Sunday, November 25, 2012

Consistency and Gaza Propaganda

Consistency and Gaza Propaganda

As human beings, we crave consistency.  Or at the very least, inconsistency leaves us enormously uncomfortable.  Which is why the most effective accusation you can throw at a political adversary is not that they are liars (which requires you to get into a debate over what constitutes “the truth,”) but that they are hypocrites (which only requires you to show that someone’s deeds are inconsistent with their words).

In order to obtain the comfort that consistency provides us, our brains tend to build the information we receive into stories.  And once such stories are established, the intake of further information becomes simpler since we tend to accept information that fits into these existing storylines, while rejecting (or at least questioning) information that does not fit these pre-established narratives.

This is the simplified explanation behind confirmation bias, one of the cognitive biases that tend to drive most decision making, especially when dealing with complex and controversial issues like Middle East politics.

This is why the dueling narratives that make up a conflict do not just represent shallow propaganda, but are instead critically important since whoever’s storyline first gets established in people’s minds (and, by extension, public awareness) becomes very difficult to dislodge once established.

So, in the case of the current Gaza conflict, it becomes vital whether this war is seen as a case of #GazaUnderAttack or #IsraelUnderFire.  And in this war of narratives, dueling images (of dead  Palestinians civilians vs. Israelis running for cover, for example) become key mechanisms for establishing one story vs. another into people’s heads.

Historically, Israel’s foes have been quite successful in building the story of conflicts like the 2002 Terror War, the 2006 Lebanon conflict and both the 2009 and current Gaza clashes  around civilian casualties, providing a parade of images of dead children and bloodstained parents which have tended to drown out information needed to understand the conflict in full (such as the fact that Hamas decided to start both the 2009 and current wars through endless cross-border missile attacks on Israeli civilians – each of which constitutes a war crime).

The fact that many of these images were staged or manufactured did not seem to diminish their effectiveness, even when photo or video fraud became exposed.  But something seems to be different this time around.  For in the early stages of the current conflict, skepticism of the Palestinian storyline (even among a media that previously accepted Palestinian claims with little question) seems to be far more widespread than in the past.

This does not apply to all journalists, of course.  Certainly ones acting as de facto human shields in Gaza (who refuse to report what’s happening above their heads, while waiting for the inevitable civilian casualties to turn up so they can be driven by their handlers to a photo op) are as credulous as ever with regard to pushing a Palestinian narrative. But beyond these cases, there seems to be far less journalistic gullibility this time around.

Some of this may have to do with the sheer audacity of the Gaza propaganda photo fraud that greeted the beginning of the conflict.  For in the past, while war images were largely staged, at the very least they involved photos and video of the actual conflict zone.  But this time, we’ve see a host of bloody images tagged with statements of moaning sorrow and accusations of Israeli brutality that originated from an entirely different conflict at a different time.

Most notably, images of people killed or maimed in the current conflict in Syria have been shoved in people’s faces with declarations that they are, in fact, pictures of Palestinians hurt or killed during the current Gaza conflict.

Now stop and think about this for a moment.  Over the last year, there have been upwards of 30,000 casualties in the Syrian civil war.  And as those bodies were piling up, the same “peace activists” currently marching in the streets managed to keep their voices still on the subject (just as they never managed to find their tongues when Hamas was firing thousands of rockets into Israel that made the current war inevitable).

But once the Gaza war (and associated Gaza propaganda) started, suddenly civilians who met violent deaths in Syria became critically important: as props which could be posed as victims of a different conflict at a different time.

This level of cynicism is so profound that it made it that much easier to expose slightly more complex frauds (such as this image of the leaders of Hamas and Egypt cradling a dead infant whose death more than likely came about from one of the very Hamas missiles Israel is trying to stop being fired at their country).

And for all but the most jaded journalists, this level of manipulativeness crosses an important line.  For it’s one thing to stroke a reporter’s ego (and asking them to cut journalistic corners) by convincing them that they are covering the victim in a David vs. Goliath struggle.  But it’s quite another to treat those same journalists (and, by extension, the public they are informing) as absolute numbskulls willing to swallow every word or image handed to them without question.

Getting back to the topic of consistency, in some ways BDS supporters (and fellow travelers) have an easy time in this area since they consistently peddle a simple storyline of Israeli brutes vs. innocent Palestinian civilians that leaves no room for pesky facts such as Hamas militancy and Israeli victims.

But they also have a problem, given that they also want to portray themselves as “peace activists” vs. what they really are: the propaganda arm of one side in a war (i.e., a weapon system).  For if they were really fighters for peace and human rights, issues like Hamas war crimes and human rights violations might concern them, and they would treat mention of 30,000 dead in Syria as something other than “Assadwashing” (i.e., the accusation that any mention of Syria is really an attempt by sinister Israelis to distract attention from their own crimes).