Eyeless in Gaza: or Why Israel Always Loses the Propaganda Wars

by NORMAN SIMMS November 30, 2012

Tom Scott, one of the leading political cartoonists in New Zealand, well-known for his dislike of Israel and all it stands for, offered readers of our local newspapers a drawing of a scene of total urban devastation, in the midst of which he placed a sign reading "Peace!"   The implication is, of course, that Israel once again used disproportionate overkill to bomb the poor suffering Palestinians.  It is not just that this distorts and misrepresents the actual events during the recent war between the terrorists in Gaza and the Israeli Air Force trying to curtail the massive daily rain of missiles and rockets on the Jewish state, but another example of wilful blindness on the part of the cartoonist to what constitutes history and geography.  The picture works by evoking humanitarian sympathy for a supposedly innocent, defenceless people against an aggressive, arrogant militarist Zionist entity.  In other words, it is the product of post-modernist ideology.  There are no people in the cartoon but the word peace-shalom-stands out like a sore thumb, a bloody reminder of the ignorance, hatred and cunning that underlies the terrorists' and their sympathisers' intentions.

A few days later, under the headline "'Ivy League' Schools Just a Mouse Click Away," Tom Pullar-Strecker, reporting on MOOCS ("massive openline online courses"), penned these immortal words:

Conference organiser, Massey University professor Mark Brown, said "celebrity" universities such as Harvard and Stanford appeared to be following the same strategy as media and music companies, offering courses free online to grow their "global brands" and in the hope they could monetise them later. (Fairfax, NZ)

Such gobbledegook does a lot more than obfuscate meaning. It turns minds to complete jelly. It also provides insight into how the postmodernistic assault on logic and commonsense works.  The conference, its organizers and participants shows how the standards of higher education give way to slick management concepts, with "information" ("sound bites") replacing, first, knowledge and, second, wisdom.  Again, there is no sense of an intellectual, historical or pedagogical context for these proposed changes-the trick is that prestigious university managers will offer open access to top-quality lectures for a certain period and then, once the so-called consumers (once upon a time they were known as students) are hooked into the system, the tuition fees will begin to be applied ("monetised").  Meanwhile, of course, the interactive human activity of learning is lost (for example, long ago students and professors talked to one another, students met with tutors for one-on-one discussions of their essay, and the whole process of question and answer moved in both directions). 

In this more politically-correct world of digital information and institutionalized self-discipline, however, what is taught is more than just commodified (lectures weighed and measured and put out for sale at so much a slice or an ounce); it has been shifted from a place where professors, tutors and paying-units discuss, analyse and learn from one another to another hierarchical space where the facts are refined (by "celebrity" performers) and presented to the recipients at home (who accept passively and unquestionably because there are no questions to modify and enhance the information offered for sale). 

Bringing these two little newspaper snippets together-the Tom Scott very unfunny and highly offensive political cartoon and the brain-boggling constipated newspaper report from the front page of The Waikato Times-we see the absence of intellectual and historical contexts, questions and therefore of depth of understanding (wisdom).  There is no context for understanding in the cartoon.  The drawing of bombed-out buildings is meant to depict a complete destruction in Gaza, whereas only a very few selected targets were chosen by the Israeli Air Force, precisely those where the rocket and missile attacks on Israel's towns and cities emanated and were coordinated by Hamas officials, including the deliberate acts of perfidy by persons who located their weapons and munitions in schools, hospitals, mosques and apartment dwellings; these acts contrary both to the conventions of warfare and to the moral and spiritual rules of civilized communities conducted by people who have repeatedly said they value death more than life and seek only the total destruction of Israel and its inhabitants (Jewish, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Armenian, Protestant, Bahai, Druze, Muslim and also non-believers). 

There is also no available room for questions as to the veracity or validity of the charges brought against Israel, although many of the images have been proved to be coming from unreliable sources.  What purports to be hospitals, mosques and schools in Gaza actually shows persons and events that occurred in Syria over the past few years of turmoil there, as well as stage-managed enactments of fictional events. These undignified and blatant lies have been broadcast by the major western news media who purchase the pictures and entry for their reporters into the fighting zones on condition that only the Palestinian side will be shown. 

Moreover, whereas the syndicated cartoon implies that Palestinian victims are passive and innocent, it is evident to any objective observer that that Hamas fights as a proxy army for the Iranians, uses weapons brought in from Iran from Egypt and Syria, sometimes also from Col. Gaddafi's old stores in Libya, so that the supposedly asymmetrical situation (Israel as Goliath, Gaza as David) actually should be turned about (small Israel by land and population versus a massive and hostile Ismacist-Arab coalition surrounding it throughout the Middle East). 

By trivializing, ignoring and denying months and years of rocket attacks on southern Israel and only concentrating on the spectacle of the bombings of Gaza, the big networks (CNN, BBC, et al) and the major newspapers (The New York Times, The Guardian, et al) manipulate the postmodernist notions that only the instant of perception matters, that non-Europeans can only be victims never aggressors, that all acts of war are war crimes, while terrorist murders are legitimate moments of defence, that the big narrative is a Eurocentric lie whereas all cries of hate, bigotry and suicidal destruction represent pleas for attention from colonized peoples.  At the same time as it is claimed that a Jewish Lobby controls the media and the inner circles of US foreign policy, the preponderance of news (not just editorial opinion) is slanted against Israel and the governing elites in Washington treat the Jewish state with increased and alarming disdain. 

In the middle of the seventeenth century, John Milton wrote Samson Agonistes, a dramatic poem about the ancient Hebrew strongman Samson who was blinded by his Philistine captors after revealing the secret of his strength to Dalilah the temptress whore of Gaza.  There are many lessons to be learned from this tragic tale of seduction, untoward trust and over-weaning pride.  Gaza is not just any old place in the Middle East, and the history of the current tensions and hostilities goes back hundreds, even thousands of years.  The flashpoints are not sudden and unexpected to which goody-goody solutions of the sentimental moment apply.  Finally, when it was almost too late and the sightless Samson was taken into the great temple-arena of Dagon the fish-headed god of the Philistines, and he was subjected to huge crowds booing and hooting at him in a Festival of Laughter (as the Book of Judges tells us), he made his way to the central columns, felt that the God of righteousness had given him back his powers, he brought the house down on everyone, the huge crowds hanging from the rafters to watch him in derision, and so the joke was on them.  I cannot help but be reminded of that story when I see the television images of Palestinians singing, dancing and handing out sweets at the news when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, or when buses exploded in downtown Jerusalem, and rockets slammed into schools in Sderot and Ashkelon.  I know that their laughter will eventually be stopped and the Festival of Blood become a Celebration of Peace with Justice.

Norman Simms is the author of Alfred Dreyfus: Man, Milieu, Mentality and Midrash (Academic Studies Press, 2011).  The second volume in the series, Alfred Dreyfus: In the Context of His Times: Alfred Dreyfus as Lover, Intellectual, Poet and Jew  (also by Academic Studies Press) was published in July 2013; and the third Alfred and Lucie Dreyfus in the Phantasmagoria (Cambridge Scholars Publisher, UK) in September 2013.


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