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How Israel Battles "Barbs of Criticism"

by BELEN FERNANDEZ

While attempting to read an article on the Haaretz website this afternoon about the brutality of the IDF takeover of the Gaza-bound boat Irene, filled with Jewish activists, I was distracted by an advertisement at the top of the page.

The ad featured a cheerful non-Israeli woman with bangs and a flowered scarf around her neck, a picnic scene in the background, and a skewer of meat oscillating at her side. The accompanying speech balloon, which alternately appeared in Hebrew, Russian, and English, was a reference to the skewered meat: “Cooking methods in Israel are quite primitive…”. The balloon was then replaced by a black box of text with the following appeal:

“Are you tired of seeing how we are portrayed in the world?

You can change the picture! Now in English, Russian and Hebrew.”

Viewers interested in multilingual pictorial change are invited to visit a website established by the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, which refers to visitors as “Novice Ambassadors” and announces:

“Many of us [Israelis], whether we’re traveling or living abroad for an extended period of time, get involved in discussions with locals during which they bring up misconceptions and false information regarding Israel, without our having the tools and the correct information for coping with the questions or the barbs of criticism put to us. At such moments, we’re seized with an urge to make the other person open their mind and especially their heart, and see us—see Israel—differently.” [excessive emphasis in original]

The introductory note goes on to explain that the website “will make it possible for each one of us to arm ourselves with information and pride in Israel’s global contributions and history and to present a more realistic image of Israel to the world.” As for apparent misconceptions of Israel, a video advertisement on the site acquaints us with the context of the Haaretz ad, and we learn that the woman with bangs—who now walks and talks as opposed to simply smiling next to an oscillating skewer of meat—is from a Spanish-speaking nation and is under the impression that most Israeli houses are not equipped with electricity or gas, hence the primitive cooking methods.

Erroneous cuisine-related convictions are counteracted elsewhere on the site via a photograph of a fried egg dish with the caption: “Not just falafel!” Also debunked on the page with the fried egg photograph is the myth that West Bank settlements are an obstacle to peace, which is debunked in the following manner, once again in bold text:

“Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are also liable to be perceived as settlements in the Arabs’ eyes. The Palestinian Authority sees the roots of the conflict as being the ‘1948 settlements,’ whereas the facts show that the settlements were founded after the 1967 war.”

The two words “show” and “that” are additionally highlighted in red, perhaps to distract the Novice Ambassador from wondering how it is that the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs has turned the universal call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders in exchange for peace into an imaginary and nonsensical debate over whether the post-1967 settlements were founded in 1948 or after 1967.

Another video advertisement on the website features a vest-clad presenter who interprets a desert scene with camels:

“This is the camel. The camel is a typical Israeli animal used by the Israelis to travel from place to place in the desert where they live. It is the means of transport for water, merchandise, and ammunition. It is even used by the Israeli cavalry.”

At first viewing I was concerned that the Israeli government was attempting to patent the camel as an example of Israel’s global contributions and history, although this concern was quickly dispelled when the ad once again ended in the question: “Are you tired of watching how we’re being presented to the world?” and instructions for changing the picture.

For those of us convinced that Israeli presentation to the world has nothing to do with what its Air Force does while hypothetical foreigners in vests are busy propagating stereotypes about camel-borne cavalry, the website provides an arsenal of rotating factoids on the right side of the screen for use in countering barbs of criticism against Israel. I have listed a few below:

An Israeli invention for an electric hair removal device makes women happy all over the world.

85% of the garbage in Israel undergoes treatment to make it friendly to the environment.

Each month Israelis consume close to 15 million bags of [the snack food] Bamba; every fourth snack sold in Israel is Bamba, and 1,000 bags of Bamba are manufactured every month.

Muslim terror takes place throughout the world with no connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian issue, Israel-US relations or the existence of Israel and its policies.

As for the “astounding [Israeli] hydrological methods that enable [the] growing [of] crops in the most arid areas[,] Israel has exported this knowhow to many other nations throughout the world; even the Hopi Native Americans in Arizona enjoy the irrigation methods developed in Israel.” The Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs apparently detects no irony in this case in permitting original landowners access to their own water supplies, just as Haaretz apparently detects no irony in interrupting my recent perusal of articles concerning the Israeli uprooting of Palestinian olive trees with advertisements encouraging Israelis to “make Israel green again” by donating a tree on behalf of their relatives.

The Israeli military has meanwhile proven itself overly qualified for the position of Novice Ambassador in water-related disagreements and deftly debunked myths of a military massacre of international humanitarian activists on the high seas in May. The IDF might still benefit from a review of body language tips for “the Novice Public Diplomat”, however, or at least the suggestion in the section on posture that “[q]uick, nervous movements can create a sense of confusion and anxiety”—which might indicate that shooting at your potential interlocutor while descending from a military helicopter onto a boat is not the ideal way to initiate productive interaction.

As for the passengers on board the Irene, Israeli diplomatic prospects are somewhat encumbered when the ambassadorial pool includes a former Air Force pilot reporting inhumane treatment at the hands of IDF interceptors and a Holocaust survivor who is quoted as comparing “what I went through during the Holocaust to what the besieged Palestinian children are going through.”

BELÉN FERNANDEZ’s book Coffee with Hezbollah, just released by New World Digital, Inc., can be ordered at http://belenfernandez-writings.blogspot.com/ or on Amazon.com

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Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso, and Martyrs Never Die: Travels through South Lebanon.

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