‘Killing civilians is unheard of’ — Israeli propaganda gets red carpet reception in US press

Last week the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman went on the NPR program “Fresh Air” as part of the red-carpet rollout for his book on the “secret history” of Israel’s program of assassinating enemies. Here’s a choice excerpt, Bergman’s remarks on Israel’s choice not to kill Yasser Arafat when he was traveling on commercial aircraft in the early 80s.

[I]t did not happen thanks to the bravery of a few senior officers at the higher echelon of the Israeli air force who said, we are not going to do that. They went to the chief of staff and said, this is a war crime. We are not against killing Arafat. Arafat was seen as a legitimate target at that time as the prime Israeli enemy. But killing civilians? This is unheard of. And if you, the chief of staff, cannot stand in front of the minister of defense, we would just make sure that the operation wouldn’t go through. And they jammed the communication. They fed the intelligence circuits with disinformation. They make sure to stall time until it was just unripe from the intelligence and operational point of view to execute. And thanks to the bravery of these officers who guarded the ethical code and the moral code of the military, all of Israel was saved from being involved in a horrific war crime.”

Yeah: killing civilians is unheard of. Bull feathers. (And Israel shot down a civilian aircraft in 1973).

The whole interview is an example of how liberal Zionists criticize Israeli war crimes. Notice how much admiration and respect there is for the killers. The reporter and interviewer, Dave Davies, practically gush over how clever they are and yes, also how moral they are. It’s shooting and crying from beginning to end. Then there is some talk about how in the end these operations probably did more harm and just created more terrorism, so that Bergman and Davies can say they were being critical. And the far right will see it that way.

But they downplay the brutality (civilian killing was “unheard of”) and put virtually all the blame for the civilian killing on the targets, because they use their families and other civilians as human shields.

Notice they aren’t gushing over Israel’s accomplishments in science. They are gushing over how moral and tough and clever Israeli assassins are. This is a romance. These people are like knights in shining armor, not as knights actually were, but as they were supposed to be.

Of course, Bergman’s spymaster sources favor a two-state solution, but the parameters of this issue are clear: You can’t possibly pressure Israel any more than its own liberals want us to pressure it.

[T]he chiefs of Israeli intelligence and military commanders and operation commanders all believe that there’s no other way but a two-state solution and a political discourse with the Palestinians…. [Though] they supplied the solutions that just prolonged the problem. They supplied the solution for many, many, many years that kept the Palestinian population in the occupied territories relatively quiet.

Bergman got more red carpet treatment from Glenn Frankel in The Washington Post. On a superficial level it isn’t a whitewash–Frankel does say that Bergman’s sources are self-righteous and makes other criticisms.  But it is a whitewash because you would never know from reading this that Israel habitually bombs civilian targets.  Or that Israel wouldn’t exist if it had not killed and expelled Palestinian civilians in 1948.  Frankel’s emphasis on the viciousness of Palestinian suicide bombers, and linking them to 9/11–

Imagine how swiftly and brutally the United States would respond if a gang of terrorists from Canada laid waste to a kindergarten or two in Detroit. Actually, there’s no need to imagine: After the 9/11 attacks, the United States threw out the human rights handbook and embarked on a spate of targeted killings

makes Americans sympathize with Israel, while the Palestinians are the Other. They are dastardly villains going after the “most innocent of victims” (and yes, the suicide attacks on civilians were disgusting); while the Israelis agonize over innocent civilians.

In the end Frankel says that it was a strategic mistake for Israel to have effected this program of assassinations, but following the unwritten rules governing liberal Zionist discourse, any criticism of Israel has to be draped in caveats so that you actually end up sympathizing with the soulful Israeli assassins as they fight the fiends on the other side who deliberately kill civilians.  Plus, gosh darn it, sometimes it works– as in the case of the murders of Iranian scientists.  (Imagine a Western reporter saying that terrorism worked because it was the only way Palestinians could attract attention to their cause.)

The Ronen Bergman promotion is a sophisticated form of Israeli hasbara, and perhaps even an unconscious one on the part of the players. For as Israel sinks into its new status as an apartheid state, denying rights to half its subjects, its advocates are seeking any way they can to change the subject.

It is impossible to imagine any of the media that have given such a platform to Ronen Bergman — The New York Times, Random House, NPR, Washington Post, 92d St Y — giving a platform to a Palestinian to speak of what these attacks entail. In fact, the 92d St Y canceled an appearance by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who wrote a book about the fact that his three daughters were killed in an Israeli attack in Gaza, after his Jewish copanelist couldn’t make the event…. The poor doctor was not permitted to go out on stage by himself, as a Palestinian telling his story.

And we are yet to see an NPR author interview or Times excerpt of a masterpiece: English professor Reja-e Busailah’s ravishing account of his Palestinian childhood leading up to the Lydda expulsion in ’48, In the Land of My Birth. Nope, he’s just writing while Palestinian.

Postscript. As for killing civilians, here is a passage from Norman Finkelstein’s new book, Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom. It involves “Black Friday,” August 1-4, 2014, when Israel responded to the capture of an Israeli soldier by turning parts of Rafah into an “inferno.”

More than two thousand bombs… missiles, and artillery shells were fired on the first day… By the end of the attack on 4 August, at least two hundred civilians had been killed and 2,600 homes completely or partially destroyed.