“They Have Never Told You the Truth”: Radio Propaganda to the Middle East and the Fight for Historical Legitimacy in the 1940s

Friday, January 5, 2018: 2:10 PM
Diplomat Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
Margaret E. Peacock, University of Alabama
This paper explores how Soviet, American, British, Israeli, and Egyptian radio propagandists fought over the past in their struggles to inform the present. Based on extensive transnational archival research, this paper examines how state propagandists constructed particular memories and historical narratives for their Middle Eastern audiences in order to give legitimacy to their present-day political agendas. The paper uses the famous Ben Yehuda street car bombing that happened in Jerusalem in 1948 as its focus for analysis. Instead of telling one version of what happened on that fateful day, this paper shows how the Soviet, American, British, Israeli, and Egyptian broadcasting services all constructed completely different narratives of the event, based on different claims to historical truth. I argue that these differing historical truths created a world where even the most basic facts became susceptible to questioning. For Middle Eastern audiences, who were already suspicious of colonial duplicity, the manipulation of the airwaves by Western propagandists set the stage for Middle Eastern disillusionment and radicalization.