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Will exploitation of fear and vilification of Europe be the winning formula in the Israeli elections?

February 24, 2015 at 3:59 pm

We all remember the infamous comical moment when Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the UN back in 2012 and made his fabricated case for striking Iran. In his desperation to convince the international community, he even drew the famous red line and warned of a ticking nuclear time bomb.

It turns out this naked propaganda was all a lie. According to new leaked reports, Israel’s own intelligence agency, Mossad, contradicted him.

None of this of course should come as a surprise: Israeli leaders have long mastered the art of exploiting fear, and when fear is in short supply, new ones are invented to justify their belligerence.

The international community may not be as exploitable through manufactured doomsday scenarios, but fear and hate do have greater traction within Israel where fear mongering has been pushed to new levels in the built up to the March elections.

Two campaign videos produced by the Israeli right are worth mentioning for their gratuitous exploitation of fear and hate; two powerful sentiments within the Israeli political landscape that have grown in significance over the past few months.

As emotions go, fear is the most exploitable as well as the most effective emotion, especially for parties that thrive in divisive politics. Vilification provides the rationale for unhealthy levels of fear, which is the most potent political base on which to launch all kinds of oppression and undemocratic policies.

A number of factors have contributed to crystallising this unhealthy alliance over the past two years: Palestinians recognising that the peace process is certainly not the road to throwing off the yoke of colonialism and occupation and deciding to bypass the failed process; a growing number of European countries voting to recognise a Palestinian state including the UK; the move by the European Union to remove Hamas from its terror list; Obama taking a less hard-line position towards Iran than his own congress; the rise of ISIS; and the recent attacks in Paris and Copenhagen.

For Israel, a country that continues to maintain an exaggerated and highly sensitive notion of security; even a positive gesture to end the unsustainable political status quo is viewed as an existential threat, these developments provide the main fodder for its insatiable hunger for security. More significantly, in terms of Israeli elections, they present the kind of political tsunami needed by Israeli rejectionists in erecting the bunker mentality required to keep the political mosaic of Israeli politics glued together as a vital protection against external enemies.

In the first campaign video Europe is represented by a wealthy character referred to as Herr Stürmer, an extremely evocative reference to the weekly tabloid Nazi newspaper from 1923 to the end of the war. It was a major part of Nazi propaganda that produced obscene caricatures of Jews and accusations of blood libel. It played a major role in the vilification and dehumanisation of Jews that lead to the genocide.

Stürmer is seen tossing shiny Euro coins to a hook-nosed, vicious character referred to only as “ze Jew”, who here represents, I assume, self-hating Jews and Jews who see the only way to peaceful co-existence with Palestinians through ending the occupation and lifting the siege.

Once Stürmer has no further use of “ze Jew”, who is depicted as a subservient conspirator, he obligingly hangs himself like Judas Iscariot – who according to traditional Christian interpretations hanged himself following his betrayal of Jesus.

The message is powerful and clear: Europe’s hatred of Jews is ingrained; Jews should not mistake Europe for a friend just because it’s mastered the art of masking its deep seated hatred of Jews. If this message wasn’t unmistakably clear, the voiceover at the end makes it so by reminding its intended Jewish voters “the Europeans may seem different to you, but to them you are exactly the same”.

The video has been described as the most anti-Semitic cartoon ever made in Israel. “It went for the jugular when it came to fear – breaking what is taboo even in the Israeli political free-for-all, by invoking the Holocaust.”

Controversy triggered by the cartoon, which is funded by public money, does not mask its effectiveness in bringing the key message home and capturing the mood of the country. It ticks all the right boxes by seizing on the propaganda of the Israeli right: unrepentant Europe showing its Nazi like tendencies; collusion by the Israeli left with Nazi elements in Europe in spreading lies and propaganda about Palestinian victimhood.

Even by the standards of Israeli hasbara, it is a jaw-dropping piece of propaganda that, if produced by anyone in Europe, would cause condemnation of anti-Semitism from heads of states and the strong possibility of the imprisonment of its producers.

In the second video, Netanyahu’s fond propaganda line “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas” is sensationally promoted, despite the many significant differences between the two that renders the connection meaningless. The short but powerful video, produced by the Likud party, features the classic white pick-up truck favoured by the Islamic State carrying bearded jihadi fighters flying a black ISIS flag. The group encounter another driver and ask: “How do we get to Jerusalem, dude?” The response: “Just turn left.” The message at the end features a bullet-ridden screen hammering home the message: “The left will capitulate to terror.”

The two adverts are revealing because, like all political campaigns, they provide a unique preview of a country’s political landscape: campaigns are rare political moments that expose a country’s political DNA and an opportunity to learn about the hopes, fears and prejudices coursing through a society; like an Occam’s razor, campaigns cut through political noise to reveal the essential features of a political landscape. In Israel, where fear has sown deep roots, elections are ideal for mining this unlimited political resource.

Exploitation of fear is universal, but in Israel it has greater potency not only because the Israeli political landscape is a melting pot of many different political parties with diametrically opposing views on a number of issue and who are only gelled together by a permanent existential threat, but also because, Zionism, the ideological basis for Israel, is dependent on the oxygen of anti-Semitism for its very survival.

If this symbiosis was unclear to anyone, the shootings in Paris and Copenhagen powerfully demonstrated the link; it perfectly showed the political exploitation of a human tragedy by Israeli politicians. Despite the irritation of European Jews and European leaders, Netanyahu capitalised on the tragic moment for his own domestic elections by presenting himself as the protector of the global Jewish community and calling on Jews to move to Israel and insisting that the only safe place for Jews is Israel.

Such openly disingenuous attempts to placate European Jews expose the desperation haunting Israeli hardliners. The Israeli right cannot have it both ways: either Israel faces the imminent existential threat which these campaign videos contend is the case; in which case Jews will not be safer in Israel or Israel is not facing an existential threat, in which case Israeli politicians have been capitalising on a lie of historic proportions, and Jews in Europe will indeed be safer in Israel.

Any thinking person however will know that this false choice bares no truth in reality and its only value is to serve the propaganda narrative by detracting from Israel’s brutal policy towards Palestinians. Israel, the fourth largest army in the world faces threats just like any other country in the region but none as threatening as the ones faced by Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt or any other country in the region for that matter who, it would be more accurate to say, are facing existential threats.

Moreover, European Jews are also not facing the spectre of Nazism. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe is in fact directly connected to Israel’s policy towards Palestinians and not some “ancient hatred of Jews” as is claimed. Just as the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in Europe is largely fuelled by political violence committed under the name of Islam, anti- Semitism is also largely fuelled by political violence committed by Israel. What unites both victims of hate crimes is that both European Muslims and European Jews have no control over the perpetrators of the aggression carried out in their name.

The truth is Netanyahu and his group of Israeli rejectionists need to create a siege mentality in Israel because of the fractured nature of its internal politics. This current Netanyahu government collapsed last November, under the strain of the Jewish Nation State Bill: It was the second shortest coalition in Israeli history. Fear and vilification is an effective means to unite the country on an agenda that will carry the Israeli right to victory.

Netanyahu and the Israeli rejectionist have been on the campaign trail ever since. Their strategy has been to demonise Europe  following so-called anti-Israeli resolutions, in particular the decision of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to remove Hamas from the list of terrorist organisations. Closely coinciding with the killings in Paris, they enabled Netanyahu to thrive in “his image as a premier standing against the enemies of Israel the world over, endeavouring to prevent a second Holocaust”.

Whilst the comparison to Hitler can be seen to trivalise the grave crimes committed, that has not deterred Netanyahu from capitalising on it by “Hitlerising” his enemies: “It seems that too many people in Europe, the land on which six million Jews were massacred, have not learned anything.”

It’s revealing that Netanyahu’s caustic attack on the Europeans is not the result of the European wide move to weaken relations with Israel, if anything, economic and political relations between Israel and major EU countries on a governmental level are as strong as ever. The reason for this unwarranted attack is because EU countries have become more critical of Israeli settlements and its continued brutality towards Palestinians. In other words, in the eyes of Israeli rejectionists like Netanyahu, even legitimate criticism of Israel is tantamount to hatred of Jews and Israel.

It’s also striking that despite the bloodiest summer in Palestinian history, Palestine is not even an election platform. Diplomatic negotiations remain on the margins of the election campaign, a niche agenda item no one considers a vote winner. Sadly Israelis from the political left and right have found internal peace with their oppression of Palestinians and have internalised their despotism. How long they will continue to bury their head in the sand is anyone’s guess.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.