There is a hot frontier in today’s global clash of civilization — the mass media, and especially the Internet. After decades of relative silence, scholars, journalists, and military experts alarmed by jihadist media tactics came together to discuss how to fight on this 21st century front.
Participants of the 7th Annual Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security, entitled “The Media as a Theater of War, the Blogosphere, and the Global Battle for Civil Society,” examined the national security lessons for Israel and the West to be gained from recent incidents of the use and misuse of the media in war.
Initiated by noted historian Boston University Professor Richard Landes, the conference attracted hundreds of visitors to the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya last week. Landes, a medievalist by training, has turned his attention in recent years to analyzing how the media is serving as a modern battlefield in the clash of civilizations.
“The main theme of the conference is that reality bites,” Landes told Israel Insider.
He explained that, “The conference was trying to capitalize on the sense of urgency around addressing the problem of how the media portrays Israel and how Israel and the advocacy community handle this issue.
“The attitude until now has been to be as conciliatory as possible,” regarding accusations made against Israel in the media, “which is the Oslo method. The conciliatory view, as in Oslo, marginalized the assertive view.
“What I think needs to happen is that we need to play ‘tough cop–nice cop’ and not undermine each other.”
For some others, the conference represented a “coming out party” for a group of under-recognized but influential Middle East media experts, wrote Ami Isseroff, a blogger-participant from ZioNation.
These scholars, journalists, and PR experts, “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,” said Isseroff.
Incidents in which stories were faked and then distributed by the mainstream Western media, such as the infamous Qana incident, were exposed by this small but elite group of watchdogs and writers as pro-jihad propaganda.
Mark Regev, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, added that Israeli spokesmen could do a better job of selling Israel’s case by avoiding speaking what he called “American English.” He argued that using terminology that is largely associated with the Bush Administration automatically aligns much of the world against Israel.
Instead, Regev suggests enlarging Israel’s support base by speaking the language of “international legitimacy.”
Another major focus of the conference was the notorious distortion of the death of Muhammed Al-Dura, a Palestinian boy who was caught in the gunfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.
Despite expert examination which showed that video of the incident had been faked by French and Palestinian cameramen to make it look as if the Israeli soldiers shot the boy, most of the mainstream media reported the fabrication as truth.
Nidra Poller, the noted journalist and Paris Editor of Pajamas Media, explained that in producing an episode where Jews were falsely portrayed as wanting the blood of children, the jihad media and its Western distributors have created a modern day blood libel.
Media expert Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, showed how the boy’s death was used as a propaganda tool to entice other Palestinian children to martyrdom.
A television commercial targeting children showed a photo of Al-Dura and quoted him as saying, “I wave my hand to you, not in parting, but to tell you to follow me as martyrs.”
Another video clip showed by Marcus exhorts a small Palestinian child to massacre.
The popular show for preschool-age children features a small yellow hatchling bird who tells a young girl that if someone were to cut down his tree he would, “Call the whole world and make a riot! I’ll bring AK-47s and the whole world. I’ll commit a massacre in front of the house.”
Despite the shock in the audience, many of the seasoned experts such as Dr. Raanan Gissin, strategic consultant and former advisor to Ariel Sharon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, and Israel Insider publisher Reuven Koret observed that what they were seeing has been going on for years.
Koret, who spoke about the largely staged ‘massacre’ in Qana during this year’s Lebanon war, explained that “Bloggers did what the mainstream media and the Israeli government did not do: show that reports of a massacre were untrue, that deaths were exaggerated, and that the aftermath was crudely staged.”
Blogs, such as Richard North’s EU Referendum , quickly discovered that the man who had posed as a rescue worker in the first, 1996 Qana incident was busy — while wearing the same green helmet — staging fake ‘rescue operations’ in the 2006 Qana episode.
‘Green Helmet’ as the man came to be known, was shown holding the same dead boy in at least eight different locations. He choreographed photographers to be sure that the media was there to snap photos as he displayed the infant’s body for all too see.
“Keep on filming!” he screamed at the photographers (many of whom were from mainstream media organizations) who complied without question or protest. “Better images must be shot!”
SPME Editors Note: Richard Landes Serves on the Board of Directors for SPME and Nidra Poller is a Past SPME Board Member