Israel Uses Social Media To Defend Its Assault On Gaza

The current Israeli onslaught against Gaza contains many echoes of the assault four years ago. In one regard, however, it is clear that Israel learned some lessons from its experience with “Operation Cast Lead” and is applying it to “Operation Pillar of Defense.” Those lessons are reflected in Israel’s use of social media to spread its “hasbara” (Hebrew for propaganda).

The spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has been tweeting for years a consistent stream of reports of thwarted terrorist attacks, pictures of sexualized female IDF soldiers, reports of the many tons of goods allowed into Gaza and almost daily reports of the million or more Israelis living under constant threat of Hamas rockets. Now, Facebook and the IDF blog have been shifted into overdrive, with some rather shocking new features.

There have been, for some time, various programs offering tourists to Israel the opportunity to play as an IDF soldier at various sites in the country. Now, there’s a new game to help urge people to promote IDF hasbara, IDF Ranks. The idea is that you go to various pages, you like them on Facebook or you tweet a page and you help the IDF get its message out. In essence, a virtual army of supporters on the internet.

Here’s how the game is described: “IDF Ranks is an interactive game, directly implemented into all of the IDF’s social platforms allowing YOU to be a virtual part of the IDF.” It’s participants are told that: “Your every action — commenting, liking, sharing and even just visiting — rewards your efforts, as well as helps spread the truth about the Israeli army all over the world.”

The light-hearted air emanating from the game stands in stark contrast to the news reports, even those from the IDF Spokesperson herself, about the fighting.

The IDF Twitter feed has been an opportunity for tough talk, such as this:

@IDFSpokesperson We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.

And it warns away journalists like this:

@IDFSpokesperson Warning to reporters in Gaza: Stay away from Hamas operatives & facilities. Hamas, a terrorist group, will use you as human shields.

One might wonder how a reporter is supposed to report from Gaza if they don’t encounter any governmental officials or facilities.

The IDF blog has a “rocket counter” to enumerate the number of rockets launched at Israel and a graphic as to where they have hit. It also has a very telling page about how the IDF avoids harm to civilians.

What is revealing about this page is that it is an almost verbatim repetition of what Israel put out during Operation Cast Lead four years ago. Indeed, it generally references practices used in that attack, including dropping leaflets, pinpoint targeting, tapping rooftops (a low level bomb dropped on a roof that would cause minimal damage and warn those inside that a real bomb was coming), and automated phone calls. As anyone with knowledge of Gaza pointed out at the time, the densely populated Strip offered nowhere for civilians to run when attacks came. Israel is of course well aware of this, which indicates that most of these methods are meant to provide deniability more than protect civilians.

But the online blitz doesn’t stop with the IDF. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a large international organization with a $100 million budget, circulated the following picture on Facebook:

Caption: An Israeli soldier wearing tefillin, which are worn by religious Jews during morning prayers, while he holds his firearm and talks with his commander.

This picture is given the following description: “This awesome photo shows the true strength of the Israeli Army! This soldier’s right hand connects him to his commander, his left to his Creator. “For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.”

Might we stop to wonder how most westerners would react if this was an obviously devout Muslim holding a Koran and a rifle? And how chilling would those words feel to most Western Christians and Jews if it was describing a Muslim with a quote from the Koran, instead of an Orthodox Jew and a quote from the Torah?

All of this comes as a reaction to what Israel realizes was an absolute disaster for their standing in many US citizen and non-Israeli Jews’ eyes: Operation Cast Lead. Despite US scuttling, the Goldstone Report — commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council — severely criticized Israel (Hamas as well, though the wide disparity in the capacity to damage resulted in a spotlight on Israeli actions), and the massive devastation of the onslaught sat poorly with many.

This time around, Israeli leaders met with foreign officials beforehand and laid out plans for communicating their view. Thus far, as well, the devastation of Gaza, bad as it has been, has not yet approached the levels of Cast Lead, especially in terms of loss of life.

Yet media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a staunch right-wing supporter of extreme Israeli policies, lamented in a tweet (since deleted and retracted) “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” And the ever repugnant Alan Dershowitz, who will misrepresent the law as far as he can to defend any and all Israeli actions bemoans the “…media and international community’s failure to distinguish between the Israeli military and Hamas terrorists.”

As of now, it looks like Israel is reluctant to engage in a ground offensive this time around. The latest calculation by the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, confirms 41 civilian deaths out of 105 in Gaza at the time they issued their statement yesterday. That is a much lower total and a slightly better ratio than Cast Lead, where B’Tselem catalogued 1,390 dead in Gaza, of whom 759 were civilians. Perhaps this, as much as the greater attention to Israeli hasbara, can be attributed to the world watching these events in a way it could not before.

But it is hard to get past the gaming and the fiery rhetoric we see across social media supporting Israeli action today. It is further evidence, though, of Israel’s alienation from the liberal values that motivate much of the international community, as well as the international Jewish community. In the long term, that may help, despite the fact that political obfuscation and powerful lobbying continue to allow the bombing of a besieged population in Gaza.

Who’s Afraid of a Palestinian State?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apparently cozied up even further to the Republican Party, if that is possible. He has been invited by the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives to speak at a joint session of Congress next month. It is widely expected that Netanyahu will use the speechto lay out some further steps toward an agreement with the Palestinians and to counter an expected speech from President Barack Obama that is expected to lay out an American plan to restart stalled peace negotiations.

Netanyahu may be worrying that Obama might hang up on him

As usual, the dance here is between the Americans and Israelis, with the Palestinians doing their own waltz solo on the sidelines. But there is a difference this time. The Palestinian two-step is heading in the direction of the United Nations and a proposed vote in September in the General Assembly on recognizing an independent state of Palestine.

There’s a lot to be said about this issue. It is a big gamble on the part of the Palestinians. It is not doubted that such a resolution will have a clear majority of support in the GA. But the real question is whether it will have the support of Europe and even the United States. It is the prospect of the latter that have many on Capitol Hill, both in the government and in the role of lobbyists, shifting into high gear to act on the will of the Israeli right.

How panicked? Well, as I recently reported here, there will be legislation in both houses of Congress to try to push an anti-UN agenda, based on the recent op-ed by Richard Goldstone. Well, consider the words of one Congress member, Joe Walsh (R-IL), who introduced the legislation in the House. This is from a “Dear Colleague” letter he circulated to other members in advance of his introduction of the resolution:

What is worse, the United Nations may use the Goldstone Report as justification to officially recognize a Palestinian state, which could place Israel in the position of occupying lands belonging to a sovereign state and member of the United Nations.  Yet, Goldstone’s confession confirms that the United Nations lacks the moral authority for such a declaration.

So let’s start with the first part, where Walsh seems to be virtually screaming in terror at the very prospect of recognition of a Palestinian state. This bears some examination. Continue reading

New Senate Letter on Goldstone

I’ve pasted below the text of a letter circulating in the Senate right now, one that is very likely to garner the signatures of many, even most of the Senate for the resolution it discusses. (Note: see here an article regarding similar legislation in the House)

This is just more fallout from Richard Goldstone’s irresponsible Washington Post op-ed. But we should also understand that this question goes well beyond Israel. The Goldstone Report, despite whatever flaws it might have, had the potential to be a major step forward in accountability.

The United States, as the world’s leading military power (and all the more so because it is rapidly losing ground economically to its competitors) has little interest in an international system of accountability. In that sense, Israel is sort of the vanguard in that battle against accountability. Israel will fight the fight on the front line, with US backing.

Thus, the attack on the Goldstone Report, reinvigorated by Goldstone’s own op-ed, is not only about Israel’s ability to attack Gaza with impunity and maintain its occupation without fear of repercussion, but also about the USA ensuring that the world continues on a “might makes right” basis. It is that system which international law threatens.

Here is the text of the Senate letter. I had hoped to be able to move on to other issues by now, but, as Al Pacino once put it, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Continue reading

Last Words on The Goldstone Op-Ed Fiasco

Lots of words have now been spent on the op-ed by Richard Goldstone of last Friday, and I have been one of the worst consumers. I’m hoping this is the last of my spillage on a matter that does more to show how absurd the politics around Israel-Palestine are than anything else.

The Associated Press reported today of what some call Goldstone’s flip-flop of his flip-flop. But it was never so. As I pointed out, the Report overstated a case regarding Israeli intent to target civilians, Goldstone then stated that Israel’s investigations “indicate” that such was not the case, and now he’s saying that nothing in his current view

White phosphorous raining down in Gaza during Cast Lead. This is what need attention, not Richard Goldstone

means that the original report should be nullified, in part or whole.

In fact, all of that is internally consistent. But it doesn’t play that way in the heated realm of Israel-Palestine politics.

Human rights groups have already made their statements, including one by Human Rights Watch and another today in the same Washington Post as Goldstone by my former boss, Jessica Montell of B’Tselem.

I’m ending here with comments on two other pieces by two guys, both friends and colleagues.

The first is Jerry Haber at the Magnes Zionist. Jerry and I have had a bit of back and forth parsing words in the Goldstone report and the op-ed. I think we agree on the most essential point, though—that whatever the Report said or didn’t say or Goldstone said or didn’t say on the matter of intentionality, the level of destruction in Gaza, both of civilian lives and of homes and other civilian property, merits serious investigation. Even without intent to specifically target civilians (which Goldstone merely says is no longer “indicated” and that still means it should be investigated), the central question still is whether proper safeguards to prevent harming civilians were in place. I think Jerry agrees with me that such investigation is still lacking.

But Jerry also says this in his blog piece posted earlier today: Continue reading

Radical Extremists Jump On the Goldstone Op-ed

Not surprisingly, the radical extremists at NGO Monitor and many others are jumping on the op-ed by Richard Goldstone to “prove” that human rights groups, and others, who have been calling for investigations into Israel’s conduct in Operation Cast Lead should retract their claims.

Goldstone essentially said two things of substance in his op-ed: that Israel has done a lot more than Hamas, which has done nothing, to investigate Cast Lead, and this is certainly true, though it might be damning with faint praise; and that Israel did not target civilians as a matter of policy.

Goldstone gets in more trouble the more he talks

To be sure, there are those who did take the Goldstone Report as conclusive proof that Israel targeted civilians intentionally. But here is what I wrote on November 16, 2009:

More overreaching can be seen in Goldstone’s flat statement that Israel, as a matter of policy, targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. Indeed, it is true that the pattern of destruction he cites in his report raises this very disturbing question. But that’s all it does—raise it. Goldstone makes a flat judgment without proving his case, or even substantially supporting it. He’s a prosecutor by trade; he has to know better than that.

B’Tselem, referring to that same accusation, said, on October 19, 2009:

…the mission’s conclusions regarding Israel’s overall objectives in carrying out the operation were not sufficiently supported by facts arising from the mission’s research.

Human Rights Watch also reiterated that the original Report did not support a conclusion of Israel intentionally targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Not surprisingly, the fanatics at NGO Monitor chose not to name a single instance of an NGO leveling the accusation of intentionality that was alluded to in the Goldstone Report. Continue reading