Why I disagree with Arabic media’s demonization of Israel

Let’s stop demonizing Israel. The new analogy I invite Arabs to use can be rendered: “Israel Is a Sister.”

anti-Semitic Iranian cartoon 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
anti-Semitic Iranian cartoon 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Two days ago, Al Ahram published a cartoon in which a child angel asks another: “Were you too killed by an Israeli fighter jet?” The other victim replies: “No, by an Egyptian train,” a reference to the tragic collision four days ago of a train and a school bus, which killed 50 children. What’s wrong with the analogy?
As a researcher in cognitive linguistics and critical discourse analysis, I can say that the reason bad analogies are so dangerous is that they can constrain and direct our policies. The above analogy, for example, highlights that Israel is a killer of innocence, suppressing the fact that Hamas fires rockets at innocent Israeli civilians. Importantly, depicting Israel as a demon implies that there can be no peace with it. If this were the case, how can Egypt play the role of peace broker between Israel and Palestine?
Another prominent cartoon appeared in the Jordanian newspaper Al Rayi. In it, Israel is depicted as a serial killer fond of collecting skulls. Again, this analogy hides the fact that in Israel there are innocent civilians, women and children who know nothing about killing. Furthermore, it suppresses the fact that Israel wants peace with its neighbors, as evidenced by its 32-year-old peace treaty with Egypt.
Strikingly, the same analogy (i.e., Israel as serial killer) has been employed by the Egyptian news outlet El-Masry Elyoum, though in a different form. The outlet ran a picture in which a smiling Israeli soldier asks another, while pointing to the word “Gaza” written in skulls, “isn’t my handwriting very nice?” The message here is that Israeli soldiers kill for fun, ignoring the fact many of them are wounded or killed. Furthermore, the message is that the soldiers of Israel are irrational. But are they?
Israeli soldiers have to defend themselves, their children, and their wives against Hamas attack. Furthermore, they dream of same things everyone else does: to be able to spend a nice weekend with their families, for security, for a calm life. In short, they’re not demons.
A fourth striking example can be found in the Saudi economic newspaper Al Iqtisadiah. In it, the Israeli flag is planted on the corpse of an Arab drowning in his own blood. This implies that the Jewish state must be demolished if Arabs want to live, which is another way of saying Israel has no right to exist.
The photos of innocent Palestinian victims made my heart bleed and left me for some days unable to think or write. But viewing Israel as a demon is dangerous and doesn’t fit the facts very well.
As a general finding in cognitive science, if a mental framework doesn’t fit the facts, the facts will bounce off and the framework will stay. As such, we need to pay more attention to our metaphors and analogies, especially because as we have seen, demonization of Israel works against peace.
Finally, I recall some important words said once by deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in a TV interview: “We Egyptians went into wars with Israel, but in the end we sat down together around the table and solved our problems. Importantly, only negotiations can bring peace to the region, as can be read in the book of history.”
On this account, let’s stop demonizing Israel.
The new analogy I invite Arabs to use can be rendered: “Israel Is a Sister.” More importantly, the Palestinian people suffer, and so does the Israeli people. In other words, both sides need and want peace.
The writer is an Egyptian artist and a PhD student.