Hasbara, the Zionist Propaganda: New Findings and Contributions to Its History and Contemporary Applications


The notion of Hasbara is a basic concept in the History of the Zionist Movement and the State of Israel. Often used and misused in the framework of Zionist internal and external propaganda and Israeli Public Diplomacy it was then and still is supposed to be a ”Jewish, Zionist and Israeli” application of those general terms. The meaning and importance of information and propaganda work for Zionism and Israel is well known. Theodore Herzl, journalist and founder of Zionist Organization, gave it a significant priority in his political and diplomatic activities and the Zionist elite was often recruited from Media people ranks. “The information the World had about us was always twisted and falsified”, said Herzl in his inaugural speech at The First Zionist Congress, giving an outline to the “explanation” genre. However, the first “professional” in the field, the one who gave birth to the formal theory and practice of Hasbara was Nahum Sokolov, a notorious Hebrew and Jewish journalist, writer, editor and later Zionist activist (WZO President from 1931 to 1935). Through Sokolov’s own writings and those of his contemporaries, Zionists writers and leaders, this paper explains the origins and reasons of Sokolov’s role and skill in the Hasbara theory, as well as in its effective practice.

In its first part, the paper introduces the first formal “Campaign strategy plan” written by Sokolow in 1912 to promote the Zionist Hasbara among “British Christians” and its signification for Israel’s claim nowadays of “trying to explain to the world why it is so wrong about us”.

The second part of the paper brings an account of the discussion of the notions of “explanation” and “clarification”, which can be applied to the Hasbara,
in the international historical, sociological and propaganda research and practice of the first half of the 20th century (Creel, 1920; Laswell, 1927; Cantril and Allport, 1935; Cantril, 1938; Merton, 1938; Lazarsfeld and Merton, 1943, 1948; Merton, Fiske, Lowenthal and Curtis, 1946; Hutchins Committee, 1947).

The third part deals with the uses of this notion and its applications by the official Zionist institutions, mainly in Palestine under the British mandate The term Hasbara instead of 'Propaganda' was adopted relatively late in the language of the official bodies of the Zionist movement. The semantic change might have originated from the negative emotional image of the Nazi 'Propaganda'. Most Zionist propaganda was entrusted to the Keren Hakayemet LeIsrael
(Jewish National Fund). It was also the first to work in this field in Hebrew and in Mandatory Palestine. Its propaganda bureau was established in Palestine already in 1929, and it made use of ideas and methods from European practices, including German. However,the definition of the term, as well as its distinction from other close terms, is difficult, or at least variegated, also in the context of its formal use by Zionist and Israeli organizations in the period under review.