Posts Tagged ‘James Zogby’

Israel’s Mossad Abusing the Living and Dead

June 29, 2010

Middle East Online,  June 29, 2010

A Mossad agent claiming to be Michael Bodenheimer, the grandson of a German Jewish Holocaust survivor, secured a German passport which he later used to enter the UAE where he was involved in the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, notes James Zogby.

I am not easily shocked. I’ve been doing this work for too many years and I’ve seen too much to become outraged by bad behavior or acts of indecency or inhumanity. But two stories that recently came across my desk were so disgraceful, and in some ways dangerous, that I feel compelled to write about them. Both featured players in the Middle East crassly abusing the living and the dead.

The first of these involved Israel’s Mossad and a practice they used to secure a fraudulent passport for one of their agents who participated in the January 19, 2010 assassination of Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai.

German law offers citizenship and a passport to the descendants of pre-World War II German Jewish citizens who were forced to flee the country to escape the horrors of the Holocaust. Taking advantage of this provision, a Mossad agent claiming to be Michael Bodenheimer, the grandson of a German Jewish survivor, secured a German passport which he later used to enter the UAE where he was involved in the murder of al Mabhouh.

A few weeks back the Jerusalem Post reported that the real Michael Bodenheimer, an Orthodox rabbi who emigrated from the United States to Israel, claimed that his identity had been stolen by the Mossad agent, and that he had “never asked for a German passport…[and] never had one”. The real Michael Bodenheimer and his family were, of course, concerned that their name was implicated in an assassination. More than just this abuse of one innocent citizen, there is the concern with the Mossad’s cavalier abuse of the German citizenship provision. Israel’s behavior in this regard is dangerous. It put the real Michael Bodenheimer at risk while casting suspicion on an entire class of people, Jews who have in the past, and who may in the future, seek German citizenship. As such, it callously exploits those who were murdered and the descendants of those who survived.

Then there are the recent revelations about the Iranian woman who was murdered in the demonstrations that erupted protesting last year’s Iranian elections. The woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, quickly became internationally recognized as a martyr and symbol of the “Green revolution”. Her face was used on CNN and BBC and plastered on the front pages of newspapers around the world where it appeared with the tagline “the Angel of Iran”. This photo was picked up by the Voice of America and spread to Iran where it appeared on posters and T-shirts.

The story is true, Neda Agha-Soltan was murdered, but the picture that spread virally is not of her. Careless journalism, to be kind, picked up the Facebook photo of one, Neda Soltani, a quite lovely Iranian teaching assistant and student of English Literature at Tehran University. Despite the mistaken identity, the photo stuck.

A piece on Foreign Policy’s website last week carefully traces not just the carelessness that lead to the mistaken identity, but more disturbingly the consequences for the living Neda who is the innocent victim of this error. As she sought to reclaim her identity and her face, the Iranian regime sought to exploit her situation, claiming that “Neda lives”, vainly arguing that the entire episode was a hoax – that no murder had been committed. When she went online demanding that her picture be taken down, she received threats and abusive responses from supporters of the revolt who argued that she was threatening to deny their cause the martyred “Angel of Iran”.

And when the parents of the murdered Neda attempted to replace the mistaken photo with that of their daughter, they found that neither their efforts nor the truth could compete with the “symbol”.

Fearing pressure from the regime, and frustrated by the loss of her identity, the living Neda has been forced to flee Iran and take refuge in Germany where she currently lives.

As disturbing as these stories are, equally troubling is the lack of attention they have received here in the United States. With the exception of the Foreign Policy piece, the story of Neda has received scant attention when compared with the coverage given to the use of the original photo last summer—while the Bodenheimer story has not been covered at all.

The lesson that emerges from all of this is when governments, media and movements abuse the living and dead to pursue their ends, truth and innocent people pay the price.

Dr. James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute and author of the forthcoming book Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us And Why It Matters (Palgrave-Macmillan, October 2010). For comments or information, contact James Zogby.

How Israel’s Propaganda Machine Works

January 12, 2009
James Zogby

James Zogby

Posted January 9, 2009

As in past Mideast conflicts, both the media story line and political commentary here in the U.S. has closely followed Israel’s talking points on the war. This has been an essential component in Israel’s early success and in its ability to prolong fighting without U.S. pushback. Because it recognizes the importance of the propaganda war, Israel fights on this front as vigorously and disproportionately as it engages on the battlefield.

Here’s how they have done it:

1) Define the terms of debate, and you win the debate. Early on, the Israelis work to define the context, the starting point, and the story line that will shape understanding of the war. In this instance, for example, they succeeded by constant repetition, in establishing the notion that the starting point of the conflict was December 19th, the end of the six-month ceasefire (which Israel described as “unilaterally ended by Hamas”). In doing so, they ignored, of course, their own early November violations, and their failure to honor their commitment in the ceasefire to open Gaza’s borders. They also ignored their having reduced Gaza into a dependency, a process which began long before and continued after their withdrawal in 2005. Because they know that most Americans do not closely follow the conflict and are inclined to believe, as the line goes, “what they hear over and over again,” this tactic of preemptive definition and repetition succeeds.

2) Recognize that stereotypes work. Because, for generations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been defined with positive cultural images of Israel and negative stereotypes of Palestinians, Israel’s propagandists have an advantage here that is easy to exploit. Because the story has long been seen as “Israeli humanity confronting the Palestinian problem,” media coverage of any conflict begins with how “the problem” is affecting the Israeli people. As Golda Meir once put it, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children, but we can never forgive them for making us kill their children.” And so, it was not surprising that, despite the disproportionate suffering of the Palestinians, media coverage attempted to “balance” the story, giving an extensive treatment, with photos, of anguished and fearful Israelis and the impact the war was having on them. Early on, when media treatment mattered most, Palestinians were reduced, as always, to mere numbers or objectified as “collateral damage.”

3) Anticipate and count on your opponent’s blunders. Hamas’ stupidity played into Israel’s strategy. From the outset, Israel could count on the fact that Hamas would launch rockets and issue the kind of threats that Israel could then parley into sympathy in the West. Knowing that these would most certainly come, and could be exploited, was an advantage in their propaganda war.

4) Be everywhere, and say the same thing — and make sure your opponents remain as invisible as possible. Israel begins each war with a host of English-speaking spokespersons (many born in the West) available at any time for every media outlet (it’s no accident, for example, that Israel has an “Arab” Consul General in Atlanta – that’s where CNN is). The work of their propaganda operation, which spreads multiple spokespersons in venues across the United States with consistent talking points, guarantees success. At the same time, they are able to deny media access to Gaza, only allowing the Western reporters to operate near the war zone under IDF supervision, guaranteeing Israel the opportunity to shape every aspect of the story while removing the possibility of independent verification of the horror unfolding in Gaza.

5) Give no ground. Since half of the story will be determined by what political leaders say and do, the political apparatus in Washington is also pressed into service, ensuring that White House and Congressional leadership will “toe the line.” Statements issued by Congress, therefore, reflect the talking points and, together, the Israeli spokespersons, the political commentators, and the Congressional statements serve as echoes of one another.

6) Deny, deny, deny. When events and reality break through, contradicting the Israeli-established narrative, creating stories that run counter to the imposed story line, the propaganda machine works overtime to deny, deny, deny (saying quite boldly, “Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?”), and/or concoct a counter-narrative that shifts the blame (“We didn’t do it, they made us”). In this instance, that means asserting that the death of Palestinian civilians is always the fault of someone else, or that reporters or their opponents are staging the photos of grief (as if to say, “Arabs don’t really grieve like we do”).

7) The last refuge…. When all else fails, point to a few examples of outrageous anti-Semitism, generalize them, suggesting that that is what motivates critics. It stings, and may be over-used, but it can silence or put critics on the defensive.


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