By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
On August 14th the Daily Mail tabloid in the UK ran an “expose” on an Israeli “reservist” with a shirt that claimed he had “deployed, destroyed and enjoyed” Gaza.
The story was suspicious in a way. He looked too old to be a “reservist” and the article admitted it didn’t know if this was true. The shirt was in English, which is odd for a Hebrew speaking country. But either way the picture made its rounds on social media and contributed to an overall sense that Israel is a callous country which enjoys harming civilians.
This image of Israel is fed, ready-made, to an audience that uses it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. They don’t like Israel, they think it is an aggressive, militaristic, fascistic country, and this speaks to them. They count as the biggest coups the Israelis who provide them the evidence they need. For instance an August 14th video showing Israeli soldiers “celebrating” the shooting of a Palestinian in Hebron.
It is worth considering sometimes how this narrative is fed and how the “red meat” pitched into it is created by some pro-Israel voices themselves. Consider a few cases.
1) As Israel was in the midst of fighting the recent Gaza war, some international voices began accusing it of “genocide.” This is the typical hyperbole that always comes out that ignores all logic. But then, as if timed to give these accusations proof, came along Yocahnon Gordon, son of Five Towns Jewish Times founder, and blogger at the ‘Times of Israel’ website.
Although it was removed quickly, the screenshots made the rounds and soon many major websites were talking about the “insane” article. Did Gordon think he was helping Israel? If he thought he was being “pro-Israel”, in reality what he accomplished was an anti-Israel victory.
2) The same goes for the strange headline about “mowing the grass.”
Efraim Inbar is a well known scholar, but the term “mowing the grass” doesn’t go over well. It seems to imply callously killing some people and destroying infrastructure every few years. It speaks to an Israel that is heartless, not an Israel confronted by terrorists. Similarly Bar-Ilan University Professor Mordechai Kedar’s strange comments about rape as a deterrent were quickly caught upon to show the “true” face of Israel.
Over the years many people ostensibly supporting Israel or providing “policy analysis” have come up with a litany of bizarro statements. Consider when Dov Weissglass was reported to have said Gaza should be “put on a diet.”
There is a narrative that says Israel must be “saved from itself.” It was ostensibly the subject of a Harry Fear presentation in Denmark (although when you see the video, it actually isn’t.” In Foreign Affairs George Ball even wrote an article on this theme in 1977.
But the line connecting the man with the shirt, Gordon’s “genocide” blog, and the statements by Inbar, Kedar et al., is not a strait one. Some people inadvertently do things that harm Israel’s image, like those interviewed by Max Blumenthal and put up under the name ‘feeling the hate in Jerusalem’ in which some drunk youth in Jerusalem shout racism against Obama. But other people purposefully come up with terms and views that are shockingly insensitive.
And one has to take into account the fact that some of these views genuinely reflect a callousness, a racism, a feeling of total dislike for ‘the other’ and a disregard for many basic human rights. The visceral dislike for Obama, for instance, is not predicated on logic. The strange theory that most Palestinian victims are part of a “pallywood” production, that they are all scam artists, goes far beyond reason. In a recent case a shooting in Hebron of a Palestinian, the assertion was that soldiers “celebrated”, but the “debunking” was mostly about showing the Palestinian had thrown rocks. The debate than focuses on two different issues that are not even mutually exclusive. The outrage in some pro-Israel circles that a girl interviewed by Sky News was a “pawn” used against Israel often confuses two issues, that she was actually a victim, and that she might also be exploited. Often the former is forgotten in some narratives.
Some will say: Well it doesn’t matter if the guy with the shirt didn’t wear it because many Israelis think that way so you are just advocating obscuring it. So in some ways having these views out in the open can be cathartic. Except they aren’t. Often Hebrew media doesn’t even understand how terms like “mowing the grass” or “put them on a diet” come across. There is a massive tone deafness in Israel sometimes. Only later, when someone makes the rounds, does someone say “oh, that is kind of offensive.”
But the most important thing to think about is that some people are so pro-Israel, it hurts. And is their pro-Israel extremism actually pro-Israel? Maybe in the long run it is actually undermining Israel and not helpful?