This constitutes a longer version of the op-ed piece at the Jerusalem Post where I exercise my “right of reply” to respond to Larry Derfner’s most recent attack on my arguments. The essay contains links (more to be added), three additional documents, and a number of paragraphs dropped from the published piece.
The Self-Destruction of the Al Durah Faithful
When I first began work on the al Durah affair, I knew I was on to a story whose unraveling would reveal a wide range of cultural dynamics at the beginning of the 21st century –
- the dramatic dysfunctions of the Mainstream media’s news reporting,
- the resurgence of various forms of Judeophobia, from the paranoid anti-Semitism of the Muslim world to the joyous moral Schadenfreude of the European “left”,
- the mainstreaming of an active-cataclysmic apocalyptic movement in global Jihad, and its weapon of choice, suicide attacks on civilians.
- the cultural vulnerabilities of Western democracies faced with an asymmetrical war so lopsided they cannot take it seriously
- the pathologies of Leftist and Jewish self-criticism,
- the disorientation of liberals, prisoners of a special, optimistic, politically correct brand of cognitive egocentrism, and
- the moral failure of the “progressive left” from the dawn of this century (Al Durah, Durban I, Response to 9-11) to defend progressive values in a cognitive war we are badly (and inexcusably) losing.
By any standards this offers a fairly good scope of issues to illuminate with a “thick description” of one single incident, even if it strikes many as what one French friend classed as a “human interest story” (faits divers).
Part of what attracted me to the topic was its quality of “public secret.” Everywhere I looked there were public secrets: from the obvious staging of Pallywood and the stunning complacency in private of the Western media (“oh, they do that all the time”), to uncanny refusal of otherwise rational people to reconsider despite the deeply troubling evidence. Karsenty calls it the “so what” defense: No blood… so what; no bullets… so what; 55 seconds not 27 minutes filmed of an alleged 45 minutes of non-stop Israeli firing… so what; no “death agonies” that Enderlin cut to “spare the public”… so what; no ambulance evacuation scenes… so what; the kid moves after he’s supposed to be dead… so what; Talal lies… so what; Enderlin lies…
Indeed quite early on, in addition to seeing this story as having strong parallels to the Dreyfus Affair, I began to see it as a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Here the tailors are Talal and his friends who spin their story; Enderlin is the chamberlain who comes back from examining the evidence and announces that the tale is good and true, the MSM are the courtiers to whom he gave both the evidence and the talking points for announcing the great news in order to prepare the tale’s public exposure, the media launch of the icon of hatred, the martyr Muhammad al Durah. And a string of lonely individuals, from Shahaf, to Juffa, to Huber, to Poller, to Landes, to Karsenty, tried unsuccessfully to say, hey wait a minute, this martyr’s narrative robe is woven of wholesale deception. And each of us were told, as does the father of the child in Andersen’s tale, “Hush child.” Only whereas in the original tale, the “revelation” was that those who couldn’t see the magical cloth were “fools and unworthy to rule”, in this one, those who saw a fake were “far-right-wing Zionist conspiracy freaks.”
Like many such “public secrets,” this tale does not wear well over time. (The French call them secrets de Polichinelle, secrets like pregnancy that will, eventually, out.) What I did not expect, was how often the defenders of al Durah would reveal the nature of these dysfunctions I was trying to chronicle and explain. Now Larry Derfner has added his text to the dossier of self-revelatory texts that explain so much about the al Durah affair. He has, as a result, inspired the formal launching of the Al Durah Affair’s Public Secret Dossier. So in his honor, I propose to go over some of these extraordinarily revealing texts and compare and contrast them.
1) Letter of Ricardo Christiano to the Palestinian Authority, October 13, 2000.
2) News analysis of William Orme for the New York Times, October 24, 2000
3) Response of Adam to James Fallows’ Atlantic Monthly article June, 2003
4) Nouvel Obs Letter of Support to Charles Enderlin, May 27, 2008
5) Larry Derfner’s Second Column on Al Durah in Jerusalem Post, June 18, 2008
Letter of Ricardo Christiano to the Palestinian Authority, October 13, 2000
On October 12 (less than two weeks after the al Durah footage first aired and provoked rioting throughout Israel’s Arab population), two Russian-born reservists took a wrong turn and landed in Ramallah, Arafat’s “Oslo” capital. Palestinian police took them into custody, but the rumor of their presence spread rapidly. A lynch crowd soon stormed the police station, and in a frenzy, Palestinian men beat the soldiers to death with their bare hands, threw their bodies out the window, and a mob below literally tore apart their bodies, beaten to a pulp, dragging the parts through the street, shouting all the while, “Revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Durah.”
A number of photographers and camera crews were there that day, and naturally filmed the affair. They were, however, assaulted by the crowds, their footage confiscated, their cameras broken, any resistance calling down blows. Wrote Mark Seager, a journalist who has great sympathy for the Palestinians, who was happy to escape with his life even if his favorite camera was smashed to pieces, in an article entitled, “I’ll have nightmares for the rest of my life”:
It was the most horrible thing that I have ever seen and I have reported from Congo, Kosovo, many bad places. In Kosovo, I saw Serbs beating an Albanian but it wasn’t like this. There was such hatred, such unbelievable hatred and anger distorting their faces.
Only one crew managed to get images out of Ramallah that day, an Italian crew whose Israeli member shamed them into defying the Palestinians. The Israelis got the footage, ran it on TV, and it shocked the world.
The next day, the head of the Italian public TV news station RAI wrote Yasser Arafat a personal and urgent letter designed to protect his reporters in the Middle East from danger. In cloying tones – “we congratulate you…” (on what?) – he explained that the people who had brought out the tapes were not from his station, but from another. “We,” he explained, “always respect the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for work in Palestine and we are credible in our precise work.” In other words, “we didn’t break the rules and show footage that was detrimental to the Palestinian cause, we would never do that, so please don’t retaliate against my people.”
The letter is stunningly craven, and reveals the public secret of Palestinian intimidation of journalists who systematically present the Palestinians to the world as they wish to be portrayed – plucky freedom fighters resisting the Israeli imperialist, racist, genocidal hegemon – and mute the ugly but public elements – the industry of hatred, the vicious and deliberate violence (no “collateral damage” here), the profoundly irredentist attitude towards Israel. As a revelation of the extensiveness of Palestinian intimidation – “journalistic procedures” – the letter is incomparable, and shed light on much more than just Mr. Cristiano’s organization. Properly understood this letter should arouse in any careful reader to ask alarming questions about the pervasive effect of Palestinian press intimidation on the quality of news delivery in the West.
Obviously, it was supposed to be a private memo to Arafat to avoid retaliation. Arafat, however, published the letter triumphantly in Al Hayat al Jadida, much to the embarrassment of Christiano. Having got caught red handed revealing trade secrets, he was shunned by his colleagues who, however much they played the same game, were still publicly committed to basic journalistic principles of a free press: to resist and report intimidation to their readership. Even the Israeli government, normally quite timid, sanctioned him.
Of course, at this time in the process, very few observers of the journalistic coverage of the incipient Intifada and the stunning unraveling of the Oslo “Peace process” were prepared to analyze carefully, to reconsider this dominant framing of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian David. Indeed, nothing signaled more clearly to close observers the determination of MSM to ignore these issues, than the analysis of William Orme two weeks later in the New York Times.
News analysis of William Orme for the New York Times, October 24, 2000
It turns out that Christiano’s letter was not the only controversial product of the Ramallah lynching. The following day in Gaza an Imam preached a particularly violent sermon, calling in no uncertain terms for a genocide against the Jews.
The Jews are the Jews. Whether Labor or Likud the Jews are Jews. They do not have any moderates or any advocates of peace. They are all liars. They must be butchered and must be killed… The Jews are like a spring as long as you step on it with your foot it doesn’t move. But if you lift your foot from the spring, it hurts you and punishes you… It is forbidden to have mercy in your hearts for the Jews in any place and in any land. Make war on them any place that you find yourself. Any place that you meet them, kill them. (PA TV, October 13, 2000)
Now to those familiar with the Hadith of the “Rocks and the Trees” about an apocalyptic slaughter of the Jews in which nature itself comes to the aid of the killers, “servants of Allah”, this was not unfamiliar. It has been a favorite trope of Hamas since its inception in 1987.
Israelis, cognizant of the role of Palestinian MSM in disseminating the hatreds that provoked the lynching in Ramallah, retaliated symbolically by bombing the transmitters of the Voice of Palestine, the PA’s official radio network. William Orme, veteran reporter for the NYT, came to investigate and wrote a news analysis piece two months later entitled, “A Parallel Mideast Battle: Is It News or Incitement?” What could have been a brilliant and illuminating analysis of the real forces of hatred and violence in the region turned into a classic and profoundly dishonest exercise in “even-handed” reporting. Quoting Palestinians saying, “Every word the Israelis hear on the Voice of Palestine they think is incitement,” and portraying the attack as a blow at freedom of expression, Orme presented the Israeli position as follows:
Israeli officials said the air strike against Voice of Palestine was justified, citing NATO attacks on state television studios in Yugoslavia, where official media were accused of promoting violence in Kosovo. Israelis cite as one egregious example a televised sermon that defended the killing of the two soldiers. ”Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews,” proclaimed Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza City mosque the day after the killings.
One might forgive the uninformed reader for siding with the Palestinians in this case. The Israelis look like fools complaining about something as petty as this.
Was Orme so morally obtuse that he did not think the genocidal passages that he cut added anything to the “inflammatory” speech he already quoted? Was he just plain dishonest in his editing? Was he responding to the “rules of journalism” when reporting from the PA that Christiano had just revealed, and of which he made not a mention in his article? Or was it his editor who cut it? (I doubt the last conjecture, since had he included the full quote, the rest of the article would have had to change.)
Wherever lies the fault, the losers in this astounding omertà surrounding Islamic genocidal hate speech are first, the readers of this disinformation, second, the Israelis whose apparent pettiness here only highlights the accusations of arbitrary violence the Palestinians level against them, and three, the Palestinian people, left in the grip of hate-mongering predatory elites who are strengthened with every such PR victory.
How many people understood what was at stake, how profound the disinformation, and how dangerous? Not too many in these pre-9-11 days. After all, who would prefer to trust the ravings of right-wing Zionist operations like PMW and CAMERA to the authority of a veteran journalist working for the NYT?
Response of Adam Rose to James Fallows’ Atlantic Monthly article, June 2003
The first salvo of Al Durah criticism came in the Anglophone press almost three years after the event, in June of 2003 with James Fallows ground-breaking article in the Atlantic Monthly – both journalist and publication part of the progressive camp, and thus above suspicion as some kind of “right-wing Zionist” initiative. Fallows presented all of the deeply troubling evidence available. However, firmly if respectfully distancing himself from Nahum Shahaf’s “staged” hypothesis, Fallows took the prudent, minimalist position that the “Israelis didn’t do it” without further asking what did happen that day. Making some closing reflections on the tenuous relationship of the Arab world with empirical evidence, Fallows concluded that no matter what the evidence, it was unlikely such findings would make any difference in a culture where Al Durah was a sacred martyr.
The response drew outrage from the progressive community, and a lengthy essay by Adam Rose, a founder and director of Support Sanity, a coordinating web-based organization promoting a “peaceful and sane solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.” In it Rose criticized Fallows for his failure to understand philosophical “truth” – that what “really happened” did not matter so much as its symbolic meaning.
In other words, the critical question in an examination of the dynamics of Mohammed al-Dura’s “martyrdom” is not whether the singular “Story of Mohammed al-Dura” is true, but whether the universal “Mohammed al-Dura Story” is true. And the sad, incontrovertible fact is that the universal “Mohammed al-Dura Story” is true. According to multiple, credible international, American and Israeli sources, Israeli soldiers do kill little Palestinian boys on a regular basis. Sometimes for throwing rocks. Sometimes because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. And sometimes (apparently) for sport.
Perhaps Rose had not seen the interview that Esther Schapira did with a PA TV official who explained why his team had inserted a picture of an Israeli soldier, firing rubber bullets at a riot caused by the al Durah footage, into the al Durah footage in order to make it clear that the Israelis intentionally targeted the boy in cold blood. His justification was strikingly similar to Rose’s:
These are forms of artistic expression, but all of this serves to convey the truth… We never forget our higher journalistic principles to which we are committed of relating the truth and nothing but the truth.
This splicing became the accepted frame of the incident certainly in the Arab world and much of the European, and its broader meaning: the Israelis deliberately murder innocent and defenseless Palestinian children. It lies at the core of the “blood-libel” quality of the al Durah story. It permits Europeans eager to escape Holocaust guilt to claim that this picture “erases, replaces that of the boy in the Warsaw ghetto,” and compare Israel to the Nazis.
The official’s proud comment illustrates the stark divide between the Palestinian concept of journalism and of mythical “truth,” and the Western empirical one, where no reporter could act in such a way and survive scrutiny. And nothing better illustrates the post-modern dangers of fudging the boundary between empirical evidence and narrative than Rose’s eagerness to embrace this lethal weaponized narrative as “true.” Without realizing it, well-intentioned Adam Rose has joined the ranks of believers in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion who declare unabashedly that the fact that the text is forged does not discredit it, because it reflects a “higher truth.”
And when he tried to link his “higher truth” empirically to reality, he did so by appeal to organizations and individuals who were themselves products of the PA’s “truth”: reports from MSM journalists like Christopher Hedges and Amira Haas and NGOs who played the same game, and aimed at the same target – Israel’s image.
And in 2003, when Jenin massacre claims had swept the MSM before there was any evidence, and survived empirical disproof even from the UN, when anti-war demonstrations and campaigns of divestment and boycott demonized Israel and glorified the Palestinian resistance, few people on the Left were ready to question their commitment to the kinds of higher truths that supported their world view. Rose’s article, rather than consider what the alternative “higher meaning” might be – that the Palestinian narrative deliberately attributes malevolent intent to Israelis thus inspiring just that malevolence among Palestinians and destroying any chance for peace – ended up siding with the “higher truth” that permitted him, through some weird calculus, to be even-handed. And in the end, this peace activist fed the dogs of war.
Nouvel Obs Letter of Support to Charles Enderlin, May 27, 2008
The court of appeals verdict on May 21, 2008 shocked everyone on both sides, and once people read the decision, the shock deepened. It was a stinging rebuke to France2 and Charles Enderlin which essentially told Enderlin that as a prime time news broadcaster he had to expect scrutiny and criticism from both colleagues and fellow citizens. Furthermore, it remarked, in this case in particular, with its international impact, despite the fact that an accusation of running staged footage in the case of al Durah would constitute defamation were it irresponsible and motivated by bad faith, in this case the inconsistencies (incohérences) of both Talal’s footage and Enderlin’s responses to the court’s questions, meant that Karsenty had the right to make his criticism in the most lively language.
Enderlin, despite the brave face he put on it – “we’ll appeal, the decision merely found him innocent because they ruled he acted in good faith” – clearly could not have been happy. On the other hand, outside of the blogosphere, most MSM sources either ignored or minimally reported the event. Alone, outside of the Jewish press, the International Wall Street Journal tackled the issue with both an op-ed by Nidra Poller and an editorial. Despite how powerful the court’s statement, it looked like, once again, the counter-story would die on the lips of its frustrated tellers.
But then the “friends of Charles” did something remarkable and remarkably foolish. They put up a letter of support for their colleague that bemoaned the “campaign of hatred and vilification” that had dogged his steps for lo! these seven years… accusing him of a hoax when he told the world that the boy was killed by fire coming from the Israeli position. The court’s decision, they declared, surprised and worried them: surprised, because the court “granted the same credibility to Karsenty,” a mere civilian, as it had to Enderlin, the veteran reporter “known for the seriousness and rigor of his work, who exercises his profession in sometimes difficult conditions”; worried, because the court’s decision “gives a ‘permission to defame’ journalists, which would permit anyone, in the name of ‘good faith’ and ‘the right of free criticism,’ to strike with impunity at the ‘honor and reputation of information professionals.’” This, they concluded, coming “at a time when the freedom of action of journalists is the object of repeated attacks,” would undermine “this fundamental principle, pillar of democracy” and therefore they “renew our support and solidarity with Charles Enderlin.”
The text is as revealing as the Christiano letter both in its complete indifference to the Christiano letter’s message about the systematic intimidation of the correspondents in the field, and in its publishing a hidden secret. Never would it occur to the signatories that their “veteran reporter” might systematically misrepresent the “terrain” he knows so well and misreport events because “what would they say in Gaza if I didn’t report that the Israelis killed him?” On the contrary, the petition was written and signed by people who showed no interest in the evidence, who believe that their colleague should be given superior credibility because he is their colleague. And they clearly think that freedom from criticism by their readers guarantees their freedom of speech. It would be hard to imagine a more blatant expression of a privileged corporatist mentality redolent of the ancien régime. Ben Dror Yemini compares them to the “anti-Dreyfusards, who also stubbornly clung to the first version.”
And that’s how it struck the readership. The talkbacks to the letter were overwhelmingly negative, so much so that the editors at the Nouvel Obs began censoring the hostile ones and publishing the favorable ones… more evidence of the corporatism that does not hesitate to manipulate evidence in its favor. Once again, the “old media,” the MSM which had grown accustomed to throwing its considerable – video enhanced – weight around with impunity had run into unexpected opposition in the new world of cyberspace, where a public better informed than they “talked back.” Indeed, even members of the guild, even “friends of Charles,” began to break ranks, Alain Finkielkraut, Elie Barnavi, Ivan Rioufol, André Dufour…
As Andersen’s tale runs:
The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He thought it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn’t see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.
Even Jean Daniel, stung by the rebuke of Barnavi and the accusations of corporatism, broke ranks with his own letter and called for a committee of investigation that would examine – shock and awe – the evidence!
Larry Derfner’s Second Column on Al Durah in Jerusalem Post, June 18, 2008
Alas, even as the pro-Enderlin forces in France were in disarray, Larry Derfner decided to enter the lists, not so much on Enderlin’s side, as against the the “paranoid conspiracy freaks” who dare to suggest that the original footage was staged. He ran into the same response from his readers as the signatories of the Nouvel Obs letter did: almost universally negative, all better informed than he. Earnest proponents of the “staged” hypothesis tried to speak with him, met with him, went over the evidence with him. He spoke with Enderlin, with Gabi Weimann, a professor of communications at Haifa who has followed the case for a long time. So he tried a second time, at great length. This time he began quite explicitly criticizing Enderlin for his claim that the Israelis killed the boy. So Enderlin, even in Derfner’s relatively favorable account, is still on the hook for contributing to accusation of murder against Israel (i.e., what became, in the hands of the Muslims and the radical left, the first blood libel of the 21st century).
But the claim that the footage was staged… that was — to his mind — simply impossible. Derfner’s handling of the evidence was only slightly better than the French signatories… at least he looked at it. (I have addressed these elements in detail at my blog where one can look at the evidence as well.) But most of his argumentation is ad hominem, both positive and negative.
What I would like to explore here, rather, is Derfner’s form of argumentation, his tone, his appeal to “impartial authorities” and his meta-argument about what the argument from the evidence means morally and the conclusions that he seems to draw from that moral consideration.
First, the shrill tone. Derfner’s invective may be less wild in the second article than the first, but it remains one dominated by ridicule, sarcasm, and disdain. “Dear God. People really believe this stuff… Where is Barry Chamish when we need him… Karsenty and Landes are actually satisfied with that explanation. Such rigorous detectives…” All this is part of the “Al Durah conspiracy freaks” rhetoric of the first article, and more broadly of the Enderlin position, echoed by his attorney who ridiculed Karsenty as a “bitter combination of [the US Government bombed the Pentagon with a missile, on 9-11]Thierry Meyssan and [the Holocaust is a hoax] Robert Faurisson.” If such an approach seems ill-suited to the evidence, as so many commentators at the JPost site seem to think, it’s because it is.
Indeed, like Enderlin, Derfner hopes to convince people without looking too closely at the issues by invoking what others have to say and don’t say. In particular, one of his recurrent themes – one often used by Enderlin – is to invoke what other have not said in order to draw conclusions. For example, he likes to contrast the “very reasonable, decent minded… disinterested” journalists whom he likes to contrast with the “right wing… reflexively pro-Israel/anti-Arab media.” The key passage runs as follows:
The key finding by these investigators was that the al-Duras, by crouching behind an impenetrable concrete cylinder, were out of the line of fire from the IDF outpost at Netzarim Junction. At the same time, the father and son were in the line of fire of Palestinian gunmen. This conclusion, reached by Fallows, Schapira, Jeambar, Leconte and Weimann, is the decisive reason why I believe the al-Duras were shot accidentally by Palestinians, not by the IDF. Furthermore, that each of these investigators also dismissed the possibility that the shooting was “staged” – I think that alone is reason enough to brush aside the idea that Abu Rahme, the al-Duras and a cast of helpers pulled off a colossal hoax to blacken Israel’s name by faking the death of a 12-year-old boy. As far as I know, there is not one impartial observer, someone unconnected to the reflexively pro-Israel/anti-Arab media, who believes the al-Dura killing was staged. While one of the conspiracy theorists, Luc Rozenzweig, is a former editor of Le Monde, he became a contributor to Metula News Agency (MENA), a French Jewish Web site that’s been one of the chief disseminators of hoax “evidence.”
To deconstruct the argument here: the “impartial” observers (whom we can trust) say the Israelis didn’t do it, so I believe them. They “dismiss” the staged (i.e. conspiracy) hypothesis, therefore we can “brush it aside” as well. He therefore concludes, without the slightest attention to the evidence, that the Palestinians killed the boy by accident. It seems hard, for example, to argue that three distinct bullets (i.e. not a machine gun spray that went wild, but aimed shots) are accidental: they miss their target by almost 90 degrees!
The problem is that this second step is in fact a piece of exceptional conjecture offered as a near certain corollary to the first point. And yet, even in the one case where he consulted with the folks on this list, he didn’t get the story quite right. Weimann, careful scholar that he is, may not have concluded that the event was staged, but by the same scrupulous methodology, he has not concluded the opposite as Derfner would have us believe. On the contrary, he wrote me, for attribution: “I told the journalist that I can’t support any scenario but I certainly can’t reject any for the very same reason.” It’s not that Derfner opposes “stretching the evidence,” — here he’s got Weimann “dismissing” the staged hypothesis — it’s just which direction we spin this material.
Similarly, James Fallows notes specifically in response to the current dispute between me and Derfner:
“As I wrote in the Atlantic in 2003, my own guess is that the ‘truth’ of this case will never
fully be known. But of course I am interested in and open to whatever explanation or
scenario the evidence ultimately supports.”
The case gets more problematic when we consult with Esther Schapira. She writes, in response to Derfner’s use of her work:
It has been said several times that I didn’t find any hints supporting the accusation that the famous scene at the Netzarim junction was a hoax and this was why I didn’t include it in my film. This is wrong. Indeed even in 2001 I already came across a number of interesting hints indicating that the so called “killing of Mohammed Al Durah” might be a Palestinian propaganda fabrication… Now, in retrospect with the knowledge of today, I know that it is very justified to question if he did get killed at all.
This seems a far cry from “dismissed the possibility that the shooting was ‘staged’.” (Those who have seen her movie may agree with me that the issue of staging is an “unspoken” presence throughout the documentary.) Indeed it sheds a particularly interesting light on Derfner’s anachronistic understanding of the evidence he presents. For him, the reason that all these “impartial observers” did not go beyond the negative conclusion – the Israelis did not shoot the boy – and engage the obvious next question – what did happen? – is because they concluded (tacitly, since none actually argues this explicitly) that it was the Palestinians by accident. For him, the professional journalists work in an objective arena, devoid of pressures, whereas those of us amateur “conspiracy freaks” operate in the cyclone spin-zone of pro-Zionist/anti-Arab advocacy.
But Schapira’s comment gives us insight into a particularly important dimension of this case: the role of intimidation of the media.
My findings, that it is most unlikely that he was killed by the Israeli soldiers for a number of reasons, came as a surprise to me and already caused an outcry, and I got life threats and needed police protections when I appeared in public. As I was aware of the emotional impact of that scene I stuck strictly to facts and findings and left out everything that seemed like speculation.
Derfner, a Johnny-come-lately to this debate seems to think that his position – Palestinians by accident – is the only acceptable conclusion. But only five years ago, a European journalist who (implicitly) argued that position need body-guards. In other words, merely to call in question the Palestinian narrative meant ferocious, even violent criticism. His current “centrist” position was an extremist position only half a decade ago.
And such pressures not only played subsequently, but at the time of the events themselves. Charles Enderlin likes to point out how he had received death threats from Jews unhappy with his coverage. But he’s less likely to emphasize what he let slip in an interview with Adi Schwartz of Ha-Aretz who asked him: “Why, given the lack of concrete evidence, did you say “target of fire from the Israeli position”?
If I hadn’t said that the father and son were the victims (Korbanot) of fire from the Israeli position, they would have said in Gaza, ‘How is it that Enderlin doesn’t say it was the IDF?’
And my bet is, that if Enderlin had to choose between getting death threats from Hamas or from Jews, he would prefer the latter. As the head of the British Political Cartoon society which gave an award to a vicious cartoon of Sharon/Chronos eating babies replied to the question, “Why do you not do cartoons like that attacking Arafat,” with the simple observation, “Jews don’t do fatwas.” On the contrary, the recipient of the award thanked the Jews who cried out in anger at his cartoon, “for drawing attention to my work.”
This issue of political pressure on the “highly respected, disinterested journalists” deserves as much attention as the suspicion of inappropriate influences on “pro-Israeli” activists. Take, for example, the three French journalists whose comments after viewing Talal’s raw footage at the France2 studios in Paris, led Karsenty to write the “defamatory” letter for which Enderlin sued him. Jeambar and Leconte – who eventually beat a quick retreat from the controversy – appear as paragons of credibility, while Rosenzweig, who gave testimony in court is dismissed as a partisan because “he became a contributor to Metula News Agency (MENA), a French Jewish Web site that’s been one of the chief disseminators of hoax ‘evidence’.”
But Leconte and Jeambar were the subject of intense pressures to back off, terrified at having their reputation besmirched by association with MENA’s conclusions, and bowed out with the excuse of having seen Jamal’s injuries, which turn out to have been received in Gaza at the hands of Hamas thugs and treated in Israel in 1994. The tale of this episode, in which the forces protecting France2 moved into high gear to silence these critics, is told in detail by Nidra Poller in a Commentary article that Derfner had recommended to him. To present Leconte and Jeambar, who never engaged in a systematic study – they only saw the rushes once – as decisive authorities for rejecting the staged hypothesis is hardly fair to his readership.
Of course, the pressure on Leconte and Jeambar was hardly the kind of pressure that journalists in the territories feel; it was more cultural than physical. There is no corporatism without pressures to maintain solidarity. Before the court decision, the best one could hope for from any of the members of the guild who had examined the evidence – including people like those who attacked the Nouvel Obs letter – was the minimalist position, “the Israelis didn’t do it.” But to then ask, “Who did?” or, better yet, “What happened?” would be to tread extremely sensitive terrain, strewn with politically-correct bombs waiting to explode in any explorers face.
In the case of the
“I would never say the emperor is naked… but I don’t think his new clothes are all that beautiful…”
But by far the most revealing aspect of Derfner’s letter comes when he brings in his moral calculus, something he does repeatedly:
I think it’s ludicrous and morally blind to claim that the Palestinian boy’s killing was a “hoax,” a staged event… all the conspiracy theories flying around the right-wing Jewish cyberspace are nothing but Arab-bashing nonsense… if you believe the alternative conspiracy theory… you not only have to assume Palestinians are naturally satanic liars, you have to assume they’re naturally satanic child-killers, too. THE AL-DURA conspiracy theories are wild and irrational, but they’re also more (or less) than that – they’re indecent. To believe that the boy is still alive and that the father was never shot, you have to assume that every Palestinian, from the highest to the lowest, is the biggest liar imaginable, and that when Palestinians work together, they invent hoaxes and cover-ups of inhuman genius and precision. To believe that the bullets never even hit the al-Duras, you have to explain away everything that doesn’t fit your theory about the implacably evil nature of Palestinian behavior by saying: Someone’s lying, or someone’s covering up for a lie.
Now for some, this may be nothing more than a “no duh” moment. Of course that’s how Derfner and the rest of the PCP crowd think and why they make such excellent useful idiots (or in my terminology, dupes of demopaths). But for those of us who struggle daily with honest, fair-minded PCPers who give this crowd the benefit of the doubt when they call themselves the “reality-based community,” this is spectacularly revealing stuff.
One could scarcely hope for a more explicit expression of how a “moral” (really political) agenda trumps the evidence. We cannot say that the Palestinians staged this scene because to do so would be “Arab bashing.” To even think that they might stage so revolting a scene means we consider them “implacably evil… satanic liars.”
In other words, this text exposes one of the most important dimensions in the long and painful process whereby the story of Al Durah remained buried under a wall of silence for so long. If the Nouvel Obs petition exposes the corporatist omertà that kept the MSM from treating a the critique of a report they had done so much to disseminate, this letter explains why progressives have been so resistant to examining the evidence. It explains the puzzling responses I ran into when speaking of this to my “progressive” friends who not only refused to give me a platform to discuss my work, but would not even respond to the evidence. “I’ve always been opposed to the settlements,” said one American professor of journalism known for his defense of Israel in the face of media hostility; “If there hadn’t been settlers at Netzarim, there wouldn’t have been soldiers at that Junction,” responded another.
It also may explain why the media behaves so bizarrely: why a first rate “impartial” journalist like William Orme could leave the genocidal passages out of his quote from the Gazan Imam; why someone at ABC could tell me that despite being convinced by my footage of the existence of Pallywood and the staging of al Durah, he didn’t think that “there’s much appetite for this topic” at his station; why someone at WGBH told me, “we couldn’t just do this, but rather something balanced with an example of Israeli staging.” “And if you can’t find an Israeli example?” “Then no.”
But the problem here is, the evidence leads precisely to the conclusions that Derfner (and so many other politically correct thinkers), consider unutterable. Nor is this evidence merely in the case of Al Durah, or even the case of Netzarim Junction September 30, 2000 and Jenin Spring 2002 (from which I drew all my examples in Pallywood). Anyone who has spent more than five minutes at either MEMRI or PMW knows that the “kebab and humus” of the Arab and Muslim MSM consists in making up vicious lies about Israel in order to inspire relentless hatred and genocidal violence. (I chose my words carefully here. Unlike Mr. Derfner’s comments about me, this is not wild rhetoric.)
So this political agenda – be nice to others so they’ll be nice to you – literally demands that one ignore the evidence on the one hand, and, in Derfner’s case at least, that one assault those who follow it as “Arab bashers” on the other. In other words, a recipe for idiocy… useful idiocy. It results in well-intentioned folks like Derfner and Rose, who sincerely want to make peace, attacking people who disagree on how to make peace, as the enemies of peace, and whitewashing the warmongers as peace-lovers who just need some more concessions from us before they put down their weapons and cease their hate-speech. Like progressives of the Cherie Blair/Jennie Tonga variety, in order to understand the suicide terrorists as acting from hopeless desperation, they must demonize the Israelis who so torment them that teaching their children to so hate that they dream of blowing themselves up amidst Israeli civilians becomes their “only choice.”
Derfner’s violent attack reveals how this dogmatic defense of the most depraved behavior among Palestinians, has an equally ugly corollary in its treatment of Jewish voices of concern. What it will not do to depraved foes, it has no problem doing to people who point out that depravity. The anger he will not allow himself to express towards what I imagine he imagines as the “vast majority of Palestinians/ Arabs/ Muslims,” he unleashes at those of us who believe that one does not promote peace by inventing out of whole, politically-correct cloth. It’s the speech of those who point to Arab hate-speech that is hate speech.
The Israeli official hasbarah (explanation, clarification, apologia) reflects this cruel dilemma. If one were to summarize the current informal but official doctrine of the State of Israel when faced with the lethal narratives of the Palestinians it can be summed up as follows:
• Never accuse the Palestinians of lying
• Never criticize or counter-attack the MSM
• Apologize for the suffering you may have inflicted
• Insist it was in your own defense
Now all of these are laudable and gentlemanly, and politically correct. But when your foes have no scruples about violating these same principles and using your determined credulity to get their hatemongering narratives to spread their enemy’s media, it’s a recipe for the catastrophe that we see before us: the most moral and disciplined army (by far) when it comes to concern for civilian casualties among the enemy is viewed by most of the world as the worst violator of human rights and committer of war crimes in the world.
(And whatever reader comes here and wants to say in exasperation, “you must be kidding! Are you going to tell me that all these NGOs and UN resolutions are wrong? I’ll respond, think again about your assumptions. At least try out as a working hypothesis that they are as wrong about Israel as they were about Al Durah. And then look again at the evidence. Don’t walk in with the prejudice of a vicious anti-Zionist discourse that has, since 2000, dominated much of the discussion — in the media and in academia — of the Middle East conflict.)
Manfred Gerstenfeld has described this style of approach “verbal vegetarianism.” An unwillingness to fight back that paralyzes many voices that should be speaking up. One finds a similar pattern among well-intentioned NGOs. Take, for example “Facing History,” an organization dedicated to the laudable goal of getting people to look courageously at past human inhumanities to other humans, most notably the Holocaust, so as to make sure they don’t happen again. But when it comes to discussing the current most widespread use of Nazi rhetoric in the world today – the MSM of over a billion Muslims – the organization falls silent. No Muslim-bashers here. On the contrary, they have promoted a strong multi-cultural approach that, on the one hand, condemns efforts to characterize certain features, and on the other, tries to relegate to the margins of the Muslim world as “extremist” the kinds of violent, genocidal language that characterizes so much of Muslim mainstream discourse today.
In this sense, I think Derfner’s latest rant may offer the most revealing and critical insight provided by the Al Durah Affair so far – a privileged window onto the problem of the West faced with the asymmetric warfare of global Jihad at the dawn of the 21st century. Because we cannot allow ourselves to “Arab-bash” we must necessarily ignore all the things that Arabs do that are so negative, that merely to mention them would depict them harshly. (I well remember in 2002 when a kind and generous Palestinian in a dialogue group I was in yelled at me, “You’re demonizing us!” when I denounced suicide terrorism is morally repugnant.) This is a recipe for catastrophe.
People who think they are “on the left” and who want to “promote peace,” often denounce the tendencies of governments to use the media in order to warmonger. Bush, in this view, wagged the dog of war by inventing the threat of WMD, and the American media slavishly went along. This tradition of inventing war with propaganda is as ancient perhaps as speech, and certainly modern newspapers have a long and notorious history. And among them all, the Al Durah tale holds the emperor’s place – the most vicious lie, most often repeated, most revoltingly exploited, the 21st century’s first (but surely not last) icon of hatred.
But the opposite also poses a serious problem: when progressives “invent peace” where there is none, when they refuse to allow those of us who “follow the evidence” where it leads to explain what we’ve found, when they wrap themselves in the Emperor’s new and peaceful clothes and scowl at those of us who call liars, haters, and useful idiots by their name, then the future of peaceful civic polities is in grave danger.
Thank you Judge Trébuqc and the blogosphere for giving us the opportunity to “talk back.”