It has been a while since I have written anything to do with matters concerning the Jewish people or Israel, for the most part due to the fact that I no longer work in the field, and have been preoccupied with my work in the Health and Fitness industry. But on this occasion I am choosing not to let this pass and catch up with my commentaries on how the British media has been documenting events in the Middle East.
I returned to London from Israel on 9th February 2010, since this time I have followed the Israeli-Arab conflict like most British citizens from the television, books, links shared over the internet and stories told from friends still there.
In this article I will chronicle a few documentaries that have been aired in the UK in recent years and how they have steadily become worse and worse in misrepresenting the conflict resulting in outsiders looking in gaining a negative view not only of Israelis but also of Jews in general.
Keeping file of resources was always something that I used to do, with both books and with film. On my external hard drive I have a folder of documentaries on the Middle East.
Unseen Gaza. This documentary examined how the foreign media could not access information on what was happening in Gaza during operation Cast Lead in 2009, due to Israel’s refusal to allow foreign journalists into the strip during the war. The foreign media criticized this at the time that felt that it became very difficult to report accurately on the conflict relying on what some believe to be Israeli state propaganda and information given to them by Palestinian journalists who were already in Gaza before the operation began.
Israel found that it would not be in her interest to allow the foreign press into Gaza to report on the war due to its previous experience in Lebanon. In Lebanon, foreign journalists who were allowed into southern Lebanon to report on the conflict were restricted in what they could report on by Hezbullah, and reported lies and half truths fed to them by Pallywood as has been the case on numerous occasions.
The children of Gaza. Following the documentary “Unseen Gaza” the British public now got to see Gaza after the conflict was over, where our soft spots were found in looking at the conflict through the eyes of the children in Gaza who had lost their parents or families as a result of Israeli bombing and who many were suffering from the trauma and sought revenge on the Israelis and wanted to become martyrs when they grew up. The message of the documentary was simple, it hit a real soft spot of the onlooker through showing how the innocent suffered from this conflict and how Israel achieved nothing from their assault on Gaza as a new generation of Palestinians who wouldn’t have done so otherwise are now going to grow up with hate.
Israel is always in a lose/lose situation when it comes to the media. She has struggled with this dilemma going back even further to Operation Defensive Shield, where Israel sent the IDF into the refugee camp in Jenin in search of terrorists following a suicide bombing in a hotel in Netanya during Passover.
Jenin was a hothouse for terrorists; the IDF lost over 25 soldiers who were blown up in booby-trapped buildings whilst conducting house-to-house searches before fierce fighting occurred. Here, Israel too did not allow the media into the camp. Palestinians in Jenin began accusing Israel of war crimes, of raping the women there and of conducting a massacre and burying hundreds of bodies in mass graves.
Books have been written about Jenin, as well as documentaries, including Jenin, Jenin, that still persist in the Palestinian propaganda effort as a symbol, in spite of the fact that an investigation was carried out afterwards that found such claims to be untrue. Yet the tale of Jenin remains.
BBC tough guy Ross Kemp documented Israel and Gaza. Kemp has gone around the world making documentaries about gangs. He came to Gaza following operation cast lead. I can’t say that he came across as having any biased agenda and the documentary seemed to be one of the most balanced reports on the issue that has been made.
Gaza was then left alone by the British media for a while until a new crisis occurred with the Flotilla. Where Israel was extremely isolated in the international community and widely condemned, whilst once again cries by Palestinians and their supporters of a massacre in the sea having occurred where Israel had allegedly come onto an unarmed “civilian aid ship” trying to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza with the full force of the Israeli navy opening fire at civilians. In spite of all the video evidence the Israelis had both their own footage and from cameras found made by those on board the ship and security cameras on the ship showing soldiers getting attacked by so called “unarmed” civilians the entire international media still chose to report that Israel had attacked an unarmed civilian aid ship and conducted a massacre in the sea. Until BBC’s Panorama shocked all of us by deviating from the norm and actually reported what did happen. Israel agreed to an international investigation of the events of what happened following the issues Israel had with the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead. Of course Panorama was accused by Palestinian supporters of bias in support of Israel. Panorama refuted such claims and stood by its reporting of the events.
On Israel’s 60th anniversary in 2008 the BBC broadcast a documentary by Jeremy Bowen, on this occasion rather than taking this as an opportunity to celebrate the positive aspects of Israel and its culture. Bowen created a documentary that focused on conflict, portraying Israel as having been created by stealing Palestinian homes, war crimes and violence and how this conflict would not end and Israel would not see peace until justice is given to the people it wronged when it was born.
After the Folitilla incident in 2010, Israel was out of the public image for a while, until the Carmel fires. The peace process had and still has stalled, Israel never agreed to completely freeze settlement building, however it reduced it significantly compared to previous Israeli governments both left and right, which is more than likely to be the best that Bibi could offer and keep his delicate coalition from collapsing and agreed to meet with Abbas directly for Peace talks, which Abbas rejected and would not meet Bibi until he agreed to a full settlement freeze and of course Hamas in Gaza who have not changed their position of rejecting any peace talks with Israel and pledge that they always will.
Israel has made its way back into the media now. Recently Louis Theroux made a documentary “The Ultra Zionists” documenting the lives and views of the most extreme end of the spectrum of both Jews and Zionists. Not much needs to be said about this, as one can imagine. I am not for one minute going to condone the views of these kinds settlers and the likes of Baruch Goldstein. I don’t support their views, or some of their actions. But a few conversations with my non Jewish friends and work colleagues will reveal that for the onlooker who does not understand the conflict, has never been to Israel does not understand that these people do not speak for all Israel, Jews or Zionists. Nor do they realize that there are roughly 13 million Jews in the world, just under half a million of them are Israeli settlers living beyond the green line, the majority of them are not ideologically or religiously motivated as those presented in the documentary but are there for economic reasons are not there out of any conviction, and that the number of settlers like those Theroux presented are only a few thousand out of a total of 13 million.
People already have distorted views of what normal Israelis are like, now those misguided individuals who saw this documentary are lead to believe that we have obscure, racist, bigoted views and are there because God gave it to us, whilst taking it from Palestinians.
Before I go on to discuss the latest Channel 4 documentary I will talk about a few documentaries made on anti-Semtism.
The best documentary to date on anti-Semitism in the UK is the Dispatches documentary “The War on Britain’s Jews” by Richard Littlejohn in July 2007. It was a documentary that was very welcome by the Jewish community in Britain that looked at the subject from a variety of perspectives, looking at security needed to protect the community, swastikas sprayed on grave stones, vandalizing Jewish cemeteries to the All Parliamentary Enquiry into Anti-Semitism, finding an Arabic edition of Mein Kamf in a News agent on the Edgware road, boycotting Israeli academia and products as well as anti-Semitism from the far right.
Like coverage of Israel, this documentary resembled that of the BBCs Panorama documentary. This was followed by “Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby” broadcast by Channel 4’s Dispatches in 2009. This documentary much like the Dutch made documentary made “The Israel Lobby and U.S. foreign policy” made in light of the ideas put forward in the book by Professors John Mearshiemer and Stephen Walt who appeared in the documentary. The British documentary on its Israel lobby came as a bit of a shock to me. I was quite unaware that we had a “Lobby” that went beyond the Zionist Federation, BICOM, the Jewish Leadership council and the Board of Deputies. Yet apparently these organisations are so powerful in influencing British politics in favour of Israel that dispatches made a documentary all about how the Israel lobby is supposedly the most powerful lobby in Westminster, bankrolling through the CFI (conservative friends of Israel) most of the Tory party, and other parties through party funding.
In spite of the obvious Jewish objections to such cases of reeking with ideas found in the protocols of the elders of Zion, of Jews being disloyal, controlling governments, only interested in themselves. It is coupled with other messages supporting such ideas that have been proven to be forgeries years ago. But the damage has already been done, apologies are simply not enough when peoples minds have already been affected, much like the message the media itself was trying to convey about Israel’s bombing of Gaza during operation Cast Lead. The British media has long been setting the groundwork for ordinary people to become anti-Semitic. Not only did “Inside Britains Israel Lobby” give people the idea that there are Jews in Britain so powerful that they dictate their countries policies in favour of a foreign country, and one that is supposed to be an ally but that uses British passports to assassinate terrorists.
Shortly after the U.S. lead invasion of Iraq the BBC broadcast a documentary titled “Israel’s secret weapon” in March 2003. This was amidst the controversy over Iraq did or didn’t have any WMD’s. The documentary turned attention to Israel, who til this day neither confirms nor denies that she has or doesn’t have WMD’s, but Mordechai Vanunu blew the whistle on Israel’s nuclear program in Dimona. It is now pretty well known that Israel has a secret facility there and will not sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The message of the documentary and the timing by which it was aired gave the message that the country that did have weapons that perhaps everyone should be paying attention to was Israel and not Iraq. Iraq wasn’t the real danger because they didn’t find any WMDs there, but Israel does.
In 2009 there was another documentary made by an Israeli journalist called Yoav Shamir that was aired in the UK called “Defamation”, the documentary looked at anti-Semitism in Europe and America. Shamir worked with the anti-Defamation league to make much of his documentary as well as interviewing critics of the Jewish establishment such as Norman Finkelstein and John Mearshiemer and Stephen Walt. As much as some I am sure will not like some of the things that were presented in the documentary, I found it to be a very good documentary.
BBC’s Panorama then broadcast a documentary called “The War Party”, a documentary demonizing the Neo-Conservatives within the Republican Party in the United States. Many Neo Conservatives are Jewish, including the movements ideological thinker Leo Strauss as well as the more well known Neo Conservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Richard Perle, Meyrav Wormser and David Frum. But then there are also many non Jewish Neo Conservatives such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheny, Michael Ledeen and George W. Bush to name a few. The accusations made against the Neo Conservatives as being an extremist pro war party made up of mostly Jews using the language of democracy and freedom to advance American imperialism and make the world safe for capitalism and big business is nothing more than an attempt to blame the Jews for damaging Americas image abroad. The demonising of the Neo-Conservatives runs hand in hand with the new ideological form of anti-Semitism. Neo-Con hatred has become a politically correct euphemism for Jew hatred. America has been influencing events abroad to suit her interest through both Republican and Democratic parties for years, whether that was the west’s struggle against Nazism, Soviet Communism or Islamic fundamentalism in the war on terror, it has nothing to do with a Neo-Con pro war agenda waged by mostly Jewish politicians. The Neo Conservatives are a movement heavily influenced by the school of thought known as Political Realism, through the ideas of Plato and Machiavelli and power politics. The United States is the worlds Hegemon and Neo-Conservatism just like any other political movement wishes to spread the ideas of freedom and democracy to liberate other peoples from tyranny. Rightly or wrongly, there is nothing unique or extreme about a country having this sort of agenda. No other world power behaves any differently, whether that is Islamo-fascists, Soviet Communists or the British Empire. In all but the Islamist movement, Jews have been too blamed as being a negative force behind such tyranny. Jews were blamed by the British for Britain’s involvement in the Boer war, much like how they are being blamed for dragging Britain and America to war for the interests of Israel. There is nothing new here, other than perpetuating conspiracy theories of unprecedented Jewish power and causing suspicions of dual loyalties. A double standard that is being placed on Jews to have to somehow prove their loyalty to their host nations, by either being pro-Israel and considered disloyal or anti-Israel and loyal, something that is never applied to any other group. African American loyalty was not questioned when they stood up for South Africans struggling against Apartheid, fundamentalist Muslims who declare war on Britain from within the UK, it is not politically correct to suggest that some may have dual loyalties and be plotting against their host nation, but documentaries are made that raise questions about Jewish loyalties for having certain views that are in fact the opposite, very patriotic and embodying the nations values and interests at its heart. No one questioned Obama’s loyalty to the United States when he delivered his Cairo speech to the Muslim world, his hard line on Israel and his appeasement to Arab demands and not acting to defend America and the free worlds interest by having a harder line on Iran’s nuclear program.
I have tried to mention as many UK aired documentaries on Israel and Jewish issues as I can remember, and as you can see, for those of you who watched them all too, the majority of them do not leave the viewer with any sympathy for the Jews or Israel but with a distorted view of a ruthless people with absolutely no respect for the rule of law, basic moral principles, who steal and build on land that doesn’t belong to them, kill children throwing stones, fire rockets at civilians, have weird ideas and views like G-d said they could do this or that it is ok to do these things because they suffered during the Holocaust. That this unlawful country also has powerful friends in powerful countries who control their economies and through their financial power take their countries to wars that don’t concern them at all for the benefit of Israel, a country that exists because Jews fleeing persecution in Europe came to a land that wasn’t theirs and took a country that belonged to non-Jewish people that were living there before them. This is the narrative that has and is becoming the norm. It is not historically accurate, nor is it an inter-subjective representation of perspectives.
We have reached a point where people think that a balanced perspective is to present the Jewish point of view as being that the Israelis claim a right to a Jewish homeland as a result of suffering. This is how public opinion has swayed so far in favour of the Palestinians, because that simply isn’t and never was the Jewish peoples claim to the land. Tony Blair reiterated recently this point, that the Jews have a claim to a state in the land of Israel because of right and not because of suffering. Holocaust or no Holocaust, the Jewish people through the founding of the Zionist movement demanded the right to return to their ancestral homeland and rebuild their country that was destroyed and taken from them 2000 years ago. To deny this claims legitimacy is also to deny the rights and claims of the Palestinians that one wants to help.
If the Jews can’t lose their homes and return to them then neither can the Palestinians. People question whether you can return to a country you haven’t lived in for nearly 2000 years and take it back. Unfortunately the Jews are the only people to successfully return en masse from exile to reclaim their independence and overthrow foreign rulers. Other nations became independent from foreign rule who were not living in exile from their homelands. There are no other examples because most other nations living in Diasporas for 2000 years don’t exist anymore, they assimilated into their new homes.
The most recent series of films broadcast on Channel 4 called The Promise encapsulates the perception that people have come to have of Israelis as foreigners who built a country on another peoples land.
The story starts with a British (Erin) girl who goes to Israel on her gap year to spend a few months with her Jewish friend (Eliza) whose family are Israeli who has to go to the army.
Erin’s grandfather in Britain is sick; he served in the British army during WW2, liberated Bergan Belson and then served in Palestine after the war ended. Erin finds his diary and takes it with her to read throughout her time in Israel.
Eliza’s family live in a house that looks like a Malibu mansion in Caesarea, please note at this point that throughout every episode in this series, every Israeli house portrayed was a house in Caesarea and every Palestinian or Arab property looked like a dump or a refugee camp. The program made consistent references to asking where the Israeli characters were from “originally”, whilst when Arabs were asked, only local place names were given, giving the impression that the Israelis were originally from somewhere else and that the Arabs were from Palestine. Ignoring the fact that many Arabs living in Palestine too if asked where their great grandparents were from one would find that they too have not been there from time immemorial, but descend from Arabs who came to Palestine from neighbouring countries, or descend from settlers from the former Empires that once ruled there years before. However, the film paints a picture of Eliza’s dad who moved to Israel from England quite recently, and her mother who was born in Israel but whose father was from Hungary.
The films main characters are Erin and her grandfather, Len and therefore viewed from a British perspective. The film tells two stories at once, Erins journey staying in Eliza’s families house spending time with her extremely left wing brother Paul who takes her around the west bank and to meet his Palestinian friend Omar. Meanwhile Erin reads Len’s diary and how he had to deal with fighting the Irgun during the mandate period. The film shows nothing of the Haggana, the Jewish Agency or the official Zionist organisation that worked with the British, nor the official party line policies towards the Arabs. Instead it shows how Eliza’s grandfather was one of the King David hotel bombers, where Erins grandfather Len survived the bombing. This causes some tension between Erin and Eliza’s family. This scene was shown following Paul and Erin surviving a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, creating the comparison of Jewish terrorists against the British with Arab terrorists against the Israelis, and later with the repercussions of the British demolishing the Jewish terrorists family homes with that of the Israelis blowing up and flattening the family home of the suicide bomber.
Erin reads in the diary about how Len had an Arab servant named Muhammad, and how he wanted to return a key to him that was found inside the diary. She then goes on a quest to find the Muhammad’s family with Omar. This leads her to Hebron where the family had fled to after leaving their home inside what are today Israel’s recognized borders and then to Gaza after 1967. Erin finally finds the house of Muhammad’s daughter who is now old and belongs to the family of the suicide bomber and that the Israeli army, with Eliza had come to destroy her home.
The worst scene was of the Dier Yessin massacre, where the Irgun killed men women and children in cold blood. It was this incident that triggered the Arabs to leave en masse from their villages with the encouragement of the leaders of the Arab states, the Palestinian leadership and from the British from fear of what happened at Dier Yessin happening to them. The Dier Yessin massacre was not the rule, but an exception in this conflict. But the viewer would likely assume that that was what the Jews did to or planned to do to every Arab village. It is understandable why Arabs would fear and leave, but at no point did the film present the efforts by the Jewish Agency to convince the Arabs to stay and become citizens in their state, but only of the most extreme Irgun violence, and Arabs fleeing.
Throughout the film the Israelis are portrayed as behaving like Nazis ethnically cleansing the Arabs and committing genocide and land grabbing, and ungrateful barbarians killing the British who had done so much to help them during the war. The British turning away of Jewish refugees from Europe was skimmed over in the first episode. And the Arabs are presented as if they could do no wrong. The Arab massacre of Gush Etzion in 1948 was not presented for example nor any Arab attacks on Jews throughout the mandate period. The Arabs are presented as a reasonable, peaceful people and the Jews as greedy and uncompromising ruthless terrorists who want the whole land and to drive the Arabs out.
The film becomes more and more anti-Israel as the episodes go on. As well as bringing up the Jewish dual loyalty question by suspicions that a British Jewish officer in the army may be helping the Jewish underground in Palestine against the British.
The bar has been raised, as we have much to be concerned about. This film was like the Palestinian version of the movie “Exodus”.
Not only is the narrative of events changing against our favour when it comes to the Middle East conflict and the bringing to the forefront questions of Jewish dual loyalties, but also people are denying the Jewish particularity of the Holocaust. We are quickly being transformed once again from powerless innocent victims to powerful guilty aggressors.
Israel’s PR is awful and never has been great. If Israel is going to win this narrative battle, she needs to fight fire with fire. And must tap into the emotions of the on looking audience as the Promise did. The Promise allowed the viewer to identify with their fellow countrymen in their experiences dealing with Jews and Arabs and presented the case in a way that enabled them to identify with the Arabs through the bonds and connections that they made with the Arab characters in the story.
We must do the same. The Palestinians have made good use of using analogies that the West understand and can identify with, but comparing themselves with the Red Indians and Blacks in America, or with South African Apartheid and even to European Jews suffering during the Holocaust. The last being the most absurd comparison, yet people are still persuaded by it.
Jabotinsky did a very good job of addressing the British when they were accusing the Zionists of asking for two much whilst they imposed the White paper on Jewish immigration to Palestine and started further carving up Palestine to give it to the Arabs leaving the Jews with nothing that would be sustainable:
“Whenever I hear the Zionist, most often my own Party, accused of asking for too much — Gentlemen, I really cannot understand it. Yes, we do want a State; every nation on earth, every normal nation, beginning with the smallest and the humblest who do not claim any merit, any role in humanity’s development, they all have States of their own. That is the normal condition for a people. Yet, when we, the most abnormal of peoples and therefore the most unfortunate, ask only for the same condition as the Albanians enjoy, to say nothing of the French and the English, then it is called too much. I should understand it if the answer were, “It is impossible,” but when the answer is, “It is too much” I cannot understand it. I would remind you (excuse me for quoting an example known to everyone of you) of the commotion which was produced in that famous institution when Oliver Twist came and asked for “more.” He said “more” because he did not know how to express it; what Oliver Twist really meant was this: “Will you just give me that normal portion which is necessary for a boy of my age to be able to live.” I assure you that you face here to-day, in the Jewish people with its demands, an Oliver Twist who has, unfortunately, no concessions to make.”
We must start translating these analogies into films of our own, displayed in the arts and culture. These are the most powerful tools we can use to counter the success of the other side. Books, be they fiction or based on truth must be entertaining and meaningful to win the minds and support of our natural allies in the free world who are being misled and could someday really turn against us.