The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

An analysis of Google Trends demonstrates the dangers of exaggerating events easily and effectively manipulated by Palestinian propaganda.

Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in a war of narratives. As the weaker side in the conflict, the Palestinians expend tremendous effort to frame incidents to delegitimize and embarrass Israel in world public opinion.

Israeli decision-makers balk at taking practical steps to quell Palestinian violence because they are afraid of getting bad publicity.

The killing of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera reporter/propagandist Shireen Abu Akleh offers an excellent example of such manipulation.

Manipulation began with the quick verdict reached by Al Jazeera and the Palestinian media websites, which immediately blamed Israel for her death during an Israeli raid against terrorist activity in Jenin in May. The raid came after deadly Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel.

According to the Canadian Ministry of Justice, it takes an average of 186 days of court deliberations to arrive at a verdict for assault, sexual assault, and manslaughter crimes. It took Al Jazeeraseveral moments after the news of Akleh’s death broke to accuse Israel of deliberately killing the reporter.

The popular Arabic news outlet used strong Arabic terms to describe premeditated murder – tasfia – which means wiping out or effacing the victim.

Soon afterward, the Palestinian Authority stepped in to make the most of Akleh’s killing. A “state funeral” in the government square in Ramallah was broadcast live in anticipation of the actual burial in Jerusalem a day later.

The PA, its Fatah operatives, along with members from other factions, then made sure that they were at the center of the funeral, as close as possible to the casket, to hide behind the real mourners and provoke the police by throwing small but punishing stones and glass that could avoid being captured on camera but sufficiently harmful to instigate the police to try catching them.

The objective was to hide the provocation from the cameras so that they could focus on the police reaction. The operatives were easily identifiable – all young male adults with athletic physiques, wearing the same black tee shirts.

They succeeded in their task. The police, fearful of being injured, tried capturing them. The cameras caught the police reaction and not the provocation.

Did the Israeli media and some Israeli politicians exaggerate the effects of this undoubtedly lousy press?

An analysis of Google Trends demonstrates the dangers of exaggerating events easily and effectively manipulated by Palestinian propaganda.

Google Trends tracks the relative number of keyword searches over a period ranging from several hours to years. The highest-ranking a trend can reach is 100.

To gauge public opinion over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the events in Jenin unfolded, trends for two terms were analyzed – “Free Palestine” and “Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions,” widely known by its acronym, BDS.

An increase in the number of searches for these terms over a considerable period during these events would suggest that Palestinian manipulation was indeed effective. A little increase would mean little or ephemeral effect.

This is what we found for searches over five years for the term “Free Palestine”:

Most searches took place in “Palestine” (Judea and Samaria, and Gaza). Relative to their populations, the highest relative number of searches in the Western states took place in Ireland, Norway, and Sweden, which register the highest bias against Israel over many other terms and are known for high levels of anti-Israel opinion in general.

Even amongst the three largest Western countries, the same pattern of relative search frequency prevailed for this term as other pro-Palestinian terms.

One can see that the Akleh affair had only a minor effect compared to the war between Hamas and Israel in May 2021, which is marked by a spike of 100.

Looking at the searches for the term BDS, the Akleh affair had little impact compared to the 2019 BDS conference or the war between Hamas and Israel a year ago.

Once again, Ireland led the searches amongst Western states (relative to population size), followed by Norway. Among the big three Anglo states regarding the term BDS, the least amount of interest was in the United States, with more searches in Britain and at least five times more in Canada than the United States.

Analysis of the Google Trends indicates that the Israeli media and some politicians exaggerated the effects of the Akleh affair relative to the many media events that captured the attention of the Western public. For example, the war in Ukraine, abortion in the United States, inflation, the massacre in Buffalo, and other local news was more prevalent in May.

What should be investigated is how the Israeli police and the IDF can avoid media traps by Palestinian propagandists.

The fight over propaganda might not be necessary as warfare or lawfare, but it also deserves

consideration. Akleh’s funeral was an ambush – something best to avoid.

JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.

Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire