Sunday, December 24, 2006

Here's One Report on the Blog Conference

The coming out party of the pro-Israel Blogosphere

Thanks to Professor Richard Landes of the Augean Stables, as well as the efforts of Uzi Arad and many others, pro-Israel and pro-truth bloggers from all over the world were invited to take part in a first ever conference, on Media as Theater of War, the Blogosphere, and the Global Battle for Civil Society held in Herzliya at the Daniel hotel. The event was open to the public and free. If you missed it, you missed a chance to meet some of your favorite blogging personalities and commentators from Israel, the USA, Australia and Lebanon, among other places. A mostly hitherto unheralded army of bloggers and Web masters, in large part volunteers, have been laboring to bring people the truth about what is happening in the Middle East, including the inconvenient bits left out by the "mainstream" media. This conference was our coming out party. Raanan Gissin and IDF spokesperson Mark Regev were there, with a lot of IDF people. Hopefully, that means that someone up there finally noticed us. Richard Landes deserves a great deal of credit and awesome respect for making this happen and doing it so well. Kol Hakavod!

Eye opening presentations told us there is still a huge amount of work to be done and many stories to be told. Moshe Widlanski, for example, pointed out that there are piles of incriminating evidence in the form of documents captured by Israel security forces -- documents that incriminate Yasser Arafat and Marwan Barghouti in inciting terror in the 1990s. Joel Rubinfeld of the Brussels based Atlantis Institute pointed out that European media systematically distort news from Israel in a manner much worse than that seen in the United States, a point also made by Nidra Poller of Pajamas Media. A presentation by Mordechai Kedar of Ben Gurion University pleaded for an Israel government sponsored Arab language cable news channel that would tell the Israeli side of the story. The case for such a channel - in English as well as in Arabic, is compelling.

Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch showed media clips of Palestinian propaganda aimed at recruiting children for terror. A cute chick in a children's television program tells kids that if someone steals his tree, he will kill them. Children are taught to grow up in order to blow up and to see "martyrdom" as a vocation.

Noam Bedein, who lives in Sderot and has set up the Sderot Media Center, related his efforts to get media coverage for the every day suffering of the people of Sderot, a battle we have also been waging for a while (see Collective punishment: The victims of Sderot). He said "There is no street or area in Sderot that has not experienced a missile." There is a situation map showing rocket hits as little red dots in Sderot. This map has not been updated since 2004, because if it were, it would be entirely red.

Candy Shinaar of CoHav pleaded for an army of volunteers who could be trained to get the word out on the Web and in face to face presentations, in the same way as the Palestinians have organized their supporters in the ISM group.

Mitchell Bard of Virtual Jewish Library reviewed the situation in US Universities and had some surprising news. According to Bard, the majority of students are not anti-Israel. The great problem is that there are simply not enough courses being taught about Israel, and those that are taught are usually taught by professional Israel bashers, often at Middle East Studies centers funded by Arab oil money. His organization is bringing visiting Israeli faculty to the U.S. and fostering the development of objective study programs.

One topic that was not discussed was as noteworthy as what was discussed. The famous or infamous "Brand Israel" campaign -- an attempt to make believe everything is fine here and ignore the real problems -- was dismissed more or less with a reference to "girls in bikinis are not enough." Hopefully, the official people whose job it is to defend Israel have gotten the message: this is a war for existence, we can't ignore it.

Not everyone was happy and not everything was perfect, as usual. Liza R. of Something Something complained about Manfred Gerstenfeld's talk entitled Verbal Vegetarians have to Learn to Turn the Accusers into the Accused. Besides gratuitously insulting some vegetarians in the audience, Gerstenfeld's in your face remarks probably insulted some Lebanese guests too. Well Liza, it is true that too much "Israel advocacy" originates with the Zionist right, but that is at least partly our fault isn't it? We of the Israeli left and the Zionist left have too often been silent when Israel stood unfairly accused.

It was gratifying however, that panelists did not bow to demands of some of the commenters that the struggle to legitimize Israel must be linked to their own fight for "Greater Israel." Richard Landes, who organized the conference, declared himself to be a person of the left. Many of us find ourselves in some strange company these days. We are bitterly disappointed at the reactionary stands taken by many so-called leftists and liberals, who have been ensnared by the lure of the post-colonialist narrative of the Islamists, or the more tangible lure of petro-dollars. But many of us are also seeking to tell the story of Zionism as what it is, what it was from the beginning and what it should be: a progressive movement of national liberation. Therefore we are equally embarrassed by the insistence of right-wing extremists that we must tie our cause to Greater Israel, or to domestic US issues such as opposition to abortion and stem cell research, which are anathema to us, as well as to extraneous absurdities such as anti-vegetarianism. As a confirmed carnivore, I still have to ask, doesn't Israel have enough enemies, without antagonizing the vegetarians? As a confirmed progressive, I have to ask why anyone thinks it is necessary to add US Democrats to the enemies of Zionism.

Most of my own complaints are of the variety of "the food is terrible and they don't give second helpings." The conference raises a number of questions that require serious exploration and at least one action item. Speaker after speaker bemoaned the fact that too many liberals and radical leftists are attracted to the violence and pathos of the reactionary Islamist and Arab nationalist terrorist groups. Nobody undertook to explain or understand why or how this has come about or how it can be changed. How did blowing yourself up for the greater glory of Allah become the latest thing in radical chic, and how can this be changed? "Philosophers and historians have tried to understand history. Our task is to change it."

An inherent contradiction runs through all of our work. "Information," "facts," and "news" are supposed to be colorless, odorless and flavorless. In the best of all possible worlds, the news and the facts should be the same no matter who tells them. As many speakers pointed out, the supposedly neutral and professional mainstream media are flavoring the news, leaving out embarrassing facts that could cut them off from news sources or that would not be acceptable to their audiences, or do not fit their political opinions. Anti-Israel photographers add smoke to photographs, anti-Israel stringers report "massacres" in Jenin that didn't happen. News people acquiesce in Hezbollah-staged ambulance alerts. Seeing is not always believing. But when so many of our volunteer commentators declare themselves to have a political position, advocate right-wing causes, and excoriate "leftists," how can we ask the public to believe that our version of the facts is the real, colorless, odorless and flavorless news?

Much attention was paid at the conference to the dubious story of Mohamed al Dura, the Palestinian boy who was probably a manufactured martyr of Pallywood, to the manufactured smoke in Reuters photos of Beirut and to the ubiquitous Mr. Green Helmet of Hoaxbullah publicity - a "rescue worker" who turned out to be a Hezbollah operative. Some of these exposes resulted in some positive action -- Reuters is going to be a lot more careful about its photos and fauxtographer Adnan Hajj was fired. Everyone who helped make this happen should be justifiably proud. Generals however, are always planning for the last war. The Lebanon war is behind us, and Mr Carter's book and other challenges are before us. We need to understand how to fight the next war.

One thing that we will certainly need in order to fight the next war is more visibility -- more people doing the work, and more readers. We are making a dent, but it is a small dent. Those who congratulate themselves on exposing the story of how the Mohamed Al Dura story was most likely faked to show that Israeli soldiers killed him, and how he was turned into a martyr, should consider that most people in the world still believe that little Mohamed was really killed by Israeli soldiers. They might get tens of thousands of readers, but mainstream media get millions of readers. Mainstream media are still mainstream, and they have resources that we do not have. As Candy Shinaar pointed out, "soldiers" are in short supply. I hope that the next conference will spend a bit of time on strategies for publicizing Web sites and blogs, and on ways to recruit and train more volunteers who will devote time and effort to exposing the truth.

Ami Isseroff

Original content copyright by the author
Zionism & Israel Center

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