A blond American reporter stands in the middle of a Gaza street. “As you can see, the people here are trying to live quiet lives. There are no terrorists here, just ordinary people,” he says, as a masked terrorist is seen launching a rocket right behind him. Seconds later, having been blown up in the previous scene, the same reporter is standing in “Gaza’s underground city,” “a fascinating attempt by Hamas to build a subway system,” as other militants are seen carrying weapons and advancing in Israel’s direction. Only after he praises Palestinian society as “liberal and pluralistic,” while Hamas militants are seen kidnapping a gay man, does the female narrator finally step in and tells him to “open your eyes.”
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This is an actual cartoon YouTube video released by the Foreign Ministry this week. Amazingly enough, the video is official pro-Israel propaganda (“hasbara,” as it is called in Hebrew), part of Israel’s official efforts to combat the forthcoming UN report on last summer’s 2014 conflict with Gaza — Operation Protective Edge — which is widely expected to be critical of Israel’s repeated claims that it did its best to minimize civilian casualties.
What’s missing from the video? Hundreds of dead Palestinian citizens, including children, who, yes, were trying to “live quiet lives” before getting killed in Israeli assaults on Gaza during last summer’s war. Also missing: the total devastation of Gaza, which seems oddly quaint in the video, complete with palm trees and everything that has happened since.
As befitting of a video mocking the foreign press, and by extension the rest of the world, the Foreign Ministry’s video caused a bit of a stir in Israel, and led to the usual amount of astonishment and condemnations. The Foreign Press Association, a group representing foreign correspondents in Israel, was outraged.
To be fair, it’s not that the foreign press doesn’t deserve to be criticized for its often misleading coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It often misrepresents reality, ignores important trends, and tends to take a patronizing Orientalist approach to the conflict (as it does to much of the rest of the Middle East).
But the point of this video wasn’t to convince the foreign press of the errors of its ways. No one responsible for this video could have made it with the intention of actually convincing anybody to change his or her mind: It’s insulting, belittling and is in very bad taste. (It’s hard to look at this shoddy video and not be reminded that Israel currently has no full-time Foreign Minister — it has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially holding the title for himself, while a slew of ministers and Likud MKs squabble over the different responsibilities usually attached to the Foreign Ministry.)
Could this video help Israel in its attempts to improve its global image? Of course not. The point of this, as with other recent moves by Israeli politicians, is internal: to indulge and amuse the right wing, which responded favorably to the video on social media and is convinced that the government “is telling the world how it is.”
Indeed, after giving up on attempting to solve the conflict, Israel now appears to have also given up on trying to convince the world it is right – a video like this is not meant to change international opinion, just to mock the world for not concurring with its interpretation of reality. Whereas once there was an attempt to persuade, now there’s open mockery. If once there was an effort to present a friendly, approachable face, to show the world another face of Israel — a booming, liberal Middle Eastern oasis, a start-up nation surrounded by desert, threatened by the reactionary forces of radical Islam — now there’s something else: a mean-spirited, juvenile smirk.
Propaganda like this embodies the inside of Israel’s current echo chamber, where belief in Israel’s moral superiority is reinforced and amplified with every repetition of the same tired cliches, where there is no room for opposing views, where dissent is either ignored, censored or mocked. This is what the inside of the prison cell Israel currently finds itself in looks like, as it faces growing international isolation: a bad joke that only a few get.