On deception and war

How good or how bad are Israel’s spokesmen?

'In reality, not even the most skilled spokesman can outsmart a dying child, a weeping father or grieving sister,' writes Bishara [Al Jazeera]

I can’t stop shaking my head while listening to Israeli officials and spokespersons denying any responsibility let alone culpability for the horrors in Gaza. 

Their claim reminds me of the guy who was caught smuggling a dog on a flight after it was heard barking:

– Have you brought a dog on board, sir?

– What dog?

– I can hear it barking!

– Oh, how dare you, how could you believe a dog over me!

Now, I can see how such audacity, or shall I say chutzpah, is attempted to cover up wrongdoing; but it’s neither honest nor witty. It’s stupid.

Yet more than a few observers are mesmerised by the chutzpah of a few Israeli spokesmen, whom they view as “slick” and masterful spinning talents, whose “persuasive qualities and polished prose” is unparalleled!

 What polish? What prose! What persuasion! What nonsense!

Has anyone heard anything of importance from the Israeli spokespeople since the war started a month ago; anything beyond a few transparently false opening phrases followed by more of the same deceptive claims?

In every interview, regardless of the specificity of the questions about new developments or dramatic events, these leading spokesmen will predictably repeat phrases like: “let me be clear”; “you must remember”; “believe me”; or “trust me”.These words would be followed by one of the dozen or so half-truths they repeat non-stop like a broken record:

“The terrorist Hamas is to blame for”… fill in the blank.. 

“Israel has the most righteous military in the world and does everything humanly possible to” … fill in the blank..

Experience shows that “let’s be honest” is sure to be followed by misinformation. “Let’s be clear” is usually followed by mystification; “trust me”, by deception; and “believe me” is likely to be followed by a reprimand for daring to believe anyone or anything else.

And that’s that. Nothing more to it. Nada. Beyond the few fabricated allegations about Palestinian culpability and Israeli virtue that has been uttered during every interview, debate and press conference, I challenge anyone to cite anything insightful or revealing beyond the dozen claims.

Gimmicks and soundbites

Yes, saying things like “a ceasefire is when we cease and they fire”, or “we use our arms to protect our civilians, they use their civilians to protect their arms”, are catchy sound-bites. But smug soundbites are effective only when journalists fail to do their job of exposing them as lies and racist slurs.

But then again, why is the media so addicted to the hired guns trying so hard to manipulate it?  Why go as far as praising the skill of those spokespeople who toe the party linelike robots on leashes. Hardly admirable, quite pitiful, actually. 

You may admire the stamina of those who deceive for their country’s interests (I don’t, mules also have stamina), but there’s nothing admirable in stubbornly defending the folly of ones superiors or cleaning up after them. 

At least the media outlets should stop repeating the same spectacle of these spokesmen. How many times can one watch an act of the same dog jumping through the burning hoop?  Instead, for Israeli perspectives, journalists should insist on probing politicians making the decisions and giving the orders.

PR midgets

Call me old-fashioned, but even when it comes to propaganda, I prefer intelligent rhetoric that toys with ideas, rather than the pathetic, gimmicky play on words that could be easily ridiculed and countered.

Those who are fascinated by Israel’s new “public offenders” are not privy to its past diplomatic defenders, even in the public relations (PR) sphere of influence.

Israel’s new “PRists”, pundits, propagandists like Benjamin Netanyahu, Dore Gold, Ron Dremer, Mark Regev are political midgets in comparison to the first generation of Israelis like Moshe Sharett, David Ben Gurion, Abba Eban and even Golda Meir and Shimon Peres.

The new establishment pundits are media parasites armed with tricks, but with little or no capacity to connect to the real world beyond a soundbite. They speak like mercenaries and commandos, not like generals or statesmen.

Israel’s oldies concocted foresights out of charades, made violence into benevolence, and built compelling arguments for Israel’s policies including its wars and expansion.

Diplomats like Abba Eban spoke ten languages, authored several books, and wrote unforgettable (and unforgivable) speeches that promoted Israel’s aggression. 

It’s said that Ben Gurion, who had some doubts about the wisdom of Israel’s participation in the 1956 attack on Egypt, became convinced of his own decision to go to war only after hearing Eban’s speech at the UN.  

Eban, who delivered another skilful speech after the 1967 war, is the same diplomat who later admitted that “diplomats go abroad to lie for their country.”  

Yes, so do the spokesmen: They go to the media to lie for their country. Except in this case they lie to cover up war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Can’t fool everyone

When Israel’s new spokesmen say, “We don’t have anything against the people of Gaza; they’re not our enemies,” one wonders what else they could do to their enemies.

The Israel establishment has long mastered the right way of doing wrong. Nowadays, it does bad things badly. 

Alas, it can always bank on peoples’ short memories and the media’s even shorter historical retention.

But we’ve been here before; they’ve done the same before – demonising Hamas and dehumanising the Palestinian people.

To refresh your memory, just type Gaza 2009 on your web link and you’ll stumble on more of the same unsubstantiated allegations, deceptions and half-truths.

You’ll read “we don’t target schools”; “we bombed the UN school because they were shooting from it”; “we don’t use white phosphorus”, and more statements that were investigated and proved false.

 You’ll recall how Israel’s “we don’t target civilians” allegation led to thousands of civilians casualties, and how the claim, “we shall investigate” this or that crime never actually leads to any arrests; in fact such investigations rarely touch the military establishment or political echelon.

And here they go again! Making more of the same false claims they made during the previous rendezvous with Gaza: This war is not against the Palestinians; it’s against the terrorist organisation – its rockets and tunnels; it’s to defeat Hamas. 

And the result also will be more of the same: more than 1800 dead, suffering, economy destroyed, civic infrastructure in ruins, all the while Hamas grows stronger, even more popular and more capable.

In reality, not even the most skilled spokesman can outsmart a dying child, a weeping father or grieving sister. 

As Israeli politicians just cannot fool everyone all the time. Well, except, the fools and those who want to be fooled.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.