Stephen Kramer, an American-born Israeli, attended the panel we organized at the Institute for Counter-terrorism at the IDC last month. He summarized the panel’s offerings for a Jewish paper in the USA.
Undermining the Enemy
Israel’s overwhelming strength and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza deprived Israel of its favored “underdog” status.
Recently I attended the 9th World Summit on Counter- Terrorism at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT). The Institute is located on the IDC College campus in Herzliya. According to ICT, its international conference has become one of the most influential annual events in the field of counter-terrorism and has achieved international recognition for its exchange of views on best practices among global counter-terror experts, security professionals and leading academic scholars.
“Manipulation of Western Mainstream News Media in Asymmetrical Warfare,” a fancy description for terrorist groups’ propaganda efforts, was the subject of the workshop, one of many presented during the conference. Among the five speakers were a US naval officer, a college professor from Boston, researchers from two NGOs (non-profit organizations), and the chief editor of an Italian TV station.
Lt. Commander Stuart Green, who was quick to announce that he was speaking as a private citizen and not as a U.S. Navy representative, put the subject matter into historical context by describing how the Soviets took active measures to manipulate the conceptions of their target societies (the enemies) during the Cold War period. Their object was to set up a model which softened the enemy’s resistance to communism by persuading significant groups to consider communism as a viable alternative to democracy.
Green pointed out that in modern warfare, the terrorists take control of the intellectual “high ground,” increasing their propaganda as the conflict continues and obscuring the truth. By example, before 1967 Israel enjoyed the favorable status of underdog, but in the ensuing decades after 1967, particularly after the 1982 war, Israel’s overwhelming strength and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza deprived Israel of its favored “underdog” status. Over time, and with the growing intensity of propaganda, the empirical truth that the Arabs absolutely opposed a Jewish state regardless of its size was replaced by an “acceptable discourse,” the Palestinian narrative. This Muslim-inspired “truth” has become so engrained that the actual cause of Israeli-Palestinian strife has been obscured and almost forgotten.
Green used another example from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whereby the cause of Palestinian terrorism is attributed to checkpoints and settlements, not the longstanding Palestinian refusal to accept Israel’s existence. He described the media as a “force multiplier,” promoting the message of the underdog/terrorists and geometrically increasing its effect. The media is overwhelmingly democratic, meaning it is anti-army, prounderdog, and universalistic – assigning moral equivalence to democracies and dictatorships. Answering the question about what to do to combat the media manipulation, Green said it’s imperative that the public understand the fact that we’re at war with radical Islamists.
Ms. Tamar Sternthal spoke on behalf of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a media watchdog group that focuses on coverage of Israel. She equated the news media strategy of Hamas and Hizbollah, which both use as psychological warfare to fight Israel. Both conceal deaths of their combatants by hiding them among civilians, to increase the number of “civilian” casualties and to hide information about their military losses. They enlist friendly NGOs in their cause and bring in partisan individuals, often doctors with extreme left wing pasts, to disseminate propaganda against Israel. Sternthal chided the mainstream media for being overeager to accept eyewitness accounts without delving into their background and context. She advocated debunking and refuting false claims, publicly and privately, as often as possible. Forceful, timely and responsive government action is needed. Sternthal cited the recent Israeli move away from a default apology, to immediately questioning the validity of so-called war crimes. According to Sternthal, this proactive activity against Islamist propaganda is imperative and she welcomed its increasing use.
Moderator of the workshop was Professor Richard Landes of Boston University. He reported at length on the Mohammed al Dura affair, which Landes describes as the first blood libel against the Jews in the 21st century and a rallying cry in the Muslim world to kill Israelis/Jews. This fraud is based on a film of the purported shooting of 12-year-old Mohammed by “inhuman” Israeli soldiers, while the young boy was being shielded by his father.
In the audience was Phillipe Karsenty, who had accused the Jerusalem bureau chief for France 2, Charles Enderlin, of distributing and publicizing the hoax. Karsenty was sued and convicted in France for slandering Enderlin but recently won his appeal against the conviction.
Correction. Karsenty was not there. He was in Israel, but certain complications made it impossible for him to attend.
Landes blamed the al Dura affair for its part in fomenting the Second Intifada uprising, which killed thousands of Jews and Palestinians. But, according to Landes, maximizing Palestinian casualties is the goal of Palestinian terrorists, the better to convince gullible Westerners that Jews commit deliberate murder of defenseless gentiles. He showed a video where a Palestinian Authority spokesman blandly excused the use of outright deception as “artistic expression” which served to “convey the truth” of al Dura’s “murder.”
For Europeans in particular, the libelous image conveyed by the France 2 video clip came as “balm to a troubled soul.” Europe1 editorialist Catherine Nay even said: “This death erases, annuls that of the little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.” Landes emphasized that the al Dura affair is an “Emperor’s New Clothes” story, with no one in the media daring to say the obvious, in this case, that the al Dura video was a complete fabrication.
Landes said that the susceptibility of Western news media to Palestinian disinformation imperils not just Israel, its apparent target, but the entire West. It didn’t ever occur to the European journalists, for example, that the Muslim immigrant rage fomented against Israel by the al Dura affair would arouse Muslim rage towards Europeans.
This workshop vividly illustrated how Islamic jihadists have played the mass media like a violin, convincing that cohort and many of their readers that Israel is the cause of all the Middle East problems, and by extension, of unrest around southwestern Asia. Their lament: the Israelis must be nice, leave the poor Palestinians alone, and let them “regain” their Palestinian state, which the Jews stole from them.
Unfortunately, the reality is much different. Landes complained that while it was good that the al Dura tape has been proven a hoax, that fact is almost inconsequential compared to the screaming headlines and prominent video that followed al Dura’s purported death. Israel desperately needs, and is moving towards, a much more muscular response to the Palestinian propaganda offensive. Israel must continue these bolder measures, including educating the West about its own vulnerability to terrorist and extreme left-wing tactics, to begin to turn the mass media and its audience away from the automatic blame of Israel.
Stephen Kramer resided and worked in the Atlantic City area until 1991, when he moved to Israel with his wife, Michal Langweiler, and two sons. He can be reached at Sjk1@jhu.edu.