Published On: Thu, Aug 7th, 2014

UK preoccupied with Palestinian underdog

Dror Feuer is depressed by the one-sided view of the conflict that he finds in London.

demonstration in london for gaza GETTY

 

It started with a WhatsApp chat on Saturday night. A friend in London was going on vacation and offered her apartment. I pounced on the opportunity to jump over, albeit briefly, to my favorite city, and enjoy three days without rockets, and, most of all, to enjoy once again the thrill of the Dror Feuer, London by line.

It all began terribly. The Sunday afternoon easyJet flight to Luton was stuck on the runway for close to five hours, with all the passengers on board, because of the “situation, ” until it was finally cancelled. It was an extremely aggravating and frustrating experience, which, were it not for my easygoing nature and the bottle of whiskey I’d bought, could have been even more aggravating and frustrating. It was most frustrating because the delay caused me to miss one of the main reasons for my trip: to survey the big protest day in London – tens of thousands of people protesting Israel and the war in Gaza, and a much smaller counter-protest, in support of Israel. On the other hand, it gave me the opportunity and time – way, way too much time – to speak with quite a few British-Jewish youths who were heading home.

All of them spoke of a strong anti-Israel sentiment in the media, academia, and on the social networks, and of their frustration in facing such gross one-sidedness; one that is unwilling to listen. In their daily lives, they all made a point of saying, there is no sense of fear or violence in the streets. London is not Paris. It is much more inclusive and tolerant. Yet, still, it’s not pleasant. They showed me the “Death to all Juice” Internet initiative (look it up). It sounds innocuous enough in Hebrew, but in London, this humor becomes much less comfortable. Almost everyone spoke of latent anti-Semitism, which was the root from which the current protest had sprung.

They spoke of demonstrations at some of the more radical universities, such as the London School of Economics (LSE) and University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), in which students set up roadblocks, dress up as Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, and inspect everyone who comes in – that sort of thing. The next morning, when I finally managed to get to London despite everything and to visit these universities, there was no trace of these events. Everyone was resting after the terrible Sunday. However, the walls were covered with photos of Gaza victims and anti-Israel fliers. In a pub near the university, I get roped into a conversation with a few students, but, after the seventh “You’re murdering children, end the occupation, ” I gave up. For dialogue that goes nowhere and explanations that fall on deaf ears, I could have stayed in Israel.

They were 100% right, the friends from the grounded airplane. The vast majority of British media, the BBC in particular, but also SkyNews and print news, make for an extremely depressing experience. Almost enough to make your head explode. I would describe the sampling as “one sided, ” but then even the term “one sided” implies that somewhere there are, in fact, two sides, and that someone chose one of them. But it didn’t even look that way to me. There was only one side.

“Impressive” tunnels

The story here is Gaza – and it is also clear why and how: the material is hard, and cinematic, and the images are shocking – a woman’s arm, raised to the air from a pile of rubble in a bombed house, a Palestinian who’s been shot, tries to get up, and is shot again, a bombed hospital, smashed emergency room beds, devastated, hungry families, reporters wearing helmets and vests, crouching for cover, whispering, scared… while the IDF roars with airplanes and tanks. As opposed to the reporters in Israel who look, as Jon Stewart quipped in the clip that went viral, like people going out “for dinner and a movie.”

Only the IDF destroys, bombs, demolishes; there is almost no mention of rockets in Israel. Occasionally they mention the Iron Dome, but when they show a house in Israel that was hit by a rocket, they make sure to balance it: “Relative to what is going in Gaza, ” the correspondent emphasizes, “this is nothing.” And in another instance that made me want to smash the TV, they showed Israeli soldiers’ funerals. I’m sitting there in tears, but the newscaster says something like: “Though there is no comparing the number of dead, also the Israelis can be sad.”

And how is it framed? After the images of the funerals in Israel, they show (I can’t remember on which network, it’s all mixed up together) caricatures from Arab newspapers of an old Jew, Der Stürmer style, stepping on piles of bodies while he’s crying about a scratch on his finger. The empathy is reserved for only one side. The tunnels are “impressive.” The Hamas “fighters, ” “didn’t stand a chance, ” etc.

When they interview Israeli spokespeople, it seems as though they are mocking them. At times, I felt it was for no reason: the Israeli claim that was repeated again and again, by all the Israeli spokespeople, that Hamas kill its own people itself, falls reasonably enough on Israeli ears and eyes, that have been exposed to Israeli media, but here, it simply does not work, regardless of whether or how true it is. The words don’t stand up to the images. They just don’t.

When on one side they show four girls sobbing over their mother who died in an attack, with their father next to them, fainting, and on the other side they show a man in a suit, with a heavy Israeli accent, or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose accent may be perfect, but whose too-heavy makeup makes him look cut-off from reality, accusing Hamas of murder, it’s just hard to believe, and impossible to identify with. Of course the Israeli spokespeople try to claim that Hamas is waging a public relations war – again that Israeli notion that everything can be explained, as though there is no reality. I saw Tzipi Livni on the BBC, and I was embarrassed.

And, I can understand sympathizing with the underdog – it is, at the end of the day, a positive human tendency. But what about a tiny bit of fairness – or, at the very least, a pretense of fairness? Questions that begged to be asked, were not. Like, for example, a BBC team enters a Hamas tunnel, and is amazed by the engineering feat, but doesn’t ask how it is that there is money for this while the citizens have no water in their taps or electricity in their sockets. Because everything is Israel’s fault. Or, a question like: is Hamas good or bad for its people? Or, what’s the point of launching an unwinnable war at the expense of hundreds, or thousands of lives?

And, altogether, I didn’t see almost any Hamas spokespeople – only poor, injured residents, really – and, if there were, they only made proclamations, they were never asked any questions. On the other hand, the Israeli spokespeople are questioned, almost rudely. And so it should be, I don’t disagree, but only one side is asked questions. Hamas wasn’t even asked what it wants. Maybe because the answer is known well, and it is uncomfortable to hear. They talk about Iron Dome and praise it, and no one thinks to ask why only one side is protecting its citizens.

Even the dramatic Egyptian announcement, in which Egypt accused Hamas of abandoning the residents of Gaza while its leaders live a life of luxury in Qatar, went over quietly. I didn’t see a single mention of it in two days of overly-intensive watching. Not an activity I recommend.

This is what “change for the better” looks like?

So I turned off the TV and went out. I wandered around and I spoke with Jewish-Israeli-Londoners. Of course, there are differences, sometimes vast ones, between British Jews and Israelis, and between Israelis and each other – there are some who have relocated for a limited time, others who have emigrated. There are those who see themselves as part of the Jewish-Israeli community, there are those who don’t. There are those whose social network feeds have only Israelis on them, there are those who are in touch primarily with Brits. But most are wringing their hands in despair.

And the strangest thing – bordering on unbelievable – is that everyone told me, when I shared my impressions, that the “situation” now is much better and more balanced than it was in previous “situations.” For example, what was in the past “the Israeli attack, ” became “the conflict in Gaza.” For example, there is occasionally a report from Israel. Sometimes, even a positive one. True, the overall mood is critical, to put it mildly, but there is a change for the better. I had no choice but to believe them.

I meet the Israeli ambassador to England, Daniel Taub, at the very well secured Israeli embassy. The ambassador agrees that now is better, compared with previous conflicts; there is more support for Israel, worldwide. “There is more maturity, ” he says, “certainly among the important people.” He speaks about quiet advocacy work that took place when things were quiet, and, of course, the prism that changes along with events in the Middle East, the revolutions in the Arab world, the rise of ISIS and the Jihadists, and more.

To be Israeli in the UK today may not be a great honor, he says, but to be Jewish is easy. In the next sentence he utters, he tells me that 50% of the Jewish youths he meets have encountered anti-Semitism. What is anti-Semitism? He doesn’t have a precise definition. How do these two statements reconcile? They do. It’s true that opposition to Israeli policy is an accepted method of disguising anti-Semitism, but, not only is it impossible to draw a line between the two, it is also very unhealthy (this is me talking) to cry “anti-Semitism” every time anyone criticizes Israel, even if it is done rudely and ignorantly.

We talk about the difference between the UK’s formal position, in support of Israel, and the media and the protests on the street. Overall, it calms me, this not-so-bad situation: the attempt to boycott Israel has failed miserably. However, though the boycott may have failed, Israel has failed miserably in another area that its adversaries have won – what the ambassador calls the “chill factor”: people who support Israel are, let’s say, “not eager” to express their opinions publicly, unlike its critics, who have no problem being vocal.

The ambassador actually understands very well that the ideal of balanced media is unrealistic, and that what needs to be done is not to discredit Hamas and to pin the responsibility for the deaths of Gazans on them, but to come around from another angle: What do you stand for, people of Britain? Democracy or dictatorship? An oppressive and murderous regime or for a country that cares for its residents? There is no point in wasting energy on the extreme fringes, there is no chance of winning them over. What needs to be done is to concentrate on the center. And the center is in trouble. Last week, there was an in-depth survey of public opinion regarding our conflict. It turns out that, in recent years, there has been a steady trend of declining support for the Palestinians. There is still more support for the Palestinians than for Israel, but what stood out most from the survey was a significant rise in those who simply stopped caring what happens to us.

We part. I return to the screen to inject another dose of depression and rage. But the solemn faces of the newscasters changed a little Tuesday morning. Something more important happened: Prince George celebrated his first birthday. The networks went over the endless list of gifts the prince received – which he liked, which he liked less – they showed pictures of him: here he is walking, here he is running, here he is at a butterfly exhibit with his parents, look what a curious child. The dead children in Gaza were cleared to make way for the little prince. “Ohhhhhh, ” says the newscaster, “he is so adorable.” It’s true, the kid really is cute. What good fortune, George. You are lucky in life; believe me.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com

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