Two Israeli artists, Ronnie Adri and Michal Tamir, have come up with a Facebook campaign called "Israel Loves Iran" intended to "humanize" the Israeli people for Iranian Facebook users and express opposition to the government's war talk.
Coverage of the meme has expanded to other popular news sites in both the U.S. and Israel. Apparently, it is eliciting responses from Iranians along the same lines, which considering the dangers of self-expression on the internet in Iran, is saying something.
The two artists provide a free translation and formatting service for anyone who is interested. All of the photos generally follow this formula:
We Will Never Bomb You
With a picture of, say, a smiling couple or a brace of chubby toddlers. Or, sometimes, cultural icons such as statues of Moses or Cyrus the Great and synagogues and mosques:
Even though I'm in general extremely skeptical of the efficacy of social media campaigns for "justice" or "peace," this is welcome, and we can have the inevitable debate on "slacktivism" later.
It seems to be a sincere effort, and anything that goes out of its way to remind people that the "other side" is people too at this point is welcome. Period. This, writes Dimi Reider at +972 Magazine, is a typical comment from the messages displayed on the Facebook wall of "Pushpin Mehina," the campaign coordinators' profile page:
I see sometime here, on the TV, an Iranian. He is talking about war.
I'm sure he does not represent all the people of Iran.
If you see someone on your TV talking about bombing you … be sure he does not represent all of us.
Yes, wouldn't it be nice if more of the frothing "leaders" in both suits and clerical robes in these countries tried to keep that in mind as they bluster and invoke mutually assured destruction? Significantly, the campaign came out - by sheer coincidence - at a time when Mossad (again) reportedly does not contest the assessment of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran has neither the capability nor the political program to weaponize at this time. Even the comments on the JPost website about the campaign aren't as bad as I expected.
But given some recent comments by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the report that Netanyahu now has a plurality among his Ministers favoring a strike on Iran 8 to 6, I'm still not optimistic about where we're going to go from here with the possibility of talks being renewed on Iran's nuclear program. The PM also played a political trump card of sorts in a speech in the Knesset, where after referring to Gaza as "an outpost of Iran . . . [where] terrorist organizations . . . are sheltering under an Iranian umbrella," had this barb for Kadima:
"Now imagine what happens when this becomes nuclear umbrella. Imagine that terrorist organizations standing behind a calling for our destruction, and armed with nuclear bombs. . . . . We did not put Iran into Gaza - you put Iran to Gaza" . . . "I know some people say I am 'full of terror'. [But] I heard people saying exactly the same things [in 2005] . . . and I warned you then when we said that Gaza disengagement will lead to Gaza becoming a big terrorist camp".
Bibi's clearly trying to score points here, as he made much of his image as a political tough guy in the 1990s by opposing unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. While Iran has its hands in Gaza, Yaakov Katz is writing that Hamas is trying to distance itself from Iran today (which as a result has apparently led Iran to favor Islamic Jihad), so Bibi's timing following the recent shelling and airstrikes can only inflame the debate further.
With that in mind, this image - intended by some Facebook wag to be a riff of the designers' social media advocacy - stands out for me:
The clocks in Tel Aviv seem to be ticking ever closer to midnight (though, granted, everyone "in the know" has been saying that since 1992). Maybe there will finally be less "apathy is violence" talk and greater public outcry against Bibi's rhetorical flourishes.
On the realpolitik side, though, there is relatively good news that this 6 in opposition apparently still includes some big names in Israeli politics, like the normally alarmist Moshe Ya'alon, Vice PM and Minister for Strategic Affairs, and Dan Meridor, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy (which should say something, don't you think?). The report notes that Bibi's trip to AIPAC and Holocaust intonations have apparently failed to move some members of his kitchen cabinet - known as the "Octet," of which Ya'alon and Meridor (as well as Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Lieberman) are members - towards backing a preemptive/preventive strike. In fact, aside from Barak, who is definitely in the war camp, the rest of the Octet isn't reportedly very happy with the way the Prime Minister been hogging the spotlight on Iran and Gaza. You wonder of Lieberman must feel slighted that he's being sent to talk to Beijing about Iran while the man he and his fellow Soviet emigres made PM schmoozes with the Americans (though Bibi, far more so than Lieberman, knows how to make it play in Peoria).
Maybe their continued reluctance - and Byzantine backbiting - to go full throttle with Barak and Bibi will slow the pair down, because unfortunately for Ronnie and Michal, I don't think the Prime Minister is that much of a Facebooker (despite his +180,000 likes). Maybe some politicians or national security experts or intellectuals will notice this campaign and feel they have backing to "not go quietly into a war that nobody wants" - that's really the best and only thing that we can expect - but as Jeffrey Goldberg said, the top question going into the summer of 2012, in theory the last window for a strike this year, is whether Obama bluffs, but "whether Netanyahu bluffs".
All images were retrieved from Facebook, the photostream on the "Israel Loves Iran" site or from +972 Magazine (specifically, the ones of George W. Bush and Abdol Hossein-Sardari - those I first saw on +972 but have seen elsewhere since). I'm not posting links to the individual Facebook pages I found the other photos on since I'm not quite sure what copyright issues are present here in addition to privacy (even if the photos can be viewed by anyone). I've yet to see any outlet that includes sample photos from the campaign citing any photo's source. None of the images displayed are my creation, or have been altered by myself or my editors.