For a long time, the Israeli hasbara (propaganda) machine proved to be the best in the world. It had no real competition as the official Israeli discourse presented the world with a highly inaccurate version of reality and in doing so, managed to sustain and feed misconceptions for decades.
These efforts worked effectively, making the militarily occupied, oppressed Palestinians appear to be the occupiers and oppressors. Besieged, impoverished Gaza was made out to be a menace threatening the existence of nuclear-armed Israel, with Palestinian leaders cast as reincarnates of Adolf Hitler.
Such dishonesty succeeded in winning international support for Israel, among governments and publics alike, for many years. Israel, even when carrying out most gruesome massacres against Palestinians, became the posterchild of victimhood.
But that is the past. The picture is now changing and rapidly so, thanks in part to the fact that Israel is now ruled by a right-wing, ultranationalist coalition that cares little about sustaining the charade. They feel militarily invincible and their political and territorial ambitions are too wild and extreme to be hindered by the old Zionist balancing act.
Indeed, despite Zionist leaders of the past monopolising the game too well and for far too long, things are finally being exposed for what they really are. Extremists, backed by an army of Jewish colonists, are now the rulers of the country, exerting their power over the military and media, and largely define the Israeli course and PR image.
“This new army [of colonists] is no longer even minimally restrained by concerns about the army’s ‘moral’ image or threats of international war crimes investigations,” wrote Jonathan Cook recently, in reference to the outpouring of support from Israeli society and government following the conviction of an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria.
An Israeli army medic, Azaria’s killing of an incapacitated Palestinian man, Fattah Al Sharif, in Al Khalil (Hebron) last March went viral. He was recently convicted of manslaughter by an Israeli court, a first since 2005, when a soldier was convicted of killing a British humanitarian worker Tom Hurndall two years earlier.
Between these dates, thousands of Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip alone, mostly in the Israeli wars of 2008-9, 2012 and 2014. Despite this ongoing slaughter and wounding of children and civilians in Gaza and the rest of the Occupied Territories and, despite international outcries against Israel’s violations of international law, there is yet to be a single conviction in Israeli courts.
In Azaria’s case, the conviction resulted in the Israeli propaganda machine going in full swing, yet this time failing to achieve the intended results.
One the one hand, Israeli leaders lined up to lend their support to Azaria and his family. These sympathetic politicians include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ministers Naftali Bennett and Miri Regev, among others, as well as prominent opposition leaders.
One the other hand, Israeli and pro-Israeli pundits, who never miss an opportunity to highlight Israel’s supposed moral ascendancy took to social media and every form of news media around the world, describing how the indictment further demonstrates that Israel is still a country of law and order.
Mitchell Barak, a former adviser and spokesman to late Israeli President Shimon Peres characterised the murder as a “soldier [that] got out of hand,” in an interview with Al Jazeera. But unlike Palestinians who glorify their ‘terrorists’, he said, Israel has “a court of law that say [sic] you cannot do that. You cannot even take a terrorist who tried to kill you and your friends and try to execute him. And that’s what we do.”
Barak’s disingenuous assertion is the typical form of Israeli propaganda and doublespeak that has defined the official Israeli discourse since its appropriation on the ruins of Palestine in 1948.
However, there is a preponderance of evidence to suggest that such discourse is failing to whitewash Israel’s military occupation and numerous war crimes.
Aside from the fact that Israel’s sway over public opinion has been vastly weakened by new media technologies and the diversification of media platforms, Israel is now mostly concerned with achieving its final objectives in the occupied territories without much delay or worrying too much about issues pertaining to image and reputation.
Now that the American political landscape is ripe for a full-scale push for expanding and annexing illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank, Israel’s right-wing government is eager to seal the fate of the Palestinians.
Yoav Litvin argues in TeleSur that the precedent set by the Azaria case “will further solidify the complete dehumanisation of Palestinians and pave the way for further ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Thus, the issue is not merely that of a single soldier, but of an entire nation that seems united like never before in its vision for a final solution to the conflict: it is one that will not acknowledge even a symbolic Palestinian present in the future of Israel.
While this is a continuation of a long legacy of hate, racism and violence that Israel’s founders have both articulated and implemented many years ago, it has now matured to the point that some are suggesting a ‘transition’ is underway in Israeli society.
In an article, entitled: “Like Brexit and Trump, Azaria verdict exposes a moment of transition in Israel”, Jonathan Cook also alluded to a similar idea.
“The soldier’s trial, far from proof of the rule of law, was the last gasp of a dying order,” he wrote.
Neither Litvin nor Cook are suggesting that the supposed change in Israel is substantive, but what is noteworthy is that the ‘mainstreaming of genocide’ has reached an unprecedented point in Israel. It exposes the fact that Israel’s propaganda is not effective, nor are the extremists at the helm of the Israeli government as concerned about their country’s image as were their predecessors.
In reality, Israel’s balancing act is faltering, as in its ability to perpetrate individual and collective acts of violence and still paint an image of itself as law-abiding and democratic.
The right-wing appeal that has recently taken several western countries by storm has defined mainstream politics in Israel for many years. It’s a fact that Palestinians and many others have been demonstrating for years with varied degrees of success.
Yet it is Israel itself — crippled by irrational fears, obsessed with military power and mobilised around nationalist and religious ideologies — that has proved to be its worst enemy.
Elor Azaria has killed Fattah Al Sharif in cold blood, but he also shot — and forever did away with — the illusion that Israel is different; that Israel is exceptional.
No amount of propaganda can possibly promote a country governed by rabid extremists, who are now allying themselves with the most chauvinistic leaders around the world, as democratic, and in any way, special.
Dr Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.