Consistency and Gaza Propaganda

20 Nov

As human beings, we crave consistency.  Or at the very least, inconsistency leaves us enormously uncomfortable.  Which is why the most effective accusation you can throw at a political adversary is not that they are liars (which requires you to get into a debate over what constitutes “the truth,”) but that they are hypocrites (which only requires you to show that someone’s deeds are inconsistent with their words).

In order to obtain the comfort that consistency provides us, our brains tend to build the information we receive into stories.  And once such stories are established, the intake of further information becomes simpler since we tend to accept information that fits into these existing storylines, while rejecting (or at least questioning) information that does not fit these pre-established narratives.

This is the simplified explanation behind confirmation bias, one of the cognitive biases that tend to drive most decision making, especially when dealing with complex and controversial issues like Middle East politics.

This is why the dueling narratives that make up a conflict do not just represent shallow propaganda, but are instead critically important since whoever’s storyline first gets established in people’s minds (and, by extension, public awareness) becomes very difficult to dislodge once established.

So, in the case of the current Gaza conflict, it becomes vital whether this war is seen as a case of #GazaUnderAttack or #IsraelUnderFire.  And in this war of narratives, dueling images (of dead  Palestinians civilians vs. Israelis running for cover, for example) become key mechanisms for establishing one story vs. another into people’s heads.

Historically, Israel’s foes have been quite successful in building the story of conflicts like the 2002 Terror War, the 2006 Lebanon conflict and both the 2009 and current Gaza clashes  around civilian casualties, providing a parade of images of dead children and bloodstained parents which have tended to drown out information needed to understand the conflict in full (such as the fact that Hamas decided to start both the 2009 and current wars through endless cross-border missile attacks on Israeli civilians – each of which constitutes a war crime).

The fact that many of these images were staged or manufactured did not seem to diminish their effectiveness, even when photo or video fraud became exposed.  But something seems to be different this time around.  For in the early stages of the current conflict, skepticism of the Palestinian storyline (even among a media that previously accepted Palestinian claims with little question) seems to be far more widespread than in the past.

This does not apply to all journalists, of course.  Certainly ones acting as de facto human shields in Gaza (who refuse to report what’s happening above their heads, while waiting for the inevitable civilian casualties to turn up so they can be driven by their handlers to a photo op) are as credulous as ever with regard to pushing a Palestinian narrative. But beyond these cases, there seems to be far less journalistic gullibility this time around.

Some of this may have to do with the sheer audacity of the Gaza propaganda photo fraud that greeted the beginning of the conflict.  For in the past, while war images were largely staged, at the very least they involved photos and video of the actual conflict zone.  But this time, we’ve see a host of bloody images tagged with statements of moaning sorrow and accusations of Israeli brutality that originated from an entirely different conflict at a different time.

Most notably, images of people killed or maimed in the current conflict in Syria have been shoved in people’s faces with declarations that they are, in fact, pictures of Palestinians hurt or killed during the current Gaza conflict.

Now stop and think about this for a moment.  Over the last year, there have been upwards of 30,000 casualties in the Syrian civil war.  And as those bodies were piling up, the same “peace activists” currently marching in the streets managed to keep their voices still on the subject (just as they never managed to find their tongues when Hamas was firing thousands of rockets into Israel that made the current war inevitable).

But once the Gaza war (and associated Gaza propaganda) started, suddenly civilians who met violent deaths in Syria became critically important: as props which could be posed as victims of a different conflict at a different time.

This level of cynicism is so profound that it made it that much easier to expose slightly more complex frauds (such as this image of the leaders of Hamas and Egypt cradling a dead infant whose death more than likely came about from one of the very Hamas missiles Israel is trying to stop being fired at their country).

And for all but the most jaded journalists, this level of manipulativeness crosses an important line.  For it’s one thing to stroke a reporter’s ego (and asking them to cut journalistic corners) by convincing them that they are covering the victim in a David vs. Goliath struggle.  But it’s quite another to treat those same journalists (and, by extension, the public they are informing) as absolute numbskulls willing to swallow every word or image handed to them without question.

Getting back to the topic of consistency, in some ways BDS supporters (and fellow travelers) have an easy time in this area since they consistently peddle a simple storyline of Israeli brutes vs. innocent Palestinian civilians that leaves no room for pesky facts such as Hamas militancy and Israeli victims.

But they also have a problem, given that they also want to portray themselves as “peace activists” vs. what they really are: the propaganda arm of one side in a war (i.e., a weapon system).  For if they were really fighters for peace and human rights, issues like Hamas war crimes and human rights violations might concern them, and they would treat mention of 30,000 dead in Syria as something other than “Assadwashing” (i.e., the accusation that any mention of Syria is really an attempt by sinister Israelis to distract attention from their own crimes).

12 Responses to “Consistency and Gaza Propaganda”

  1. fizziks November 21, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    Hey Jon,

    OT, but I just saw that you have the Israel Thrives blog on your blog roll. I urge you to reconsider this, as it is a highly partisan blog which constantly demonizes liberals and Democrats who are an important part of both your readership and anti-BDS efforts generally (e.g. in Park Slope).

    I believe these overly partisan right wing blogs are dangerous to Israel, and represent a divide and conquer strategy by anti-Israel forces. Please read this piece, about the general phenomenon (not that blog in particular): Endangering Israel

  2. DivestThis November 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Hi Fizz – I see what you mean about the border lines on the comment box (it’s a function of the theme for the new blog, which I like although it’s got some quirks).

    Regarding inclusion of Mike’s blog on the blogroll, I wanted to respond before a debate ensues that might turn out to be less than productive.

    As you say, progressive Jews (and non-Jews) are not just a key constituency for this blog, but have also made up the bulk of people I’ve worked with on anti-BDS activity at places like Park Slope and beyond. So I understand and appreciate the sensitivity of opening up a Left-Right rift over an important subject (the fight against BDS) about which both Left and Right largely agree.

    At the same time, I have found issues of both Left and Right support and opposition to Israel to be worth discussing, so long as they are done in a respectful manner.

    Given that Mike has his own site where hard-core Left-Right issues can be discussed and debated, I’m hoping that both he (and people who agree with him) and you (and people who agree with you) can find common ground (or at least a place to respectfully disagree) on a site (this one) where – on a practical level – you have already found commonality.

    Especially now that Israel will not be playing a role in election-year politics, I expect to return to subjects related to Israel, Jews, anti-Semitism, Left and Right and welcome people of all persuasions to join in these discussions (which I hope will be fruitful).

    That’s my four cents.

    • fizziks November 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

      Hi Jon,

      Thank you for your reply.

      I understand what you are saying but you do not seem to be aware the extent to which that blog, and its inclusion on your blogroll, are a thumb in the eye of your progressive, liberal, and centrist allies.

      That blog does not in any way have “respectful” discussion of left-right issues. It simply accuses anyone who voted for the President or who is to the left of Mitt Romney of “supporting the Muslim Brotherhood”, endorsing Jihad, and similar nonsense. There is a tremendous amount of unwarranted vitriol directed at your progressive and centrist allies there, Jon.

      If you recognize that progressive and centrist Jews are a, perhaps the, crucial constituency for defeating BDS and anti-Israel activities generally, I hope you will recognize the potential to divide us and the alliance we have built over these things. Progressive and centrists like me will continue to support Israel, but it will be hard to convince them to do it working with people who gratuitously insult them at every opportunity. Mindlessly insulting your allies, or, in this case, endorsing those who mindlessly insult your allies, is not a good coalition building strategy. Please reconsider.

      • Jon November 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

        Fizz – I appreciate your concerns and sensitivities (even if I don’t know the entire back story regarding this particular interaction). But just as I have many left-leaning friends and allies who I have helped and who have helped me, I also have friends and allies with a different political perspective, which means this is not the first time I’ve had to navigate our own internal Left-Right rivalries (and even hostilities) when trying to support a united front against BDS.

        I’m hoping that the perspective I provide here is informative enough that people who may disagree on other matters will find it useful. And with the election behind us (which I hope provides some additional perspective), I’m hoping to return to the subject of Left vs. Right support (and hostility) to Israel , but do so in a way that I hope provides more light than heat.

        But before that, I’ve got a Thanksgiving weekend to get through, some follow up on this month’s Gaza war to reflect on, and Robert Wistrich’s book to finish (which I highly recommend everyone else read to gain a better perspective of the historic reasons behind much of our current Left-Right political disposition towards the Jewish state).

        I hope you’ll be able to contribute to discussions in this area (and would even be happy to let you and others have a guest column to discuss your perspective). And in the meantime, I hope that you will not consider my continued linking to diverse voices a slap in the face to you or anyone else.

        • fizziks November 24, 2012 at 2:00 am #

          I’m sorry Jon, but I consider linking to a site that constantly accuses me personally of “supporting Jihad” and “supporting the Muslim Brotherhood” as a direct slap in the face.

          This isn’t about diverse voices, it is about divisive voices. You have chosen the later, in spite of much of your readership.

          Also, I don’t see diverse voices there. Those are all right wing blogs. Some of them are good blogs, such as Elder of Zion, which, while I sometimes disagree with their politics, are insightful and interesting, which is fine. Others are not, such as Israel Thrives. But don’t try to claim that you are promoting “diverse voices” with that menu.

        • fizziks November 24, 2012 at 2:28 am #

          Let me add that obviously this is your site to do with as you wish, but as someone who finds your site to be a great resource and place for discussion, I would very much like to keep participating here.

          I think that in this particular discussion here you are obfuscating by claiming the mantle of diversity. As I said, there is diversity and then there is divisiveness. As you may know, I have a center-left pro-Israel blog called The Progressive Zionist. If the goal is diversity of thought within a pro-Israel framework, why not link to that?

          • DivestThis November 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

            I just did.

            And with that, I don’t really have anything to add, other than to say my preference is that people judge what I do here based on what appears in the left 2/3s of the screen, rather than the widgets that appear on the right 1/3. But that choice is entirely up to you and other readers.

            Kids waking. Gotta go.

          • fizziks November 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

            Jon, much appreciated. I can certainly live with that.

        • oldschooltwentysix November 24, 2012 at 6:45 am #

          FWIW, the blog that fizziks contributes to regularly labels and disparages those who do not agree, yet no one calls for it to be banned, which is a testament to whom free expression matters.

          • fizziks November 24, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

            Who called for anything to be “banned”?

            Strawman much?

          • oldschooltwentysix November 24, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

            Banned from the blog roll. Is that not what you called for?

            Further, the way you characterize the site, and by extension those who engage there, implies to me you would go further if you could.

            Your site is no less a thumb in the eye to tolerance in the manner it treats others who do not conform to its “progressive” ideal.

            Perhaps it is best to address the matter of BDS, where the proponents are more accurately described as deranged in their agenda.

  3. Brian Goldfarb November 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    Jon, while you’re on the subject of the Israel/Gaza war, this from The Tablet might be of interest. It’s a very thoughtful piece on whether the cease-fire (assuming it holds) might be the start of a game changer. Interesting to know what you and others think.

    http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/117322/how-gaza-changes-the-game?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=9b014dd2e4-11_21_2012&utm_medium=email

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