Israeli Government Cartoon Mocks Foreign Coverage of Gaza – Robert Mackey/The New York Times
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, via YouTube
As part of Israel’s intensifying effort to undermine potential criticism from the United Nations of its military assault on Gaza last summer, the country’s Foreign Ministry released an animated YouTube video on Monday mocking coverage of the conflict by Western reporters as absurdly inaccurate.
The 50-second cartoon broadside, produced by the ministry and featured on its website, portrays a blond, American-accented foreign correspondent as such a dunce that he reports breezily from Gaza that “there are no terrorists here, just ordinary people,” as a masked militant launches a rocket from a residential neighborhood right behind him.
In a second scene, the reporter is pictured in what he calls “Gaza’s underground city, a fascinating attempt by Hamas to build a subway system,” as a series of heavily armed militants march in the direction of Israel past a sign reading, “Minimum: 8 Terrorists Per Tunnel.”
The animation then shows a militant arresting a man standing under a rainbow-colored flag as the clueless correspondent tells his viewers that “there is no doubt that the Palestinian society here is liberal and pluralistic, and that Hamas allows everyone to live in dignity.”
Finally, a female narrator steps into frame to hand the reporter a pair of glasses, saying, “Here, maybe now you’ll see the reality of life under Hamas rule.” The shocked journalist then looks around and suddenly collapses.
The public service announcement aimed at the press corps concludes with the admonishment: “Open your eyes: terror rules Gaza.”
The Foreign Press Association in Tel Aviv was not amused by the video. The group said in a statement that it was “surprised and alarmed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s decision to produce a cartoon mocking the foreign media’s coverage of last year’s war in Gaza.”
“Posting misleading and poorly conceived videos on YouTube,” the journalists added, “is inappropriate, unhelpful and undermines the ministry, which says it respects the foreign press and its freedom to work in Gaza.”
Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said in a telephone interview that there was no need for reporters to take offense at what was merely “an attempt to poke gentle fun at some journalists who choose not to see reality.”
“The fact that this little movie is creating a debate means it did touch a raw nerve,” he added.
Mr. Nahshon also suggested that one part of the video was inspired by the fact that an Indian television crew had broadcast footage of Islamist militants preparing to fire rockets at Israel from a densely populated civilian area of Gaza “only after the operation was over.”
“I can assure you it wasn’t meant as an insult, but as a point of reflection in a humorous way,” Mr. Nahshon said. “Between Israeli humor and Hamas death threats, Israeli humor is always preferable.”
There is some evidence, however, that what officials see as no more than an attempt to get more favorable coverage of Israel by applying pressure to the referees of global opinion can make the job of reporting on the conflict more difficult.
As tensions, and the death toll, escalated last summer, the press association condemned what it called “deliberate official and unofficial incitement against journalists” who watched the bombardment alongside Israeli civilians, including “forcible attempts to prevent journalists and TV crews from carrying out their news assignments.”
This is not the first time Israel has resorted to satirical fiction, or animation, to bolster its case that the foreign press is hopelessly naïve when it comes to reporting on the flaws of Hamas or pro-Palestinian activists.
Apparently concerned about the country’s image in the West after the Gaza war of 2008-9, during which foreign correspondents in Israel were prevented from entering the Palestinian territory, the government’s ministry of Hasbara — responsible for what Israel calls public diplomacy and its critics call propaganda — produced a series of satirical news reports the following year mocking hopelessly misguided British, French and Spanish correspondents.
The sketch mocking British coverage of Israel pictured a reporter in a desert landscape (mis)informing viewers back home about the nature of life in Israel. “The camel is a typical Israeli animal used by the Israelis to travel from place to place in the desert where they live,” the reporter intoned. “It is the means of transport for water, merchandise and ammunition. It is even used by the Israeli cavalry.”
A second ad in the 2010 campaign, called “Explaining Israel,” showed a French journalist mistaking a display of fireworks and an air show on Israel’s national holiday for “the sounds of war.”
The series concluded with a confused Spanish reporter at a barbecue reporting that “most Israeli homes don’t have electricity or gas, so they use ancient cooking methods, like meat roasted on charcoal.”
After another wave of bad publicity later that year, when Israeli commandos shot and killed nine pro-Palestinian activists in a Turkish flotilla challenging Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, Israeli officials drew attention to what they said was a damning indictment on YouTube of the homophobia of the groups behind the flotilla. That video showed a man claiming to be a gay Israeli video blogger who described his disenchantment with the supposed bigotry of the flotilla activists. That video, however, was quickly exposed as a hoax, a work of fiction; the blogger turned out to be an Israeli actor, who has repeatedly refused to explain why he made the video.
In late 2012, after another Israeli offensive in Gaza, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem encouraged its followers on social networks to share another animation, produced by the Israeli advertising firm Srutonim, or Scratch.
Children – and countries – have a right to defend themselves
That cartoon, “Terror in School,” depicted Israelis as the blameless victims of bullying and assault by Palestinians. At the end of the animated fable, a Palestinian child who relentlessly provoked an Israeli child is described as a victim by the uncritical foreign press.
Taken as a whole, the latest video, like its predecessors, would seem to raise the question of why, if wildly inaccurate, comically misinformed reports on the conflict from foreign correspondents are so common, Israeli officials cannot simply point to actual examples but instead find it necessary to resort to fiction again and again to illustrate this reality.
A second question, asked by some members of the foreign press corps on Monday, is how, exactly, insulting them is likely to help Israeli officials get a more receptive hearing.
Asked if he thought the cartoon would help or hinder the ministry in its efforts to win over reporters before the release of a United Nations Human Rights Council report on the latest Gaza conflict, Mr. Nahshon said the idea was “not to annoy or embarrass the foreign media in Israel but to send a message that the reality is clear and some choose to ignore it.”