Monday, 17 October 2011
Railing against Reality: Lisa Goldman tries to defend Journalists who Use Pallywood
Recently a number of articles by photojournalists who turned their cameras on their fellow photojournalists have reinforced an argument I first made in 2005 with my first documentary short, Pallywood. They revealed the extent to which journalists, with their pack mentality and their eagerness to get pictures of the victimization of the Palestinian David by the Israeli Goliath, may influence, even make the “news” they record about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Obviously such charges runs the risk of undermining the narrative that the MSNM so relentlessly record for their audiences, a narrative that has had an enormous impact on images of Israel in the West. In response Lisa Goldman, a blogger at 972, has come to the defense of this kind of news. Her piece illustrates from many angles just what’s wrong with people who think they’re “journalists” when they’re really advocates.
Lisa defines what she means by “far-right” later in this essay: those who call the occupied territories the ‘administered territories’ and insist that Israel must keep its settlements in the West Bank. There are two major points to be made here.
1) This is a pretty weak definition of “far-right.” I would have imagined something more along the lines of forceful transfer of population from both Israel and the territories for the sake of an Arab-free greater Israel. That would, after all, be a fairly neat parallel to an apartheid position that has its mirror opposite among so many Palestinians. But what Goldman’s trying to do here is to label anything that isn’t close to her position “far-right.” Presumably, she’d have no problem labeling “far-right” anyone who referred to them as “disputed territories” or felt that some of the settlements should, indeed remain part of Israel.
2) Nowhere can Lisa, who knows me personally because I invited her to participate in a conference at the IDC in 2006, find in my fairly copious writings, anything resembling these positions. I personally find even the “right-wing” label inaccurate, much less “far-right,” but that’s probably because I don’t skew the political spectrum heavily to the left in order to define anything that disagrees with me “right-wing.” On the contrary, I think that, when speaking of the Arab-Israeli conflict we need to have a spectrum that can accommodate both Palestinian and Israeli politics. That way we can avoid such foolish generalizations as, on the one hand, calling Abbas a “moderate” when, by my definition, he and his fellow PA officials are “far-right,” in favor of ethnic cleansing of a Palestinian state and keeping the refugees in camps, and on the other, avoid calling Netanyahu a “hardliner” when, in comparison, he’s far more accommodating than Abbas.
So we learn from Lisa Goldman’s first sentence of her post that: a) she is a poor journalist who doesn’t even care to research her claims, b) she’s into smearing people who get in the way of her narrative, and c) she defines matters with a heavy skew to the PCP (2) as normative, rather than one-sided.
All three of these observations will continue to hold true throughout an examination of her piece.
This analysis reveals still more about Goldman’s world. I would have thought that people who “subscribe” to the Pallywood theory are people who have looked at the evidence – quite copious – and have come to the conclusion that it’s true, regardless of where they stand politically. Has Lisa even seen the movie or the rushes upon which the movie is based? I won’t deny that it’s water to the mill of those who defend Israel, but it’s empirically sound evidence that should, in principle, trouble those who think Israel is in the wrong.
Apparently, however, it does trouble people with a particular agenda. I remember a colleague of mine told me that he proposed I present al Durah and Pallywood to the journalism department at a major California university, and someone objected that I was trying to destroy the peace process. On the contrary, I tried to argue, no peace process will succeed when all the Palestinians need to do is fake an incident and break all their promises.
Lisa prefers to label anyone who takes this evidence seriously as an ideologue who takes an uncritical stance towards Israel. In other words, apparently, Lisa thinks that any criticism of the Palestinians and their narrative is a position that considers any criticism of Israel illegitimate, what so many on the “left” call the “Israel right or wrong crowd.” The idea that people can at once consider evidence for and against both sides seems alien to her. If you defend Israel and criticize the Palestinians, you’re “Israel right or wrong.” In her mind, people like me think Israel’s only fault is its poor hasbarah. If only it were so simple. But I guess that works for the simple-minded.
Oh dear. Innocent bystanders have been poisoned by far-right ideologues. Goldman to the rescue. We must look deeper to understand.
I personally would not jump to that conclusion. Are there scenes that are inauthentic? Yes. Are they all? Not necessarily. I’m certainly not going to take the position that all Palestinian claims to mistreatment and injury by the IDF are false. I have no doubt the Palestinians, even innocent ones, suffer at the hands of a military that must deal with terrorism from the seemingly innocent. But given the widespread propensity of Palestinians to stage scenes, the idea that they should be granted authentic status a priori seems like a foolish epistemological move… one typical of many journalists up till now.
I don’t have the time to go into this list one by one, but I do think it worth mentioning that a) the checkpoints (and the separation fence/wall) are a direct response to Palestinian terror directed specifically against civilians; b) most of the arrests are hardly “arbitrary” by any but an ideologue’s standards; c) Palestinians have extensive protection before Israeli law (including the Supreme Court), indeed far more than they do before Palestinian “law.”
In short, this list is advocacy driven, has no sense of balance or perspective, no depth or complexity. It merely parrots the most one-dimensional Palestinian narrative, and then, in a classic move, accuses anyone of not agreeing, of acting in bad faith.
Let’s take it a bit farther. Do they fake scenes in order to produce “sight-bytes” for the Western news to run? Yup. Does their macho get in the way? You bet. Look at this fellow, who’s been made up with blood on his forehead, run along, hand off a Molotov cocktail, and enter a crowd that carries him to an ambulance that’s directly in front of the Israeli position where (presumably) the soldiers are shooting wildly at him and everyone else. He can’t even pretend he’s been injured. Note how he holds up his “wounded” head as he’s carried to the ambulance.
Except, of course, you Lisa. And how many others? Can you give us some examples?
Excuse my skepticism here. This contradicts what you just said about how they mug for the camera. I don’t believe for a minute that they behave differently when the camera isn’t there. Indeed, the key moment for me in “discovering” Pallywood was watching a big fat guy in Netzarim Junction, filmed by Talal abu Rahmah, who faked a leg injury and when he realized he wasn’t going to get the media “treatment” – carried to an ambulance in front of the cameras – he walked away without a limp. (NB: France2 cut this clip from the video they showed the court.)
This may actually reflect a welcome trend in current journalism. Certainly, during the first and second Intifadas, these images were eagerly snatched up by journalists (I made Bob Simon the butt of my movie, but there were plenty of examples to draw from, that continued throughout Operation Cast Lead). Now, perhaps because having once had the faking pointed out, and having been stung by bloggers for their gross incompetence, reporters are less likely to do so.
Or maybe, just maybe Lisa, the world has awakened to the fact that their obsession with the Arab-Israeli conflict has blinded them to far more important conflicts and far greater suffering than what the Palestinians suffer at the hands of the evil Israelis – like what’s happening next door in Syria, where the paragraph above that outlines what they have to protest would be ten times as harsh (including what they do to Palestinian refugees) and a thousand times more accurate.
There’s only so long a boy can cry wolf, even if people so desperately want to believe it. I’m under the impression that even though the media does its best to blame Israel for the failure of negotiations, their audience has begun to realize that the Palestinians have played a major role in their own failure to have a country.
You mean, like Talal abu Rahmah and the Muhammad al Durah affair. He got lots of prizes for his staged blood libel. By the way, Lisa, as one of your commentators (RichardNYC) also asked, what is your position on Al Durah? Have you looked at the evidence? Are you aware of how the piece was used as a “icon of hatred” by the Palestinians, the Muslims, the radical “left”? Do you have a position on egregious propaganda, or does the “victim status” of the Palestinians forgive anything, and answer to a higher truth?
Except for the fact that you don’t seem interested in going anywhere else, it would not be hard to photograph egregious incidents that are noteworthy every day, many times a day in Syria right now. Anyone getting them into papers? Anyone getting prizes?
I’m sorry. What are you talking about? Wasn’t the footage you’re complaining about showing a – in your own words – a “scrum of photojournalists madly clicking their shutters in the direction of a single teenage boy with a keffiyeh wrapped around his face and a chunk of rock clutched in his hand, while a tyre burns in the background“? Try reading Stephanie Gutman, The Other War.
Lisa, let me suggest something that I doubt you’ll consider, but think you should. Maybe your uncritical embrace of the Palestinian narrative of suffering that you defend so poorly is part of the Palestinian problem. Maybe if Palestinians had real friends, who gave them valuable advice, rather than merely reaffirmed their sense of victimhood, maybe if you helped them address the degree to which their own leaders (Palestinian and Arabs and Muslims) have victimized them, then maybe this wouldn’t be groundhog day. But of course, that would take what you call “study and investigation” and what I would call complexity and depth.
It may well be that the real problem is not Israeli failure of hasbarah, but the unmerited success of Palestinian hasbarah. And to that, you and your friends in the center of the far left contribute way too much
Posted on 10/17/2011 1:16 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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