Is Ynet gay epiphany op-ed another Israeli hasbara hoax?

Did Israel’s Ynet publish an article containing a fabricated story to make it look as if Israeli social media users are succeeding in persuading Israel’s critics, gay ones in particular, to become its greatest champions?

Romeu Monteiro’s Tel Avivi conversion

A curious story was published on Ynet, the website of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronot newspaper, on 7 April. In Why I no longer hate Israel, Romeu Monteiro writes:

I’m a 22-year-old Portuguese gay activist and Ph.D. student. I’m not Jewish, Israeli or even religious, but I am a Zionist and strong supporter of Israel, and I want to explain why.

The article was published in Hebrew and English to much acclaim in the Ynet comment section, Facebook and Twitter.

Taking inspiration from The Diary of Anne Frank, Monteiro experiences the closet as if it is the secret annex where Frank hid, and this forms the basis of his identification with Israel.

By coincidence, the second intifada started in 2000 when Monteiro was the same age as Anne Frank. Here began Monteiro’s miseducation. He was “fed ignorance and hate by people who were … ignorant and prejudiced” against Jews and Israel, he claimed. The pervasive pro-Palestinian bias in every aspect of mainstream culture left him with a distorted understanding of the real true situation in Israel.

A Rachel Corrie tribute video?

To illustrate the depth of his confusion about Israel, Monteiro retells an incident from 2008.

I found myself criticizing Israel and the Gaza Strip blockade in a YouTube video about the death of Rachel Corrie. I got an answer from an Israeli commenter about my age, who wrote that there was no blockade, as several trucks were crossing into the Strip daily.

This greatly confused me and I asked him to present me with his arguments in defense of Israel. …

I read it all and, after verifying the information, I was convinced.

His conversion story strains credulity. In 2009, The Guardian wrote “YouTube comments are a hotbed of infantile debate and unashamed ignorance” save occasional wit. Yet Monteiro basically claims that a single YouTube comment opened his eyes and changed his life.

I’ve asked Monteiro to share the 2008 video and comment he wrote about, and though he acknowledged my request and said he would provide answers to several brief questions I had, I have not received any so far.

Embedded rich on Twitter

Israel’s always failing social media hasbara strategy

In his story, Monteiro is ignorant of the truth about Israel and asserts that his own biases lead him to oppose Israel and support Palestinians, but with the help of an Israeli social media user, Monteiro “became aware that [he] was making unfair judgments and spreading hate and false propaganda about Israel.”

This story just seems too good to be true. Indeed it has all the hallmarks of a deliberate hasbara – or propaganda – effort.

Social media hasbara projects never consider seriously the role of Israel’s violence in shaping public perception. Rather, on top of being ignorant and hostile to Jews, people have negative feelings toward Israel, according to Monteiro because they don’t know about “the massacres of Jews in Palestine before Israel existed, the wars of extermination, and the indoctrination for hate of Jews and Israel in the Middle East….”

But once Monteiro’s biases were exposed (by of all things YouTube comments!) he supposedly realized Israel is the greatest thing ever.

Pinkwashing

Monteiro’s op-ed also repeats now classic pinkwashing themes:

Israel is a democratic, tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, rapidly developing nation. A place I could live in free and more accepted than in my home country, and the only place I could safely set foot at in the Middle East.

Nevermind the multi-billion dollar LGBT tourism industry in the non-Israeli parts of the Middle East, Israel appeals to Monteiro’s multiculturalism. Though since Romeu Monteiro (who has used the name Romeu Moskowitz on Facebook) is “not Jewish [or] Israeli,” he may still find himself left out.

Curiously similar to earlier hoax

Less than four years after his alleged epiphany and conversion, Monteiro is publishing love letters to Israel in a major daily newspaper. His talking points resemble the best from StandWithUs, the Reut Institute, and the Ministry for Public Diplomacy (hasbara).

The credulous might believe that Romeu Monteiro was snookered by a sophisticated internet troll who perfected the social media hasbara tactics we’ve read about and witnessed for years.

However, the reality is more likely that Romeu Monteiro’s op-ed reflects hasbara messaging and is part of an organized effort.

The narrative he presents is curiously similar to last year’s gay activist on the flotilla hoax. As you may recall, in that case the Israeli actor Omer Gershon, pretended to be an American gay activist who wanted to join the flotilla to Gaza. But his naivete was burst when flotilla organizers supposedly rejected him for being gay. He then went online, and like Monteiro, discovered the “truth” which turned him into an enthusiastic supporter and apologist for Israel’s actions.

The fake video and the Monteiro op-ed reflect the mindset of their creators: that all criticism of Israel is based in ignorance and never in reality. That is why it is a fantasy.

Is Monteiro a Hasbara Fellow?

Embedded rich on Twitter

One of the questions I asked Monteiro is whether he is a Hasbara Fellowship recipient. If he responds I will update this post.

Here is what I sent him:

Dear Romeu:

I’m a blogger for The Electronic Intifada. I read your article in Yedioth Ahronot (English) and I have a few questions about what you wrote. I hope you have a few moments to answer them.

  1. Are you a Hasbara Fellow, and if so, when did you join?
  2. You wrote that you made or appeared in a video about Rachel Corrie. Can you provide a link to it?
  3. Have you spent time in Israel?

Within the public listings of social media accounts linked to Romeu Monteiro on Facebook and Twitter, I found that Monteiro gives his attention to sources like the IDF Spokesperson, StandWithUs and the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia.

He also follows the activities of Israeli LGBT organization IGY and IGLYO, which cancelled its meeting in Israel last year in response to pressure from Palestinian queer organizations. He even lists Free Palestine for Oppression of Women, Gays and Christians and Gaza Gay Pride Parade 2012 among his favorite pages on Facebook, which cast a cynical light on his love letter in Ynet.

I wondered if Monteiro were a Hasbara Fellow not just because he likes their page on Facebook, but more importantly, he’s linked to Daniel Cohen the regional coordinator for the Midwest and the staffperson who oversees fellows at Carnegie Mellon University, where Monteiro is working on a Ph.D.

How does a person transform from a naive, misinformed anti-Israel 18 year-old gay activist who posts solidarity and tribute videos on YouTube to a social media activist who answers questions on Quora, plays threads on 9GAG, challenges Richard Silverstein and shares a timeline with Sharon Singer, the Director of Public Affairs & Social Media in the Israeli Consulate at Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs in just four short years?

More planted articles?

Monteiro’s article also bears a strong resemblance to A love letter to Israelis by Swedish blogger Kim Milrell published in Ynet on 21 March 2012. Milrell tries to explain and apologize for what he describes as Sweden’s ignorance and hostility to Israel. (Milrell has launched a project to collect love letters that he publishes at http://lettersfromisrael.com/.)

Monteiro innovates by mixing in some feelings of betrayal and indignation at the pervasive pro-Palestinian world media bias and foolishness of solidarity activists, a tactic that reminded me of Nicky Larkin earlier this year.

His article is the latest piece in a new series on YNet called the “I love Israel” project. Only “Pro-Israel bloggers” are invited to submit articles.

Curiously, at the bottom of Romeu Monteiro’s op-ed, Ynet writes: “Pro-Israel bloggers are welcome to send op-eds” and provides an email address.

Readers of The Electronic Intifada will know that Israel is constantly seeking ways to perpetuate its messages, but social media continues to be a difficult terrain because there are opportunities for the propaganda to be challenged and refuted.

Comments

Did it ever occur to you that some people might actually be genuine in being pro-Israel? (And why, for instance, might a guy with an Irish name be so pro-Palestinian? What's Your story, Benji?)

As the Irish suffered for hundreds of years under a British military occupation, which exploited Ireland in the way Israel currently exploits Palestine, it is not surprising that someone with an Irish name would understand the brutal realities of Israel's illegal military occupation of East Jerusalem, West Bank, Golan Heights & Gaza. It is not surprising that someone of Irish heritage would understand the suffering of Palestinian citizens of Israel, second class citizens in their own land as were the Irish during the centuries of British rule.

Interesting response; rather than, I dunno, being based on some personal experience, your opinion is that Mr. Doherty's political position is genetically determined.

How very ... telling.

While Ireland was conquered by England the territories you are referring to were never taken from the Palestinian but from the Jordanians. Me as an Israeli am willing to give all occupied land back to Jordan. Learn some history and you will learn that many (over 50%) of the arabs living in Israel came to live here early 20th century to find work as this land prospered because of Jewish immigration. These work immigrant fled Israel in 48 under orders from their leaders. They are now considered refugees, while anywhere in the world to would not be considered such the international law has a special exception to the rule for these Palestinians. They were never a nation and unlike Ireland has never lost their territory in a war. Many of the things you heard you should double check. Why are you not outraged at Asad killing thousands of his people? Where are all the good hearted pro palestinian to point their fingers at him? Where are all the great Arab nations? If Israel did anything similar we would been banished from the UN and probably on war with all our arab neighbors. This just another proof the being Leo Palestinian is just anti Semite in disguise.

Normally we refuse comments that have no basis in fact, but I approved this one because it illustrates the point.

Learn some history and you will learn that many (over 50%) of the arabs living in Israel came to live here early 20th century to find work as this land prospered because of Jewish immigration. These work immigrant fled Israel in 48 under orders from their leaders.

This is a “fact” that originates in Joan Peters’ book “From Time Immemorial.” This work has been discredited as a hoax based on falsified scholarship.

They were never a nation and unlike Ireland has never lost their territory in a war.

This doesn’t have anything to do with Palestinian refugees. Their rights are individual human rights.

Why are you not outraged at Asad killing thousands of his people? Where are all the good hearted pro palestinian to point their fingers at him? Where are all the great Arab nations?

And this is just pathetic concern trolling: Another silly tactic to derail criticism of Israel.

There was no Jordan before 1946 (in case you read history) ,there was no recognized Lebanon before 1943,no recongized Syria before 1946 (notice all of them in the 40s,the end of the English and French occupation) and there was no recognized South Sudan before 2011(does it mean South Sudanese people never existed?) .After the establishment of Israel ,what was left from Palestine was put under the control of Jordan (West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza) but that doest mean there was no Palestinian people/nation.You claimed that over 50% of the Arabs/Palestinians living in Israel came to live here early 20th century,so they came from outside while living in Palestine for hundreds of years with proofs ? maybe you were referring to their souls ....or you were talking about the Zionist Jewish immigrants that flooded Falasteen preparing for their future state .Ignorance isnt a bliss .

To argue there's no such thing as a Palestinian on the basis of there not being a recognized nation-state called Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel in '48, forgets that most pre- '48 maps of the M. East show only an area called "Palestine", with absolutely no mention of "Israel". As well, if a person looks at diplomatic cables or the recorded conversations of politicians back then, or even just news reporters doing a story involving the area....they consistently refer to the area as "Palestine", with it's inhabitants being either Palestinian Arab, Palestinian Jew (yes!), or any of a variety of other minority groups mostly referred to as "Palestinian ___"

So using your own logic, Palestinians have a much better claim to the area than any of the newly-arrived European Jews.

I just found out that I have a portuguese friend that is a fabrication or part of a hoax to defend Israel. :D Ahahaha very funny article. It made me laugh. Congrats.

Regards from Portugal,

Luís Mateus, another probable part in a mega hoax perpetrated by Israel.

Sorry folk, he's not an hoax.

You need to research his life a little bit more to find answers for your questions.
For exemple the fact that Romeu works with a portuguese Lgbt association who is part of IGLYO.

He's genuine, as it is his (sometimes annoying) interest in Israel.
Now i expect that you will publish his answers when he answers you :)

Your conspiracist diatribes have sunk to such unfathomable depths of stupidity that even a squid would pop an eardrum.

This guy is obviously genuinely pro-Israeli, and you just gave him 100X publicity more than he had earlier. Congrats!

Hey look, he's a real person:
http://directory.andrew.cmu.ed...

That sure took almost 10 seconds to look up.

It's quite clear (that is, if you actually bothered to read the article) that the author has had correspondence with this Romeu person, so no one is claiming he isn't real.

I suppose responding to the article's claims rather than imaginary ones with is much harder, isn't it?

The article does not discuss the existence of the person. It is about the story he tells.

Personally, I like (and distrust) the Anne Frank parallel he sais he experienced when he was nine or ten: AF being a jew in the annex, he being gay in the closet. Well, Romeu Monteiro Moskowitz, if you felt that is the same: let me point out that Anne Frank was in the closet with her parents. Strange you did not notice.

He is real. A Carnegie Mellon student. Absolutely ridiculous that you would have to imply that he is fake or a troll just because he isn't what you expected. Sad.

The post did not quest whether he exists. The Carnegie Mellon link is already in the post (see the HasbaraFellows tweet). His *story* is questioned.

Now if only Romeu could point to that video, or the talks that convinced him overnight. Especially since he is studying engineering, there must be some good reasoning he has not shared so far.

Or can he explain why he recently deleted his blogpost "ABRUPTO", defending police brutality against Roma. "A rua nossa. Só não é dos ciganos." (The street is ours. Not the Roma's only) [1].

[1] 30 May 2011. From cache, disappeared from his blog after 1 February 2012.
http://webcache.googleusercont...

Your will to discredit me, and not my arguments, is so strong that you don't even read or try to understand my posts. You should feel ashamed for being so biased and hateful, that you have to resort to personal attacks and personal discredit and, even using that lame technique, you still fail. Ridiculous.

"Or can he explain why he recently deleted his blogpost "ABRUPTO", defending police brutality against Roma."

I deleted the post because the blog is mainly about Israel-related issues, or so I want it to be, and that post was one related with internal politics of Portugal. It is quoted from another blog and is actually about the blatant double standards of the police, who frequently targets the Roma due to their ilegal camps but did not remove the also ilegal camps built by protestors in some of the main portuguese squares. The title of the post, which actually translates as "The street is ours. Except the Roma's" is a critique to those who talk about public property only when they want to use it, but not when it's for the Roma's use. You can find the original post in the blog ABRUPTO (which is the source, and not the title of the post, as you claim it to be), which was written by a famous Portuguese political commenter:

http://abrupto.blogspot.com/20...

I have provided Benjamin with the link for the video of the death of Rachel Corrie. Ask him why he didn't publish it.

So typical of just how low the enemies of Israel and Jews can stoop! Reminds me of the despicable conspiracy lies regarding the perpetrators of 911 being Jews!