Lately, I have been considering writing a book about anti-Israel propaganda techniques. Earlier this week I mentioned a variant of "thinking past the sale
." There are lists of such techniques but sometimes I find that the haters come up with things that don't even have a name yet.
For now I want to talk about this multi-month, multi-layer effort that appears at first blush to be an attack on Google and Amazon's "Project Nimbus," a billion dollar deal they struck to provide cloud services for the Israeli government.
Like BDS, the effort has no chance of succeeding. However, that is not the goal of the propagandists.
Last year, the haters managed to get some publicity when a tiny percentage
of Google and Amazon workers wrote an "open letter" to their employers saying they opposed Project Nimbus, even though no one knows the details of what exactly it would be used for. The fact that Israel is paying for it is enough to make them oppose it.
They now have a thousand signatures, which is minuscule compared to the 1.8 million employees at those two companies. There is exactly a zero percent chance that Google and Amazon will cancel a billion dollar contract over some vague objections of some anti-Israel employees.
Yet The Guardian published
this open letter! Getting anti-Israel media to magnify a non-story is a hugely effective means of making it appear significant.
An "open letter" is one of the easiest methods of gaining publicity, with the most bang for the buck. It costs almost nothing; all you need is a a small number of signatures and media attention. People who read about it get the impression that it represents far more people than it does.
Earlier this month, the haters tried to get more traction by starting a petition
where college students were urged to "pledge" that they would not accept internships with those companies. Only 750 college students - out of 20 million - signed this "pledge," and probably none of them are in fields that Google or Amazon are even interested in hiring.
"Hundreds" of people signing something is meaningless when the total population is in the millions. You could get hundreds of people to support chocolate hummus on pineapple pizza. But casual readers only see "hundreds" and think, wow, that seems like a lot.
On the face of it, this attempt was a massive failure. But a pledge is an effective brainwashing technique for the students - once they sign a pledge, they are unlikely to backslide. No one wants to be a person who breaks their solemn promise. Even if the students learn facts that contradict the lies they have been told, they are unlikely to even listen to them - let alone act on them - so as not to break the pledge. So the effort to get tens of thousands of students to sign such a pledge might have failed - but they gained 750 people who are unlikely to allow facts to cloud their thinking about Israel for the rest of their lives.
That is a victory.
Now the haters are trying another angle. They are bringing a proposal to an upcoming Amazon shareholder meeting that includes demanding that it review whether its customers are violating human rights with their products and services.
Sensing that the Israel issue alone will not get any traction, they are bundling it with opposition to Amazon partnering with police, ICE, prisons, and the IDF. As always, they throw Israel together with hot button issues to widen their base, because the number of Americans who care about what happens in Israel is pretty small.
towards Amazon stockholders extends beyond those topics to also include worker safety. In this way they are attempting to link the Palestinian issue in people's minds with workplace safety issues, saying that if you support one, you must also support the other.
It is another brainwashing technique - associating Israel with whatever is considered "bad" nowadays. And, like "Israel=Apartheid," over time it works.
As with The Guardian last year, they recruited The Intercept
to trumpet and exaggerate this campaign as if there is a "shareholder revolt."
The article uses yet another propaganda technique, one that was used with the "open letter" and the "pledge" as well: the knowledge that most people are innumerate, meaning mathematically illiterate.
In the case of the shareholders, here is what The Intercept says:
Nimbus will now face a referendum of sorts among Google and Amazon shareholders, who next month will vote on a pair of resolutions that call for company-funded reviews of their participation in that project and others that might harm human rights. The filers of the Google resolution collectively own roughly $1.8 million in shares, according to Ed Feigen, a Google shareholder since 2014 and lead filer of the resolution.
$1.8 million sounds as impressive as "hundreds of signers." It is equally meaningless. Alphabet, Google's parent company, has a market capitalization of nearly $1.5 trillion. They represent 0.00013% of Alphabet shares. That is the equivalent ownership percentage as $10,000 of Gamestop stock.
That is not a "shareholder revolt."
The article describes exactly its own propaganda goals: "The proponents of the proposal are] also tapping into the specific anxieties of the Wall Street investor: What if bad press from Project Nimbus loses us money?" The entire article is meant to be that very bad press - a self-fulfilling prophecy, if anyone takes The Intercept seriously.
It's funny that even the anonymous Google workers they quote who signed the open letter say that there is next to no interest within Google on this initiative:
This engineer added that while they have found like-minded colleagues who are similarly disturbed by the prospect of their cloud technologies being used to fortify the Israeli occupation, employee activism against Nimbus is much diminished since the waves of worker-led protests against prior Google contracts like Project Maven and Dragonfly, the company’s planned custom-built Chinese search engine. “Right now we’re kind of in a slump,” they said. While past employee movements spurred heated discussions on internal chat forums, they said, “We haven’t had anything like that from Nimbus, which is really unfortunate.”
The anti-Israel propagandists are masters of exaggerating their most ineffective actions into sounding like major victories. We see this often with their trumpeting rallies that attract only a handful of people - but they manage to get some coverage.
They are very good at making their side appear much more powerful than it is. The propagandists are true experts at punching above their weight. But it wouldn't work if they didn't have media eager to help them along.
There is another layer that these propaganda experts use: the petitions themselves. I have never seen them actually present any of their petitions to any of their targets. The existence of the petitions are more important than the number of signatures, for two reasons: the petition itself is "news" to some extent, and the people who do sign up also get added to the mailing lists of the anti-Israel organizations and will then become recipients of more brainwashing materials.
They talk about "hasbara." Yet nobody on the pro-Israel side is doing anything close to this level of effort, sophistication and multi-layer advocacy, where even an initiative that is a complete failure can end up paying off in the future.
The problem is, the pro-Israel side doesn't like to manipulate people, to lie to people, to brainwash people. We still naively think that the truth will win out. And in this era where marketing is a science, that is not even close to true anymore.
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