Monday, July 16, 2012

Israel, Palestine and the meaning of "complexity"

A few years ago, some friends and I were working on a series of posters to hang in San Francisco buses.  The project faltered for a number of reasons, but one of them was that we couldn’t agree on the design.

The one I liked best was this one:

A public relations consultant we talked to nixed anything using maps.  She said they were too dry.  She recommended using pictures of people, especially women and kids, and the women should not wear head coverings.

As I said, we dropped the project, and I started doing more freestyle postering with other friends.  But a couple years ago, Friends of Sabeel, a Christian-based group working for a just peace, started running a series of ads in Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations.  The main message of the Sabeel ads is “End U.S. Military Aid to Israel” and that’s supported by pictures of Palestinians and Israelis saying, “Be On Our Side.”  Some of the pictures include kids and most are of women.  Most of the women are not wearing head-coverings.

The whole idea of putting ads in transit came about because a group called BlueStar PR had several years ago purchased a series of ads in BART stations and trains promoting various versions of the familiar message that Israel’s the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.  When the Sabeel ads began to appear, the Zionist publicity machine reacted as if it was unprecedented and condemned BART for allowing them.  BlueStar’s more aggressive cousin, Stand With Us, countered with a new campaign of their own.  The first design, which showed two “hate-filled eyes” peering out of a kaffiyye, was criticized for being racist imagery.  BART agreed to take those down and told SWU that they needed to come up with a design that didn’t use cultural symbols in offensive ways.

Now a group in New York, who apparently did not listen to any PR consultants, has posted ads in several northern subway stations. 

The Jewish-Zionist establishment is trying to get those ads censored.  Reports a local Gannett newspaper:
Provocative poster advertisements showing shrinking Palestinian land in Israel that are on display at Metro-North Railroad platforms have alarmed leaders in the Jewish community who are concerned they could lead to acts of hate.
“This is anti-Semitic because when people think of Jews they think of the Jewish state,” said Dovid Efune, editor of the Manhattan-based Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner. “Jews have seen this happen so many times. It always starts with messaging that says Jews are committing a crime.”
The ads, which show a succession of shrinking Palestinian territory in four maps and contain a headline saying that 4.7 million Palestinians are classified as refugees by the United Nations, were paid for by an 84-year-old ex-Wall Street financier who lives in Connecticut.
“If the facts are inflammatory, then they are inflammatory,” said Henry Clifford, chairman of a 10-member group called the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine.

Well said, Mr. Clifford.  I always find it incredible that the people who work so hard to create the association between Israel and Jewishness then want to claim that you can’t criticize Israel because people associate it with Jews.  It’s not like people are showing pictures of Bugsy Siegel (though interestingly, I don’t remember any pickets of Warren Beatty’s house).

If you don’t want people to think Jews steal land, stop supporting the people who are stealing it.
But it’s interesting that ads featuring smiling Palestinians and Israelis produce counter-narratives, and the dry ones with the map are the ones they want to censor.  Maybe because you can’t argue with a map.  Not that people don’t try.

“‘It’s a deception, because what was marked as Palestine was inhabited by Jews for the past thousands of years,’ said Klein, a Somers internist.”  

 This is nearly identical to discussions I had with family friends during my recent visit to Richmond.  Now that’s true.  No one is disputing that the area was “inhabited by Jews.”  But the implication is that it was inhabited primarily or solely by Jews, and that’s obviously false.  The population numbers, 600,000 Jews and 1.2 million Palestinian Arabs at the time of the UN Partition, are not disputed, though Zionists conveniently don’t recall or acknowledge that the large majority of those 600,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine after 1930 – in 1914, the Jewish population was 60,000, 7.5% of the total population of nearly 800,000.

An article in Jewish Week quotes Ron Meier, New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, as saying, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely complex and cannot be summarized in a series of four maps.”

A couple months ago, I watched Connie Field’s extraordinary five-part documentary, “Have You Heard From Johannesburg,” on public television.  (The series is actually seven parts, but only five were selected for broadcast and those were shortened to fit the one-hour format.)  A man who was high up in the South African government was interviewed extensively.  He was responsible for coming up with a plan to counter the growing international consensus against apartheid and the international boycott.  He concluded that what he needed to do was convince people how “complex” the situation was.  To further this goal, the South African government bought controlling shares in U.S. media and arranged to bring white businesspeople from the U.S. and Europe on junkets to South Africa.

The Jewish Community Relations Council has for years been running “Beyond the headlines” tours of Israel for U.S. local politicians and community leaders.
“They’re in-depth study tours,” said JCRC associate director Abby Michelson Porth, who co-led a trip in March. “[They] expose ... opinion leaders to Israel beyond the headlines, with all the nuances and complexities. We expose them to their professional counterparts and to the issues they care most about.” 
When talking to the cameras, at a remove of more than twenty years, this South African ex-official drawled out the word “complex” with a big smile.  Ultimately, the international community realized that the situation wasn’t all that complex.  Discrimination was discrimination, and if we didn’t support it at home – or claimed we didn’t – we couldn’t tolerate it there.

Some day the U.S. public will not be misled by claims about how “complex” the map of Palestine is either.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting posting and great comparison and contrast. The maps are not "dry"; they are tremendously revealing and informative.