Larry Derfner has an op-ed at the Jerusalem Post on the Al Durah Affair which lays out in a quite striking fashion the aggressive aspect of the mentality of the Masochistic Omnipotence crowd (MOS) crowd. In the Dreyfus Affair the term “intellectual” was coined to describe someone who was capable of looking at the empirical evidence and changing his or her mind. Derfner’s rant suggests that the term could not, by the remotest stretch of the imagination, be applied to him. On the contrary, one has to wonder what could drive him to such heights of irrationality as to assault people who call into question so base a story as that of al Durah.
I have already discussed some of Larry Derfner’s writings, whose liberal cognitive egocentrism stands out even in a crowd of his friends, so I guess this piece didn’t come as a complete surprise to me. But I must confess, the vehemence and adolescent quality of the rhetoric and the lack of any substance in the argument (the best he gets is quoting Fallows which is now five years old), did surprise me.
But sometimes surprises are good because they make you think about things in new ways. I have long meditated on the peculiar attachment of the Israeli left to the al Durah story, and now, Larry Derfner’s rant sheds new light on a puzzling phenomenon.
Rattling the Cage: Al-Dura and the conspiracy freaks
Larry Derfner , THE JERUSALEM POST May. 28, 2008
No doubt about it – Phillippe Karsenty and his allies have a lot of evidence that the killing of Mohammed al-Dura was a hoax, that it was staged by France 2 TV in cahoots with the Palestinians.
In fact, Karsenty, Richard Landes and the rest of the conspiracy theorists have so much evidence that it may even add up to .001% of the evidence that the Mafia, or Castro, or the Pentagon killed JFK. They may have the merest, slightest fraction of the evidence there is that Shimon Peres masterminded the Rabin assassination, or that the Mossad was behind 9/11.
I assume this was written without looking at any of the evidence. Surely anyone who has, could not use such ludicrously exaggerated language… unless, of course, the evidence didn’t matter. But just for the sake of a decency Derfner apparently doesn’t feel he owes those who disagree with him on this, let us ask how him how he explains why there’s no blood where the boy bled to death from a gaping stomach wound for twenty minutes, no bullets supplied by the Palestinians from 11 wounds and what should have been thousands of bullets fired during forty minutes of “bullets like rain,” no evidence supporting any of Talal’s claims, no ambulance evacuation scene of the father and son despite the presence of over a dozen cameramen who were there at the junction and who value such scenes so much that they film cheap fakes…?
If he has satisfactory answers, fine: let’s hear his explanations. If he’s unaware of these problems, then why is he shooting his pen off in ignornance? Does he just assume that anyone who would disagree with him on such matters must be an idiot? What does that tell us about Larry Derfner?
In other words, it’s a bunch of crap, all these theories that say journalist Charles Enderlin, his Palestinian cameraman, al-Dura’s father, a hospital in Gaza, a hospital in Amman, the Jordanian ambassador to Israel, the UN, the Palestinian people and/or any number of other anti-Semites conspired to stage the killing of that 11-year-old boy.
A good friend, upon reading this article, said almost immediately, “he’s a friend of Charles.” I didn’t want to reduce this tirade (as crude and childish as it is), to such venal behavior, but this is literally taken from the proceedings at the court, which Mr. Derfner did not attend, so I suspect he’s picking this up from somewhere, and the “friends of Charles” is not a bad place to start sniffing around. All that he’s missing in his list of conspirators mentioned in court is King Abdullah.
I have addressed this argument in my video Pallywood Strikes Again2: France2 vs. Evidence. In January, the entire Hamas legislature engaged in a staged “candle-light session” at 1:00 PM. You can see the light streaming through the drawn blinds on the right.
Two points about this transparent hoax deserve comment in the context of Derfner’s argument:
So we have a) evidence of elaborate hoaxes, staged for the sake of Palestinian cameramen and sent on to Western journalists; and b) evidence that the Western journalists, not unlike Larry Derfner, incapable of imagining that the Gazans would be so deceptive, who launder the fake and present it as news. In a word, Pallywood. [Note that some of these journalists told the Jerusalem Post about this fake, and perhaps in response to this, Time Magazine’s editors, rather than correct themselves, covered their naked behinds by changing the caption subtly:
I would venture to say that Derfner’s argument, which is at the core of France2’s defense — Karsenty is a bitter combination of Faurrison (Holocaust denier) and Meyssan (9-11 truther) — represents a classic case of cognitive egocentrism. You couldn’t get doctors in an American hospital to lie like that, so how could you get Palestinian doctors to do that? (Never mind the evidence. Presumably Derfner, in preparation for his column didn’t get around to watching the two scenes in Pallywood (themselves taken from Pierre Rehov’s Road to Jenin) where doctors lie to or coach people to lie to the camera.)
At some early stage in our dealing with pervasive Palestinian dishonesty — or rather, pervasive use of the media as a theater of war by Palestinian propagandists — this kind of generous naivete might be not only understandable but in its own way, a noble gesture. But if, as the expression runs, “once, shame on you, twice, shame on me…” then just how many hundreds of times does Larry Derfner want to be duped before he wakes up. And, more to the point, just how long does he plan on assaulting and ridiculing people who have awakened to the scam, for not being as foolish as he?
Let’s return to his column and follow his argument further.
And this is the most cautious of the theories – that some or all of the above framed the IDF for killing al-Dura in a shootout in Gaza at the start of the intifada, when they knew he was really killed by Palestinian gunmen. A more adventurous theory has it that the Palestinians – including al-Dura’s father, who was shot trying to protect him – deliberately killed Mohammed so they could pin it on the IDF and create an intifada martyr. Probably the most exotic theory, the one that appeals most to the conspiracy-monger’s turn of mind, is that al-Dura was never killed at all, that he’s walking around somewhere today. Like Elvis, or Hitler.
These three hypotheses or scenarios appear at my website as “Palestinians by accident,” Palestinians on purpose,” and “Staged.” I invite readers to look at the discussion where I have both “for” and “against” columns for each. I doubt that LD has been to this site and examined the evidence. As for the final throw-away line about Elvis and Hitler, it’s classic reductio ad absurdum. I personally have never claimed the boy is alive. All I — and most of us who work on this — claim, is that the last time you see the lad in Talal’s footage, he’s still alive and moving in ways that do not suggest that he’s even seriously injured… i.e., you do not see him die on camera. (This is one of the major “incoherences” that the judges cited in their decision. But apparently LD thinks he can dismiss it with a sneer.
The killing of Mohammed al-Dura and wounding of his father at Netzarim junction on September 30, 2000 drove the Arabs crazy – and it’s driven the Jews crazy as well. There are all sorts of paranoid, lurid ideas floating around the Jewish blogosphere, a free-flowing demonization of the foreign media (not to mention the Palestinians), while the so-called sane Jewish community won’t say a word against it. It’s seeped into the mainstream, into Israeli officialdom. Daniel Seaman, director of the Government Press Office, lent the campaign credence last year when he spoke of the “myth” surrounding Mohammed al-Dura and the “blood libel” against Israel. Yom Tov Samia, the IDF general in charge of Gaza at the start of the intifada, engaged two confirmed conspiracy freaks, neither of them a ballistics expert, to investigate the shooting.
This is a fascinating direction to move in. I would agree a) that the image drove the Arabs — really Muslims around the world — crazy; and b) that it also drove Jews crazy. But the crazy Jews are the ones who, despite all the evidence, insist that this tale of Israeli soldiers targeting and innocent and defenseless father and son for forty minutes is true, and when confronted with pervasive evidence of staging, insist on attacking the messenger of good tidings.
Or, is it bad tidings? Is LD angry because the Al Durah story is important to him as a terrible crime of a wantonly violent Israeli army? How else to explain the pecuiar Israeli attachment to this narrative that so thoroughly demonizes them?
In the meantime, I find it fascinating that he considers accusing the Palestinians of staging news, and the foreign media of running it as a form of “demonization.” In other words, even this mild form of criticism — neither PK nor I are arguing that the Western media, not even Charles Enderlin were in on this from the start, just that they were duped — is an unacceptably harsh attack. No wonder I have students who feel that Goldhagen “dehumanizes” the Germans who tortured and slaughtered Jewish men, women, and children, when he argues — with extensive evidence in his support — that many ordinary Germans were sadistic and eager genocidal killers. Apparently even such profoundly human traits as sadism and murder are not human. With LD’s notion of what is “demonizing,” we are in the PC world where any criticism of the “other” is illegitimate.
And not surprisingly, the same person, so solicitous of Palestinian and foreign media, has no problem attacking in the most violent terms people who have worked long and hard on a dossier he barely knows. Like those who would save the Palestinians from “demonization” for their revolting support of suicide terrorism, in order to make them “human” you have to dehumanize the Israelis: “I understand the poor Palestinians, the Israelis have oppressed them so, destroyed any hope they might have had, so that in desperation, they feel they have no choice…”
MEANWHILE, KARSENTY has become a Jewish hero – and, since winning an appeal last week of his libel conviction in France, a supposedly triumphant one. The French court’s decision is being hailed by the Jewish Right as vindication of Karsenty’s charges that Enderlin’s story was a murderously anti-Israeli “hoax” – when the court decision said nothing like that at all.
Since when has identifying and exposing demonizing lies that provoke hatred and drive unsuspecting populations to support the war-plans of their leaders become a “right-wing” cause? Can you imagine someone who denounced those who accuse Bush of lying to the American people about WMD’s in order to go to war a bunch of right-wing conspiracy nuts? What makes the PA and their journalistic warriors for the cause progressives? What’s happened to the so-called “left” that any analysis that contradicts their grand narrative of the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian David, no matter how well grounded in the evidence, becomes unacceptable? What a sad day for genuinely progressive intellectuals.
The court was not deciding between Enderlin’s and Karsenty’s versions of the al-Dura killing – it was deciding whether Karsenty had committed a crime by making such accusations against Enderlin, and the ruling was that he had not. While explicitly offering no opinion on the accuracy or intent of Enderlin’s story, the court found that Karsenty seemed “serious” about his defamatory charges, so, according to French libel law, he was entitled to make them. In short, the French appeals court upheld Karsenty’s legal right to cry hoax. It by no means upheld the substance of his claim. There are light years of difference between the two.
I’m unaware whether LD knows French, and if not, whether he’s consulted my translation. But I will say that if that’s how he reads the court’s decision (presuming that he did read and understand it, which one might expect from someone weighing in on so weighty a topic in the public sphere), then I wonder at his ability to report accurately on what he reads. In fact the court spoke repeatedly about the “incohérences” (inconsistencies) in Enderlin’s and France2’s report and responses to questioning. There are not light years separating their decision — Karsenty had a right to make damning accusations of running staged footage as real news, and in very sharp terms — and the larger question of whether this footage was staged. Once again we find the curious, ludicrously exaggerated rhetoric of a man who seems far less interested in addressing the (very serious) issues here, than he is in blowing the opposition out of the water. Why is that?
Yet while it’s pure Jewish paranoia to claim that Enderlin and his co-conspirators knew all along that the Palestinians killed al-Dura, and it’s way beyond paranoia to think the Palestinians killed the boy deliberately or that he never died at all, there is an apparent element of truth in the outcry. Aside from the paranoids and the politically self-interested, there are credible, impartial investigators who have also concluded that the IDF did not kill that poor, terrified boy.
Like the charges of demonizing the media for accusing them of being manipulated by Palestinian propagandists, this charge of paranoia for suspecting that anti-Semites — and surely he’s not going to tell us that Palestinian media are not anti-semitic — tell lies about Jews represents an absolutely astonishing development. Just how stupid do Jews have to be to avoid being called paranoid by such shrewd and discerning figures as LD and the Jewish “left”?
THE MOST authoritative is James Fallows, one of America’s most prominent journalists. After coming here and talking to a lot of Israelis and Palestinians and seeing a lot of evidence, he wrote in the June 2003 Atlantic Monthly that Mohammed al-Dura and his father, Jamal, could not have been shot by IDF soldiers at Netzarim junction – as Enderlin and many others reported – because they were completely shielded from IDF fire by a big, impenetrable concrete block. The al-Duras had to have been shot from another direction, or directions, Fallows writes, and while he doesn’t suggest who did shoot them, the people doing the shooting from those other directions were Palestinians.
So now, well into this essay, we find out that of the five possible scenarios (Israelis or Palestinians, by accident or on purpose, or staged), the three that he ridiculed above as conspiracy theory (Palestinians by accident, on purpose, or staged) are really the only viable ones. So where can Derfner go from here?
But as for the conspiracy theories, he writes: “The reasons to doubt that the al-Duras, the cameramen, and hundreds of onlookers were part of a coordinated fraud are obvious.” Referring to Nahum Shahaf, one of Yom Tov Samia’s investigators and the fountainhead of al-Dura conspiracy mania, Fallows continues: “Shahaf’s evidence for this conclusion, based on his videos, is essentially an accumulation of oddities and unanswered questions about the chaotic events of the day.”
Consider Fallows’ logic, fully endorsed by Larry Derfner: what’s so “obvious” about the implausibility that the cameramen and hundreds of onlookers were part of a coordinated fraud? (One doesn’t need coordination from hundreds of onlookers, just silence.)
The evidence from the rushes — Talal’s and other Palestinian cameramen‘s from that day — indicate that staging fake injuries and ambulance evacuations is a public secret, even a national pastime. What’s so hard to believe that in a culture where whistle blowing carries a death penalty, that no one would be running to James Fallows to tell him that the scene was staged. As one Arab reporter said to me when I gave him a cassette with my work on Al Durah and urged him to keep it confidential — “Are you kidding? The boy’s a martyr. I could be killed for even having this in my possession.” Fallows’ caution on this issue, his insistence on projecting the rules of his own “whistle-blower” culture on the Palestinians represents one of his greatest intellectual failures. (I certainly hope that the rest of his work doesn’t contain similar failures of cultural analysis.)
In any case, once again, we find Larry Derfner presenting not so much arguments as appeals to a politically correct cognitive egocentrism: Palestinians, involved in coordinated staging of false news? How absurd. How paranoid. How like Enderlin, who to this day has yet to address any of the arguments against him with a substantive answer.
As for what Fallows refers to as “an accumulation of oddities and unanswered questions about the chaotic events of the day” — let’s have James Fallows or Larry Derfner explain even a fraction of them without using the staged hypothesis.
Add these to the Zapruder film, the grassy knoll, and “blank, blank.” Despite millions upon millions of “oddities and unanswered questions,” no conspiracy has been discovered in the killing of JFK, Yitzhak Rabin, or Mohammed al-Dura. And considering that the IDF initially took responsibility for al-Dura’s death, there was no conspiracy in the reporting of it, either, even if the story by Enderlin and others turned out, it seems, to have been incorrect.
Which is precisely what Philippe Karsenty and I have always argued. “Enderlin is fooled and at the same time, fools us” — a comment that the court specifically addressed in its decision. The point about Enderlin is that whether or not he was initially fooled — the footage is so badly done, the evidence for Talal’s version of events so poor, that Enderlin as a professional should have spotted it right off — it should have taken Enderlin at most a day to realize that he’d been fooled. As soon as he got the full rushes from Talal, filled with fakes, and absent any further footage of a forty minute ordeal, he should have smelled a rat. Instead he lied to cover up and allowed this hoax to do its terrible work. And the same holds true of Larry Derfner: instead of jumping to the defense of a man whose name will go down in the history of the free press as a by-word for bad journalism, he should be soberly addressing the evidence.
I agree: Israel and the Jewish world are right to be appalled at how the Palestinians and the Arab world distorted and exploited al-Dura’s death as grotesquely as they did. They took what was at worst an accidental IDF shooting and turned it into a mind-shattering act of Israeli sadism. They took their outrage at a Palestinian boy’s death and indulged themselves in wild incitement.
And, Larry Derfner, why do you think that Talal abu Rahmah was not capable of being part of this distortion and exploitation of the al-Durah affair from the start? After all, he’s the one who claimed both to Enderlin and under oath that the Israelis did it “in cold blood.” He’s the origin of this vicious libel. And the PA TV’s subsequent doctoring of the tapes to make these claims indicates that such activity is the norm. So why is it that you can imagine the whole “Arab world” engaging in a disgusting manipulation of a situation, but not a small group of filmmakers at Netzarim Junction?
Now outraged Jews are indulging themselves in the same thing. My suggestion is this: Instead of meeting Arab fanaticism with Jewish fanaticism, why not meet it with Jewish sanity?
And your definition of sanity is to dismiss any accusation that Palestinians stage fake scenes of Israelis shooting Palestinians as “pure Jewish paranoia” and “demonizing”?
Let’s actually discuss “Jewish sanity” both in terms of Jewish culture and in terms of a larger problem in Western culture. You seem to be an outspoken member of what I call the Jewish hyper-self-critics who show their greatness of soul by beating their breasts in atonement for whatever we have done, might have done, been accused of doing, in the hopes that it will elicit from our Palestinian/Arab/Muslims brothers a corresponding generosity of soul so we can all get on with our lives. In itself, such willingness to take the first step is admirable. But when met consistently with a demonizing assault — “We knew you did everything we accused you of!” — and further assaults — confession is s sign of weakness and an invitation to further aggression — then it’s time to show some sanity.
Nor is this problem just one of Jewish hyper-self-criticism. It’s a larger problem shared by many alleged “progressives” who believe that “we have met the enemy and he is us.” I call this kind of thinking Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome (MOS): Everything wrong is our fault, and if only we could be better we could fix everything. It’s not only profoundly deluded, but it is a kind of megalomania in which the solution to everything is in our hands. If only we repent enough, concede enough, self-criticize enough… then the rest of the world will love us. It’s a disease that strike many progressives, Jewish and non-Jewish, and represents a pathological turn in an otherwise exceptional and rare quality, the ability to self-criticize. And right now it’s become a danger to the health and resilience of civil society at a time when we need precisely those traits.
So let me return to Larry Derfner’s comments on “sanity.” I think it’s insane to attack people who defend themselves from vicious and dishonest assaults. I think it’s insane to adopt a politically correct position that does not permit you to criticize your enemies lest you be accused of demonization. I think it’s insane to be generous to people who take it as a sign of weakness, especially the tenth time you get treated that way. I think it’s insane to embrace a libel against you so deeply that even when it proves false, you cling to it with all your might. I think it’s insane to assault your friends and embrace your enemies.
Once again, the Al Durah Affair reveals unexpected layers of the pathologies that plague the West. In the war with pre-modern paranoia and sadism, the post-modern’s proclivity for masochistic self-flagellation, the Westerners eagerness to beat their breast in repentence, makes them the most useful of idiots. Here, Larry Derfner, without the slightest sign that he’s looked at the evidence in the case, or read the judge’s decision, launches into a violent tirade against people who, in the pursuit of the truth, have defended the country in which he lives.
What makes so-called Israeli “progressives” cling to the lies that provoke hatred of and violence against their own people? Maybe Larry Derfner, after he’s read the evidence and done some soul-searching, might offer us an answer. At that point, his self-criticism might actually contribute something constructive to the crisis that we are passing through in this troubled early 21st century. Until then, maybe he might have the good sense to keep a modest silence on the Al Durah Affair.