As Benjamin Netanyahu warns that Israel must “rebrand” itself to avoid pariah status, ordinary Israelis are being conscripted into an army of spin doctors in a campaign termed “hasbara” – Hebrew for “public diplomacy”. In the latest offensive, the education ministry has launched a compulsory hasbara course for students travelling abroad so that they can learn how to justify Israel’s policies in the occupied territories to outsiders and challenge those who “seek to delegitimise Israel”. It is yet more evidence that hasbara has become a national obsession in Israel.
Israel is seeking to bring dozens of church-run schools under government control, a move that community leaders warn will curb the last vestiges of educational freedom for the country’s large Palestinian minority. The schools, which educate Christians and Muslims and are among the highest-achieving in Israel, are the only hope for most families trying to escape dire conditions in the government-run Arab education system.
The Israeli authorities razed Tareq Khatib’s home for the second time in two months last week. Now under house arrest at a friend’s home, he expects to be billed hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the costs of the demolitions and security operations. Fingering prayer beads, the 48-year-old father of five asked: “Where are my family and I supposed to live? It seems the government thinks the only place for us is out on the street, without a roof over our heads. It’s like they are waging a war against their own citizens.”
Two recent reports suggest that Israel could face catastrophic consequences if it fails to end the mistreatment of Palestinians under its rule, whether in the occupied territories or in Israel itself. The reports should be generating a tidal wave of concern in Israel but have caused barely a ripple. The status quo – of occupation and endemic racism – still seems preferable to most Israelis.