In an era when fact and propaganda can be hard to distinguish, we need to get tough with media complicit in Israeli whitewashing
A recent tweet from the state of Israel’s official Twitter channel - managed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s “Digital Diplomacy Team” - announces: “If you THINK you know everything there is to know about Israel, you should have a look at this list.”
The list in question is a 2014 BuzzFeed dispatch titled “51 Facts About Israel That Will Surprise You”. The photograph accompanying the tweet is of a bikinied blond woman floating in the Dead Sea.
Many viewers are unequipped to distinguish between media output that is reality-based and political brainwashing disguised as entertainment
As for why the list is being resurrected three years after the fact, there’s presumably nothing like a bit of digital diplomacy to distract international audiences from land grabs, home demolitions, the gradual pulverisation of the Gaza Strip, and other contemporary Israeli activities.
BuzzFeed, which advertises itself as “a cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment that generates seven billion views each month,” is known especially for its production of items along the lines of “21 Animals Who Were Born With Swag” or “22 Stunning Photos That Will Make You Want A Septum Ring”.
BuzzFeed’s list of 51 alleged “facts” about Israel - which could just as easily have been titled “51 Ways Apartheid Is Awesome” - is a typical compendium of Israeli state propaganda marketing the country as a paradise for, among others, entrepreneurs, women, blind people, sushi eaters, gay and transgender folks, birdwatchers, beach lovers, rollerbladers, Eurovision fans, and even chess grandmasters.
Other endearing trivia is also thrown in, such as that “an Israeli company has developed the world’s first jellyfish repellent” and that Israel “was the first country to ban underweight models".
Never mind that Israel has had no problem putting Palestinians on blockade diets - or killing them outright, for that matter.
Indeed, BuzzFeed’s publication of the 51 “surprising facts” coincidentally took place the very same year that the Israeli military managed to eliminate 2,251 Palestinians in Gaza - including 299 women and 551 children - in a matter of 51 days. Unfortunately, mass slaughter by said military has become somewhat less than surprising.
More questionable listicles
Also in 2014, the BuzzFeed Community website hosted “66 Reasons Why We Love Israel,” in honour of the 66th anniversary of Israeli independence from the people whose land they had usurped.
A disclaimer specifies that this particular post - “brought to you by your friends at the Consulate General of Israel in New York and the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations” - was not “vetted or endorsed by BuzzFeed’s editorial staff”.
Try as it might to rewrite history, Israel did not invent falafel, hummus, shawarma or tahini
BuzzFeed Community, apparently, is simply an open forum for ideas and lists - the problem being, of course, that in the age of digital media overload and seven-billion-views-per-month many viewers are inevitably unequipped to distinguish between media output that is sufficiently reality-based and political brainwashing disguised as entertainment.
The list of “66 reasons” predictably covers some of the same ground as the “51 facts”, with a number of new “lovable” additions including chocolate milk in a bag, the “magical chocolate marshmallow treat we call ‘Krembo,’” cherry tomatoes, AOL Instant Messenger, model Bar Refaeli, actress Natalie Portman (herself a former research assistant to the abominable Alan Dershowitz), Israeli “super cows” that produce disproportionate quantities of milk, the Israeli military, cats, and wine (much of it hailing, obviously, from the illegally occupied Golan Heights).
The Al Aqsa Mosque is inexplicably thrown in, as well, as is the idea that “the spirit of coexistence” is one of the reasons to love Israel, whose Declaration of Independence purports to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex".
Somehow, the great spirit of coexistence hasn’t prevented the inclusion on the to-love list of “The Miracle of 1948” - the year of Israel’s founding via the destruction of more than 400 Palestinian villages, the expulsion of some 750,000 people, and the killing of thousands more. Miraculous, indeed.
The BuzzFeed Community post furthermore makes the claim that “We have the coolest 90-year-old president" - referring to the since-deceased Shimon Peres, whose misdeeds ranged from participation in ethnic cleansing to presiding over the 1996 slaughter of more than 100 civilians sheltering in a United Nations compound in the south Lebanese village of Qana.
Shakshuka is a North African dish that has - like so many other foods - been subjected to culinary-cultural appropriation by Israel (Image by Calliopejen)
'This Israeli good'?
This year, BuzzFeed once again provided a platform for fun, pro-Israel lists, this time a compilation of “21 Israeli Foods That Will Make You Say ‘This Israeli Good'.”
If the title hasn’t already made you puke, the descriptions might - such as the one for shakshuka, a North African dish that has - like so many other foods - been subjected to culinary-cultural appropriation by Israel: “Pretty egg-cellent if you ask me.”
The BuzzFeed post has since been amended to “16 Delicious Middle Eastern Foods You Need In Your Life” following an apparent realisation that, try as it might to rewrite history, Israel did not invent falafel, hummus, shawarma, or tahini.
Of course, some might argue that BuzzFeed at least does less harm allowing Israel to lay claim to various foodstuffs than by allowing the Israeli embassy in the United States to post preposterous maps, as it did in 2013, of “Threats Facing Israel.” This production was again courtesy of BuzzFeed Community - although the attendant disclaimer conveniently appears in grey on a grey background.
In an article for The Atlantic titled “Israel and BuzzFeed: When Government PR Goes Viral,” Ryan Jacobs commented with regard to the map: “If you were to take the infographic at face value, you’d think Iran and Israel’s Arab neighbours were on the brink of pummeling the US-allied nation with a torrent of rockets and nukes.”
As Israel continues to unabashedly pummel the Palestinians, meanwhile, you might look at media complicity in Israeli whitewashing and propaganda strategies and think: “This Israeli Wrong.”
- Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Scene from the Tel Aviv airshow in May 2016 (AFP)