Wednesday, January 27, 2016

27-Jan-16: Reality, invention, memory and media

Image Source
We're fans of the columns penned by the journalist and commentator Evelyn Gordon. This paragraph comes from one of her latest:
...[F]or anyone who’s still confused about the difference between a real siege and a fictitious one, here are two simple tests: First, in real sieges, people die of starvation, because the besieger stops food from entering; in fake ones, the “besieger” sends in 2,500 tons of food and medicine per day even during the worst of the fighting. Second, real sieges get swept under the carpet by the UN; only the fake ones merit massive UN publicity. And if you think I’m joking, just compare the actual cases of Madaya and Gaza... So next time you hear people talking about the “siege of Gaza,” remember Madaya. And then tell them to stop wasting their breath on fake sieges when people are dying in real ones. ["How to Spot a Fake Siege", January 25, 2016]
Being reminded of the difference between reality and ideologically-driven spin is especially relevant today, January 27. That's the date on which, annually, Holocaust Memorial Day is observed - at least in those places where it's remembered at all.

What's remembered, what's forgotten and what's willfully twisted and distorted is, of course, part of the reason the commemoration exists. How effectively is a matter worth thinking about.

Why was January 27 set aside? On that date Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi network of industrialized death camps, was freed in 1945 [source]. In our own family, that's more than a historical footnote since two of our children's grandparents were among the relative handful of Jews who were sent there and, despite the unspeakable horrors, survived to build families and productive lives.

During its five years of operation, Auschwitz became
"the site of the largest mass murder in history. An estimated 1.1 million people were killed there between 1940 and 1945, 90% of whom were Jews. The camp survived World War Two largely intact, and today it forms one of the most significant and disturbing locations on the concentration camp..."
Is Gaza equivalent to what Auschwitz was? (There's no shred of doubt in our mind, and there shouldn't be in yours, that the answer is: absolutely not - not even in the very smallest, most trivial sense.) Many will say it depends whom you ask. The very idea, ironically, stems from propaganda first pushed into the public sphere by the defunct Soviet regime
and from there spread to the Soviets’ Arab clients. It is now fully embedded in the Arab-Muslim world, where it grows and mutates in symbiosis with outright denial that the Holocaust occurred or a radical reduction of its genocidal scale, ferocity, and number of victims. Holocaust inversion has a graphic omnipresence in cartoons all over the Arab and Iranian press, where Israelis are regularly portrayed in Nazi regalia. Elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond, it has surfaced in the rhetoric of populist demagogues and the media... In Europe, Holocaust inversion is busy spreading beyond its original locus of infection and finding a home among intellectuals and activists, especially on the Left... [Martin Kramer writing in Mosaic Magazine, August 2014]
Anyone wanting to see for themselves how closely Gaza matches up to the libelous claims alleging it's a latter-day concentration camp can find no shortage of web-based reports depicting Gaza's luxe hotels, well-stocked supermarkets and glitzy shopping malls. Ditto a host of serious news analysis pieces (Washington Post, The Guardian, Honest Reporting, UK Media Watch and many others). It's there for anyone who wants to see.

The trouble is, reality is usually nuanced, often complex. It's clear that neither facts nor photos are enough to displace some people's prejudices and simplifications. Time has an effect too. The generation of Auschwitz survivors is, in the nature of things, approaching its natural end, making it that much easier for the deniers of the Holocaust's reality to attract audiences. And as the evidence sadly shows, there's a growing slice of humanity - among them a disturbingly large number of college students - who have been persuaded that not only did the Holocaust never happen, but it was the Israelis that did it with its principal victims being Palestinians.

"My visit to the Gaza concentration camp" [Source]
Don't be so quick to scoff. Fundamental mistakes of fact and of history are all around us; they are grist for the echo chamber that some parts of the mass media have become.

Khaled Abu Toameh, a journalist whose work we have quoted admiringly here several times refers to some vignettes (in an article he wrote for Gatestone Institute) that are so shocking that a person could easily think they were invented. They illustrate what he terms a "degree of incomprehension -- and professional laziness -- [that] is difficult to imagine in the Internet age". Some instances (all direct quotes):
  • When Israel assassinated Hamas's founder and spiritual leader, Ahmed Yassin, in 2004, a British newspaper dispatched its crime reporter to Jerusalem to cover the event... Well, our hero reported on the assassination of Ahmed Yassin from the bar of the American Colony Hotel. His byline claimed that he was in the Gaza Strip and had interviewed relatives of the slain leader of Hamas...
  • [A] Ramallah-based colleague... received a request from a cub correspondent to help arrange an interview with Yasser Arafat. Except at that point, Arafat had been dead for several years. Fresh out of journalism school and unknowledgeable about the Middle East, the journalist was apparently considered by his editors a fine candidate for covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Two Western journalists recently asked to be accompanied to the Gaza Strip to interview Jewish settlers living there. No, this is not the opening line of a joke. These journalists were in Israel at the end of 2015, and they were deadly serious. Imagine their embarrassment when it was pointed out to them that Israel had completely pulled out of the Gaza Strip ten years ago.
We could add several more from our personal experiences of meeting and being interviewed by literally hundreds of members of the brigade of what Khaled Abu Toameh calls "parachute journalists":
catapulted into the region without being briefed on the basic facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sadly, correspondents such as these are more the rule than the exception... Of course, the above tales hardly apply to all foreign journalists. Some correspondents from the US, Canada, Australia and Europe are both very knowledgeable and very fair. Unfortunately, however, these represent but a small group among mainstream media in the West... [But not] all foreign journalists. Some correspondents from the US, Canada, Australia and Europe are both very knowledgeable and very fair. Unfortunately, however, these represent but a small group among mainstream media in the West...
Those of us who care about truth, and its close companion, justice, understand that these are realities that must never be ignored. Khaled Abu Toameh expresses it sharply in the context of the journalism that we see practiced in this part of the world, which he correctly says
is not about being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. Rather, it is about being "pro" the truth, even when the truth runs straight up against what they would prefer to believe.
All the worthy memorials and monuments and anniversary events are helpless in the face of reportorial incompetence, massive ignorance, malevolence and fabrication. The deliberate rewriting of history absolutely matters.

So does forgetting the victims and their suffering and the lives they built afterwards.

No comments: