The Internet has certainly been abuzz with viral video campaigns aimed at delegitimizing the latest Gaza flotilla. Nearly all are intellectually dishonest—and some have the distinct whiff of Israeli intelligence propaganda operations.
One particularly egregious case was even noted by the New York Times' The Lede blog on June 27:
A YouTube video featuring a man who presented himself as an American gay rights activist disillusioned with the latest Gaza flotilla campaign has been exposed as a hoax.
The man in the video, who introduced himself to viewers as Marc and claimed that the organizers of the latest flotilla of ships bound for Gaza had rejected his offer to mobilize a network of gay activists in support of their cause, was identified as Omer Gershon, a Tel Aviv actor involved in marketing, by the Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian Web site...
Just hours after the supposedly homemade video was uploaded to YouTube on Thursday, Benjamin Doherty of the Electronic Intifada pointed out that it had suspiciously high production values — most obviously, lights and what is known as B-roll — and was attributed to an activist calling himself Marc Pax, who seemed to have no other online presence.
While it remains unclear who produced the video, and Mr. Gershon has not responded to a request for comment, bloggers were quick to point out that people in three different Israeli government offices promoted it on Twitter soon after it was posted online.
Gee, way smooth, guys. This is an example of what Palestine solidarity activists call "pink-washing." As a Salon blog put it in its coverage of the hoax:
The term refers to efforts by the Israeli government and its allies to highlight the rights afforded to the gay community in Israel -- and the plight of gays in Arab countries and the Palestinian territories -- to distract from or justify the continued occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza.
Less imaginative if hardly less insidious are the standard activities of the odious Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which purports to "bridge the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, Urdu-Pashtu, and Turkish media." Except that far from "bridging gaps" in understanding, MEMRI cherry-picks for the most egregious examples of extremist propaganda and rhetoric, presenting them to the exclusion of all other media voices in the Muslim world. The clear aim is to keep Jews around the world in a state of fear, and derail the debate from why there is so much anger at Israel for demagogues to exploit.
MEMRI's translations may not even be that trustworthy. AlJazeera writes July 2:
MEMRI is a source for journalists that do not understand Arabic, but because they do not understand Arabic, they cannot validate the source. When you consider that the source is the brainchild of a former Israeli intelligence officer and has been caught selectively translating Arabic broadcasts that would reflect negatively on the Muslim world, the problem increases ten-fold.
This claim is backed up by SourceWatch, which reports:
Yigal Carmon, MEMRI's founder, is a former advisor on terrorism to the Israeli Prime Ministers, Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin, so he actually worked for both Labor and Likud governments. Praise for MEMRI should be taken with a grain of salt since it is almost always motivated by politics, not the quantity or quality of MEMRI's work.
Naming specific instances in which MEMRI misrepresented Arabic-language media through inaccurate translations and clever editing, SourceWatch also notes that MEMRI threatened to sue Juan Cole for (among other things) making the obvious assertion that it cherry-picks for "pieces that cast Arabs...in a negative light."
But all of this is actually beside the central point, because MEMRI and the freelance Internet activists who amplify its efforts are certainly dishonest in far more blatant ways. Go to the lugubrious page that MEMRI has assembled dedicated to the flotilla controversy, and check out the video clips now being e-mailed around by animated partisans as evidence that the Gaza flotilla is a hotbed of Jew-hatred. Nearly all of the video clips are over a year old—made in reference to last year's ill-fated flotilla. Like this one, in which people represented as flotilla participants chant "Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the Army of Muhammad will return" (a reference to the 628 Battle of Khaybar, in which the Prophet Muhammed defeated local Jews who opposed him). Or this one, in which the Algerian delegation leader to the 2010 flotilla rails to Hamas' al-Aqsa TV about his "hatred" for the Jews (if the translation is to be trusted).
Now, it isn't any great secret that the Turkish-based Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) that played a leading role in the 2011 flotilla is of an Islamist bent. In contrast, the lead ship in the current flotilla, in which US activists are taking the lead, is called The Audacity of Hope—implicitly, and seemingly without much intentional irony, invoking the leader of the Free World, who happens to be avidly bombing Islamist militants (and civilians who get in the way) in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Decidedly not a hotbed of Jew-haitng Islamists.
More to the point still—Does ugly rhetoric from flotilla activists mean that the siege of Gaza is OK, and shouldn't be opposed? If the MEMRI fan club thinks the siege of Gaza is OK, it should make the case honestly—and go argue with the United Nations. Otherwise, pointing to extremist rhetoric is just an attempt to change the subject.