A few months ago, I shared on this blog a video by UK writer Jon Ronson investigating the marc3pax hoax that The Electronic Intifada exposed in June 2011. The video is part of a series named “esc & ctrl” that follows Ronson as he interviews experts and protagonists on the topic of “people trying to control the internet.”
This week, Ronson published his interview with Omer Gershon who evades serious questioning about the hoax video. Gershon claims that an American activist friend of his enlisted him to create the video, but he was surprised to see the video posted on YouTube.
In the interview, Omer Gershon maintains a loose commitment to his own story. On the one hand, he acknowledges that the video was a fiction — a lie — but on the other, it’s fundamentally true too. He wasn’t really conscious of basic details about the video’s production — the intended audience and the veracity of the claims — but at the same time he wishes it were the kind of propaganda the State of Israel would produce and he enthusiastically endorses its message.
“I would love to see a bunch of gays with shawls and the gay flag on a flotilla entering Gaza. Would love… they would probably be shot on board, but I would love to see that,” he says. It’s probably just a slip of the tongue, as all shooting deaths of flotilla activists to date were carried out by Israeli soldiers.
In the original video, “Marc” claims that he contacted the Free Gaza Movement about joining a flotilla to Gaza. “Marc” says he was rejected because flotilla organizers were homophobic. This leads “Marc” to discover that it’s not just solidarity activists in London who hate gays. Palestinians hate gays too.
Free Gaza Movement responds
The Free Gaza Movement issued a statement reaffirming the fictional nature of the video’s narrative. The statement also debunks the false claims of the movement’s homophobia.
The only criteria we have for passengers is that they sign our points of unity. We have welcomed members of the LGBT community on board our boats over the years, and they have been welcomed in Gaza.
Our criteria for passengers have always been their desire to advocate for the rights of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the illegally blockaded Gaza Strip. And passengers have included Christians, Muslims, Jews, as well as members of the LGBT community and people from over 34 countries.
Jon Ronson’s search
The entire series by Jon Ronson covers other topics, too – memes, astroturfing, impersonation, bots, censorship, spam. The series is worth watching, because Ronson sheds light on many curious internet activities obscured by anonymity and secrecy.
In the third video in the series, he meets Caroline Glick and other producers of Latma.
Notice how Caroline Glick’s view of the marc3pax video is very similar to Omer Gershon’s. She wishes the government could produce such propaganda. “Both when I thought that it was true and when I heard that it was false, I still thought the message was correct.”
Gershon blames an American friend for the notoriety the video achieved. He says that the friend who commissioned the video shared it with someone at the Prime Minister’s Office who posted it internally.
It sounds like he’s referring to Guy Seemann who shared the video on Twitter. His tweet was retweeted by the Israeli Government Press Office.
Since last summer, I’ve learned that Guy Seemann was an intern at the Prime Minister’s Office as a “Legacy Heritage Fellow,” a program whose mission was “to build a global community of outstanding leaders and influential opinion makers” until 2011 when it came under the umbrella of REPORT (formerly American Friends of NGO Monitor) and was renamed the Israel Research Fellowship. The Israel Research Fellowship is supervised by NGO Monitor director Gerald Steinberg.
Omer Gershon apparently wants to confirm a link between his unnamed friend who commissioned the video and Guy Seemann, but the video was also spread on Facebook by hasbara and communications consultant Neil Lazarus though Lazarus is Welsh and his own videos are not nearly as finely crafted.
What Jon Ronson’s interview with Omer Gershon does not reveal is Gershon’s links to hasbara initiatives and Tel Aviv municipality.
Kinetis is a nonprofit educational organization established to promote, at home and abroad, the recognition of Israel as a vibrant and inspirational source of creativity and innovation.
By educating about and exposing the creative energy of the Israeli environment and people, we seek to enhance global appreciation for Israel’s unique contribution, and to revitalize national pride. and innovation
He is also linked to the Tel Aviv municipality and the mayor, Ron Huldai. Omer Gershon’s YouTube account includes a 37th birthday video that is exclusively composed of nightlife and club scenes. Except for two frames (0:01:18,06 and 0:01:18,07) which show him receiving an award or acknowledgment from the mayor.
Omer Gershon and Ron Huldai.
In a more recent video promo for a public Purim street party in Tel Aviv earlier this year, Omer Gershon plays a club snob who cannot be distracted from his mobile. The club is set in Tel Aviv Mayor Huldai’s offices.
Omer Gershon showed up again in mainstream media when Tel Aviv was declared by an airline to be the Best Gay City of 2011 in January. AP quoted him on the subject of Tel Aviv’s appeal to gay tourists (apparently not realizing his links to hoaxes and the municipality’s leaders, civic and marketing organizations that promote gay tourism internationally):
Omer Gershon, 37, a veteran of the Tel Aviv gay club scene, said tourists are drawn to the city’s “crazy” night life.
“The need for escapism is very high, so people go out every night to celebrate life,” he said, adding that tourists find Israeli men “very exotic.”