The fascinating "Insider's View" presented by the prime minister's foreign media adviser, Mark Regev, was one of many interesting talks by prominent people at Esra's 30th anniversary function.
Regev rightly cautioned against blaming all unflattering reports about Israel on hostility or bias and stressed the media’s duty to question government actions critically, not only in Israel, but wherever they work. He emphasized that, as an imperfect society, we make mistakes and that when we do so we should unhesitatingly admit them, while taking pride in the fact that, unlike N. Korea and other dictatorships, Israel is an open society. He expressed pride in the fact that our own media are unhesitatingly and often fiercely critical of Israel, even though their reports and views are widely quoted abroad.
In response to a question from the audience, Regev replied that he is fully aware of the widely distributed video clip "Pallywood". (For those readers unfamiliar with it, I strongly recommend that you view it on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/ooegv ).
The word Pallywood was coined by Boston University Professor Richard Landes to denote the Palestinian Hollywood that successfully dupes foreign media by filming fake scenes of non-existent Israeli crimes disguised as news. Among many examples of faking Landes showed a scene of the supposed body of a dead Palestinian victim inadvertently falling off a stretcher and climbing on again, unaided. By the way, Richard is a valued member of the international Israel advocacy coalition, CoHaV, about which I will write separately in a future edition
Readers will surely recall the disturbing images that were shown around the world of twelve year old Muhammad al-Dura and his father, crouching next to a barrel during an exchange of fire between Israelis and Palestinians at the Netzarim junction. France 2 TV reported that the boy was killed by Israeli fire. Phillipe Karsenty, owner of a French Media Ratings company, claimed that al-Dura's death had been staged and accused France 2 of using doctored images for propaganda purposes.
France 2 sued Karsenty and won but Karsenty appealed and Landes and the Pallywood film played a crucial role in the successful result of the Paris appeals court decision last May in which Karsenty was eventually found not guilty of slandering France 2.
In the circumstances one must ask why we have to rely on volunteer private initiatives like those of Professor Landes and many other volunteer pro-Israel activists to perform this kind of active defense against the massive anti-Israel propaganda onslaught that should be undertaken by the foreign ministry.
We are left wondering too, why the government of Israel failed to support Karsenty in his legal battle with France 2. He is on record as having complained that the lack of support by the Israel government made things difficult for him.
While endorsing Mr. Regev’s emphasis on the media's duty to be critical, it is all too obvious that in a great many cases, media such as the BBC and the Guardian go beyond legitimate criticism. They abuse press freedom by disseminating misinformation and by using misleading headlines, in contravention of journalistic ethics.
And while agreeing with Regev’s view that we should readily admit to genuine mistakes, surely the time has come to put a gag on generals and politicians who hastily admit to sins we did not commit, for example, our immediate acceptance of guilt in the Al Dura affair, in the Jenin disaster and in the Gaza beach incident. One wonders, too, why government officials announced to the world that we would prevent the Gaza Freedom ship from landing and we then permitted it to land. Would it not have been wiser to remain silent?
Unfortunately, Regev’s view about a growing better understanding of Israel in Europe appears to be over-optimistic. The facts indicate the opposite. Take for example the thirteen members of European parliaments aboard the Gaza Freedom ship. We certainly cannot afford to be complacent in view of the alarming growth of anti-Israel activism in academia worldwide and the impending Durban 2 conference.
When one examines the well-funded, highly professional and hugely successful anti-Israel propaganda conducted in mainstream media as well as on the web, one wonders when our government will realize that the information war is as important as the military war. To gauge their effectiveness I suggest that readers look at any of the hundreds of anti-Israel web sites. The Electronic Intifada to be found at http://electronicintifada.net/ is a good example. Browsing among the links in the right hand navigation bar one cannot but be impressed by the persuasive human appeal and user friendliness that attracts up to 750,000 visitors per month, features that official Israeli sites would do well to emulate.