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).
#GenerationCaliphate: Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad May 3-4, 2015, Boston University Sponsored by the Center for Millennial Studies, Boston University History Department and Scholars Read More »
Available in Polish, translated by Malgorzata Koraszewska here. The recent stunning performance of Marcia Freedman at the J-Street conference, calling for a one-state solution (almost surely Read More »