Tuesday, March 10, 2009


If you find this worthwhile, please include in your distribution lists. Note the new Quote du Jour from Yvonne Green

It's been a bit of a break what with photography, kids and grandkids, renovations (slight) and the general inescapable trivia of life.

BUT I have been following the goings-on, local and general and have downloaded some of the more interesting stuff to my "archives" where they gather cobwebs till I delete in dispair. Nine downloads in the past week and 42 in the past month. But in a recent "delete frenzy" I accidently knocked off my accumulated Newsletter postings over the past year or so. Luckily most of these are preserved in my website at Solar Plexus (http://froggyfarm.blogspot.com).

I also submitted a couple of pieces to the Jewish Report, both of which were rejected - because of space and other considerations the editor assures me. We'll see! Here is the shorter of the two submissions entitled "Incredulity", for your consideration (but I want to expand on a couple of themes thereafter - so please keep reading):

"I read the letters in the previous few issues of the JR and elsewhere in this country with a mounting sense of incredulity. It seems that a significant proportion of the Jewish elite, including its legal luminaries, and non-Jews like Edwin Cameron, have entered a never-never world entirely disconnected from any discernable reality.

Concerned above all to maintain their self-perceived halo of moral rectitude they happily sign documents decrying Israel's "disproportionate" response in a world baying for Israel's blood using self-justifying terms like "slaughter", "murder", "massacre" and "Nazi" as a thin veneer to cover the hatred let loose by decades of systematic propaganda and Jewish complicity in its own demonisation.

Iran is making a mad dash for a nuclear weapon while acquiring air-defense systems from Russia to mitigate counter-measures. In the never-never land in which our luminaries and their hangers-on have taken refuge, Israel should treat annihilationist rhetoric, demonisation as "the sons of apes and pigs" (to repeat the more printable terms) and the constant flight of erratic but lethal rockets into its civilian population as "manageable irritants".

They find time to threaten critics with legal action and to write letters defending themselves and their accomplices in a nauseating ritual of self-sanctification, but not one moment to demand an end to the madness engulfing not only the extremist groups infesting the backward and dysfunctional Middle East but much of the rest of the world besides - including South Africa. They use words like "negotiation", "human rights" and "peace" as religious mantras without the slightest effort to provide credible contextualisations to such noble admonitions.

Indeed it is probably true that those whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad, but that requires the willing acquiescence of the fantasists themselves. For this they cannot be forgiven by the rest of us."

Strong language, but the propaganda trenches are not really conducive towards great nuance (a much abused word in any case which makes me reach for my verbal shotgun). Nevertheless, I stand by what I say in that submission. Direct speech is better than vague waffle designed to obscure dubious logic and even more dubious agendas.

But it is interesting to explore what constitutes "FACTS" in the Great Middle Eastern debate. The saying has it (roughly) that "comment/interpretation is personal but facts are sacred". Well be that as it may, but the way you FRAME "facts" has an enormous influence on how they are perceived.

Most people are aware of optical illusions in which perceived size and colour is a function of the context in which the object is presented. It is precisely the same with facts. The context or frame provides the cues to interpretation: "Man shoots 17year-old kid in the back" is interpreted differently to "man shoots 17 year-old youth caught raping his daughter, in the back".

So much is obvious, but usually forgotten. But even more basic, "is what are the facts?"

On the one hand we have Operation Cast Lead as a "disproportionate/indiscriminate", "slaughter/massacre/ bloodbath" in which hundreds of children died, the infrastructure of Gaza destroyed, white phosphorus was used as an instrument of war and schools/mosques/hospitals were flattened - all depicted in endless technicolour gore by Al-Jazeera or in more tasteful, aesthetic tableaux by our very own Times.

Here is a statement from a doughy warrior of the Left (MJ Rosenberg of the Israeli Policy Forum): "Much of Gaza was destroyed and now resembles Warsaw after World War II."

Yet on more information some of these "FACTS" melt away like summer snow. The wholesale destruction of infrastructure becomes essentially limited to pinpoint elimination of weapons storage depots and Hamas headquarters, while most of Gaza goes about its daily business - if not in great comfort then in relative safety. The wholesale massacre of civilians reduces to about a third of the total mortality - an extraordinarily low figure given the nature of the terrain and the Hamas policy of "human shields". The white phosphorus attacks beccome the normal military use for illumination purposes. The 40+ dead from an attack on a UN school becomes 12 dead (at most) in a strike outside the school which remained wholly intact. And so on...

Here is a couple of extracts from a report in the J Post 03-03-09 written by Yvonne Green (a poet, English Jew and frequent vistor to Israel - to use her words):

"From the mansions of the Abu Ayida family at Jebala Rayes to Tallel Howa (Gaza City's densest residential area), Gazans contradicted allegations that Israel had murderously attacked civilians. They told me again and again that both civilians and Hamas fighters had evacuated safely from areas of Hamas activity in response to Israeli telephone calls, leaflets and megaphone warnings."... "THE GAZA I saw was societally intact. There were no homeless, walking wounded, hungry or underdressed people. The streets were busy, shops were hung with embroidered dresses and gigantic cooking pots, the markets were full of fresh meat and beautiful produce - the red radishes were bigger than grapefruits. Mothers accompanied by a 13-year-old boy told me they were bored of leaving home to sit on rubble all day to tell the press how they'd survived. Women graduates I met in Shijaya spoke of education as power as old men watched over them."

So the question becomes "what are the facts"? And just as important: what conditions the unquestioning acceptance of the most extreme and bloody facts regarding Israeli actions by the media and some of the public (including parts of the Jewish community) when it is known that the "manufacture" of facts for propaganda purposes is a thriving cottage industry in the Middle East and amongst their Western allies?

Part of it is simply commercial. There are vast media profits in sensationalist reporting, and the Middle East is the mother of all "hot topics". It is the rare editor indeed who is likely to insist on "real" proof when there is the whiff of a juicy massacre in the air.

But much of the explanation lies in the psychology of prior expectation.

For considerable proportion of the anti-Zionist brigade, Israel is - by definition - an evil, brutal, colonial settler state, and thus any "fact" which reinforces this prior assumption is taken without question as additional confirmatory evidence . Few committed ideologues indeed are prepared to suffer the cognitive discomfort of seriously questioning such "evidence" unless compelled to do so.

Even those who claim to be "pro-Zionist", when pushed, reveal that buried within their readings of the creation of Israel, are strongly held beliefs about Zionist duplicity, brutality and territorial ambition. In short they have thoroughly internalised a whole set of ideas around Western (especially Zionist) evil along with a corresponding set of opposing ideas surrounding the "oppressed" and "victims" of colonialist aggression..

Now some of these ideas are true enough, but taken as a whole they create a mythic psychological frame in which even the most obviously atavistic, corrupt and violent movements take on the halo of sanctification. For this crowd too, "facts" depicting Israeli sins are simply grist to a perceptual mill already saturated with negative imagery. A good example of this mind-set can be found at Support Human Rights in Israel and Palestine (http://www.sashrip.org/).

Does this mean that no Israeli duplicity, insensitivity, brutality, sadism, simple stupidity or bigotry exists? It would be a ludicrous proposition and there is plenty of credible direct evidence for such Israeli culpability. Should such failings be ignored or glossed over? Given our expectations for Israel as an essentially moral and democratic state, we should (and I do) expect it to apply its laws fairly and impartially, to use the democratic mechanisms at its disposal to interrogate its conduct and to adopt remedial policies to rectify such deviations from its own ideals and those we hold for it.

BUT that does not entitle us to sit as a kind of Diasporean Jewsih Inquisition on our distant kin living under constant existential threat, minutely examining their conduct for deviations from perfection, ready to believe any and all incriminating evidence while ignoring, condoning or faintly damning the transgressions of its enemies. To do so smacks of deep hypocrisy. And, within the current context in which an overt propaganda war is being waged against Israel - within a larger context of a resurgent totalitarian Islamist doctrine within which the Jews are eminantly dispensible - such behaviour is understandably seen as betrayal.

If you want to play an active role in Israeli politics, get your butt over there; just don't sit here and moralise.

There is far too much sycophancy within our Jewish community. We suck up to our elites in the hope that some of their reflected glory will rub off on our humble selves. Let us respect their achievements in their own spheres without imagining for one instant that grants them greater wisdom, integrity or credibility in world affairs. We need to bear in mind Kipling's comment regarding "failure" and "success" as those two imposters.

Finally, what does the ordinary, warm-hearted, tolerant Western democrat make of all this? There is evidence, that under the deluge of selectively anti-Israeli commentary and the moral imperative of multi-culturalism, they are increasingly predisposed to see Israel as culpable of all the sins being attributed to her. Or, if not in the more extreme terms of the anti-semite, but at least as a kind of nationalistic anachronism in the brave new world of global tolerance - especially towards those non-Western elements busy painting themselves as the victims of Western cultural arrogance and domination.

Of course, this is not a one-way street. Such people are hardly blind to Islamist extremism or the hard facts of cultural invasion or to African dictators and disasters, but the need to explain these as aberrations within a natural response to Western (and Israeli) aggression, weakens their clarity of vision and firmness of purpose.

But I am not a prophet of doom and gloom. Many strong Jewish and non-Jewish voices are speaking out on behalf of the Jewish community and the excesses of those who wish to destroy Israel will in all likelihood be their own undoing - in much the same way as in all the great totalitarian movements of the past. But this will not happen without clear and determined resistence to the forces of violence, hatred and despotism and their apologists.

Mike Berger