Since the Fall of 2000, the Western mainstream news media have taken a peculiar turn towards what one might call “lethal journalism.” In particular, the MSNM have consistently served as a major conduit for “lethal narratives” about Israel, largely concocted by Palestinians and other Arabs seeking to destroy Israel, which they, with an astonishingly consistent credulity, report as news. This turn represents not a creation of “lethal journalism” which had already shown its strength during the 1982 Israeli operation in Lebanon, but with the outbreak of the Oslo Intifada, it came to dominate the news media in unprecedented fashion.
Let’s begin with “lethal narratives.” These are stories that are told with the intention of creating hatred and a desire for revenge. Some are based on real events in which Palestinians and other Arabs die (Sabra and Shatilla, Gaza Beach, Kafr Qana), some are invented out of whole cloth (Jenin poisonings, Muhammad al Durah, Mavi Marmara). All involve the exaggeration of the number killed, the attribution of their deaths to Israeli soldiers, and, most significantly, the accusation of deliberate murder. These narratives are weapons of war, designed to both incense, incite, and provoke Muslims the world over to hate the Israelis and seek revenge, to alienate from Israel the support of peace-loving progressives in the West, and to dishearten Zionists in defense of their cause.
Lethal narratives partake of a larger discourse of hatred that has characterized warfare for millennia. They have a peculiarly virulent place in the “war against the Jews” especially in the “Blood Libels” that plagued European culture from the 12th to the 20th century, and continue to circulate widely in the Muslim world to this day. Lethal narratives embody a reactionary “us-them” scape-goating mentality that views the “enemy” as evil. Few phenomena hurt the possibility of peace more than their circulation, and nothing could more violate the basic progressive discourse than this kind of bellicose story-telling, especially when they are concocted out of malice.
Somewhat ironically, then, modern (or post-modern) journalism, which openly pursues a progressive agenda – often in the form of universal human rights – has shown itself particularly susceptible to Palestinian lethal narratives. The lethal journalist’s rule of thumb in dealing with evidence from the “war of images” (which is really a war of narratives) between Israel and its neighbors, is
believe what Palestinians say until proven wrong,
dismiss what the Israelis say until proven right,
and when that eventually becomes the case (after much damage), move on to the next story.
There were already plenty of lethal journalists before 2000, but they were mostly marginalized – except in 1982 when there was blood in the water. After the outbreak of the Intifada, however, they rapidly come to dominate most aspects of journalism about the conflict, pushing out and intimidating other approaches to the subject with activist fervor. Indeed, once in charge, the lethal journalists could pressure new journalists who come to cover the Middle East to conform to their epistemological principles – the priority of the Palestinian over the Israeli narrative. Whether the fear of hostility from Palestinian sources who brook criticism badly, or of ostracism from the circle of UN-NGO-journalist-activists where they have to spend most of their time, reporters rapidly learn the rules of the game, as Ricardo Cristiano assured Yasser Arafat, when he protested this his crews would never have circulated pictures of the Palestinian lynching at Ramallah in October of 2000:
We emphasize to all of you that the events did not happen this way, because we always respect (will continue to respect) the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for (journalistic) work in Palestine and we are credible in our precise work.
We thank you for your trust, and you can be sure that this is not our way of acting. We do not (will not) do such a thing.
As a result, the press’ coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially since 2000, fall prey to a double inconsistency: on the one hand an uncritical embrace of these lethal narratives against Israel, and a corresponding reluctance to report real news about murderous Palestinians, their incitement, their targeting of civilians, their genocidal discourse. This double inversion of telling lies about Israel and not telling the truth about the Palestinians (who produce these lies), ends up not contributing to peace, but to war, feeding not the peacemakers but the worst warmongers. Perhaps the single greatest beneficiary of this reign of lethal journalists, has been global Islamic imperialism (Jihad) whose cause benefits from both the incitement of its own troops and the dissemination of culture disorientation and paralysis among its Western democratic foes. Historians will look back at the turn of the millennium and date the appearance of a global Muslim street whose increasing aggression has yet to visibly wane.
Al Durah: the blood libel and the victory of lethal journalism
Let’s begin not with the origins of lethal journalism, but the most lethal of all the “narratives” – Muhammad al Durah – and its consequences. Al Durah constitutes the most extreme example of lethal journalism in every aspect:
it was staged – quite crudely,
journalists both bought it hook line and sinker,
it had a mythical impact on the global imagination – it is the icon of hatred that inaugurated the 21st century
it has done untold damage to everyone on the planet who seeks peace – Israeli, Palestinian, Western, Muslim
and journalists – still! – resist correcting themselves.
Here is the footage, shot on Rosh Hashannah, 5760/2000 by Palestinian cameraman for CNN, Talal abu Rahmah as presented by Charles Enderlin on France2.
This became an instant global hit. Everyone who had a television saw this event, along with the accompanying narrative – that Israeli army had deliberately, in cold blood, murdered the boy in his defenseless father’s arms. This was the affirmation – the whole world saw it – of all that the Palestinians had been accusing Israel of for time out of mind: they were the murderous, rapist, massacring, Nazis.
American newspapers were not exempt from the feeding frenzy:
The story opened the gates to a morally sadistic equation of Israel with the Nazis (the ultimate lethal frame) even as it gave voice to genocide against the Jews.
Place de la République, Paris, October 6, 2000.
Here we have the opening round of the Muslim Street in Europe: an enthusiastic accusation against Israel of being the real Nazis even as, for the first time since the Nazis a European capital – Paris no less – heard the cry of “death to the Jews.”
Al Durah became a substitution theology. As one reporter, speaking for many, put it: This picture erases, replaces that of the boy in the ghetto.
Israel was the new Nazis, Palestinians were the new Jews: what had, in the 20th century, been considered the most ludicrous and grotesque moral claim – Arabs who openly embraced Nazi genocidal ideology accusing Israel of being the Nazis and claiming to be the Jews object of Israeli genocide – went mainstream. Sharansky was among the first to identify the problem, the 3 Ds: Demonization, Delegitimation, Double – really Quadruple Standard.
Think, for a moment, of the moral disorientation necessary to accept, much less advocate such a claim: the image of a boy, caught in a crossfire the Palestinians started, replacing a symbol of the deliberate murder of a million children and six million civilians. You have to be morally deranged to find such a supersessionist equation compelling. Deranged by what? Hatred? Denied guilt? Resentment? Of what?
Certainly someone like Bin Laden immediately grasped the value of the al Durah imagery for the cause of Jihad.
This video was used extensively by radical Muslim groups recruiting on college campuses.
What are the consequences of the al Durah story
Activated global Jihad: Israel was the Dajjal (Antichrist) of the Muslim apocalyptic scenario whereby they would conquer the world.
Disabled any Arabs in the peace camp: any Palestinian still dialoguing with Israelis/Jews after this footage appeared became a traitor to the cause.
Mobilizing an global anti-Zionist discourse: the “global Left” enthusiastically embraced the discourse in which Israel was the major cause of the conflict, and her elimination was the “solution.”
Thus, al Durah presided over a Red-Green alliance that reached its first climax less than a year later at the Durban “anti-racism” conference in late August of 20001. There the virulent denunciation of Israel, led by Muslim countries but taken up by Western progressives in a series of conferences and resolutions condemning Zionism and laying out plans for a global campaign against her. Jamal al durah was flown in on Arafat’s private jet, told everyone how the Israelis had killed his boy in cold blood, and Muhammad, carried in effigy became the “patron saint” of Durban’s hate-fest.
As a result of the remorseless media campaign against Israel, she became one of the most despised countries in the world, right down there with Iran among the most warlike countries.
The paradox of Western Peace journalism turning into War journalism:
Peace journalism became a major factor in the Oslo Peace Process, enthusiastically embraced not only by Israeli journalists in the peace camp, but academics as well. Peace journalism argues that the news media can contribute to peace by encouraging people to trust the other side, and by not emphasizing sensationalist news that might discourage people from supporting negotiations (e.g., terrorist strikes). This makes sense, however, only when both sides engage in such a process. If one side systematically suppresses information that might lead the readers to abandon peace and prepare for war, while the other side demonizes the other side and prepares its people for war, then it has the opposite effect, since it disarms the side committed to peace and arms the other for war.
This is precisely what happened in the period of the Oslo “Peace Process”: the Israeli and Western “peace press” played down any information that might alert the Israelis or the world to Palestinian intentions, and ostracized as right-wing war-mongers anyone who tried to bring this information – MEMRI and PMW were born in this period. Thus while the Palestinians spoke of Oslo as a Trojan Horse, the press played the role of Poseidon’s serpents who killed Laacoon and his sons when they proved the horse contained warriors. And then, when the war that anyone well-informed could have foreseen broke out, the liberal media, both in Israel and in the West, rather than admitting their error of judgment, blamed Israel. And al Durah played a key role in that process.
The overall picture of the period of lethal journalism after al Durah gives us the spectacle of an Arab-Israeli Bullfight. Israel is the Toreador, the Arabs are the Bull, the journalists are the Picadors that enrage the bull, and the crowd is made up of PETA fans rooting for the Bull and hating the matador. And the supporters of the matador are embarrassed to shout their support.
How do we reverse the consequence: ways that people who support Israel (Zionists!) can talk with their neighbors, friends, and co-workers, without getting angry or shrill when they run into resistance.
Cognitive Warfare: sometimes lethal narratives backfire:
Deir Yassin in the short run led to the Arabs fleeing; in the long run it has been a major accusation of massacre against the Israeli (along with Sabra and Shatilla, and Muhammad al Durah) – all lethal narratives.
how can we get these lethal narratives to backfire?
focussing on the media’s vulnerability to “lethal narratives” about Israel.
staying away from the anti-semitism accusations and reformulating the problem (e.g., why is there such an appetite for lethal narratives about Israel?)
disabling certain memes that people unthinkingly accept:
war is not the answer
violence never solved anything
if i’m being criticized by both sides i must be doing something right,
it’s racist to say nasty things about Arabs,
I’m not saying anything Jews don’t say.
Newspapers may make mistakes, but they’re not biased, and certainly not on purpose.
Examining some unconscious patterns
Racism: no moral expectations towards the Arabs
Quadruple Standards: the West is held to a higher standard than the third world, the Israelis are held to a higher standard than the West, and the Palestinians to a lower standard than the third world.
“Progressive” support for the Palestinians reinforces the scapegoating discourse of the Arab elite who use it to exploit their own people.
As much as it’s aimed at supporting peace, this all actually foments war and prolongs the conflict.
PC: Using “Left vs. Right” to identify players (e.g., pro-Palestinian is left-wing; pro-Israeli is right-wing), has become worse than misleading and useless, it’s now destructive and a sign of our utter disorientation.
Why are Westerners, including Jews, so attracted to lethal narratives about Israel and so loathe to hear them about their real enemies?
getting people to reflect on their unconscious (or unexamined) projections of their own mentality onto others (liberal cognitive egocentrism).
When I saw the cover story on the NYT Magazine yesterday, my stomach sank. It didn’t take more than a few moments to know what kind of a fluff piece for the Palestinians and hit-job against the Israelis it would be… part of a systematic campaign against Israel that the NYT is engaged in, documented by CAMERA, illustrated only recently by a cruel piece by Joseph Levine (soon to be fisked here), and again today with a piece by Jodi Rudoren predicated on the principle that the Palestinians should and must have a piece of Jerusalem for their own, and therefore anything the Jews do to jeopardize that outcome is hostile to peace.
Fortunately someone – a man I greatly admire for his work on these painful issues – Arnold Roth and his wife Frimet, took up the cudgels and critiqued yet another example of the sickness of self-loathing and the romanticization of hatred that so characterizes the NYT coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Please read it all.
If you want to affect how people think about an issue, putting your case onto the cover of the New York Times Magazine must be one of the most effective things you can do. And, given the intense competition, one of the hardest.
So if the editors of the NYT (108 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization; 30 million unique visitors per month to its website; the largest local metropolitan newspaper in the United States – according to Wikipedia) give you the cover of the prestigious Magazine, it’s a massive vote of confidence, a huge privilege, a platform of the most effective kind that (probably) can’t be bought for money.
Friends have pointed us to this week’s NYT Magazine cover story, published today. It’s devoted to a Palestinian Arab village set in the hills a few kilometers north of where we live in Jerusalem. It’s a place the author calls “spirited”, where “on warm summer evenings, life… could feel almost idyllic. Everyone knows everyone.” He says “a pilgrimage”to this magical place “has achieved a measure of cachet among young European activists, the way a stint with the Zapatistas did in Mexico in the 1990s”.
In usefully infidel “progressive” circles, it’s considered racist to call Palestinian leaders liars (part of the auto-stupefaction we impose upon ourselves). Of course, this isn’t about race, it’s about culture, and especially about an honor-shame culture where, if it’s legitimate, even required to shed blood for honor, how much the more is it okay to lie to save face.
Here’s an old and no longer easily available article by Bret Stephens from 2002 (when he worked at “Eye on the Media” at the JPost):
EYE ON THE MEDIA,
By BRET STEPHENS
Jerusalem Post, Dec. 26, 2002
“Every word she says is a lie, including ‘and,’ ‘but’ and ‘if’.” What Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman, so one could say about Saeb Erekat. Among Palestinians, the 46-year-old Jericho boss and chief PA negotiator is the single most widely quoted person in the English-language press, with 11,382 citations since 1988. (By contrast, runner-up Hanan Ashrawi comes in at 8,062 for the same time period, and Sari Nusseibeh gets fewer than 2,000).
Erekat gets kid-glove treatment from ordinarily hard-fisted reporters: an admiring 1998 Wall Street Journal profile reads like a memo on why he should succeed Yasser Arafat. On TV, he remains the go-to man for all the major networks. That he was chief mouthpiece of the Jenin massacre myth, bandying about figures of 500 Palestinian deaths as though it were incontrovertible fact, hasn’t noticeably dimmed his credibility. Especially, it would seem, at The New York Times, where Erekat’s byline appeared last week under an op-ed called “Saving the Two-State Solution.”
In a condolence letter published by Ahmadinejad, he referred to Chavez as a “martyr” (shaheed), and said that Chavez will return on the day of salvation, along with the Mahdi (“the Vanished Imam”) and Jesus.
It’s nice to know that he got flak for this statement (which you don’t have to be Muslim to find grotesquely brown-nosing). Apparently, Ahmadinejad is so desperate for friends in the international community that he considers enthusiastic useful infidels honorary Muslims. Shades of the Mormons doing post-mortem baptisms.
One website made a particularly damning contrast between Ahmadinejad and his BFF, Chavez:
I wish Ahmadinejad was at least like Chavez. President Chavez won the support of the underprivileged masses in his country since he was able to use Venezuela’s oil revenues for the good of the people. He improved their welfare and increased their income, which won him the support of public opinion and propelled him to a third presidential term in a free election in spite of his illness. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, has not improved the situation of his country’s citizens. Even though Iran’s oil revenues have increased by a similar extent to Venezuela’s, these revenues flowed into the pockets of just a few individuals, which is why Ahmadinejad does not enjoy the same level of popular support that Chavez did. Those Iranians who were hungry before have become hungrier, and those who were poor have become poorer (Baztab, March 6).
The Human Rights Complex describes the masochistic tendency of Western “human rights” activists to blame themselves for everything and to let the “people of color” off the hook: if you want to know what will get the “human rights community” indignant, look not at the victim or how badly that victim suffers, but at the perp: white? outrage, of color? embarrassed silence.
It turns out there’s an inverse version of this: if you want to look at what will get the Arab world indignant, look not at the victim or how badly the victim suffers, but at the perp: white (a fortiori Jewish)? outrage, of color (a fortiori Arab) shameless silence.
This is like the cold war joke about the American and the Russian arguing about freedom of speech: “In America, I can stand on the White House lawn and call the president of the USA a fool, and not get arrested.” To which the Russian responds, “So can I.” And it describes to perfection the sick marriage of pre-modern sadism – you’re guilty of everything we wish we could do” – and post-modern masochism – “we’re so sorry, please forgive us.”
Take the Nakbah (catastrophe). To Palestinians today, it represents a real-world catastrophe – the terrible, Holocaust-level tragedy that befell their people in 1948 during the first Arab-Israeli war (for Israelis, the “War of Independence”), during which about 3000 Palestinians were killed and some half a million refugees fled. To others, it represents a psychological catastrophe the horrifying global humiliation of seven Arab armies defeated by a rag-tag army of the worst of the dhimmi — Jews, the weaklings and cowards of 1400 years of Muslim tradition.
Compare with the current catastrophe befalling Syria today: 70,000 killed (and counting), and over a million refugees (and over 4 million internally displaced). In real-world terms, this is a vastly greater catastrophe than the “Nakbah” of 1948. And yet, it barely registers in the minds of the pro-Palestinian camp, who still swarm over Western campuses yearly complaining of a “crime” committed over two generations ago. They’re like the Mel Brooks (2000-year-old man) joke about the difference between comedy and tragedy: “Tragedy is if I cut my finger. I’ll cry a lot, go into Mount Sinai for a day and a half. Comedy is if you fall in an open manhole and die. What do I care?”
When I suggested at an “Israel Apartheid” talk at BU that complaining about red-tape in East Jerusalem was a bit inappropriate given the real bloodshed next door, I got accused of “Assadwashing” in the pages of the Electronic Intifada.
That the Palestinian leadership is full of self-absorbed narcissists who refuse to be distracted from attacking the enemy that has shamed them in the eyes of the world, no matter how comparatively ludicrous the claims of real-world damage, is, perhaps, understandable. But that the supporters of the Palestinians would share that obsession, rather than help them grow up… that’s problematic, especially since their alleged supporters are supposedly “progressives,” rather than useful infidels.
One of the few – alas! – feminists to defend feminist principles against Islamism rather than fold before the (incomprehensible) PC claims of Islamism (see also Phyllis Chesler and Gita Sahgal). H/T: Steve Antler
Just to give you an idea of how insane this has become, our Secretary of State and First Lady were about to give an award for courage to a Muslim woman whose anti-American and anti-Semitic credentials are impeccable.
In the meantime, rather than dwell on the murky depths, let’s ascend to the heights of courage (alas that denouncing Islamist misogyny should be the heights of courage in our age), namely Tax’s work.
I have spent the last twenty years working on issues of women and religious censorship. As a feminist activist in International PEN and then in Women’s WORLD, I couldn’t help noticing that increasing numbers of women writers were being targeted by fundamentalists. Not all these fundamentalists were Islamists; some were Christians, Jews, or Hindus. In fact, one of my own books was targeted by the Christian Coalition in the US.
Nobody on the left ever objected when I criticized Christian or Jewish fundamentalism. But when I did defence work for censored Muslim feminists, people would look at me sideways, as if to say, who are you to talk about this? This tendency has become much more marked since 9/11 and the “war on terror.”
Telling detail here. Jihadis attack us and the “Left” jumps to the defense of the very ideology that inspires them (i.e., the goal of a global Caliphate). Who’d have expected so many useful infidels after 9-11?
I am currently reading about the excellent and depressing research of David Collier into the Palestinian Solidarity Commission, England’s largest and most “prestigious” “pro-Palestinian” group with Read More »