on the military one,” Hoffman said, “and the media battlefield is also being fought by people who care around America.”
Hoffman went on to show videos of Israel Defense Forces soldiers and commanders who create videos and social media posts, ensuring the public avoids as much fabricated news as possible.
Hoffman provided an example of published work from The New York Times that initiated his run to Honest Reporting. There was a photo of a bloodied boy in front of a menacing-looking soldier. The paper reported that the boy was Palestinian and had been harmed by the soldier. As it turns out, the boy’s father saw the picture in the newspaper and said that the boy in the photo was his son, Tuvia, a Jewish American student, and the soldier had saved him from a Palestinian mob.
Hoffman said his team at Honest Reporting got to work, digging deeper into the coverage of the war. They found that many of the reporters writing about these events were also using antisemitic language on social media.
Hoffman said the Associated Press also suspended its main writer in Gaza pending an investigation, one that has yet to be conducted, for similar antisemitic language.
Hoffman explained to the crowd that he is showing hateful messages to raise outrage. He said people need to stop screaming at the TV and hoping that it will hear them, and instead shift to being proactive on social media, since nowadays people Google a basic fact rather than open an encyclopedia.
“You don’t have to like something to learn from it,” Hoffman said. “Take action against the information you see that’s totally horrendous like what I showed you tonight.”
Hoffman closed his remarks by sharing a piece of lighthearted inspiration.
“Taylor Swift came under attack on social media over the last couple weeks, and those Swifties came out and fought for her until they won,” Hoffman said. “And we can do the same thing on the media battlefield for Israel.”
October 7 was a turning point in some of the Shorstein Center’s public programming.
“We wanted to have guests who could speak to broad audiences, not just about the war after October 7,” Goda said, “but also to the many connected issues, ranging from the new antisemitic wave on campuses in North America to the biases in the press against Israel.”
Ronald and Joan Levin of Jacksonville, two supporters of the Shorstein Center, shared similar concerns. They are the ones who made the event possible.
Of these concerns is the matter of Jewish students becoming more unsettled, notably when they see pro-Palestinian demonstrations on other campuses. Various Jewish organizations have pulled together while also working with local law enforcement to ensure the safety of Jewish and non-Jewish students at UF.
Amit Sapir is a student at UF who says he is passionate about educating others about Israel’s rich culture and history. So much so that he co-founded Students Supporting Israel, which promotes open discussion and constructive dialogue about current events.
“Charlotte Korchak, director of international student programs at Stand With Us Israel, came to speak at the Reitz yesterday,” Sapir said, “and she was treated like a queen by police.”
Sapir said Korchak was escorted from her car into the building. There were also signs posted on all the doors of the Reitz Union stipulating no protesting would be allowed inside so the event could go on.
Goda said the Shorstein Center noticed the sheer extent to which many college students nationally believed the misinformation concerning Israel. Namely that Israel is a settler-colonial state, that it is an apartheid state, that it is a genocidal state, that it should be eradicated for the sake of human rights, and so on.
“Israel is not perfect,” Goda said, “no country is, but these various charges are false.”
The Shorstein Center set up a one-credit course called “What is Israel?” It is a basic introduction to where the state comes from, how it functions, its various security problems, and so on.
“We will offer it every semester with the hope that little by little we can provide an objective look while steering students to scholarly resources rather than polemic,” Goda said.