Watching propaganda in a Missouri synagogue

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 43 Comments

You had a post three weeks ago about our rabbi Yossi Feintuch urging Christians to block divestment resolutions. Here’s an update of sorts. 

Is this a great country, or what? 

At dusk on Wednesday evening April 25, the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day; April 26 this year), about 35 members of Congregation Beth Shalom gathered to eat Jewish food (falafel, babba ghanoush) and watch Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference (a section of it is above). The brand-new documentary was produced by Rabbi Raphael Shore, who founded JerusalemOnLineU, the on-line educational organization that distributes the film. Shore also founded the Clarion Fund, and under its auspices produced another documentary, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West. Twenty-eight million copies of Obsession were distributed as free newspaper inserts in swing states before the 2008 election; and the film figures in Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto.

As you might expect from its provenance, Israel Inside is a congeries of Israeli self-praise, a cinematic sequel to Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, the book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. The narrator is Happiness guru Tal Ben Shahar, who was undoubtedly chosen for his stereotypically “Jewish” charm and charisma, but whose assertiveness would have made me seek a second opinion if I didn’t already have one. Not that there’s much to object to in the actual content of the film. Who could complain about the IDF team that rushed to the aid of Haiti after the earthquake? Only the Grinch who stole Independence Day would be so surly as to call attention to the filming crew that happened to accompany the rescuers as they did their tikkun olam mitzvah. It’s the smarmy vulgarity of the relentless stream of ethnic braggadocio that makes this movie such an embarrassing offering.

Our rabbi Yossi Feintuch, who bar mitzvah’d my sons, called for questions afterward, and of course I rose. He knew what was coming, and when I said I wanted to comment, he shouted me down, saying no comments, only questions. Yossi and I, ordinarily amicable enough, bring out the worst in each other when the subject of Israel comes up: I raised my voice to match his.

“OK, I have a question, then,” I said (too loudly). “It’s horror at the Occupation that motivates the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Europe and now the US. Do you really think that a piece of propaganda like we just watched will be effective at countering that horror?”

Yossi said (too loudly) “I have an answer: oy veh!”

“What an excellent answer, Rabbi!” I exclaimed (too loudly). “Would anyone else like to try to answer the question?”

Yossi: “Altogether now: Oy Veh!” (a small chorus joined in his words).

“This wasn’t propaganda,” he went on; “I had to pay money to show this film. One doesn’t pay for propaganda.” End of “discussion.”

Yossi’s right about having to pay. I checked on the JerusalemOnLineU website, and apparently he shelled out $75 for a licensing fee, minus the 25 percent discount for showing it on Yom Ha’atzmaut. And as an educational site JerusalemOnLineU is mostly free of patent hasbara chametz. Not entirely, though: there’s a link to JerusalemOnLineU’s subsidiary Step Up For Israel and its Shore-produced documentary Crossing the Line: The Intifada Comes to Campus.

Charging for Israel Inside and calling it “educational” doesn’t mean it’s not propaganda, of course. But I move the previous question: what’s the intended effect? It’s hard to believe that a prospective delegitimizer, Jew or gentile, will be dissuaded by this encomium to ethnic achievement, any more than a prospective Resistance fighter would have been deterred by the excellence of the Volkswagen or autobahnen. So I guess the target is the choir rather than the pews. Even so, I don’t anticipate much payoff in actual vigor or effectiveness of the anti-delegitimization campaign ahead. 

George P. Smith is an unbelieving “Jew-In-Law” from Columbia, MO. His wife is Jewish, and both sons were bar mitzvahed by Rabbi Yossi Feintuch.

About George Smith

I'm a retired biology professor. I'm not religious or Jewish by birth. But my wife is Jewish and our sons are bar-mitzvahed, and I'm very engaged with Jewish culture and politics.

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43 Responses

  1. AllenBee
    May 6, 2012, 10:03 am

    I’ve been searching for the video that was posted on Mondoweiss in the last 2 months +- that featured a rabbi telling his congregation to rejoice in the fact that many in Knesset were atheistic Jews. can anyone help me find it?

  2. George Smith
    May 6, 2012, 10:18 am

    Thanks for posting, Phil. HOWEVER: I’m sorry you “corrected” “abba ghanoush” to “babba ghanoush.”

  3. American
    May 6, 2012, 10:21 am

    “It’s the smarmy vulgarity of the relentless stream of ethnic braggadocio ”

    Smarmy vulgarity ..that’s a good one.

    • seafoid
      May 6, 2012, 5:08 pm

      The fact Israel needs such a massive PR effort is a sign how bad things are under the bonnet. Does Bulgaria go to such efforts? No, because Bulgaria is a real country with a real history that goes back more than 2 generations.

  4. yourstruly
    May 6, 2012, 10:39 am

    the german nazis had their autobahn, italy’s fascists got the trains to start on time, whereas american israel firsters have their zionist occupier entity’s brief propaganda mission to haiti to brag about. indeed these dubious advances were/are cited by apologists for each of these three terrorist regimes as proof of the benevalent nature of the particular regime they support – “since it’s so busy attending to the needs of its own {as well as other} people, it’s both erroneous and mean-spirited to accuse {germany, italy, israel) of committing crimes against humanity.”

    • DICKERSON3870
      May 6, 2012, 2:17 pm

      RE: “…whereas american israel firsters have their zionist occupier entity’s brief propaganda mission to haiti to brag about.” ~ yourstruly

      SEE: The Zionization of Disaster Relief, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 01/19/10

      (excerpts). . . at Israel’s Haiti field hospital, they delivered what the Israeli PR flacks called “the first baby since the earthquake.” The medical staff urged the woman to name her baby “Israel” (who, if he reaches adulthood, would never be welcome in Israel) and she was only to eager to oblige. Another Israeli PR coup! . . .
      . . . Didn’t know there was anything particularly Zionist about providing disaster relief? You learn something new every day. This is a story of exploiting the suffering of poor, defenseless Haitians on behalf of Israeli triumphalism.
      Sol Salbe translated an eye-opening column from “Yediot” by an Israeli doctor who was an integral member of all Israeli international disaster response teams until recently. Then he made the mistake of writing a mildly critical statement about Israeli disaster relief efforts. As a result, he was relieved of his obligation for further IDF service and further participation in the disaster relief program. The op ed is so revealing (and not yet available online in English) I’m going to quote large sections. . .

      • Public Relations instead of saving lives – Sending portable toilets to Haiti would have been a better option, but this does not provide good photo opportunities. Israeli missions to disaster areas in the past have shown that such activity was in vain.
      By Yoel Donchin
      I received my final exemption from the army after I published an article which said that the State of Israel acts like the proverbial Boy Scout, who insists on doing a good deed daily and helping an old lady cross the road even against her will. . .
      . . . Generally speaking, we start preparing for such a mission within hours of the announcement of a natural disaster. Most often the Israeli mission team is the first one to land in the area. Like those who climb Mount Everest, it plants its flag on the highest peak available, announcing to all and sundry that the site has been conquered. And in order to ensure that the public is aware of this sporting achievement, the mission is accompanied by media representatives, photographers, an IDF spokesman’s office squad and others. . .

      ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2010/01/19/the-zionization-of-disaster-relief/

  5. Mooser
    May 6, 2012, 12:50 pm

    A “Jew-in-law”?

    A man, if he wishes to call him,self such, makes sure the religious tenets in his house match his own conceptions of decency and righteousness.

    • George Smith
      May 6, 2012, 6:04 pm

      Mooser: I call myself a Jew-in-law because I identify with the Jewish community and Congregation Beth Shalom through my wife and sons, but as an unbeliever am unwilling to convert to Judaism as a religion. Nor would Rabbi Yossi Feintuch countenance such a “conversion,” his motto being “say what you mean and mean what you say.” And like many Mondoweiss followers, including for example those who belong to Jewish Voice for Peace, I don’t accept that it’s Judaism that’s in conflict with decency and righteousness in Palestine. I doubt you do either.

      • Newclench
        May 6, 2012, 8:36 pm

        Good for you George. I like your attitude.
        Regarding more effective persuasion in the community, I’d recommend looking at Paul Rosenberg’s ‘nonviolent communication’ stuff. You can’t really ‘win’ an argument with a rabbi in his own shul, but you can shift emotions and ideas in other situations by focusing on the values people share.
        Your wife and sons are lucky to have your support. Increasingly, American Judaism is owing more and more to people like you.

  6. Citizen
    May 6, 2012, 1:14 pm

    I will never understand any adult who believes in any religion, including the one they were reared in, and if they ditched the religion they were brought up in, why on earth would they convert, and/or allow their own children to be brought up in, indoctrinated in, a religion merely because their spouse desired it? And, how is that giving equal respect and sensitivity to both sides of one’s family?

    • pnkfloid
      May 6, 2012, 1:57 pm

      I don’t get your and Mooser’s beef. How do you know George Smith was brought up in any religion? What do you know about how his sons were brought up or how they were indoctrinated, nor if it was only because his spouse desired it? How do you know the religious tenets in Mr. Smith’s house do not match (as implied by Mooser above) his own? I gather from the post that Mr. Smith has spoken out any number of times against the injustice against Palestinians and against Zionist B-S. One could equally assume (and be on firmer ground) that the value of speaking out against injustice is a view he shares with his spouse, and “indoctrinated” his sons with. Maybe his view is that raising one’s sons Jewish is not at odds with that value. So what’s your beef?

      • Citizen
        May 7, 2012, 4:09 am

        Why would anybody choose to have his children brought up to think they have a contract with God, or, for that matter–baby Jesus sitting on their shoulder and whispering in their ear? And, true, we don’t know how much George identifies with his own biological family, and whatever they believe or not, nor do we know how and to what extent his wife and children identify with their Non-Jewish In-Laws.

        We can arguably assume he allowed both his baby boys to me maimed for life, a painful operation with no health justification. But maybe not?

      • NickJOCW
        May 7, 2012, 7:49 am

        Why would anybody choose to have his children brought up to think they have a contract with God

        Why not?

    • piotr
      May 6, 2012, 11:02 pm

      I got impression that George is serious about education of his children, so that may motivate him to learn what is going on in the temple.

      By the way, nobody uses the argument about truth being related to the price better than Scientology. Without paying considerable money you do not even know if Zanu was good or bad. Thinking about it: how much one has to pay a rabbi to learn if what Levi and Simeon did in Shechem was good or bad?

  7. Talkback
    May 6, 2012, 1:34 pm

    Oy vey, Oy vey! I bet that all the goyim say he’s pretty fly for a Rabbi!

    Lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/weirdalyankovic/prettyflyforarabbi.html

  8. DICKERSON3870
    May 6, 2012, 1:58 pm

    RE: “Shore also founded the Clarion Fund, and under its auspices produced another documentary, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West. Twenty-eight million copies of Obsession were distributed as free newspaper inserts in swing states before the 2008 election. . . ” ~ George Smith

    SEE: Barre Seid Plausibly Denies Funding ‘Obsession,’ All the While Doing Precisely That, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 01/26/12

    (excerpt) Justin Elliott has finally solved the riddle of who gave $17-million to Clarion Fund to distribute 28 million DVDs of its anti-Muslim porn (not as in sex) film “Obsession” during the 2008 presidential election. Well, to be more specific, we know who, or more precisely what gave the gift to Clarion: Donor’s Capital Trust. But till now, we didn’t know who gave the gift to that arch-conservative donor advised fund. Now, we know, thanks to Justin that it was computer power strip king (bet you didn’t know there was such a beast, did you?) Barre Seid (bio). Here’s Clarion’s 990 form addendum documenting Seid’s gift. This complicated funding process, designed to provide plausible deniability to Seid, thus allows his assistant, in the Salon story, to deny Seid funded the film:
    “Mr. Seid did not make any contributions to the Clarion Fund.”
    She’s right, technically. He didn’t. DCT did. But DCT wouldn’t have without Seid’s gift to it. You see how these dudes operate? Is this legal? Should it be? …

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2010/11/17/how-barre-seid-can-deny-funding-obsession-and-still-do-so-anyway/

    P.S.
    • Track 17, “Last Days”, from Max Richter’s amazing album, ‘MemoryHouse’ which was made in 2002 (VIDEO, 06:38) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0CVMpaQoVY
    • Fanshawe: “El Ten Eleven” from the albumn ‘El Ten Eleven’ (2004)
    [VIDEO, 05:06] – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKqtUL0npPA

  9. SimoHurtta
    May 6, 2012, 4:15 pm

    Israel’s economical miracle? What miracle? Israel is successful economically compared to neighboring Arab countries but not compared to West European states. It would be interesting to know how successful Arab and other countries would have been if had been blessed with millions of highly educated adult immigrants with international connections, knowhow and capital. Not to mention the constant flow of US and Jewish donations, money pumped out of Soviet Union/Russia and Holocaust “royalties” from Europe. Israel compared to the comparison group it wants to be compared – the “western” democracies – is no economical miracle. In 1968 Israel’s GDP per capita was on the same level as Japan’s or Italy’s and ahead of Greece’s or Ireland’s. Now only Greece is behind Israel.

    • sciri21
      May 6, 2012, 4:36 pm

      It’s a typical hasbara ploy: compare Israel to western-style democracies. Some of the hasbara agents even try to say that Israel is an ordinary nation-state like Sweden and Greece and not an ethnocracy.

    • seafoid
      May 6, 2012, 5:06 pm

      Japan didn’t spend the equivalent of 2 trillion dollars on a deluded military occupation since 1967. Israel took money from everywhere for YESHA and the cost is visible in the GDP numbers.

      • SimoHurtta
        June 11, 2012, 4:42 am

        Not true. USA has paid the costs of the military occupation and Jewish Israel has also made a lot of money by having the control of Palestinian income and assets. Israeli industries and trade sector get a healthy profit of the goods and services bought for Palestine with the foreign domination money. In what else occupied area have outsiders to pay the living costs of the occupied. Not in Tibet, not in Kashmir. Lets remember that the size of Israeli economy is in reality the economy of the chosen citizens (+ “own” Arabs”) and the economy of the slave people (Palestine).

    • Citizen
      May 6, 2012, 6:06 pm

      Those who tout Israel’s economic miracle never compare it with any other state that has received so much outside (Goy) aid scot free. What could the Palestinians do with German aid and US aid on par with what is, and has been given Israel? There’s historical justification for such aid since the Palestinian people have paid the price for what Nazi Europe did to the Jews and America has supported this attack on the Palestinian people simply because they live in the land controlled by Israel, and US government is a de facto plutocracy.

    • Blake
      May 7, 2012, 8:46 am

      Probably won’t get printed but the truth is the Russian mafia funnel billions into “Israel” annually from the USA plus they have the monopoly on all illicit goings on from money laundering to human trafficking.

      Remember the trillions that went missing from the Pentagon and was never investigated….what are the chances that it would end up in say Saudi Arabia, or anywhere but “Israel”, and not get investigated?

    • Talkback
      May 7, 2012, 8:51 am

      “Israel’s economical miracle? What miracle?”

      To confiscate the possessions of Palestinians including industries and cultivated land and get more than 100 billion dollar from the US.

  10. sciri21
    May 6, 2012, 4:27 pm

    “Shore also founded the Clarion Fund, and under its auspices produced another documentary, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.”

    This says all you need to know. The Clarion Fund is closely linked to Aish HaTorah and has also produced The Third Jihad and Iranium. Even Jeffrey Goldberg has called Aish HaTorah “Jewish extremists”.

    • seafoid
      May 7, 2012, 11:20 am

      Israel’s radical Islam Spiel is very jaded in 2012. Radical Islam is all very well and good between consenting adults but the US has wasted 3 trillion dollars and lost most of its diplomatic capital between Indonesia and Morocco chasing that Zionist fantasy.

  11. W.Jones
    May 6, 2012, 5:36 pm

    Charging for Israel Inside and calling it “educational” doesn’t mean it’s not propaganda, of course. But I move the previous question: what’s the intended effect? It’s hard to believe that a prospective delegitimizer, Jew or gentile, will be dissuaded by this encomium to ethnic achievement, any more than a prospective Resistance fighter would have been deterred by the excellence of the Volkswagen or autobahnen. So I guess the target is the choir rather than the pews. Even so, I don’t anticipate much payoff in actual vigor or effectiveness of the anti-delegitimization campaign ahead.

    I don’t know. Before I knew about the “other side” of the IP Conflict, I had a generally positive view of the country. It was inspiring for me that they had kibbutzes and communal ownership, work, living, in the 1950’s. This was an important progressive part of the state’s foundation.

    Granted, I figured that this progressive part of the system had become less and less, but it left me with a nice feeling. So I think it’s effective to get out images like this to the public.

    As for the Autobahn, it was a government project I think, and some people (generally anti-Socialists) make the claim that “national socialism” was partly “socialist.” I am pretty doubftul of that, because their country had big companies like VW. But I think PR still has a small effect on a person’s mentality, and it can mislead people into thinking a country is more “progressive” than it is.

  12. eljay
    May 6, 2012, 5:57 pm

    >> Israel is successful economically compared to neighboring Arab countries but not compared to West European states.

    This is very much in line with Israel’s (unofficial?) motto:

    “Israel: We may not be as good as the best but, hey, at least we’re not as bad as the worst!” (c)

    • edwin
      May 7, 2012, 8:55 am

      You forgot the bit about “And you can’t criticize us if we are not the worst because that would be anti-Semitic!”

  13. W.Jones
    May 6, 2012, 6:06 pm

    Oh, another thing. Do you know Israel is one of the few countries in the world to ban spanking? That is an extremely progressive step. It means giving children of all ages the same respect from physical pain assaults as adults. In America, you can’t hit your dog or spouse, criminals, or anyone except for defenseless little children, who are half the size of adults. Here, Israel is at the forefront of rights for its vulnerable citizens.

    Now remember back to the movie Miral, where the beautiful girl is tied and caned in a prison cell. Julian Schnabel, the director, said he knows it’s real, because he has seen the whip scars on her. Plus, there are the hundreds of children locked away in prison, taken at night from their homes with no representation, for resisting the military police. Or the children tied to the front of military vehicles.

    Things on one side of the wall can be at the forefront of Western progress, while on the other side they are at the edge of what Western society will turn its face away from and allow. And the same group performs both.

    • Philip Weiss
      May 6, 2012, 8:42 pm

      Thanks WJ, interesting.

    • edwin
      May 7, 2012, 9:07 am

      Circumcision – a form of torture – usually practiced on newborns or children, is probably almost universal in Israel.

      The psychotic split between a country that tortures its infants and bans spanking is I suspect similar to the behaviour on one side of the wall versus the other.

      • W.Jones
        May 9, 2012, 11:53 pm

        I disagree about circumcision- it is performed as a central religious ritual and based on medical reasons (although the reasons are arguable). Corporal punishment, on the other hand, is punishment and done as an adverse action with the purpose of causing pain.

        Now, the Old Testament does give advice on both (Proverbs for the latter), so you could argue that there is an inconsistency in widely practicing one and banning the other. In any case, this is a different kind of “split”.

  14. Elisabeth
    May 7, 2012, 2:20 am

    “Altogether now: Oy Veh!”

    A rabbi setting one part of his congregation against another….Wow, did anyone else find that shocking?

  15. seafoid
    May 7, 2012, 6:14 am

    Zionism is mendacity, Tel, and you are no different .

  16. Nevada Ned
    May 7, 2012, 8:45 am

    Dear George Smith:
    Thanks for this contribution.

    Israel has been steadily losing support. Your hawkish rabbi is showing an Israeli propaganda film at the synagogue. That will not stem the loss of support for Israel among gentiles. Instead the Israelis are hoping to stem the loss of support among Jews.

    Now is the time to read Norman Finkelstein’s new book, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish romance with Israel is coming to an end. (available from OR Books). He documents the “distancing” of American Jews from Israel, especially younger Jews.

  17. Shingo
    May 7, 2012, 10:52 am

    Confident people hah?

    The West Wing – Holy Land Map

  18. seafoid
    May 7, 2012, 11:57 am

    Great comment at Haaretz on hasbara

    • Akiva , I have news for you…..
    o Dutch
    o 07.05.12
    o 06:08

    Israel’s security like the American war on terror is quickly fading into the woodwork today..People have no appetite or indeed patience for such government involvement —their aggression and lawlessness against other states…. Especially, after 9/11, and the meltdown in US markets and cut backs in local aid and programs and the skyrocketing US debt. Americans want all the lawlessness to stop and the money to come home–including US mayors who have written to Obama and asked him to bring the troops and war money home for the American people ….. And as far as Netanyahu’s war mongering on Iran and his failure to so what is lawful and right and remove the troops and Israeli settlers from the territories … I recall listening to a radio program a few weeks ago when a 70 yr old women called in and told a right wing Zionist apologist “to grow up” and and accept a nuclear Iran and stop his war mongering. And although the conversation wasn’t centered on the settlements at the time —that is how many peo ple like myself feel about Israel settlements today. They have to go and Israel must “grow up” and do what is right and lawful…. So much for Netanyahu trying to push for borders to be based on “Military sites” Fat chance .When, will he get it? Americans have had enough of Israel’s nonsense and expect its leaders to move on properly too. Dutch

  19. Mayhem
    May 15, 2012, 8:43 am

    You can Watch the film “Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference” to see for yourself what it is on about.
    The film is available online for free from May 14-18 at http://www.theisraelproject.org/site/c.ewJXKcOUJlIaG/b.8077265/k.9A32/Israel_Inside.htm.
    You even have a chance to win a flight to Israel on El-Al where you will have the opportunity to demonstrate against Israel to your heart’s content.

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