The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

How Israeli hasbara works

Hasbara is the Hebrew word for public diplomacy, i.e. the role people outside of government can have to spread pro-Israel messages and attack Israel's critics. It is a tried and tested propaganda method long relayed not only by Israeli citizens, but also pro-Israel lobbies (e.g. AIPAC), pro-Israel Jewish community groups (e.g. CRIF) and pro-Israel think tanks (e.g. WINEP). With the advent of the web, pro-Israel groups working in tandem with Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has conducted an often successful and often intensive hasbara effort targeting bloggers. This has included, for instance, efforts to leave comments in blog posts regarding Israel to defend the Israeli perspective.

In the days before the flotilla's last journey towards Gaza, blogs such as this one were targeted by a message saying that the IHH, the Turkish humanitarian organization that owned the largest boat raided today, had links to al-Qaeda. Considering that IHH is legally recognized everywhere except the UN, engages in humanitarian actions with many other organizations and has consultative status with the UN, I am skeptical. IHH does seem supportive of Gazans and Hamas, but that's no crime and it's certainly not "fundraising for al-Qaeda." 

I am posting the message sent to me below, at the bottom of the post, and you can compared its claims to the Wikipedia entry on IHH, which notes:

In 2006, the Danish Institute for International Studies published a report titled "The Role of Islamic Charities in International Terrorist Recruitment and Financing", by conservative American analyst Evan Kohlman. Kohlman claimed that major international Islamic charities such as IHH, while providing genuine humanitarian relief, also occasionally serve as fronts and liaison with Islamic militants and terror groups. In particular, Kohlman blamed IHH for assisting the Iraqi Sunni insurgency, and mentioned a 1997 raid in which police found weapons, explosives and bomb-making instructions in the IHH headquarter in Istanbul. Apparently, Kohlman's theory about IHH has not gained traction, since IHH remains a legal organization everywhere except Israel, which banned it in 2008.

With the advent of the May 2010 Gaza flotilla in which IHH played a key role, Kohlman's report was rediscovered by the Israeli think tank Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. Their May 26 text on IHH, based mostly upon Kohlman's report, was repeated over the next few days with minor variations by the Israeli press and by Israeli government spokespersons.

IHH organizer Izzet Sahin was arrested by Israeli forces in 2010 in the West Bank. The fact of his arrest was initially gagged by the Israeli security services. Sahin was later deported without charges.

Needless to say, Kohlmann is one of those ubiquitous instant experts on terrorism who does not speak a word of Arabic. His work has never peer-reviewed, and there are various problems with his research and testimony in US courts that has been tracked by He appears to consistently exagerate his own credentials, and my favorite bit of all is this:

Kohlmann’s company was a one man operation he ran from his bedroom in a high rise apartment in Manhattan’s West Village. National Public Radio journalist Mary Louise Kelly met him in his bedroom/office, which she described as “a gallery of photos of Al-Qaeda leaders”. Kohlmann works at a desk two feet from his bed, and on that particular occasion wearing “what looks suspiciously like last night’s pyjamas”. In October 2007 Evan Kohlmann closed his website and redirected traffic to NEFA which he said would be publishing all his future work.
I am not surprised from a quick Google search that most of his publications appear in neocon outlets like National Review.
We've seen Kohlmann's claims repeated this morning by Danny Ayalon, the Israeli deputy foreign minister, who claimed that "the organizers are well known for their ties to global jihad" and that "they have a history of arms smuggling". A member of the Turkish foreign relations committee replied: "Danny Ayalon is a liar." (I just saw both clips on Al Jazeera English, which is re-running them in its news updates.) 
Here is the Hasbara message I received my the blog's contact form yesterday:
Subject: news for your blog
Message: Hi,
My name is Michal Moreno, and I take part of an online campaign that aims at explaining Israel's point of view regarding the Flotilla approaching GAZA.

The flotilla - that starts its progress towards the Gaza strip today, should arrive in Israeli territorial waters by tomorrow,
and just as it arrives - I'd like to offer you some online content that represents our point of view on things.

We found two documents that prove direct connection between the IHH - that's the organization that supports the gaza flotilla
and extremist Islamic groups. 

one - is a court document from the US Virginia court and the second is a report from the danish institute for international studies which links the IHH to Hamas, al qaeda and other terrorist organizations (they raise money for them). below are the links to the documents as well as a summary of key points that we put together.

court document:

* This is supposedly a human rights organization, but they work with directly, support, aid and are closely affiliated with the Islamic terror network: explicit ties to Hamas, Al Qaida, as well other militant Islamic organizations based in Algeria,Libya, Turkey.
* Cooperation between the Hamas government & IHH is pretty blatant. There was a recent joint press conference between a Hamas official, "the chairman of the governmental committee for breaking the siege on Gaza" and a representative of IHH. The Hamas minister of communications announced a month ago that the Hamas government made special preparations for the ships in the Gaza port including "repairing and dredging the basin of the port so that mid-sized ships could pass through". So Hamas is coordinating closely with this initiative. (Source: Right Side News)
* In December 1997, Turkish authorities began a criminal investigation into IHH when sources revealed to them that the IHH had purchased semi-automatic weapons from Islamic militant groups. Their Istanbul bureau was thoroughly searched and the local leaders arrested. Inside the bureau an array of items were found: "firearms, explosives, bomb-making instructions and a jihadi flag." After analyzing seized IHH documents, the Turkish authorities determined that the arrested leaders were about to be sent to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya.
* Famed counter-terrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere found that in the mid 1990's the IHH president conspired to recruit members for jihad, and sent members to war zones in Muslim countries in order to gain combatant experience. He obtained support by these Muslim countries by transferring weapon and explosives caches to these countries.
* In 1996, phone records of the IHH showed calls to an Al Qaida guesthouse in Milan and to Algerian terror cells throughout Europe.
* Jean-Louis Bruguiere also testified to a U.S. Court that the IHH played a "central role" in the attempted Al Qaida Millenium bomb plot targeting LAX. He added that the IHH is a "cover-up" NGO which served to recruit, forge document and traffic weapons for these Mujahideens.
* During the Iraqi war, IHH funneled funds to insurgents in a Sunni dominated area of central Iraq. These were funds used to kill American soldiers in Iraq.
* They have doctored their photos of providing humanitarian aid and relief supplies.
* During the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, the IHH was banned from providing relief aid efforts because it was deemed by the government as a fundamentalist organization and would not provide transparency to Turkish officials of their bank accounts.
* The IHH has also had contact with Abdurahman Alamoudi, founder of the American Muslim Council, who is serving a 23 year sentence for illegal transactions with the Libyan government and was part of a Libyan plot to assassinate the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
* The IHH organization is banned in Israel. Defense Minister Ehud Barak signed an order citing the IHH as an organization that fund-raises for Hamas as well as assisting them. A worker from the organization was arrested on April 27th of this year in Judea and Samaria for assisting the IHH and other illegal organizations for "compromising the security of the area" according to the Shin Bet.
(Sources: Court papers of U.S. vs.Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, The Investigative Project on Terrorism, and the Danish Institute for International Studies) The IHH is one of many organizations "clothed as an NGO" and supposedly providing relief to refugees when they are actually backed by militant Islamic organizations so that they can maintain their operations without much disclosure or restrictions on the international intelligence level. Bin Laden is also said to have used NGOs to his advantage to equip and arm Al Qaida uner the international radar.

Plesae let me know if you decide to publish this story.

Incidentally, this is Michal Moreno, the author of the above propaganda:

Michal Moreno - Project and Account Manager

Michal has extensive knowledge and understanding of the Internet content wise, marketing wise, and technology wise.
Michal’s past experience includes project managing for Israel’s largest Internet and market research companies: 
Senior Project Manager for Scepia Internet solutions LTD.
Project Manager for Planet communications LTD.
Special (custom made) reports analyst for ACNielsen Israel

Among the projects Michal has managed, are:
Israel Defense Forces website chain – concept and characterization
Zer4u Israel 
Tel Aviv municipality website
El-Al website
Israel State Comptroller website
Coca-Cola Israel website
And many, many more… 

Michal has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Tel-Aviv University, as well as a master’s degree in Information sciences from the Bar-Ilan University.

I bet he won't be sending me any hasbara anymore.

Update: Evan Kohlmann wrote with a link to his response and defense; I am reproducing it here out of fairness: link. I still fail to see the relevance of his allegations against IHH, which even if they are true, must still be contextualized with widespread international support (including Western) for mujahideen networks in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and elsewhere at the time.

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