Many people throughout the world have been horrified by the Israeli armed forces’ bombardment of Gaza in recent weeks. Numerous civilians, including over four hundred children, have been killed and there have been worldwide protests.
Sometimes indignation has spilled over into anti-semitism and this has rightly been condemned. Reputable newspapers would, one would hope, reject an ad which played on stereotypes of Jews, including using clichéd visual images.
But other dehumanising clichés are still in vogue. "Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn", declares the heading of this ad.
To readers, this sets up a contrast between one set of people, who are civilised, and another, morally primitive set who do not care even about their own children. However, despite the racial and religious subtext, the advertisers – This World: The Values Network, headed by 'media rabbi' Shmuley Boteach – are sophisticated enough to claim to respect for moderate Muslims.
“I call upon President Obama and the leaders of the world to condemn Hamas’ use of children as human shields,” reads a quote from Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Laureate, pictured looking sombre. However the image that dominates the page is at the top. It is an Arab veiled, or masked, in black, wearing a headband with what appears to be Arabic lettering, maybe a quote from the Qur'an, with what looks like a rocket launcher on his shoulder.
The image fits neatly with Hollywood stereotypes of Arabs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi1ZNEjEarw): culturally alien, violent, cruel. And the fact that the war is about defence of “western civilisation”, which apparently started with Abraham, is emphasised. Hamas are likened to both the Nazis throwing Jewish children into the fire during the Holocaust (of which Wiesel is a survivor) and ancient worshippers of Moloch sacrificing children.
Hamas is attacked for “the dark future” it offers to “Arab children, to be suicide bombers or human shields for rockets.” It continues, “Palestinian parents want a hopeful future for their children, just like Israeli parents do.”
This is in line with the advice in a 2009 booklet by Republican political strategist Dr Frank Luntz for use by those "who are on the front lines of fighting the media war for Israel." According to this secret study, which was leaked to the press, “Persuadables won't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show Empathy for BOTH sides!" One example of an "effective Israeli sound bite" reads: "I particularly want to reach out to Palestinian mothers who have lost their children. No parent should have to bury their child."
However Luntz also explained how to duck awkward questions about Israel’s actions and intentions, so as to create an illusion of being willing to compromise in the quest for peace without actually making concrete commitments.
According to the ad by Wiesel and Boteach, moderate people should stop criticising Israeli soldiers, “whose terrible choice is to fire and risk harming human shields, or hold their fire and risk the death of their loved ones – to the terrorists”.
Hamas has rightly been criticised for firing rockets into residential areas in Israel. But these do little damage due to good defences, including an ‘Iron Dome’ anti-missile system. By early August, just three civilians in Israel had died in the latest round of fighting, compared to mass Palestinian casualties.
Hamas’ many failings may include not always be careful enough about where they fire from but, on many instances, there does not appear to have been any firing in the immediate vicinity when buildings in Gaza were hit. “I saw no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields,” reported BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen.
“I have consistently condemned the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and I have been equally clear that military assets should not be located in densely populated areas. However, I reiterate that actions by one party do not absolve the other party of its obligations under international law,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
She warned, “International law requires application of the principles of distinction between civilians and combatants, and between civilian objects and military objectives; proportionality; and precautions in attack. Any attacks in violation of these principles, on civilians, homes, schools and hospitals, must be condemned, and may amount to war crimes.”
Over 100 Jewish survivors and descendents of survivors of Nazi genocide have also spoken out: “we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to promote blatant falsehoods used to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of nearly 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.”
US support is vital to Israel’s authorities if ongoing destruction is to be funded and UN resolutions blocked, as in the past. The UK government too has been broadly supportive, including selling arms. However the relationship has been strained by the ferocity of the attack on Gaza. It is regrettable that the Guardian has chosen to assist a public relations effort that is offensive in its form and deadly in its potential consequences.
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