Jonah Goldberg

If you took Western news outlets at face value, you'd think that every Arab hamlet, no matter how humble, must have at least one thriving American and Israeli flag merchant. For whenever the Big or Little Satan sneezes, it seems all anyone has to do is run down to Achmed's Flag Emporium to set one on fire for the cameras.

The point here, alas, is that Westerners are suckers. Or, put another way, terrorists aren't stupid. They understand that images are more important than armies. Heck, that's why they're terrorists in the first place.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the global war against Israel. Its enemies understand that they cannot defeat Israel militarily. Instead, they must fight a war against Israel's resolve. This requires fighting on several fronts. One of them is terrorism. We know how that works: Blow up children. Tear apart buses. Shred wedding parties. Etc.

Another tactic in this "asymmetric" war is to make the Israelis the bad guys for resisting terrorism. Jews have a well-cultivated sense of guilt (take my word for it). And, for obvious reasons, no insult could hurt more than depicting Jews as Nazis. Hence, the nigh-upon global campaign to depict Israelis as the heirs to Hitler. Of course, ad hitlerum argumentation is just the tip of the propaganda spear. "Aggression," "apartheid," "racist": no insult is barred from the anti-Israel script. Terrorize your enemy and make them feel like villains in the process - that's a powerful strategy.

This strategy depends on the willing support of what Lenin called "useful idiots." These are the accommodating Westerners - many of them intellectuals - all too willing to take the word of totalitarians and even more eager to believe that the champions of democracy are in the wrong. Some social scientists call these people "French," but that is too limiting. There are plenty of them in America, too.

All they require is a steady stream of "facts." For example, in 2002, a Palestinian camera crew was videotaping a staged funeral at which the "corpse" accidentally spilled out of the stretcher and was miraculously reborn.

Sometimes the facts don't require such sorcery; they just need to be gussied up a bit. In June, a Palestinian family was tragically killed by artillery while visiting a beach in Gaza. At first it seemed plausible that Israel was responsible. Which is why Hamas immediately swept the beach for evidence and collected all the shrapnel from the bodies to prevent that impression from changing. The Israelis initially apologized for the deaths - that's what Israelis do when they kill civilians - and only later revised their apology when an investigation revealed that the deaths were probably caused by ordnance buried under the beach.

That didn't stop the usual chorus from calling the deaths a deliberate "massacre." Indeed, every unintentional civilian death caused by Israel is a "massacre" while every intentional slaughter of Israeli civilians is "self-defense."

But here's the thing. Even if Israel did accidentally bomb the beach - as the Hamas government still claims - those deaths would still be tragic, but they wouldn't be Israel's fault. Hamas was allowing rockets to be fired at Israel a few football fields' distance from a recreational beach, hiding behind day-tripping picnickers. What, exactly, was Israel supposed to do?

Just days ago, Israeli jets bombed a building in the Lebanese village of Qana - a building Israelis believed to be evacuated - and it later collapsed. More than 50 people, many of them children, were pulled from the wreckage, dead. Newspapers, politicians and a host of useful idiots condemned another Israeli massacre. Images of dead children saturated the airwaves. Israel immediately apologized.

The script is even more familiar. The Qana "massacre" was very convenient for Hezbollah politically. It stymied Condoleezza Rice's visit to Beirut, forestalled talk of disarming Hezbollah, and rallied international opinion around the terrorist group. Aspects of the Qana story don't jibe, starting with the timeline. The building collapsed seven hours after the bombing. Some of the victims didn't look like they were killed in a building collapse, and refrigerated trucks were reportedly brought in before the media could visit the site, perhaps delivering corpses. An elaborate 30-foot banner condemning a bloody-lipped Rice for the attack was improbably at the ready for a protest that morning. Bloggers around the globe are steadily picking apart other details, to the dismay of many who like their anti-Israel storylines tidy (see confederateyankee.mu.nu for a summary).

But again, even if the deaths were the byproduct of Israel's bombing, that hardly makes it an intentional massacre, and it hardly makes Israel the villain. Hezbollah deliberately places its weapons caches beneath schools and homes, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. It shoots its rockets from civilian population centers. If the rockets slaughter Israelis, Hezbollah wins. If Israel responds and kills civilians, Israel loses. And either way, you can be sure some sucker will blame Israel for the whole thing.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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