A Tiny Cog in a Machine of Lies
Then – writes Yemini – “The Big Lie attempted to transform international Jewry into the archenemy of the Third Reich. According to this falsehood, Jews controlled the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States, and conspired to wage a ‘war of extermination’ against Germans . The Big Lie created an inversion of reality. Thus, a Wehrmacht soldier who fought on the Russian front could write to his family in 1941 about the ‘unbelievable atrocities carried out by the Jews’ . Evidently he believed what he wrote. But the lie did not end there and was not limited to soldiers who underwent brainwashing.”
The contemporary version of the Big Lie, writes Yemini, is directed at Israel, turning the country into a criminal state. Earlier the author repeatedly stresses that:
“Needless to say, it is entirely legitimate, even necessary, to criticize Israel. Propagators of lies will tell you that defenders of Israel insist that the Jewish state ‘can do no wrong’.”
This is another lie, used particularly often to make a convincing argument that all other lies about Israel contain truth and only truth that they try to hide. The peculiar obsession of the world with Israel, however, doesn’t leave much doubt. The United Nations passes more resolution condemning Israel than all the rest of the world combined; human rights organizations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch devote more attention to Israel than to any other country. The world’s media has recognized Jerusalem as a capital of war correspondents.
Ben-Dror Yemini quotes the opinion of a journalist, Matti Friedman, who for many years worked for the Associated Press in the Jerusalem bureau:
“When I was a correspondent at the AP the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than AP had in China, Russia or India, or all of the 50 Muslim countries.”
In spite of this absolutely exceptional attention to Israel, these reports are not only biased, but they are false time and time again. The media sometime rectify documented lies, but these retractions are printed in small print deep inside the paper while the lies make banner headlines on front pages.
“Most readers, listeners, and viewers do not know that these are lies. They do not know that alongside a few crumbs of accurate information, lecturers and journalists of a certain ilk implant large chunks of imprecise and toxic information in the minds of media consumer.”
The audiences of these prestigious media are defenceless, they do not have any chance to defend themselves against the flood of lies.
The article mentioned in the beginning is a classic example of what the Israeli historian is writing about. On 28 December the website wiadomości.gazeta.pl published an article by Patryk Strzałkowski entitled Służyłem w izraelskiej armii. Wchodziliśmy do domów niewinnych ludzi. Dzieci robiły w majtki. [I Served in the Israeli Army. We Went Into the Houses of Innocent People. Children Soiled Themselves.] The author’s input is limited to a selection of excerpts of texts published by the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence. He doesn’t comment, he doesn’t explain that there are reservations both about the organization and about the “testimonies” themselves. Not many readers will notice that the “testimonies” are provided only with numbers, that there are practically no names of the soldiers, names of their commanders, or dates and locations of alleged events. Neither the journalist nor the editorial office seems to worry about this formula for the witness statements about crimes. The journalist is apparently deeply moved by the magnitude of brutality of the Israeli army and probably tells the world what he learned in entirely good faith. Has he never heard about the reservations many people have about Breaking the Silence? He must’ve heard something because in the beginning of his article we read:
For breaking the silence they are called “traitors”, “Israel’s enemies”, “auto-antisemites”, “self-hating Jews”.
If that’s all he knows we have reason to wonder about the ethics of a person earning his living by delivering information and conveying that “information” without any checking. We are in a similar situation. I cannot check the veracity of testimonies published by a famous Israeli organization, either.
Let’s suppose that I am a journalist on this newspaper and I’m reading such horrifying “testimonies”. Nowadays it’s enough to type its name into an Internet search engine. After a few links to sites deeply committed to the same ideas this organization has, a link appears to a critical text by NGO Monitor.
Let’s say I know nothing about NGO Monitor and I’m reading their information about Breaking the Silence with as much scepticism as I’ve felt while reading the “testimonies” of those anonymous witnesses.
According to NGO Monitor, Breaking the Silence received almost 13 million Israeli shekels (NIS 12,933,380) from foreign governmental bodies between 2012 and 2017 (the top donors were Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland). Among the generous donors is also Human Rights Watch (I didn’t know that they not only collect money but distribute it as well), and this is an organization from which its own founder dissociated himself because of its deeply unethical bias. From NGO Monitor we learn that Breaking the Silence focuses on international audiences. It solicits “testimonies” from Israeli soldiers in order to deliver them to the Western media.
This NGO Monitor’s report is worth reading in full, but I will quote just two excerpts:
In June 14, 2016, Israeli new site NRG published a video documenting BtS co-founder, Yehuda Shaul, telling tourists in Israel that “Yeah, one of the villages, this village actually, it’s new that they came back, because few years ago the settlers basically poisoned all the water cisterns of the village…” This allegation is completely unsubstantiated, and was never proven. It appears to be based on a single complaint from 2004 which was investigated by the Israeli police and was closed due to lack of evidence.
Of course, I have no way of checking who is right. The Israeli police could be biased, so all we have is an alarm bell (reinforced by the story told by President Abbas to the European Parliament about rabbis calling for the poisoning of Palestinian wells. Two days later he admitted that the story was false and he had wrong information).
A journalist should also notice that, as NGO Monitor states:
BtS refuses to comply with the Israeli government request to provide the information on an incident documented in a former soldier’s testimony which reflects an alleged crime.
That means that there is no possibility to investigate these cases. But not always.
On 16 November 2017 the Israeli press reported the court case against the Breaking the Silence spokesman, who claimed that he personally had beaten an Arab at the command of his superior officer.
Dean Issacharof, in an address recorded on video, told the story of how, while serving in the Israeli army in Hebron, he repeatedly hit an arrested Arab so hard that the man was bloodied, and he finally fainted. The prosecutor decided that if he really had done this he had contravened the ethics of the Israeli army. It turned out, however, that he could not be punished because this event never happened. This time it was possible to establish which event it was (indeed, an Arab throwing rocks had been arrested and handcuffed), but he himself said something quite different and stated that he was not hit, was not bleeding, and that he didn’t faint. Also, other soldiers from the unit taking part in this operation and the commander of the unit categorically stated in the court that such an event had not occurred.
We can speculate that the witnesses could have been intimidated, but we cannot pretend that the numerous allegations about the abuse of the truth by Breaking the Silence do not exist.
Patryk Strzałkowski published his article as if he had never heard about all these controversies. If that really is true, he is a poor journalist and should not earn his living in this occupation because he is earning it dishonestly, but if he knew about these controversies and concealed this information from his readers, the case is much worse.
Personally, I suspect that he might not have known. He read the story, he was moved, he translated fragments of it, put everything together and delivered it to the editorial office, where they happily received the merchandise.
How does such impressive journalistic ignorance come into existence? Well, a Polish journalist learns about a respectable organization which documents Jewish crimes from even more respectable colleagues from The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde and the like. He travels to Israel and visits Ha’aretz. He goes on a Breaking the Silence trip to the Palestinian territories, he talks through a translator appointed by Breaking the Silence with Palestinians designated for the task by Breaking the Silence. Then he returns to Poland and relates what he has seen with his own eyes.
I’ve never been on such a wonderful trip, so I’m doomed to rely on the reports of others. There is a certain book, and after reading it even Ha’aretz wrote “…after this book we do not have the privilege of ignorance any longer” (only to return to its splendid isolation a few days later).
The book I’m talking about is the result of a six-month visit to Israel by a certain theatre director from New York. Tuvia Tenenbom was born in Israel in a family of German Jews, so his first language was German, second Hebrew and third Arabic. He first learned English at school. For years now he has been living in New York, where he runs a Jewish theatre and at the same time writes in the German and American press. A few years ago his German publisher persuaded him to write a reportage about German antisemitism. So he travelled through Germany and talked to people and, because he has blond hair and blue eyes, an Aryan face and beer belly, people opened up their hearts and didn’t hide anything. This book is not optimistic, but it became a best seller and his publisher suggested that he go to Israel as a German journalist. And so he wrote a book, Catch the Jew (Allein unter Juden), in which an Israeli who knows Arabic, posing as a German Tobi, looks at Israel. Tuvia Tenenbom walked the same paths international correspondents walk to collect their information. He visited Ha’aretz, he went on a Breaking the Silence trip to the Palestinian territories. He could hear what people said in Hebrew, he spoke in Arabic with Palestinians without his guardians’ knowledge. He has seen more, much more, than journalists who are shown what to “see with their own eyes”. So much more that after this book we do not have the privilege of ignorance any longer.
But Patryk Strzałkowski still seems to be a journalist with privilege. He is so privileged that without any inhibitions he has strengthened the image of Israel as a country where one crime after another is being committed and the authorities applaud them. Does he realise that he is a tiny cog in a machine of lies? I doubt it. He probably honestly believes in what he has read, and he never asks questions.
When we meet people who “have seen with their own eyes” all these Israeli crimes, it’s worth asking whether they know the names of Palestinian dissidents, whether they know how many Palestinian journalists are incarcerated in Palestinian prisons, whether they have met Bassam Eid or Khaled Abu Toameh or an Arab IDF soldier. When we ask such questions we invariably get evasive answers which show that they use Palestinians as a tool against Jews and for that they need to see them exclusively as poor, downtrodden and weak victims, a simple, monolithic picture. But Palestinians are human beings and human beings are different, but to discover this you need something more than a short conversation through a translator delivered by Breaking the Silence and more than reading “testimonies” delivered by Breaking the Silence.
Finally, let’s think what kind of knowledge readers of Patryk Strzałkowski’s article were left with. Probably the same kind of knowledge readers of Der Stürmer were left with, though probably it’s not the result Patryk Strzałkowski wanted to achieve. He was probably sure that he was giving us genuine information.
Translation: Małgorzata Koraszewska and Sarah Lawson