(The first part 'Bryan Hemming: Masked, Missing and Mossad - Are the Three Connected?' was published at this blog on 14 June 2010)
Last week, an unsolicited link to my last article Missing, Masked and Mossad, filed under the additional heading Disinformation, left me slightly bemused. Had I really joined the shady world of secret agents, government narks and spent hacks spreading lies and propaganda throughout the globe in order to confuse? Misinformed perhaps, ill-informed maybe, but does that amount to disinformation? Time to don the shades and search out a worn Burberry mac. I think not.
Where my speculations lack sufficient hard facts the fault lies with the deliberate withholding of evidence by the Israeli authorities. The eager complicity of the mainstream media to publish so much one-sided propaganda without question only compounded the problem.
More backhanded compliment, than serious charge, if anything, the additional heading proved counter-productive, serving to attract even more readers. After all, with much of it gleaned from official Israeli government public statements, any disinformation was based on disinformation from reliable sources. And we all know who they are.
Past masters of disinformation and self-delusion, the Mossad PR machine and its acolytes had been forced to drastically change course after the IDF had bloodied the decks of the Mavi Marmara with nine dead and many more wounded. The story of daring military success, they had been briefed to expect, had transformed into a nightmare for which none of them was prepared. And it showed.
Nevertheless, after a lot of mutual back-slapping and self-congratulation, within a week they declared themselves winners of the PR war. As if that were the point. Like the Eurovision Song Contest, where everybody gets to vote for their mates. And despite all evidence to the contrary, a slavish and sycophantic press - seeing an Israeli public relations victory as being its own - added to the impression we´d all been Eurovisioned up the Khyber. Anything else would´ve been an admission of failure, as compliant journalists played such a willing role in an ugly slugfest of self-congratulatory abandon.
But difficult questions remained. Not least of all, how can the unnecessary and illegal deaths of nine civilian activists be touted as any sort of success? If political and military successes are to be judged on realising objectives then the entire operation was a huge failure. Any success was won by those who braved the wrath of the IDF to deliver aid to Gaza.
Now the press claim even more successes for everybody, except the flotilla. ´International pressure´ - implying political leaders - forced a reluctant Israel into a promise of a partial lifting of sanctions, the new story goes. The truth is nothing of the sort. Nine men sacrificed their lives to bring to the world´s attention the illegal and inhumane blockade of the 1·5 million citizens of Gaza. Pressure from international leaders, or the MSM, had little to do with relieving it. To suggest otherwise is a despicable lie. The blockade was illegal from the start, and our leaders did virtually nothing against it. By doing nothing they encouraged more illegal acts by Israel.
And once forced to move, how slow they were to pick up the dying torch of freedom, how stingy their words. Boxed into a corner by public outrage they were left with little choice. Nevertheless, they still chose not to condemn Israel outright. ´Israel has the right to self-defence´ is still being touted, only weeks after that same right was denied the crew and passengers of a unarmed vessel sailing through international waters. That´s what disinformation is.
Disinformation is a communications blackout, turned into news blackout, it´s media outlets being commandeered, mobile phones, laptops, cameras and notebooks being stolen. Solely in order to prevent information being released. That´s disinformation. It´s kidnapping, and trying to force the kidnapped to sign papers saying they entered your country illegally. Disinformation is preventing alternative versions of events being heard while the PR machine tries to get the main protagonists reading from the same song sheet.
But, on such a large scale, there could never be enough time to make a bent story straight. Like a charging woolly mammoth forced to turn on a sixpence in a street crowded with shoppers, the machine had become too large and unwieldy. Extensive damage had become unavoidable.
Inconsistencies were always there for the seeing. Out of personal motives, Israeli government ministers and the military were a long way from speaking with one voice. Uncoordinated and incohesive attacks on the activists were cobbled together in a hurry, anything to distract attention from those who had planned and ordered the attack. A dizzying flurry of disinformation that would have us believe it was all a paintball game gone horribly wrong when a gang of Turkish bully boys stepped onto the playground. Or that a kindly group of elite commandos bent on charity work had abseilled onto to the decks of the Mavi Marmara to guide it into port and help distribute aid. But they were doomed to failure however many times they were repeated.
Possibly, the most cynical move of all, was the decoration for bravery of the soldier who proudly claimed to have shot six men at close range. All several times, and some between the eyes or in the back. No need for senior officer recommendations, no eyewitness accounts, no evidence of great valour required, just pin it on his chest. Something for the IDF to be proud of. Netanyahu´s eagerness to award it before knowing the full circumstances, smacks of a move to appease the men serving on the ground. I doubt all are impressed. However undeserved, awarding himself a medal couldn´t have been less perverse. As the main architect of the senseless slaughter, at least it would have been more honest.
But honesty is not Netanyahu´s strong point. Metaphorically, as well as literally, the prime minister of Israel is a balding man trying to convince himself, and the rest of us, he has a full set of hair. When image dictates political policy, we end up with hair mousse and orthodontology instead of coherent planning. To all intents and purposes, Israeli military strategy is now being run by an advertising agency.
Another sign of this can be seen with the Turkel Committee set up to investigate the attack on the Marmara. None of the members have any specialist knowledge of international maritime law or the laws of war according to Haaretz. Once again, these sages - as they have been dubbed - are more about PR than anything. But this time Netanyahu is taking no chances. A former supreme court justice takes the chair. Complete with wheels, the ninety-three year old buffer was pictured sitting in it, wearing pyjamas, in one Jewish daily. A smiling carer standing at his side, he might have just got out of bed for the photo shoot. At least one other member is over seventy. In a tight situation the sympathy vote can make a difference. In a further move to assure the Turks of impartiality his name is Jacob Turkel. Turk-el, geddit? If the committee gets it right no one can complain, if they get it wrong it´s because the senile old sods didn´t know what they were talking about. Works for me. Either way.
And for those who haven´t got it, Netanyahu and his cronies are covering their backs. A proper, impartial inquiry would lay the blame at their doors. Not only was the interception of a civilian vessel in international waters by armed commandos highly illegal, it was madness itself. Quite obviously, possible negative consequences were not on the agenda. Failure was not considered as an option. There was no plan B. Primarily, it was a publicity stunt. And if paintball guns were used, they were intended to add to the party atmosphere. What a laugh! Crew and passengers cowering on the deck before a couple of commandos with toy guns. Of course, they had to have real guns too. Just in case. The world would chuckle along with Israel at the daring of these lads. What they forgot was, that hand to hand fighting isn´t exactly the IDF´s forte anymore. They just send heavily-armed troops in to bulldoze and blast their way through these days, in the face very little resistance. No military officer worthy of his rank would try to land soldiers onto the deck of a ship in this way. Apart from anything, as evidence shows, they put their men at what could´ve been mortal risk were it not for the humanity of their captors. The slaughter started once they realised they were facing total humiliation. If the crew and passengers took even more men captive, which was very likely, they would be in the best bargaining position. Humiliation bred a callous and vindictive desire for bloody revenge. There is little doubt live ammunition was being fired prior to boarding to soften everyone up, but firing upwards from inflatables is not very effective. But once the extent of the disaster was realised, someone had to pay. Nine was the figure.
Attempt at further humiliation revealed the crew and passengers as dignified and courageous in the face of extreme adversity, something that cannot be claimed for the cowards who kicked and beat unarmed men and women after binding their hands behind their backs. Doesn´t paint a pretty picture. That´s why all the cameras, laptops and mobile phones were stolen. Nine men paid with their lives in what was nothing more than a failed publicity stunt. That´s what Netanyahu and Barak don´t want you to know. Both men must be made to understand any inquiry cannot only be framed to satisfy home consumption this time. The idea is for others to believe the propaganda, not the government employing it. If Israel fails to ask relevant questions it cannot suppose others won´t. Whether either likes it or not, Israeli is already on trial, and they should wake up to the reality of the situation
There are other things they don´t want you to know either.
Though hardly mentioned the Western media, Ultra-Orthodox Jews are starting to defy Israeli government in a manner that is threatening Israel´s extremely fragile appearance of democracy. There are things your newspaper isn´t telling you, but there are some that are. Despite difficult surroundings - unless you work under them you don´t know - Haaretz is often at the forefront of highlighting the dangerous precedent of pandering to extremists. Reports of demonstrations leading to violent confrontations with the Israeli police often feature in its columns. In a country where many civilians bear arms things could start to get very ugly.
According to Batsheva Sobelman and Edmund Sanders, reporting for Jerusalem for the the Los Angeles Times, in December Israel´s defence minister clashed publicly with a high-profile rabbi who was encouraging soldiers to disobey military orders to remove Jewish settlers (the italics are mine) from West Bank outposts.
Last week, huge demonstrations involving tens of thousands of Ashkenazi parents protesting at having to send their children to school with Sephardic Jews took place throughout Israel. Thousands of police officers had to be deployed in anticipation of violence. The parents have been accused of racism. Ashkenazis migrated to Israel from Eastern Europe mainly, whereas Sephardic Jews came from North Africa and the Middle East. Many Israelis see the Ashkenazi parents´ defiance as a key test of the Supreme Court and Israel´s commitment to rule of law. Retired Deputy Supreme Court President Mishael Cheshin called the case a "test of democracy". Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition, not exactly known for lefty leanings, said that flouting a Supreme Court order put Israel "one minute before anarchy." Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) Jews are being seen more and more as a threat, and they don´t seem to care.
Due to an inherent weakness in a Likud desperate to cling onto power, the Knesset has surrendered control of government to a growing ultra-Orthodox right wing that wants to take Israel back to a nineteenth century that never existed. Not to be compared with Amish communities in the US, they have more in common with the Taliban than with the rest of their countrymen, many of whom are tiring of subsidising the extremist lifestyles of such a vociferous and demanding minority. Menachim Friedman of Bar-Ilan University, a sociology professor studying the ultra-Orthodox community, has said: "Netanyahu is dependent on the haredi politicians and he can´t divorce himself now. He will have to decide whether to surrender to the haredim or the Supreme Court decision."
Things are threatening to get out of control, and civil war could become a distinct possibility. With a nuclear first strike capability for the winners, the rest of the world has every reason to be terrified.
Israel has become like an extended family gathering at a reunion after many years apart. Against high hopes and expectations, family members are discovering how much they have grown to hate each other over the years. No longer under real threat from its neighbours the nation is turning in on itself, something it has successfully managed conceal from the rest of the world up until now. Through a series of deadly antics, Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to to focus attention on the domestic front, and things don´t look pretty. A nation deeply divided, constantly on the lookout for fragile compromises to keep themselves together, Israelis are starting to realise they don´t like each other, as much as they thought. Shared Jewishness is no longer a strong enough glue to hold them together. Feeling like foreigners in vast swathes of their own promised land, many liberal Israelis are beginning to accept they have far more in common with liberals in New York, Paris, London - or dare I suggest? - Beruit, Damascus, Istanbul and Tehran than they do with their next door neighbours.
Disinformation: the art of shooting yourself in the foot with one hand while stabbing your best friend in the back with the other.
Two useful links: