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Anti-flotilla videos: don't believe the hype

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 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.


Self-contradicting, non-thorough? This is not like you Bill W!

While I acknowledge certain truths of your concluding paragraph, your rationale is problematic.

You say, "Like this one, in which people represented as a 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)."

Why is this information not listed in your web page on Middle East antisemitism, if you question whether it has actually been said? Have you taken the time to have it translated by someone you trust? Is Middle East antisemitism an critical aspect of these conflicts, in your opinion? Will you be developing this section of your website?

Last year's flotilla is relevant to this year's flotilla, and the background is important as long as the date it occurred and other info are reported accurately.

You are right that there are well-intentioned people on these flotillas - not everyone violently hates Jews and many are there to earnestly advocate for peace, safety, and the humanity of the Palestinians.

Thank you for covering the important points and angles, whether or not I agree with your interpretations. When will you actually ask a Zionist what they believe?? Where is your definition of a Zionist on your website? I could not find it in your about page.


Neither self-contradicting nor non-thorough.

It is precisely because the "information" in the MEMRI link doesn't come from a reliable source that this is a post about MEMRI's problematic propaganda rather than one about "Middle East antisemitism." We have certainly noted (see before that the Palestine solidarity movement needs to take responsibility for actual anti-Semitism within its ranks. How many other voices on the left are saying this? Precisely none, as far as we can tell.

Background on last year's flotilla is relevant to the flotilla movement generally, but: a.) there certainly hasn't been any paucity of coverage of IHH's problematic politics; and b.) failing to make the distinction between IHH and the US Boat to Gaza is either sloppy or dishonest or both.

Additionally, in facing up to IHH's problematic politics, it is very important not to play into a blame-the victim argument that legitimizes Israel's murderous raid on the Mavi Marmara.

Even if we are to take MEMRI's representation of last year's flotilla as accurate (and I counsel caution here), I have seen no evidence whatsoever of Jew-hatred by the organizers of the US Boat to Gaza. And I assume MEMRI hasn't either, or else they would be flaunting it. The fact that they are relying on year-old footage speaks volumes.

Zionism is the ideology and program of the Jewish colonization of Palestine. What Zionists "believe" is clear from their words and actions. Do you mean to imply that we are misrepresenting Zionism?

this is a disappointingly

this is a disappointingly weak response bill, all around. please ask zionists what they believe and their opinions of israeli policies, but please do so without lacing your questions with antisemitic tones in order to receive a clear answer. this would be honest investigative reporting. the people i know who self-identify as zionists actually fit your definition of post-zionism, and i really hope you can bring your information to a universal language, which will make your website much more useful for building peace and unity rather than contributing to the polarizations. please do develop your coverage of antisemitism in the middle east- should be easy as memri's clips offer sources for your to research even if you dont agree with memri's cherrypicking. even if memri's translations are slightly off, the content is extremely violent and bigoted - this type of hate speech i cannot ever imagine on network television in the usa despite racism inherent in american opinion. please provide more concrete evidence against these clips, i will be so relieved if they are simple exaggerations. blessings, greendoula

Unintentional irony

I find your response almost hilariously ironic. I don't see you asking Islamists "what they believe." Instead you seem to be relying on the most jaundiced of sources, MEMRI, to inform you what Islamists say and think.

I absolutely refute your charge of "antisemtic tones." I challenge you to specifically point out what verbiage you are referring to.

If your Zionist friends are actually post-Zionist, and support Israel's evolution into a secular state with equal rights for all, and an end to the project of Jewish colonization, I wonder why they call themselves Zionists. I encourage you to bring them into the debate, either by pointing them to this website, or pointing me to theirs.

Polarization isn't always a bad thing. In an atmosphere of obfuscation and accommodation of oppression, polarization can clear the air in a salubrious way.

Let's assume MEMRI's portrayal of the 2010 flotilla activists is accurate (for the sake of argument). Why do you seem to have greater outrage for their extremist rhetoric than for Israel's extremist ACTIONS—the deadly attack on the flotilla, and the siege of Gaza itself?

Once again, a tactic of distraction. Please do not be complicit with oppression by playing along with it.

im not saying that all islam

im not saying that all islam believes these outrageous statements. even if they are only slightly accurate translations on memri, do you think they appear to be people in leadership positions actively threatening and organizing violence against jews? if this were so, would the jews in israel and around the world have a reason to fear? would it play into palestine-israel politics? would it belong in your middle east antisemitism news page?

i am not saying any of this justifies israeli institutional violence against palestinians. i want to know whether these types of rants about wiping out jews are really on mainstream television, on network news in arab countries, as they appear to be on memri. if its not true at all, i need some proof. otherwise we need to address memri's allegations.

and I'm not saying that's what you're saying

I'm not saying that you are "saying that all islam believes these outrageous statements." I am merely pointing out your double standard: You challenge me to "actually ask a Zionist what they believe," yet you rely on MEMRI to tell you what Islamists believe.

I saw nothing in the MEMRI clips that indicated anyone was "actively threatening and organizing violence against jews," much less anyone in "leadership positions." I saw unseemly chanting about the Battle of Khaybar from rank-and-file participants in last year's flotilla, and assorted impotent hate-spewing (if the translations are accurate) from self-appointed representatives of the flotilla movement in various Arab countries. I would hardly call Hamas' al-Aqsa TV "mainstream television."

You seem to be demanding "proof" of a negative. I say the burden of proof is on you (and MEMRI) to demonstrate that such voices are routine on "mainstream" Arab TV.

No, I'm not going to line up with MEMRI by displaying such ugliness in pornographic style as "proof" of Arab anti-Semitism (which is nearly an oxymoron, if you stop and think about it). I portrayed this controversy in what I feel is the appropriate context—a dishonest and manipulative propaganda campaign to discredit the flotilla movement.

Hamas MP: Jews Brought to Palestine for the "Great Massacre" ???

What about this leader, member of Palestinian Parliament on Gaza TV, translated on Memri:

How do you contextualize this information, allegedly coming from a person in a leadership position? I want to know if its real, then how do you interpret it? How does it play into the politics? Does it belong in your Middle East Antisemitism newspage?

What do you want me to say?

It is ugly rhetoric (if the translation is accurate). How do I "contextualize" it? I'd start with Operation Cast Lead, in which Israel actually did carry out a massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, rather than just "threaten" to. In this "context," vengeful and hateful rhetoric from Palestinian leaders is rather an inevitability.

Here's some more such pornography for you:

A part of the Israeli-Palestinian pathology is that each side is only concerned with the extremists on the other side, and takes no responsibility for those within its own ranks. Maybe more Palestinians and Arabs would speak up against this Yunis al-Astal rascal if more Israelis and Jews would speak up against Avigdor Lieberman. So where is your outrage for Avigdor Lieberman?

i do object to racism against

i do object to racism against arabs, and i do call it out when i see and hear it, in any direction. lieberman is an embarrassment. when i look at the vid i shared and the vid you shared, tho, it looks like one leader is spouting hatred and threatening massive destruction against jewish people and the jewish leader's response is to threaten the terrorism being espoused.

I am not following

Avigdor Lieberman was not responding in his threatening way to the Hamas extremoid in the MEMRI video. He was responding to an Arab MK, Ahmed Tibi, who apparently said that "Hezbollah captured soldiers because of Israeli foolishness." That is hardly " threatening massive destruction against jewish people."

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