In the midst of a crisis in Israel in which leaders have warned of growing fascism, and even echoes of Nazism, the difficult burden on its propagandists here is to assure Americans that everything in Israel is fine. And Max Boot in Commentary shows exactly how it’s done. His piece in Commentary is the best hasbara, or propaganda, yet published on the crisis.
Readers can walk away from Boot’s article believing everything about Israel they have before now. That in spite of what even the New York Times has told them is disturbing (in one piece anyway), there is no new threatening reality they have to contend with, it is all explainable.
Let’s look at what Boot wrote.
The article is titled “Leave Warfighting to the Pros,” and Boot begins by summarizing the situation in an honest manner. He even tells us that in the incident that precipitated the crisis, on March 24, an Israeli medic “calmly” shot a “helpless” Palestinian. Boot doesn’t use manipulative words like “terrorist.”
Just the facts and no propaganda for 3 paragraphs. An impressive feat for a propagandist. Ask Eli Lake how difficult it is to write even one or two impartial sentences.
But after three paragraphs Boot makes up for lost time.
The comparisons to Nazi Germany are, to put it mildly, far-fetched; indeed, the very fact that senior generals are strongly condemning not only [medic] Azariah’s actions but also those of his political defenders suggests that Israel remains a vibrant democracy where human rights are respected in a way that is true nowhere else in the region. But what’s interesting here is that, in Israel, it is the soldiers who are the most committed to upholding the laws of war, whereas many politicians and civilians shrug their shoulders and think that all is fair in love and war.
Boot says, I bring you good news, dear readers, from the land of Zion. The first lesson of the Murdering Medic story is that here is more proof that Israel once again in 2016 deserves the “most moral army in the world” designation. But what’s “interesting” is that it’s soldiers who are “most committed” to upholding the “laws of war.”
Of course, Boot means that certain IDF generals, such as Yair Golan, who look down from above, with horror, at the IDF’s people’s army, seem committed to the rule of law. But Israeli society exhibits no such concern. The murdering medic’s whole unit is on his side (as Akiva Eldar explained to Peace Now). These soldiers don’t seem so committed to upholding the rule of law as Golan is. We also cannot really trust old testament warrior colonel (since promoted) Ofer Winter with upholding the rule of law. The commanding officer of the elite Givati Brigade, Winter had this order read to his troops as they were about to attack Gaza in July 2014.
“History has chosen us to spearhead the fight against the terrorist Gazan enemy who curses, vilifies and abominates Israel’s God.”
If I were a Palestinian, I would dread being captured by someone like Colonel Ofer Winter.
But what about the “fascist” villains in the Israeli story? What’s the politicians’ excuse? All Max Boot chooses to say is that they “shrug their shoulders” and say “all’s fair in love and war.” Is that what these politicians’ defense is going to be if they end up in the Hague? Are they going to say all we did was “shrug our shoulders,” we were just “bystanders.” And argue that “all’s fair in love and war?”
Boot finds it best to take us far from the subject. He wants to go down memory lane and give us a history lecture.
He moves the story to the United States and tells us the story of US Army Lt William Calley, who led the My Lai massacre in 1968, in which hundreds of Vietnamese villagers died.
Calley received an appropriate punishment from a military court: life imprisonment and hard labor at Fort Leavenworth.
But many Americans were outraged by the verdict. Among the more vociferous protesters were Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter and Alabama Governor George Wallace. Carter asked Georgians to drive with their headlights on for a week in protest. The White House reported telegrams running 100 to 1 in favor of leniency and one poll showed that 79 percent disagreed with the verdict. Reacting to the outcry, President Nixon moved Calley to house arrest….
“The disparity between the way soldiers and civilians view war crimes,” Boot tells us, is “a complex and interesting question.”
So that is exactly where he is taking our story. That is why an analysis of Israel’s political crisis ends up under the “military” rubric in Commentary rather than under “Israel.”
The armies of modern liberal democracies have nothing in common with the Mongol or Hun hordes that would inflict any atrocity imaginable. Self-restraint, obedience to orders…
Boot has skillfully taken his concerned reader away from Israel/Nazi comparisons to googling William Calley and Genghis Khan.
But he’s not done yet!
It’s too bad that so many civilians don’t get it, which accounts for why you have presidential candidate Donald Trump calling on the U.S. armed forces to commit war crimes such as killing the relatives of terrorists, using torture as punishment, and bombing indiscriminately. By contrast 42 retired generals and admirals signed a letter opposing the use of torture.
So Boot is using this article to say, Donald Trump wants to commit war crimes and 42 generals are against him. It’s a little “Never Trump” advertisement right in the middle of the Mongol hordes and the My Lai massacre lecture. Israel’s murdering medic helps us understand– Donald Trump. Look how dangerous civilian leaders can be! Donald Trump is the fascist.
Talk about chutzpah. Max Boot will go far.
For all the things that Boot says about Trump apply even moreso to the person we actually are interested in, the one we had reason to believe this article would be about, Benjamin Netanyahu’s new Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Everything Donald Trump has said— killing the relatives of terrorists, using torture, bombing indiscriminately– Lieberman has done him many times better.
That is what makes this story very dishonest. A real journalist in The New York Times tells readers that Lieberman has said Israel should bomb the Aswan dam; but Max Boot wants to talk about what Donald Trump would do.
And while I will take anything that Israel’s propagandists give me– So Israel is like America during Vietnam, who knew! – even accepting Boot’s hasbara moves the ethical landscape of Israel back a half a century. All those things that happened during the My Lai massacre– the headlights, the telegrams –that was 50 years ago. This country has changed. The world has changed. Do you really think today that an American soldier could get away with leading the genocide of hundreds of civilians and suffer house arrest? And that lots of politicians would support him?
But as a work of hasbara this is very impressive. If you read this article not very closely, you feel pretty good at the end. Boot has taken us away from the conversation about fascism in Israel to something that is “complex and interesting.” It turns out the Israeli military are great guys, and things were worse in the U.S.
I don’t think that Max Boot’s effort will succeed. The days are long gone when neocon thinkers and writers actually converted anyone new to their ideas about Israel. Now it’s just about managing the attrition rate to the other side. The longtime neoconservative organ Commentary is a relic of another age.
Commentary may be able to convince rightwing Jews that Israel is fine, but as Israel’s behavior becomes more and more incongruous with American values and ideals, the role of mainstream propagandists has become far more difficult. The average Jewish New York Times reader who supports Israel is today in a state of constant psychological crisis: How to resolve the cognitive dissonance, of Israel, a light unto the nations, a custodian of Jewish values, a sharer of western ideals, being run by Netanyahu, either a madman, a fanatic or (maybe best case scenario) someone whose only real concern is staying in power. And every other day there is news of another former friend and colleague of Netanyahu’s talking about fascism.
This brings me to the question I raise every time I look at the propagandists. Where is Jeffrey Goldberg?
Goldberg is the most important propagandist for Israel in the U.S., and so far he has been silent. He’s not too busy. Nothing is more important than this story. The New York Times has run a major article saying that there could be a coup in Israel and the Gaza War was superfluous and Netanyahu is out of control and the generals opposed his plan to attack Iran. These are hugely damaging assertions about Israel. But from Goldberg: Silence.
Goldberg is in a very difficult position. He cannot do what Max Boot has done here for a rightwing Jewish audience. Goldberg is mainstream. His many critics would laugh at him for changing the subject to Vietnam. No one would pass the article around at the State Department.
Goldberg needs to be in the absolute center of opinion on this subject to maintain his career as explainer. He can’t be too far right or left. He doesn’t want to lose control of the discourse, and he also wants to do something of what Boot has done here: try to save Israel’s image, try to make Israel’s American defenders feel good about the country they love. And of course try to make everyone feel good about Jeffrey Goldberg.
What he writes on this question will be the most important thing he writes for the next two or three years. And what makes this such a difficult decision for him is that I think what he wants to do is throw Netanyahu under the bus. He wants to say, This country is going in the wrong direction. Let us have a sane coalition in Israel, led by Moshe Yaalon. It is the only way to save Israel. Both Uri Avnery and Akiva Eldar have called for for a “unity government” from Meretz on the left to Benny Begin and Yaalon on the right with the Israeli declaration of independence as a guiding document. I think Goldberg would love to take a position like that. It would preserve his reputation among liberals and help Goldberg’s legacy too, by ending the criticism that he is Netanyahu’s stenographer.
But there is one big downside: the rightwing would go nuts. The Israeli lobby is Goldberg’s natural base and they still have considerable influence (look at Hillary Clinton’s campaign). They would tear him apart for taking such a stand. He would feel like one of Stalin’s henchman during the purges hearing a knock on the door at the wrong time of night and know what’s in store for him. Jennifer Rubin, Bret Stephens, and Dershowitz and maybe even the very clever Max Boot as well, would ask, what has happened to Jeffrey Goldberg? Why has be become a self hating Jew?
Goldberg has been thinking about these questions as he stares at his computer screen for many weeks now. There’s a risk no matter what he writes, for the “discourse” and his career. He can’t decide what to do. Each day he studies the reception of each new contribution about the Murdering medic, every new utterance about Yaalon, Netanyahu, Golan and Lieberman– anything to get a better sense which way the wind is blowing.
Everyone sees Jeffrey playing hookie because he is afraid he will fail the test. But Jeffrey, do it for us. It’s unfair to the rest of the world for you not to share your unique insights on the murdering medic and Israel’s road to fascism.