When I first began work on the al-Dura affair, I knew that no matter how dense the knot, its unraveling would reveal key cultural dynamics of the incipient 21st century
the dysfunctions of the mainstream media (MSM)'s news reporting
the resurgence of Judeophobia, from paranoid anti-Semitism in the Muslim world to joyous moral schadenfreude in Europe
the mainstreaming of an apocalyptic movement - global jihad - and its weapon of choice, suicide terrorism
the cultural vulnerabilities of Western democracies (especially Israel) faced with an asymmetrical war so lopsided they cannot take it seriously
the pathologies of Leftist and Jewish "self"-criticism.
EVERYWHERE I looked there were public secrets: from the obvious staging of Pallywood and the stunning complacency in private of the Western media ("oh, they do that all the time"), to the refusal of otherwise rational people to reconsider despite the troubling evidence (what Philippe Karsenty calls the "so what!" defense).
I did not expect, however, to have the other side unwittingly reveal these public secrets. Since the recent court decision in Paris, however, they come fast and embarrassing. First the Nouvel Observateur letter exposes the appalling guild mentality of French journalists, then Larry Derfner exposes why the "Left" won't even talk about the case. (In the interest of saving space, I only treat the two most recent texts; for the rest, see my blog.)
Nouvel Observateur Letter of Support to Charles Enderlin, May 27
The court of appeals verdict on Enderlin/France2 vs. Karsenty, on May 21 shocked everyone; and once people read the decision, the shock deepened. It was a stinging rebuke to France2 and Charles Enderlin, who, the court specified, as a prime time news broadcaster had to expect scrutiny and criticism from both colleagues and fellow citizens. And when so many inconsistencies riddled both Talal's evidence and Enderlin's answers, these fellow citizens had the right to voice the most damning criticism - that the footage was staged - in the most vigorous manner, despite the fact that an such accusation unquestionably struck at Enderlin's and France2's "honor and estimation."
So the "friends of Charles" did something remarkably foolish. They published a letter of support that deplored the seven-year "campaign of hatred and vilification." The court's decision surprised and worried them. Surprisedâ€¦ because the court "granted the same credibility to Karsenty," a mere civilian, as it had to Enderlin, the veteran and respected reporter. Worriedâ€¦ because the court's decision "gives a 'permission to defame' journalists, which would permit anyone, in the name of 'good faith' and 'the right of free criticism,' to strike with impunity at the 'honor and reputation of information professionals.' " Coming "at a time when the freedom of action of journalists is the object of repeated attacks," the decision undermines "this fundamental principle, pillar of democracy."
It would be hard to find a better example of a "guild mentality" wrapping itself hypocritically in the flag of the democracy it treated with contempt. The letter's authors and signers showed no interest in the evidence; rather, they said Enderlin should be given superior credibility because he is their colleague. For them, muzzling their readers' criticism guaranteed their freedom of speech. Some openly admitted that they knew nothing of the case, but signed in solidarity.
PhD theses on the dysfunctions of the early 21st-century media will begin with this list.
An avalanche of talkbacks, however, condemned the letter, leading the surprised editors to censor some - yet more evidence of the corporatism that does not hesitate to manipulate evidence. Although the "old media" had shifted from paper to cyberspace, it ran into unexpected opposition from the city of "bytes," where a more informed public "talked back."
Larry Derfner's second column on al-Dura, The Jerusalem Post, June 18
Even as the pro-Enderlin forces in France were in disarray, Larry Derfner decided to enter the lists, not so much on Enderlin's side, as against the the "paranoid conspiracy freaks" who dared suggest that the scene was staged. He ran into the same readers' responses as the signatories of the Nouvel Obs letter: overwhelmingly negative, all better informed. So he examined the evidence and tried a second, lengthier time.
His argument, despite this "research," replicated that of the Nouvel Obs letter: little about evidence and a lot about status. (My response to Derfner's "substantive" arguments is at my blog.) The "disinterested, professional" journalists rejected the "staged" hypothesis, an argument only taken up by the "reflexively pro-Israel advocates." QED. The possibility that the "disinterested professionals" might be extremely cautious because of pressures, or that amateurs might be more accurate because free of those pressures, never occurred to him.
In response to his article, Esther Schapira, the most thorough of the journalistic investigators on Derfner's list of heroes, wrote me the following (for attribution):
It has been said several times that I didn't find any hints supporting the accusation that the famous scene at the Netzarim junction was a hoax and this was why I didn't include it in my film. This is wrong. Indeed even in 2001 I already came across a number of interesting hints indicating that the so-called "killing of Mohammed Al Durah" might be a Palestinian propaganda fabricationâ€¦ My findings, that it is most unlikely that he was killed by the Israeli soldiersâ€¦ came as a surprise to me and already caused an outcry and I got life threats and needed police protection when I appeared in public. As I was aware of the emotional impact of that scene I stuck strictly to facts and findings and left out everything that seemed like speculation. Now, in retrospect with the knowledge of today, I know that it is very justified to question if he did get killed at all.
And this police protection was only for taking the most cautious position - that the Israelis didn't do it - a position Derfner now admits. We've come a long way baby.
BUT BY far the most revealing aspect of Derfner's column comes when he brings in his moral calculus, something he does repeatedly:
I think it's ludicrous and morally blind to claim that the Palestinian boy's killing was a "hoax," a staged eventâ€¦ all the conspiracy theories flying around the right-wing Jewish cyberspace are nothing but Arab-bashing nonsenseâ€¦ if you believe the alternative conspiracy theoryâ€¦ you not only have to assume Palestinians are naturally satanic liarsâ€¦ naturally satanic child-killers, too. The al-Durah conspiracy theories are wild and irrational, but they're also more (or less) than that - they're indecent. To believe that the boy is still alive and that the father was never shot, you have to assume that every Palestinian, from the highest to the lowest, is the biggest liar imaginable, and that when Palestinians work together, they invent hoaxes and cover-ups of inhuman genius and precisionâ€¦ etc., etc.
One could scarcely hope for a more explicit expression of how a "moral" (really political) agenda trumps reality. This approach demands that we ignore the evidence.
This text, with its rhetorical inflation, exposes one of the most important dimensions in the long and painful process whereby the story of al-Dura remained buried behind a wall of silence. If the Nouvel Obs petition exposes the corporatist omertÃ of the MSM, this letter exposes the overlapping one of progressives: political correctness.
But the evidence leads precisely to the conclusions that Derfner considers unutterable. Worse the evidence of deliberate and nasty lies pervades not just the al-Dura affair, or Pallywood. Anyone who has spent time at either MEMRI or PMW knows that the Arab and Muslim MSM relishes vicious lies about Israel in order to inspire relentless hatred and genocidal violence. (Unlike Mr. Derfner's comments about me, this is not wild rhetoric.)
So this "progressive" political agenda literally demands respectful stupidity towards Arabs, and contempt for empirical observers. In other words, it's a recipe for useful and aggressive idiocy. And in the end, in order to spare the Palestinians criticism, one has to demonize the Israelis who so torment them that the Palestinians "have no choice" but to blow themselves around babies. (This politically correct attitude has had devastating effects on Israel's official public relations.)
If progressives can lambast George Bush for wagging the dog of war by "inventing" the threat of WMD, why can they not criticize the Palestinians for their use of al-Dura - the most vicious warmongering lie, most often repeated, most revoltingly exploited, the 21st century's icon of hatred? When progressives "invent peace" where there is none, when they refuse to allow those of us who "follow the evidence" where it leads to explain what we've found, when they wrap themselves in the Emperor's new and peaceful clothes and stare daggers at those of us who call liars, haters, and idiots by their name, then the future of peaceful civic polities is in grave danger.
Larry Derfner, I sentence you to spend three hours a day at PMW and MEMRI for three months before you write another word about what Arabs think, say, do, want to do. If you don't have sufficient intellectual honesty and self-respect to do so, at least you owe it to your readership.