Back in the days when the hammer and sickle flew proudly, the Soviet Union would spend big dollars on paying for journalists, academics and diplomats to see for themselves the “workers’ paradise”. It was part of a long term and relentless strategy by the Communists to win the propaganda war against the West.
Today the heirs and successors of those Soviet sympathising journos, head to Israel. This week saw the announcement that three columnists, The Australian’s Greg Sheridan, and the Herald-Sun’s Andrew Bolt and Alan Howe would be part of an Israel bound trade and diplomatic mission to be headed by Julia Gillard. The trip is being sponsored by the Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange which has Israeli and Australian government endorsement.
The Israelis have clearly learnt a thing or two from the Soviets. They understand how important it is to roll out the red carpet for the media, by offering them carefully choreographed trips to Israel and in return ensure that their spin on events is planted in the minds of the western media.
The Israelis also know that they have the upper hand in this game, because the impoverished Palestinians will not be able to outdo them when it comes to lavishing hospitality on a willing media.
That the Israeli propaganda strategy of handpicking journalists and others to come to Israel works was made abundantly clear when The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen visited Israel last November as a guest of the Israeli government and New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.
Albrechtsen wrote a blog while she was in Israel and guess what — there is not one sympathetic word for Palestinians. Instead she berates the Palestinians for filling their children with hate, bangs on about rockets, and condemns the Rudd government for giving aid to the Palestinians. No doubt the Israeli Embassy in Canberra and their colleagues in Tel Aviv would have thought the trip they gave Ms Albrechtsen was money very well spent.
As Crikey’s Margaret Simons chronicled on January 13 this year, Albrechtsen is not alone in being feted by the Israeli propaganda machine. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan is another.
Just as the Soviets carefully selected the journalists they wanted to show around the country, so it is the case with the Israelis. The Soviets would go for the leftist sympathisers in papers such as the New York Times, The Guardian and other influential mastheads. The Israelis also favour sympathetic writers.
Greg Sheridan as recently as May 6 was comforting poor Israel because “second only to the US, Israel is the most acute object of the hostility to the West that flourishes in Western intellectual life.”
One is tempted to evoke the immortal phrase “useful idiots”, attributed to Lenin, and used against Western journalists who fell for Soviet propaganda in the 1930s, to describe western journalists who accept paid trips from the Israeli authorities.
There is however a deeper intellectual question here that people like Bolt and co should answer. Why are they prepared to be the guests of any government, anywhere in the world, and particularly one that is as conjectural as the Israeli government? Journalists love to posture about their independence and intellectual integrity, but knowingly accepting trips as part of a government’s public diplomacy program is surely undermining of those values.