Comment: Stop giving the inciters the attention they crave

Photoshopping politicians into SS uniforms is despicable, but reporting it has become a worrisome trend.

Anti-Israel demonstrators led by the protest group Code Pink wear masks of Prime Benjamin Netanyahu as they sit at the entrance to the AIPAC policy conference in Washington (photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti-Israel demonstrators led by the protest group Code Pink wear masks of Prime Benjamin Netanyahu as they sit at the entrance to the AIPAC policy conference in Washington
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Another week, another nasty photoshop incident.
The latest, involving Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon depicted in crosshairs with the message “politically eliminated,” has remained part of the news cycle for many days. There are many reasons for this, some more substantive (it’s connected to the Hebron soldier shooting, a major news story) than others (the Knesset is in recess and political news has been otherwise slow). But now, the picture that everyone from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to opposition leader Isaac Herzog has labeled dangerous, has been published, broadcast and discussed over and over again.
This is far from the first time this kind of thing has happened. News stories about doctored photos of Israeli politicians in SS uniforms, often complete with the photos themselves, pop up fairly often. The coverage is, invariably, ominous and foreboding, labeling the pictures as “incitement to violence” against their targets.
However, this response only encourages repeat offenses.
The reaction is understandable. The photos are upsetting.“Incitement” is a reasonable label for them, as calling someone a Nazi is essentially saying that person is evil personified.
Israelis are especially sensitive to incitement since prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated 20 years ago. One of the better-known incidents of incitement was the waving of signs on which Rabin was depicted in an SS uniform at a rally against the Oslo Accords.Former Shin Bet officials have admitted that an agent trying to catch Jewish extremists planted the signs, but that’s beside the point, since nowadays the photos are coming from the grassroots on both extremes of the political spectrum.
Since Rabin’s assassination, these kinds of photos have caused politicians and the media to ring alarm bells and have sparked police investigations.
At the same time, these photos – and variations on them, like the one Likud MK Nava Boker recently received in the mail as a “gift,” of an Israeli flag with swastikas on it and the message “Heil Nava” – seem to appear almost weekly, and the scandalized press coverage, replete with condemnations from one politician after another, clearly is not doing anything to discourage those who would do this kind of thing.
There’s one person on social media whose accounts are dedicated almost entirely to doctored photos of Israeli politicians, judges, soldiers and police officers as Nazis. His recent targets include MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union), President Reuven Rivlin and Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, as well as Ya’alon. His profile picture features himself with a sign that says “Kahane was Right,” a reference to the rabbi whose political party was outlawed for racism. As the press has discovered time and again, he cannot be tried for incitement, because he lives in America, not in Israel. From personal experience, I can attest that Twitter said and continues to say that doctored Nazi photos do not violate its terms of service.
Even if the photos were removed from Twitter, it wouldn’t be hard for him to find another dark corner of the Internet in which to publish his “artwork.”
And yet, reporters keep writing about his photos as if they are news, and he keeps creating pictures and even sending them directly to the journalists. (He’s tweeted to me in the past.) The panicked press he and his “artwork” receive only encourages him, because it’s giving him more of what he clearly craves: attention.
Disseminating these photos only spreads the incitement further, as well as the fact that this dangerous behavior gets people press.
This should not be confused with a call for censorship. Sometimes these pictures are newsworthy, but usually they’re not, so editors and reporters should be careful and exercise judgment. And on the rare occasion when the pictures are worth reporting, describing them is more than sufficient; there’s no need to republish them.
The established press tries to be careful in its coverage of suicides and school shootings, which are thought to be socially contagious.
There are guidelines as to how to write about newsworthy suicides in a way that discourages copycat cases and encourages people to seek help, or to write about school shooters in a way that does not glorify them.
It seems that there’s a general consensus among most politicians, press and police that these inflammatory photos could have dangerous implications. But perhaps a time has come for a new, responsible way of reporting on them as well.