Why are people in the Palestine solidarity movement so much more social media and multimedia savvy than supporters of Israel? That was a question put to Avi Mayer, the Jewish Agency’s head of “new media strategy and implementation” during a conference call sponsored by The Israel Project (TIP), today.
Mayer, a former spokesman for the Israeli occupation army and former employee of the US Israel lobby AIPAC, answered that the problem was that Palestinians are just more ready to lie than Jews.
“I don’t know that they’re more social media or multimedia savvy. I think one of the challenges is that as we saw in the example I presented earlier, they often don’t mind lying,” Mayer said.
The example Mayer was referring to was a photo of a young Palestinian girl, widely disseminated on Twitter in March, that he claims to have debunked. But it is Mayer who lied to his audience on the conference call which was titled, “Using Social Media to Advocate for Israel.”
Mayer perpetuates shameful lie about Israel’s role in death of Palestinian toddler
Earlier in the call, Mayer touted his supposed social media successes, one of which was challenging a photo of Raja Abu Shaban, age 2. Last March, as Israel was once again bombing Gaza, the photo of Raja was shared widely on Twitter.
In today’s conference call, Mayer gave his version of what happened:
This photo was of a young girl – a very disturbing photo I have to note – a young girl with a bloodied face being held by her father apparently and the title said “Another child killed by Israel,” another, another – something along the lines of a father buries his child, another child killed by Israel. And it struck me as odd, I don’t know why, I don’t know what made me think that there might be something off about this.
Mayer then explained how he and other Twitter users searched online databases for the photo and found:
that that photo had not been taken when it was suggested that it had, and in fact it had been taken a few years earlier and using that same service and other twitter users, ascertained that it had actually been taken back in – I believe – 2006 and that the child depicted in the photo had actually fallen off of a swing in an incident that was likely completely unrelated to Israel. Now this is something that caused a great deal of uproar and the particular reason that it caused such an uproar is that it later emerged that one of the people involved in disseminating this photo was a UN official named Khulood Badawi who’s based here in Israel and who is involved in humanitarian issues for the United Nations, and so the Israeli delegation to the UN sent a formal complaint to the Secretary General.
At the time, Mayer and other Israeli hasbara officials carried out a relentless smear campaign against Badawi, who had tweeted the photo from her private account.
Except there’s one problem with Mayer’s story: all the evidence shows that Raja Abu Shaban did die during an Israeli air attack.
Ma’an uncovers cause of death
Following the controversy over Raja’s photo, Ma’an News Agency uncovered overwhelming and convincing evidence that Raja died during an Israeli attack:
Raja, 2, arrived dead to Shifa hospital on Aug. 9, 2006, around the same time as the bodies of two members of the Popular Resistance Committees, after an airstrike in Gaza City.
The Israeli army insists the airstrike was not in any way linked to her death, but medical records, interviews with relatives of the girl, and news reports from that day suggest otherwise.
“Israeli rockets fell near the house, causing the playground slide to fall on top of her,” Raja’s father Salam Abu Shaban said Sunday, pointing out the strike occurred less than 200 meters away. Her mother agreed.
The cause of death registered in a hospital medical report, seen by Ma’an, from that day in 2006 concludes that Raja died “due to falling from a high area during the Israeli strike on Gaza.”
It notes: “The Gaza prosecutor registered her as a martyr,” a term commonly used to describe Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.
Human rights organizations also say Raja died after the impact of the explosions. Israeli and Palestinian groups maintain her fall was the result of the army activity targeting militants in a nearby field.
In a register of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli forces, the rights group B’Tselem reports that Raja “fell off a swing and bumped her head when a missile fired by the IDF hit an orchard 100 meters from the house.”
Recent investigations have re-confirmed this account, B’Tselem official Sarit Michaeli said Sunday.
Research by the Gaza-based rights group Al Mezan, in the days after Raja’s death, also found the impact of the strike caused her to fall, the rights group confirmed Saturday.
“While the (Israeli army) did not target the girl directly, they launched an attack with three missiles on a densely populated area, which caused the death of the girl, the injury of three civilians and the damage of several houses in the area,” Al Mezan noted in a statement.
More than two months after Ma’an published this report, of which Mayer is undoubtedly aware, he is still flatly lying that Israel had nothing to do with Raja’s death and touting his efforts to spread this lie as a success and model for young anti-Palestinian propagandists to emulate.
What’s even more ironic is that one of the pieces of advice he gave today was to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Advice, it seems, that doesn’t apply to him.
The Israel Project lies about “photoshopped photos”
During the conference call, its sponsor, The Israel Project, issued the following tweet supposedly summarizing one of Mayer’s points:
This is another lie. Mayer never claimed that any of the photos he challenged were “photoshopped,” only that they were real photos taken out of context.
Update 14 June: Jewish Agency’s Avi Mayer responds
In a series of tweets today, the Jewish Agency’s online propaganda chief Avi Mayer responded to the contentions made in this post. What follows are his tweets and my response.
Mayer on the death of Raja Abu Shaban
Despite all the evidence collected by Ma’an News Agency quoted above, Mayer insists that the only thing that matters is a Reuters photo caption that says Raja Abu Shaban fell from a swing.
No one had denied she fell. But remember that Mayer insists on “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” All the evidence indicates that it was an Israeli air strike within a civilian area that caused Raja to suffer a fatal fall. That’s the whole truth, but Avi Mayer still refuses to acknowledge it, clinging desperately to a Reuters caption and ignoring all the evidence from medical records, Raja’s family, and Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups.
Mayer claims that I’m being anti-Semitic and twisting his words
Note Mayer’s tactics here. It is first to falsely claim that I attributed the words “Palestinians” and “Jews” to him and then to claim he never said them. Yet those words never appeared between quotation marks in my post. Now, because he has been criticized, he is crying “anti-Semitism.”
So what did Mayer say, and what was the context – since he insists that context is everything?
Here’s the exchange between the conference call host and Mayer:
Q: We have a bunch of questions asking about how you know people who might be sitting opposite us are you know that they might have a bigger presence so Dan Kuna (ph) who works for the ICC asks why does it seem like anti-Israel activists seem to be a lot more social media and multimedia savvy?
MAYER: I don’t know that they’re more social media or multimedia savvy. I think one of the challenges is that as we saw in the example I presented earlier, they often don’t mind lying, and this obviously is not true of everyone and this is not something that applies to all activists who are hostile to Israel, but I’ve found there’s been not quite as much of a reticence to use false or misleading information on their side, on that side, as opposed to ours. And so you know, if we are as engaged as we are and I think we’ve a lot to be proud of, but we at the same time are careful to check our sources, make sure that we’re not just tweeting out or publicizing information just because we hear it. It obviously puts us at something of a disdvantage, a disadvantage of which I think we can be proud, but a disadvantage nonetheless in that the volume of tweets and of Facebook posts etcetera would be much larger if we didn’t check and we weren’t careful about that sort of thing. I think another thing is that, simply numerically, the Arab world is vast, and Israel is very small. And the Arab world has had a great deal of success particularly during what’s now referred to as the Arab Spring using social media to get messaging out there and so they’ve become very savvy on their own and that has trickled down to online activism as well. Now it’s obviously not the case that all social media users in the Arab world are hostile to Israel. There are very many who are friendly towards Israel or apathetic, but the starting point is different so to some extent we are playing catch up in that regard. But I’m pleased to say that Twitter recently launched a Hebrew language interface that will increase the number of Twitter users in Israel and Twitter users abroad are doing an excellent job of using Twitter to fight for Israel in that space.
Mayer speaks about “their side” and “our side.” The sole named example he uses of “their side” is Khulood Badawi, a Palestinian woman who is taken as a representative of those who lie. Palestinians he makes clear are part of a broader “Arab world” which is part of “their side” and which is overwhelmingly hostile to Israel.
Who is “our side” in Mayer’s view? That’s easy: Mayer works for the Jewish Agency, a sectarian, Israeli government-backed agency that doesn’t represent the citizens of Israel, but only Jews and has been in cahoots with the Israeli government from the very beginning – along with the Jewish National Fund – at privileging Jews legally, spatially, economically socially, culturally and linguistically, at the expense of native Palestinians.
“The context is Jewish”
Mayer makes clear earlier in the call how we should think about Israel:
We need to stop thinking about Israel as a cause or an issue and start thinking about Israel as more of a platform. And I think what they mean by that is that Israel can be viewed in a much broader sense than it is today. If people are interested, if young people are interested in social justice issues, in women’s rights, LGBT rights, environmentalism, all sorts of things that they’re connected to in visceral ways, due to their involvement either on campus, in their personal lives, those are things that they can be connected to through Israel. Israel excels in a huge range of areas and has a great deal of which to be proud and so do we when it comes to Israel. And so I think that that is one way of thinking of Israel as a way of connecting people to subjects they’re already involved in, that they’re already engaged in but through this prism of sort of the Jewish sovereign state, the place where you know the context is Jewish.
Mayer’s ‘them and us’ mindset is clear throughout the whole conference call – his allegiances are not to universal human rights to which all people can have access, but to a sectarian vision of “Jewish sovereignty” against an Arab and Palestinian opposition that’s ready to lie.This notion that Arabs can’t be believed is an old staple of Israeli propaganda.
Yet the only examples of such “lies” Mayer could come up with were real photos from Gaza where he questions only the context while refusing to deal with the actual events depicted in the photos. Meanwhile…
Mayer defends use of faked photos but only if they help Israel
Another of the pieces of advice Mayer gave his listeners in the conference call was to use photos:
One of the things that many organizations, and actually many individuals as well find to be most effective in that sense is using photographs. Photographs are a really big deal, sounds very simple but people really love photos. A great example of that is a photo tweeted just a couple of days ago by the IDF Spokersperson’s Unit of two gay soldiers, or two soldiers holding hands in honor of LGBT Pride month. It emerged that the two were not a couple but it is indeed representative of something that happens in the IDF and the openness of the IDF to the LGBT community – It was shared thousands upon thousands of times and it was liked thousands upon thousands of times and they found that to be a very effective tool of getting that message out there.
When he spoke those words, Mayer already knew that the photo was staged, that the two soldiers were not a couple and that one of them is not even gay. And yet Mayer shamelessly defends the photo as an effective propaganda tool and justifies it because although fake, it is “representative” of something that might happen.
Well, if that’s the standard, isn’t it legitimate to tweet real photos of Israel bombing Gaza, and real photos of victims of that bombing, as representative of what happens routinely even if they are from a different day? It’s what really happens, right?
According to Mayer, fake photos are just great but only if they help Israeli propaganda. That’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.