Poison in the Middle East Conflict

The New York Times ran the following cartoon, allegedly about the poisoning of Yassir Arafat by Patrick Chappatte (HT/BR).

Some think this is an outrageous cartoon that supports the libel that the Israelis poisoned Arafat. And it may be just that. After all, either Chappatte is an advocate of the destruction of Israel, or he’s in total ignorance of what’s at stake, as in this cartoon (HT/DG)

As if the reunion of Hamas and Fatah would be good for peace…

But, unintentionally or not, it actually makes a very different and critical point. From the outset, the relationship between Israel and her neighbors has been poisoned by what Nidra Poller has called “lethal narratives,” stories accusing (in this case) Israel of intentionally murdering innocent civilians, preferably children. Lethal narratives are key elements in cognitive warfare designed at once to create hatred and a desire for vengeance among “us” (whose children are being murdered), guilt and self-loathing among “them” (whose soldiers are doing the killing), and hostility among bystanders (the Westerners whose judgments play a critical role in determining policy).

The most powerful lethal narrative, the Muhammad al Durah story, was a nuclear bomb of cognitive warfare. It aroused Muslims throughout the world; it filled Israelis with horror and sapped their ability to defend themselves against accusations; and it thrilled various groups, primarily Europeans and Leftists, who saw it as a “get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free” card, which freed them from any commitment to be fair to Israel.

From the website of International ANSWER.

The move was a masterstroke of cognitive war. Jihadis got the Europeans to play their lethal narrative repeatedly on their TVs during the early intifada, waving the flag of Jihad in front of their immigrant Muslim population. And as a result, Europe, in the 21st century, got a “Muslim Street.”

The mainstream news media’s laundering lethal narratives and presenting them to the public as “news” plays a critical role in Palestinian (and beyond that, Islamist) cognitive warfare. Once they had gone wild over the al Durah poison, the mainstream news media believed any claims that Palestinians made that Israelis had killed children until proven wrong, and doubted any Israeli claims to innocence until proven right. And if that happened (long after the initial lethal narrative had been spread), the press mumbled corrections and moved on to the next lethal narrative.

I personally had a direct experience of this dynamic when I gave a talk at a conference in Budapest in 2007 on millenarianism. I presented al Durah as a key element in the “going viral” of Muslim apocalyptic memes, and referred to the story as a “blood libel.” The organizer of the conference noted:

“I’ve warned against sloppy use of terminology at this conference [I had previously suggested that Marx was a millennialist], and your use of blood libel is a prime example: it’s just simple murder of children, which we know for a fact Israelis are doing every day. (Italics mine)

In her very “statement of fact” the speaker proved the efficacy of the blood libel she denied.

One of the key functions of the mainstream news media is to serve as a dialysis machine, filtering out the poisons that can weaken the civil polities in which they operate. At least in the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have, alas, played the role of injecting the poisons of lethal narratives into the information stream of the West.

We are all the weaker for it. Indeed, we find traces of poison in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and the ludicrous story of Israel poisoning Arafat is only the most recent example, and the above cartoon, a pathetic illustration.

5 Responses to Poison in the Middle East Conflict

  1. Cynic says:

    What can one expect in the climate that has been created whereby people are only too willing to run with the narrative without questioning the slanderous nature of it.
    One can see by a comment in a previous post that conditioning à la Pavlov’s dogs gets them to accept any irrational and libelous insinuations without question even when the facts get in the way.
    I beleieve it was Alice Walker who said that she suffered under American Apartheid and that Israeli Apartheid was far worse.
    What absolute rubbish for those who have experienced life in Israel even as tourists.

    But then again there is the malicious side to things.

  2. […] Richard Landes, The Augean Stables, July 9, 2012 […]

  3. w.w.wygart says:

    I absolutely loved your, “’get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free’ card…” comment – I would pay for the copyright to that one – and so true.

    I would say this is probably one of the greatest lessons global civilization in general and, European civilization in particular [Germans especially!] has left to learn, how to deal as individuals with collective guilt – long after the fact.

    This IS NOT the optimal solution ==>>

    “This death annuls, erases that of the little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.” ~Catherine Ney.

    What the ABSOLUTE example of ‘zero sum’ thinking, and coming from someone who ought to know better. What a terrible shame. Apparently some of us have learned NOTHING from the 20th century. Being Western and liberal [European to boot] is not to be proof against slope-browed-retro-troglodyte within each of our brains it would seem.

    To rephrase Ney into schoolyard speak, ‘Now that WE [think we can] prove that YOU have done something really bad today, WE don’t have to feel bad about the [horrendously epic] bad thing WE did last week.’

    Sorry, Catherine, this isn’t the way it works in the adult world, this kind of logic may have worked in kindergarten, but where I grew up it stopped working by about the second grade [what’s that age seven? eight?].

    It is one of the great cultural achievements of the Western world is the recognition that the lives of children of all cultures and all nations, even your enemies, are to be treated like our own – protected from violence and exploitation – we may not be doing a very good job of it yet, but we as a whole recognize the imperative. This same cannot be said of prime divider societies. I’ll leave you to figure out who those might be.


  4. […] of the conflicts between Israel and her neighbors, particularly the Palestinians in a post Poison in the Middle East Conflict.  Richard seems to have been touched off in this case by two cartoons by Chappatte, which you can […]

  5. […] the family Tezac is let off the hook, they’ve dodged the bullet, they got their ‘Get Out of Holocaust Guilt Free‘ card, but because the family Tezac is also symbolically the stand-in for every French family […]

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