As Israel’s latest foray into Gaza has coincided with my visit to my parents’ home in Buenos Aires, also home to the largest Jewish population in Latin America, I have availed myself of the opportunity to assess the robustness of the Israeli public relations effort in Argentina. My assessment began last week with a visit to the website of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which — given prevailing regional attitudes that things can always be accomplished at a later point in time — I half-expected to have not yet complied with Tzipi Livni’s call for an upgraded international sympathy initiative.
The need for the upgrade was due in part to recent deviations from global democratic standards, summarized by Livni in her Knesset address of December 29, 2008: “Unfortunately, some of the world’s decision makers are swayed by public opinion and the media, even though they know what is true and what is not, and how they would act in a similar situation.” The Israeli embassy of Buenos Aires published the Spanish version of the Knesset address, confirming the harmful effects of la opinión pública y la comunicación, as well as the direct access to la verdad enjoyed by the world’s decision makers.
The Spanish translation of the address includes various tidbits not present in the English version that is featured on the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, such as an admonition to MK Ahmad Tibi that the bombed Islamic University of Gaza had not been an institution of higher learning but rather an arms factory. Tibi had denounced Israeli behavior in the coastal enclave as a war crime, and at the start of the aggression professed to be unable to “accept the logic that panic in the streets of Sderot is worth 200 killed in Gaza.” Israeli logic had since become more pronounced, with the proportion of dead Gazans to dead Israelis reaching approximately 60:1 on 7 January. The inhabitants of Gaza in 2008-09 were thus shown to be worth even less than the inhabitants of Lebanon in 2006; Livni meanwhile acknowledged that the purpose of the Gaza operation was to “change the equation.”
Another minor variation between the English and Spanish versions of the Knesset speech involves the English assertion that “hate, incitement, terror and violence” constitute the “voices emanating from some of [the] mosques,” versus the Spanish assertion that people feeding off of odio, terror y violencia are instead listening to the voices emanating from some of the mosques. Both versions, however:
agree that only peace emanates from synagogues. fail to explain why voices emanating from some of the mosques results in punishment for all of the mosques. provide novel additions to Israeli logic, such as that “[c]hoosing peace and life is part of the war on terror and extremism”—a syntactical arrangement worthy of the outgoing president of the United States.
A subsequent test of Israel’s logical parameters occurs during a parable imparted by Livni near the end of her Knesset speech. The parable, which Livni claims to have inherited from the mayor of Sderot, has been uniformly translated into English and Spanish; the English version is as follows:
Schoolchildren who wanted to prove their rabbi wrong held a butterfly in their hands and asked him if it was alive or dead. If he said alive, they would crush it; if he said dead, they would open their hands and set it free. Upon being asked, the rabbi responded, “It is in your hands. If you wish, it will live. If you wish, it will die.”
After reviewing the text a number of times in both languages, I determined that the moral of the story was that the Palestinians of Gaza were a butterfly in the hands of Hamas—though I was not able to determine why the rabbi in the parable had not performed air raids on his students’ hands while reiterating that the butterfly’s fate was up to them.
The website of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires offers links to several other documents, such as one entitled “Proporcionalidad – terror en el cielo,” which, in a testament to the counterintuitive nature of proportionality, refers to Palestinian terror in Israeli skies. Also featured on the site are pictures of humanitarian aid deliveries and Qassam rocket damage to schools, in addition to advertisements for archeological digs in Israel and a section devoted to Atentados en Argentina.
The atentados consisted of the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy, in which 29 people died, and the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish community center, also in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people died. The embassy website contends that, when it occurred, the former event constituted the most brutal attack against civilians since the end of World War II. It might be assumed that embassy historians meant to tack the clarification “in Argentina” onto the end of their assertion, thus excusing the exclusion of such things as the 1700 dead civilians at Sabra and Shatila in 1982, as well as the more than 17,000 victims, mostly civilians, of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that same year. The fact that the fate of tens of thousands of Argentine desaparecidos would still be overlooked poses another riddle, as it is even more difficult to invoke Israeli laws of proportionality when most of the victims of an embassy bombing are Argentine and not Israeli. The assertion regarding the superior brutality of the bombing might thus be expanded to specify “in Argentina, excluding victims of state terror.” (Further specification excluding victims of non-Iranian state terror is potentially necessitated when the website then falsely maintains that Hezbollah claimed the attack.)
The embassy historians lament the lack of detenidos or procesados, suspects detained or tried in connection with the crime, despite the fact that Imad Mugniyah had been unilaterally brought to justice via a car bomb in Damascus in 2008. The car bombing itself had produced no detenidos or procesados; nor had:
the assassination by Israeli helicopter gunship of Hezbollah Secretary General Abbas Musawi along with his wife and child, which had preceded the embassy bombing by approximately one month. the Sabra and Shatila massacres, for which the Israeli Kahan Commission had found Ariel Sharon to be indirectly but personally responsible.
The website for the AMIA Jewish community center continues in the same vein as the embassy site, although the AMIA historians describe the 1994 attack on the community center as merely the most horrendous attack on Jews since the Second World War. The Argentine government is condemned for its continuing silencio on the matter, with no mention of the international arrest warrants issued by an Argentine federal judge in 2006 for nine Iranians, including ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In an attempt to endow the slaughter in Gaza with brutal and horrendous aspects of its own, a march had been held on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires on January 6, 2009. A counter-march was then organized by pro-Israel groups for January 8, lest world decision makers be once again swayed by public opinion and the media, creating the unfortunate reality that Livni had described to the Knesset. I decided to attend, curious to see whether world decision making might be salvaged from its swaying.
I assumed that the counter-march would commence at the Israeli embassy on Avenida de Mayo. This assumption rapidly proved unfounded, as did the assumption that the embassy would consist of an underground bunker. (The latter notion had arisen from the fact that the AMIA building, located only a few blocks from my parents’ house, resembled a military installation. It turned out that the embassy was merely located in a towering HSBC building, with global capital thus constituting the only protection that would be afforded Israel in the event that Hamas acquired even longer range rockets.)
While circling the building in search of the counter-march, I noted an abundance of posters commemorating the nearly 200 victims of a certain República Cromagnón, in whose honor a march had apparently been held on December 30. I devised three possible explanations for the posters, and the relevance of the historical reference:
There had been an accident during one of archaeological digs advertised on the Israeli embassy’s website. Ex-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz had been brought back on board as international PR consultant, based on the success of his 2006 campaign to turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years, and had expanded the scope of his chronological manipulations to 20,000 years. (One component of Halutz’s Lebanese campaign had been the destruction of one 10-story building in Beirut’s southern suburbs for every rocket launched at Haifa, which in Argentine vernacular might simply have been labeled “death flights.”) Public opinion was attempting to sway world decision making by equating Israelis with skilled prehistoric hunters.
To test my hypotheses, I approached a group of four security guards on the sidewalk, whose number was not necessarily a function of Israeli diplomatic presence in the area since the same amount of security appeared to be installed in local Adidas shops. One of the guards informed me that the victims pictured on the posters had perished in a 2004 fire in a Buenos Aires discotheque called República Cromagnón; another described the event as the most tragic in the city’s history. Such monopolies on tragedy had undoubtedly not been run by the occupants of the tenth floor of the HSBC building, although they may have sympathized with the fact that no one had yet been sentenced in connection with the Cromagnón case. As for other regions of the world dealing with the effects of fire in overcrowded spaces with sealed exits, the security guards claimed they had not seen anyone marching in favor of Gaza’s forcible return to the Upper Paleolithic era, and suggested I try the AMIA.
As I was turning to leave, a flurry of small pieces of paper fell from the window of an office building and scattered on the ground nearby. For a moment I thought that the Israeli embassy had perhaps adopted the tradition of dropping leaflets to warn susceptible populations of imminent danger—a classic PR approach intended to absolve the dropper of all civilian casualties. I picked one of the pieces of paper up, expecting to find either:
a short paragraph of advice—modeled after the leaflets dispersed over Lebanon in 2006 and demonstrating a similar predilection for exclamation points—such as: “To the citizens of Argentina, For your safety!!! Do not believe what obscure Arab language media outlets tell you about Gaza!!!” instructions to flee the area or else be bombed, compliance with which would nonetheless result in my bombing.
(An added advantage of the parallels between various Israeli wars in the Levant was that it was potentially feasible to recycle leaflets. Recycling options were particularly attractive in the case of a certain cartoon leaflet designed for Lebanon, in which Bashar Assad, Khaled Meshal, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are sitting on the floor playing flutes, while Hassan Nasrallah, in snake form, rises out of a receptacle in the center of the group. This scene might be altered for Gazan consumption by simply reversing the positions of Meshal and Nasrallah.)
In the end the flurry of paper outside the embassy was merely a shredded calendar, and I proceeded to the AMIA building on Calle Pasteur, where Israeli supporters, a few draped in the Star of David, were filing through the doors. It turned out that the counter-march was actually going to consist of an indoor assembly with a speech by the Israeli ambassador to Argentina, Daniel Gazit; the fact that the PR event was going to be accessible to the general public only on television seemed to be in itself a calculated PR move, as the counter-swaying of the world’s decision makers would presumably run more smoothly in an insulated environment. In other words, Gazit would not have to share the podium with anyone who was not convinced that Israel was fighting the war on terror on behalf of el mundo occidental. (Incidentally, the Spanish version of Livni’s Knesset address implies that Israel is fighting the war with the goal of creating a free world; in the English version, there is already a free world, and it is the one fighting.)
I had been watching people file into the AMIA for several minutes when there was a loud boom, followed by a commotion of drums. I walked toward the noise, discovering a block and a half later that a counter-march to the Israeli counter-march had arrived and that it consisted of a dozen disheveled middle-aged Argentine socialists. In addition to their drums, the socialists came with a Palestinian flag, a sign ordering Israel fuera de Gaza, and a battered pickup truck. The block and a half between the socialists and the AMIA was populated with a temporary metal fence and two rows of police in riot gear on the AMIA side.
The socialists had leaflets of their own, which turned out to be a less effective means of disseminating information when thrust against the wind, and which ended up at the socialists’ feet. Undeterred, the disheveled designated speaker located a microphone and began a history on the estado terrorista de Israel, pausing periodically for the rest of the socialists to chant: “ASESINOS! ASESINOS!” As the speaker had apparently inherited his oratory tactics, at least concerning the desired length of sermons, from Fidel Castro, the news reporters and cameramen present amused themselves by going around kissing each other hello, before growing restless and returning to the AMIA. The pro-Israel contingent, meanwhile, continued filing into the building, although one delegate did stage a brief attempt to scale the metal fence before being removed by police.
Approximately half an hour after the filing in had ended, the filing out began, and I resumed my post on the sidewalk opposite the community center. A supporter of Israel handed me a flier, which had evidently not been synchronized with the doctrine that the road to peace passed through the war on terror, and which argued instead that peace was attainable through interfaith marriages.
According to the Campaña mundial de matrimonios mixtos por la paz en el mundo outlined on my flier, the human race is in sudden peril of extinction due to advances in weaponry and the reluctance of politicians to avoid armed conflict. It is therefore up to the citizens of the world to intermarry, regardless of inevitable protests from Tzipi Livni that such actions do not sufficiently change realities on the ground. Not addressed in the communiqué are:
why the threat to the human race is considered a new phenomenon, and whether marriages between the Soviet bloc and NATO should not have been condoned. what happens when conflicts are between people of the same religion, such as Turks and Kurds or Argentine politicians and Argentine soya farmers. whether intermarriages might justify intensified waves of Jewish immigration to Israel under the pretense of bringing in spouses for the region’s Arabs. whether intermarried Arabs from occupied Palestinian territories will still be prohibited from relocating to Israel proper. (Subsequent research revealed that exclusionary policies did not apply only to Muslims, and that the AMIA did not allow spouses who had converted to Judaism in Argentina to become members of the organization or to be buried in community cemeteries.)
As for Livni’s blueprint for changing terrestrial realities, she outlined the two most crucial requirements — military operations and international attitude — in a briefing to foreign diplomats in Sderot on December 28. One terrestrial reality cited as being in particular need of change was “the equation that Hamas thinks is the right equation for this region.” Thus, rather than fritter away resources in an effort to alter the global matrimonial dynamic, concerned Israelis might instead devote themselves to pioneering a field of attitude-driven mathematics, in which equations like “10=700” — the former figure being the approximate number of Israeli dead at the time of the counter-march, the latter being its Palestinian counterpart — would become entirely permissible, even on the most intransigent of chalkboards. (The United States had also proven adept at math, and continued to enjoy favorable returns on 9/11 fatalities; Livni meanwhile responded to attempts by less gifted apprentices to formulate equations: “[E]xcuse me, I cannot accept statements like ‘We call on both sides to halt the violence or to stop their military actions.’ “)
I approached a man in a button down shirt and glasses who was chain-smoking in front of the AMIA and asked him why the pro-Israel counter-march had not involved any marching. The man turned out to be an American Jew from New York, who informed me that there had indeed been marching but that it had been done by violent fanatics paid by Iran (for which read aforementioned group of disheveled socialists).
The New Yorker showed me a cardboard sign he had made, which urged passersby to demand the cessation of Argentine diplomatic relations with Hugo Chávez, “amigo de terroristas”, in red marker. Chávez had recently expelled the Israeli ambassador from Caracas, an act described as brutal by the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, although he most likely did not describe it as the most brutal act to have occurred in Venezuela since World War II, since the same thing had also occurred in 2006. According to the New Yorker, Argentine complicity in terror was not mitigated by the December visit of President Cristina Fernández to the AMIA building, where she had paid homage to the victims of the atentados as well as to the Jewish desaparecidos, and promised to do everything in her power to bring to justice those responsible for the 1994 bombing.
My interlocutor confessed that he had opted to modify the original creative vision, “SUPPORT ISRAEL”, that had been intended for his square of cardboard. Rolling his eyes, he cited antiquated forms of mathematics, in which support for Israel was deemed to be equivalent to support for large-scale murder in the Gaza Strip, as the reason for the modification. The New Yorker bemoaned the necessity of hiding behind veneers of political correctness such as that the president of Venezuela was a friend of terrorists, but professed to be doing his part to spare the Israeli embassy’s phone lines added traffic from adherents of outdated mathematical models.
Other models of political correctness had been explored in Livni’s Knesset speech of December 29, in which she announced that “[l]eadership has the power and the responsibility to do what is right, even if runs counter to public opinion.” The question thus arose of whether it might not be preferable to restrict voting in the upcoming Israeli elections to Kadima office holders; as for the plight of Israeli embassy phone lines worldwide, there was always the option of outsourcing all complaints to a call center in India (except in the case of the New Delhi embassy, which would simply transfer calls to a third party). The effects of political correctness on Israeli security might additionally be mitigated via a proposal by the ever-practical MK Uri Ariel, who was reported in a December 30 news alert on the Haaretz website as favoring “cut[ting] off Gaza communication so media won’t know Palestinian side.”
After discovering that I was not Jewish, the New Yorker grilled me as to other aspects of my life, such as why I had spent a considerable amount of time in Turkey. When I was unable to deliver a satisfactory answer, he:
informed me that due to my infidel status it was permissible for my Turkish friends to lie to me at all times. advised me not to engage in any interfaith marriages with said friends. suspected that Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also basing his friendship with Israel on religiously sanctioned lies, but remained optimistic that the Turkish military would forge new realities on the ground whenever things got out of hand.
According to my companion, other regional liars included the ayatollahs in Iran, who, like Hamas, did not represent the legitimate national interests of their people. He fell short of complete plagiarism of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, however, by failing to refer to Iran as an octopus, which the Israeli ambassador to the US had done in order to justify Israeli actions against Iranian tentacles. The New Yorker reiterated that military dictatorship was always preferable to Islamic fundamentalism, a useful argument for the official reinstatement of Israeli rule in Gaza.
I asked the New Yorker if by faith-based lies he had perhaps been referring to the principle of taqiyya, which allows members of certain Islamic denominations to conceal their faith in order to avoid persecution. I immediately had the chance to perform taqiyya by proxy when he asked if my Turkish friends would be willing to expel the Venezuelan ambassador from Ankara:
The New Yorker was then distracted from his individual PR campaign by the need to clap furiously in honor of other, less brutal ambassadors, namely Daniel Gazit, who was currently exiting the AMIA building. Gazit waved at the crowd and got into his waiting car, and I took advantage of the brief ceasefire to return home.
The following day I watched footage of Gazit’s speech at the AMIA, courtesy of Argentina’s Canal 5 Noticias and YouTube. Announcing that he was very happy with the turnout at the “counter-march,” Gazit condemned the defamation of Israel by elements of the international community who failed to realize that Israel did not have guerras santas but rather guerras justas. According to Gazit, these elements had not been satisfied with the fact that Israel waited eight days, despite having immediate cause for a guerra justa, to respond to Hamas’ shattering of the truce, and had instead wanted the Jewish state to accumulate even more dead people before resorting to military action. Adversaries of Israel had thus failed to take into account the disproportionate worth of Israeli dead, underscored during the Israel-Hezbollah body exchange of summer 2008, in which each dead Israeli was approximately equal in value to 100 dead Arabs, 2 live terrorists, and half of a live super-terrorist.
In his speech, Gazit attempts to explain via a circuitous train of thought how the Hamas government of Gaza was not really elected. His reasoning appears to be that, although a political party called Hamas did in fact win the elections, Hamas is not a political party but rather an army that executes its Palestinian opponents. Viewers might thus conclude that Hamas won the elections only because it killed off the opposition, a fate awaiting Abu Mazen, Gazit somberly warns his audience, in the event that he tries to enter Gaza.
Moving on to other reasons for the current war, Gazit reminisces about how the liberated Gaza Strip of 2005 could have functioned as the nucleus of a Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel in peace and cooperation, had not the goals of Hamas been to make Israel an Islamic republic and to dominar todo el mundo. He later contends that the goal of Hamas is to kill all the Jews in the world, but fails to establish whether the genocide is supposed to be enacted before or after the founding of the Islamic republic in Israel. As for apparent acts of genocide at UN schools in Gaza, Gazit’s audience is asked to recall that there are always errores in war.
Another essential theme of the speech is the heinous collaboration between Palestinians and the media, such that every time there is a suicide attack in Israel there is corresponding footage on television of Palestinians dancing in the street in Gaza and distributing candy. Gazit declares such behavior to be against Israeli principles, and provides other examples of Israel’s enduring righteousness, based on the following data:
If the Israeli military had done even one-fourth or one-eighth of what the world had accused it of doing, the war in Gaza would have been won in a day. Israel continues to desire peace, even with those Palestinians who choose to dance.
In case there are Argentine cable news viewers who are not well-versed in fractions—or are still under the impression that the road to peace passes through dialogue—Gazit concludes his address by reassuring everyone that the outcomes of an Israeli defeat of terror will be la vida and la paz. He pauses awkwardly, as though there are other outcomes he has forgotten, but in the end contents himself with merely amending la vida to la vida normal, and adding a raise of the eyebrows and a “quién sabe”—”who knows.”
Other uncertainties have meanwhile been explored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which estimated at the start of the war that heavy swaying of the world’s decision makers would not commence until the end of the holiday season in Europe and the US. The holidays are now over, there are more than 1000 dead in Gaza, the number of Israeli civilians affected by white phosphorus is holding steadily at 0, and the question remains of how much longer Israel will be permitted to defy logic.
BELÉN FERNÁNDEZ is currently completing a book entitled Coffee with Hezbollah, which chronicles the 2-month hitchhiking journey through Lebanon that she and Amelia Opaliska conducted in the aftermath of the July 2006 war. She can be reached at email@example.com.