Just the facts

Resorting to the distribution of graphic photos in an attempt to wrench hearts is to risk stooping to the level of our enemies.

fogel itamar attack body bags 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
fogel itamar attack body bags 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Deploying “shock effect” as public diplomacy is a tactic regularly used by our enemies – whether in Lebanon or in Gaza or elsewhere – to galvanize world opinion against Israel. The filmed death of Muhammad al-Dura in Gaza on September 30, 2000, the second day of the second intifada, became an iconic rallying point not only for Palestinians, but for Muslims across the world, even though Israel’s culpability has never been proved and profound doubts remain regarding the veracity of the footage. During the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead, graphic photos of war casualties sparked an outcry against Israel and probably contributed to the marked rise in anti-Semitic attacks around the world that coincided with the two military conflagrations. In some cases, journalists at international news outlets have even collaborated with Hezbollah and Hamas to produce “fauxtography” that artificially amplifies the scenes.
In contrast, when Israelis are murdered, the impact is often toned down by unbalanced reporting. A case in point is this past Shabbat eve’s Itamar massacre. The BBC, for instance, on its website, all but buried the initial report of the hideous murder of five members of the Fogel family, including Hadas, a three-month-old infant. Instead, prominence was given to the government’s decision, issued a few hours later, to approve the construction of some 500 building units. And it took about 48 hours for Sky News even to report the murders, which it did, finally, together with the building announcement. And these are not isolated examples.
Under the circumstances, it is no surprise that Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein is looking for new and innovative ways to win the battle for world opinion. But his latest idea – to use, with the permission of the Fogel family, the graphic photos of the slaughter victims to arouse world sympathy – is wrongheaded. As noted by Yaron Fogel, brother of Rabbi Uri Fogel, who was brutally knifed to death along with his wife Ruth and their three children, “Do we need the confirmation of the world that a despicable murder happened here?”
INTERESTINGLY, JEWISH morality seems to condone the use of the photos. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) ruled in the late 1960s that it was permissible to use body organs in a demonstration against autopsies as a means of shocking the public into acquiescence. “Seeing is not the same as hearing,” wrote Feinstein (Yoreh De’ah 3:150), “and this extreme act might help to make an impact and prove [the demonstrators’] point that autopsies are wrong.” Feinstein’s source was the Biblical account (Judges 19) of a man who dissected his dead concubine into 12 parts and sent them to the tribes of Israel as a protest against her brutal rape. The necessary shock effect was achieved, resulting in a major battle offensive against the tribe of Benjamin, which attempted to protect the rapists. Tens of thousands were killed. But this Bronze Age version of vigilante justice is hardly the sort of proof text that should be informing modern Israel’s hasbara campaign.
In defense of his decision to use the pictures of the Fogels as they were found after the murder by security and paramedic personnel, Edelstein argued that “our goal in sending out the photos was clear: to show that this attack crossed all lines.” But besides the added shock effect, it is not at all clear that graphic pictures – pixelated to hide the faces, in accordance with a request by the family – will provide the world with a deeper understanding of the atrocity committed against the Fogels. A detailed, fair news report will do. And if news media are slanted or otherwise unfair, a formal complaint should be filed, like the one made by Oren Helman, director of the Government Press Office, against CNN for putting “terror attack” in quotation marks as if it were seriously disputed by hard evidence that the Itamar massacre was anything but a terror attack. In response, CNN agreed to remove the quotation marks.
Resorting to the distribution of such photos in an attempt to wrench hearts is to risk stooping to the level of our enemies, who cynically and shamelessly desecrate the honor of their dead to disparage Israel and will, therefore, always “outdo” us. It also gives the wrong impression that, due to a lack of alternatives, Israel must resort to emotional appeals for support and understanding. Instead, Israel’s public diplomacy hierarchy’s efforts should focus on making sure that those who want to know the truth have straightforward access to it, pressing media outlets to report our reality fairly and holding to account those that do not. People who don’t care about the truth won’t be convinced by the most graphic pictures.