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Israel's cringe-inducing Gaza cartoon shows its worsening PR problem

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

On Monday, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released this video: a kooky, animated 45-second spot about a fictional American reporter covering last summer's Gaza war. The reporter is shown lavishing praise on the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and on Palestinians generally, before putting on glasses and seeing how wrong he'd been.

The video is cringe-worthy in its belittling tone, its fallacies (does anyone really believe the US media has reported that "there are no terrorists" in Gaza?), and its focus on slighting "Palestinian society." The message of the video appears to be that only an idiot would see any moral complexity in the Gaza war, which seems more likely to alienate viewers than to sway them to Israel's cause.

This is what Israel's government actually believes a winning PR campaign looks like. And that speaks to a serious and growing problem for the country: stuck in an echo chamber of its own making, it is struggling to connect to anyone who doesn't buy its government's line.

This video doesn't make much sense unless you're already totally on board with the Israeli government's narrative of the conflict. Many Israelis, especially on Israel's right, believe the international press is deeply and often willfully unfair to Israel (there's something to this point, but Israelis often overstate it).

Pointing this out plays well among right-wing Israelis and pro-Israel supporters. But among everyone else, it does not. It's a textbook case of preaching to the choir, and it's in line with Israel's larger international public outreach strategy. For a country that depends on international support, that's more than a PR problem.

Israel's PR strategy is becoming a problem

For quite some time, Israel's pitch has been pretty simple: we're a tolerant liberal democracy and our enemies are not, so you should support us. You can see the hallmarks of that narrative in the above video.

And indeed, Hamas is a deeply nasty organization correctly labeled as a terrorist group. It intentionally killed civilians, including Palestinians, during the Gaza war.

But focusing on that sort of misses the point. International public opinion is turning against Israel because of 1) a sense that Israel uses disproportionate force relative to the threat posed by Hamas, killing hundreds of civilians unnecessarily, and 2) anger at Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and oppression of the Palestinians living there, as well as its policies toward Gaza.

Pointing out that Hamas does terrible things doesn't actually address those problems — and it risks leaving viewers with the impression that Israel doesn't see those problems at all.

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