Riding Israel: A Tragicomedy

Senior political analyst explains why Newt Gingrich is no Tom Cruise, and why touting Israel is a mission impossible.

The film “Mission Impossible 4” opened in US theatre in recent weeks, starring BMW, Apple and Tom Cruise. A two-hour-long commercial on steroids.

If you are unfamiliar with it, Paid Product Placement (PPP) is a big thing in the movie industry.

This is how it works: Hollywood places in its movies certain watches, cars, or a laptop brands preferably worn by George Clooney, driven by Angelina Jolie, or placed in front of Meg Ryan. In “The Transformers”, for example, GM’s Cameros lead with Megan Fox.

PPP is indirect marketing that targets oblivious movie viewers, gender notwithstanding, Catherine Banning or Will Smith could be drinking Pepsi.

The spirit and soul of a movie are sometimes compromised when its script and shooting are shaped by commercial, rather than artistic, considerations.

PPP allows for extra budgets to produce costlier gimmicks that, in turn, bring more profit. “Mission Impossible”, for example, has reaped $75m in the first 10 days at the box office.

The same logic seems to apply to politics. PPP is one way to understand the sudden surge of Israel-schmoozing and  Palestine abusing ahead of the US election.

Israel placement

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and other current Republican candidates are riding Israel like Tom Cruise rides various BMW models in his “Mission Impossible” franchise.

Like action films, presidential elections are brilliantly staged and terribly expensive with many gimmicks and little substance. Except that one sells cars and gadgets, while the other sells security and special interest.

To be a fictional action hero is one thing to lead the word’s superpower requires a few doses of reality and credibility.

The in-your-face claim that the Palestinians are “invented people” by Gingrich was more blatant than a BMW placement.

When asked if he considered himself a Zionist, Gingrich didn’t flinch: “I think that we’ve had invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the nineteen-forties, and it’s tragic.”

A prolific writer, Gingrich produces many books with little intellectual substance. When it comes to the Middle East, the historian is ahistorical he peddles history at the service of politics.

Some jumped on him, others defended him. A few shot back, saying it is the United States and Israel that are invented on the back of others.

Palestinian spokespersons were furious. Some went as far as writing their own personal stories to prove they did exist!  As if Gingrich give a damn about the facts of life in Palestine.

But as the New Yorker editor, David Remnick put it:

“You can be sure that Gingrich did not care a whit for what Palestinians, here or in the US, would think. The Palestinian vote will not decide swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, or, above all, Florida a considerable shift in the Jewish vote could.”

Alas, there is no other point to this stupid statement. As Remnick said, Gingrich is ready to go very far to promote himself such as claiming that: “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.”

And yet, he has a lot of catching up to do with House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, an ardent Republican Jewish supporter of Israel who reckons “the 2,000-year-old dream of a Jewish state is in jeopardy, the Palestinian culture is infused with hatred and the international community is replete with anti-Semitic vitriol”.

He and the other Republican leaders and candidates speak of Israel as if it is the only country in the Middle East as the only reliable ride in a sea of tyranny. As if nothing changed over the last year, alas.

The Republicans have gone so far out, that Israel’s own friends and supporters in the US, have been repulsed including the J street lobby.

The Lobby and the rest

Behind Israel’s placement is the Israel lobby that devises Israel’s black operations and “ghost protocols” in the US. It stands behind much of the political promotion of Israel and the degrading the Palestinians.

So fearsome, it is referred to simply as “The Lobby”. It’s not only what the Lobby can do to help, but more importantly what it could do to destroy a politician.

The Lobby has been quite irresponsible in the way it throws its weight in Washington in recent years. Back in 1992, then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, told the Lobby, for lack of better word, to shut up.

In recent days, the Lobby has alienated some of Israel’s own friends among the US elite, including some in the organized American Jewish community.

The New York Times widely-read columnist Thomas Friedman wrote:

“I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Friedman stated the obvious, but also touched a nerve.

He indirectly alluded to Jewish political influence and manipulation through money, an impression those behind PPP-ing Israel want to avoid at all cost.

The impression they want decimated is that Israel is America’s trusted ally in a dangerous and unpredictable region, with which it shares democratic values and strategic interests.

That is why there has been calls demanding apologies from the New York Times. Friedman retracted his choice of words, but not the thrust of his column.

Republican, conservative and other groups that make up the wider sphere of the Israel Lobby hire PR firms for millions of dollars to provide politicians and candidates with savvy talking points and convincing arguments in favour of Israel.

One mission too many

Generally speaking, the pro-Israeli adage and sound-bites are the brainchild of Israel lobbyists and Republican like Frank Luntz.

But even Luntz has warned: “Don’t pretend that Israel is without mistakes or fault. It’s not true and no one believes it”.

In his how-to-market-Israel guide, he adds, “We’re at a time in history when Jews in general (and Israelis in particular) are no longer perceived as the persecuted people. In fact, among American and European audiences—sophisticated, educated, opinionated, non-Jewish audiences—Israelis are often seen as the occupiers and the aggressors. With that kind of baggage, it is critical that messages from the pro-Israel spokespeople not come across as supercilious or condescending.”

Tell that to the Republican candidates.

Defending the Israel right-wing coalition in the Western public sphere is becoming “mission impossible” with “the thrills and fun are quite few and far between”.

This past week provided an excellent example. Hamas leader Khalid Masha’al reconciles with President Mahmoud Abbas, accepts a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, and adopts popular non-violent resistance while Israel’s military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned that Israel will attack Hamas controlled Gaza ‘sooner or later’ while his government announced the construction of new illegal settlements in the West Bank.

But those presidential candidates, desperate for the organizational, media and financial support of the Israel Lobby, are not concerned with any of any such developments. They will “love Israel to death”, literally the death of Palestinians or Israelis.

That starts with “increasing all strategic aid in all forms” to “moving our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem”, moves through denying Palestinian human and national rights, and ends with threats of bombing Iran.

The comedy of “outloving” Israel was best captured by US comedian Jon Stewart who graded Republican presidential candidates statements on Israel according to a Yarmulkometer.

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