I have been asked by Politicsweb to write a short series of articles on Israel as a basis for further debate. A short preamble may be useful.
When I was a young man, the Holocaust appeared both remote and inconceivable; a unique aberration in human affairs which could never happen again. When my elders disagreed I attributed it to irrational fears. But, of course, the subsequent history of the 20th century proved them right, and had I been not so steeped in the ignorance and limitless confidence of youth I need not have waited so long to be shown the error of my ideas.
But perhaps more than anything, the "Israel demonisation industry" of the past decade and more has brought this home to me. I have witnessed reality turned on its head and the only democratic, Westernised state in the Middle East, under siege by violent, corrupt and frankly genocidal movements, transformed by propaganda into a Nazi replica in the public mind.
And this has been done with the complicity of the Western media and the liberal elites, supposedly the bastion of liberty and democracy.
Francois Hollande, the socialist President of France said it clearly "The Shoah (Holocaust)was not created from a vacuum and did not emerge from nowhere... it was also made possible by centuries of blindness, stupidity, lies, and hatred. It was preceded by many warning signs, which failed to alert people's consciences... No nation, no society, nobody is immune from evil. Let us not forget this verdict by Primo Levi on his persecutors. "Save the exceptions, they were not monsters, they had our faces." Let us remain alert, so that we may detect the return of monstrosity under its most harmless guises."
Well monstrosity has indeed returned in the guise of the "Israel demonisation industry" with Israel in the crosshairs of two major global groups.
The first is, of course, a whole spectrum of Arab-Muslim "entities" - Hamas, Hizbollah and other even more extreme Jihadist groups supported by Iran, Syria and other States in the region. While these differ along tribal, religious and other dimensions they are united in the hatred and rejection of Israel specifically, and Jews in general. With some partial exceptions, they are united also in their general technological backwardness, socio-economic and political dysfunction, violence and intolerance, rejection of democratic norms and practices, corruption and intense rivalries.
As a result, the Middle East-North Africa region is in the throes of unpredictable meltdown, optimistically called the Arab Spring, as the manifest failure of their societies becomes ever more threatening to the entrenched power structures of the region. In this transitional and volatile situation, Islamist extremists are threatening to gain the upper hand in many places.
Since this group lacks by-and-large the military-technological muscle to seriously threaten Israel, with the exception of a nuclear-armed Iran, they have been compelled to rely upon sheer numbers (300 million Arabs plus 1.4 billion Muslims versus 7 million Jewish Israelis and the same number in the Diaspora) and "geostrategic advantages" - oil, size and physical proximity - to bring pressure to bear. But the most effective strategy by far has been the "Israel demonisation project".
In the Middle East-North Africa-Asian region, this project takes the form of constant grievance and incitement which has ensured that the Arab-Muslim world is a reservoir of virulent anti-Semitism last seen in Nazi Germany and parts of Europe. But while effective in creating regional solidarity, such hatred does not export well to the West.
This is where significant elements of the radical Left in the West come into the picture, who find in Israel a common focus in their battle against Western values and its alleged (and real) sins of colonialism and cultural-military superiority. Starting from apparently vastly different points of the political compass they can unite against a common set of enemies of which Israel is the most convenient.
In the propaganda war against Israel, Arab-Palestinian-Muslim militants are, therefore, greatly dependent upon the complicity of Western leftwing activists and their penumbra of fellow-travellers in the media and liberal elites, to provide the moral legitimacy and respectability required by hard-core, anti-Semitic Arab-Muslim extremists.
In the West, the "Israel demonisation project" takes the form of an "approved narrative" in which Israel is systematically depicted as a militaristic, racist state in defiance of international law and norms. The narrative shows tactical flexibility and opportunism, seizing upon any useful issue from African migrants to settler excesses, to drive home the message. Nevertheless, the constant and essential features of this process can be summarised as follows:
- One is the systematic exclusion of contextual information which would explain many of the attitudes and policies adopted by the Israeli electorate.
- The second includes the systematic highlighting of every anti-Israel item of news or allegation, whether true, false or even plausible, coming often from known anti-Israel activist groups or biased sources. In addition, negative spin is applied where-ever possible.
- Thirdly, information placing Israel in a favourable light is rigorously excluded from the approved media narrative. The sole chink in the wall is the Letters and, very occasionally, in the Opinion and Analysis pages where alternative information and perspective can occasionally be found.
- Fourthly, anti-Israel commentary from well-established and skilled journalists or public figures and intellectuals is regularly given prominent exposure in the popular newspapers. Particularly favoured is negative comment about Israel or Zionism from Jewish sources to establish the moral bona fides of the entire anti-Zionist propaganda industry.
This has been documented for the CapeTimes, for the New York Times and for Reuters but is much more widespread. The disproportionate attention (almost all negative) Israel receives is captured in the following quote "When you take the population of various countries and divide it by the number of times they are mentioned in Google News, you get a measurable index of media coverage per number of people. A random check carried out this week showed that there is one citation on Google News for every 50,000 Chinese or Indians, 20,000 Bangladeshis, 8,000 Pakistanis, 5,000 Russians, 3,400 Egyptians (in the midst of horrific soccer riots) or 1200 Syrians (although the regime in Damascus is doing its best to improve its rankings by steadily decreasing the number of living Syrians). But it takes only 300 Israelis for each Google News item on Israel, clear proof that the country is being singled out for disproportionate coverage."
Ultimately, such false propaganda may be defeated when its true nature becomes exposed by events, which is what happened in the wake of World War Two and the Holocaust. That was too late for 6 million Jews and for many more million non-Jewish citizens. But we need not always await disaster for truth to be revealed. For those willing to look, the following organisations are prominent in documenting and confronting the omissions, lies and spin which pervade reporting on Israel: MEMRI, Honest Reporting and CAMERA.
The following two articles will take some of these themes further.
This is the first in a series of three articles. Mike Berger's weblog Solar Plexus can be found here.
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