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‘Moral Equivalence’ And The Palestinians: A ‘Branding’ Issue?

Pundits and everyday Americans these days are shocked at the “moral equivalence” – and even antipathy to Israel and sympathy for the Palestinian cause – setting in mere weeks after the Jewish nation’s “9/11.”

Mouths are agape – this correspondent’s anyway – at poll findings that significant population segments actually believe beheading and burning babies, mutilating pregnant women and rapes so ferocious they broke pelvises are just plain peachy in the name of “decolonization.”

In particular, a Harvard-Harris poll revealed that 51% of 18-24-year-olds – and 48% of 35-34-year-olds, a narrow minority – believe that “the Hamas killing of 1,200 Israeli civilians on Israel (sic) can be justified by the grievances of Palestinians.” Even though sizable majorities of both cohorts believe the “attacks on Jews were genocidal in nature” (emphasis added). And per Quinnipiac, by 51% to 39%, voters 18-34 years old oppose sending Israel weapons and military equipment in response to Hamas’ atrocities.

And a just-released I&I/TIPP Poll finds that “a shockingly high 20% of Democrats say they support Hamas in the current conflict.”

Now, older voters in all three polls did overwhelmingly back Israel, and even younger voters also supported Israel in other questions in the Quinnipiac survey.

Still, in the face of a slaughter of almost unimaginable brutality, barbarism, and bloodthirstiness, it seems unimaginable that Palestinians would garner any support among any cohort, or that supporters would get the kid glove treatment they do from many elites and much of the media.

And equally disturbing that the Biden administration would “caution” Israel, dictate the nature and timing of their response and so stress avoiding civilian casualties (which Israel bends over backward to do) and delivering humanitarian aid that complicates an imperative military response.

Several explanations have been forwarded: young people’s “brainwashing” on TikTok and on social media in general, and their general affinity for the class struggle, dividing the world into “oppressors” and the “oppressed.” Academia’s capture by adherents to the Palestinian cause. The eagerness of legacy media to parrot Palestinian narratives. Latent antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism.

There’s much validity to all these points (especially the last). Yet – and stressing in advance that this point of view is not in any way meant to trivialize the attack’s horror or the tragedy of the unfolding war – your commentator ventures to suggest another massive factor.

What is “brand equity?” It’s a reservoir of goodwill built up with core constituencies by sharing a unifying idea or ideas — a brand, if you will —  based on consistent, communications around key themes and attributes attractive to those audiences.

What accounts for the “brand equity” that has given Palestinians and, to a certain degree, Hamas such sympathetic treatment, especially in terms of demanding a muted Israel response?

Again, at risk of seeming insensitive (your correspondent is, in fact, descended from Holocaust victims and survivors), the Palestinian leadership and its allies have for decades engaged in an unrelenting, ubiquitous, and unashamed strategic communications and “brand-building” campaign. Which has captured the commanding heights of government (included globally), the media, the culture, and the public imagination.

The unifying idea? The Palestinians have a right to inhabit and govern lands from which they have been cruelly displaced, now controlled by Israel.

Elements of the narrative, which are too many to enumerate in their totality, have included:

  • The “brand name” “Palestinian” – which could equally be claimed by Israelis – and heart-rending individual stories of alienation and displacement to buttress historic claims to land.
  • The continuing existence of refugee camps decades after the displacement.
  • The “David v. Goliath” nature of the struggle – often portrayed in the cliché of Palestinian youth throwing rocks and bottles up against armed IDF soldiers.
  • The recruitment and involvement of celebrity allies – starting with actress Vanessa Redgrave’s use of an Academy Award acceptance speech to push the Palestinians’ cause (after making a documentary on their plight).
  • The global elite’s insistence on the “two-state” solution long after its sell-by date and despite repeated Palestinian refusal of generous “land-for-peace” offers.
  • And perhaps most of all, the longtime existence of the movement’s own Musk-style – or more accurately perhaps, Fidel Castro-style celebrity leader, Yasser Arafat. A murderer and corruptocrat colorfully presented in freedom-fighter mode in a perpetually unshaven state, uniform and characteristic keffiyeh and granted adoring attention from fawning media and credibility by the international community – especially in the Oslo Accords with the famous photo shaking hands with a reluctant and uncomfortable Yitzhak Rabin (a gesture which ultimately may have cost the latter his life).

There’s more to come on this subject, including the corresponding “brand” issues on Israel’s side and what should be done. But as this commentator anticipates some controversy and pushback for this point of view, we’ll just close here with the immortal words of one Nikki Haley: bring it.

Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist, and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.

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