Last week, prominent Israeli BDS activist, Ronnie Barkan, was interviewed on Yediot Achronot’s TV news channel by Atilla Somfalvi. This isn’t really an interview. It’s at best ambush journalism. But I’d go farther: there is state-sponsored terrorism; this is state-sponsored journalism. It’s journalism in service not just to the State, but to the worst policies and prejudices of a nation (or at least its government).
Readers here will note that Yediot let its anti-BDS “freak-flag fly” last week, trumpeting that it was dedicating itself to the anti-BDS cause. It prominently featured front page articles attacking BDS with vile lies from Ben Dror Yemini and a more centrist Nahum Barnea. The Barkan interview is part of this scorched earth campaign, which was inspired by the naming of a new government in recent weeks, which prominently features fighting BDS as part of its political agenda. There is a new BDS czar, Minister Gilad Erdan, who’s pictured falling out of this rowboat in a roiling sea with Bibi Netanyahu in the accompanying Biderman cartoon.
It’s useful to note the propaganda memes Somfalvi exploits in this video. Among other things, he falsely claims three times (despite the fact that Barkan had already told the researcher who pre-interviewed him that this was untrue) that the activist is funded by BDS. When Ronnie notes that he earns his living by working with computers, Somfalvi indignantly says, “you mean to tell me that BDS doesn’t accept donations?” Well, of course it accepts donations like any other NGO. But do any of those donations go to Barkan? Or any other Israeli BDS activist? No, they don’t. But Somfalvi doesn’t let that stop him.
Barkan reminds the audience that Israeli Jewish rights came at the expense of the non-Jewish native inhabitants of the land, and that BDS demands full equality for Israeli Palestinians as well. He asks Somfalvi why this idea so disturbs him. He then goes into high dudgeon, demanding why, if Barkan is so embarrassed by his native country, he doesn’t renounce his Israeli citizenship. The very act of demanding justice for non-Jewish Israeli citizens is an impermissible act which renders Barkan treif, a traitor to the Israeli (Jewish) nation.
In fact, Somfalvi goads him into doing so telling him: “Go live in Italy.” He implies that this is where all traitors to the Israeli state belong: abroad. The BDS campaigner disappoints him when he replies that he is Israeli and will retain his Israeli citizenship, thank you.
The lowest of the low in this interview comes when Somfalvi lets loose with a torrent of abuse against BDS calling it: “sick, twisted, and messed up.” He even uses the word dafuk which in its crudest form can convey being “fucked up.” At this point, he is hectoring Barkan and the interview becomes a shouting match (with only the interviewer doing the shouting).
This interview is instructive, not so much for what Barkan says (because he was cut off so often he only managed to get his points across beneath Somfalvi’s bellowing), but for the frightened, cowering response of the Jewish State to BDS. This is a nation so threatened by the demand for basic democratic rights that it must spend tens of millions of dollars and enlist the resources not just of the State, but of the entire nation to fight an existential war of Good and Evil against BDS. To employ the Israeli reporter’s own terms, this is truly sick. It’s pathological and paranoid.
Other Israeli politicians have fulminated about BDS being no different from terrorism. It’s been labeled as anti-Semitic and falsely described as seeking the destruction of Israel. Comparisons of it to the Holocaust cannot be far behind. In fact, an Israeli Supreme Court decision likens BDS supporters to Holocaust deniers. Such florid abuse of rhetoric only reveals the utter desperation of the Israeli cause.
Finally, in negotiating the terms of the interview Barkan demanded it be live so it couldn’t be edited out of context. When he was told StandWithUs would be involved he demanded that it be a one-on-one interview, to which they agreed. Then when he was connected via Skype he noted that a SWU PR flack was there in the studio. Another example of an Israeli media so infused with self-righteousness it dispenses with honesty. I suppose they view BDS as evil incarnate and so not worthy of being treated with candor, respect and truthfulness.
After cutting off Barkan in mid-sentence and abruptly ending his portion of the interview, Somfalvi turns to the SWU spokesperson, who proceeds to lie about BDS claiming it’s affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. He further claims that SWU is non-political (neither “left nor right”), another blatant lie. I would have no problem with these hasbara outfits arguing based on facts. But when they, and the Israeli media resort to shouting, bullying and outright lies, they only expose the bankruptcy and desperation of their own cause.
To be fair, it’s important to note that there are Israeli journalists who don’t buy the company line, who aren’t cowed by national consensus, who are willing to do their jobs in an independent fashion. Ronnie was interviewed on one such TV program and this is the result. A fair and balanced discussion of military refusal without shouting and hysterics.
Abraham Lincoln once said “a house divided cannot stand.” Israel isn’t a house divided in the sense that Lincoln meant it. It isn’t riven by self-doubt and a civil war as the Union was then. But it is a nation that has trampled on those same values for which Lincoln and the Union strove during the Civil War: democracy, freedom, full equality for all. In that sense, Israel is a nation built on principles it has betrayed.
Further, Lincoln described his country, in his Gettysburg Address, as:
…A new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
Israel too was at least nominally conceived according to the same principles. But it has diverged from them. In doing so, it raises profound questions about whether it too “can long endure.”
Arie Brand says
Israel has, in relation to the Orange affair, called on France to distance itself, or even condemn, any boycot. Both Hollande and the Foreign Minister, Fabius, have indeed done so. However, as a recent NGO-report notes, it is Fabius’ ministry that “ has acknowledged the illegality of the Israeli colonies an has recently ( viz. 17 Nov.2014 A.B.) published an opinion warning enterprises and private persons regarding the juridical and reputational risks related to economic and financial activities in the occupied Palestinian territories” (“Les liaisons dangereuses d’Orange dans le territories palestinien occupé” May 2015 p.7 – https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/rapport_orange-web.pdf)
It is this sort of internal contradictions that will ultimately undo the Israeli campaign against boycots.
Please correct to Gilad Erdan.
Tony Greenstein` says
You think British interviewers are bad, well Israel can out-trump them anyway! Atilla Somfalvi didn’t cover himself with glory. He was a hectoring, loud and ignorant bully who had nothing to say.
Ronni Barkan by way of contrast dealt extremely well with the ‘interview’. I would have been tempted to tell Somfalvi to fuck off back to his settlement. His calm demeanour under pressure was highly impressive.
JoAnn Perez says
My thoughts as well. I was impressed regarding the clarity with which Ronnie Barkan spoke despite the interrupting and obnoxious interviewer. So unprofessional.
You mistranslated the caption. Bibi says: “I given orders to increase the hasbara efforts”.
Richard Silverstein says
@ loram: You’re kidding aren’t you? You want to quibble over something as insignificant as this? Hasbara Central must be desperate tonight.
No quibble and I have nothing to do with Hasbara, on the contrary. It’s simply better to translate precisely. That’s all.
The piece is very valuable, which just stresses the importance of precision in details.
Good luck with your blog!
Richard Silverstein says
I’m sorry if I overreacted. There’s a hasbara brigade which enjoys pointing out minute translation errors & other typos. I may’ve confused you w them. I agree precision is a good thing & will change my translation.
Yes you did, and it wasn’t nice or a nice welcome, but I imagine the flack you get. Better not generalize or make quick judgments. I will be glad to continue reading the blog.
BDS reminds me of how European Jews fought over whether they should boycott Nazi Germany.
Tony Greenstein` says
European Jews didn’t fight over the boycott. The Zionist movement sabotaged it with their trade agreement with Nazi Germany. They prioritised saving the wealth of German Jews and exporting it, in the form of industrial goods, to Palestine at the expense of the Jews themselves. 60% of the capital investment in Jewish Palestine between 1933-39 came from Nazi Germany! The Zionists scabbed, as one Jewish labour leader termed it.
Jews overwhelmingly supported the Boycott as did the international trade union movement. Support was strong in the most unusual of places like Egypt and Poland.
But the Zionists and the Jewish Bourgeoisie took fright.
…I thought Barkan handled himself-and the annoying and mostly ridiculous interviewer – very well…
Isn’t it interesting that just a few months back, BDS was being hailed as an epic fail, a joke and impotent. Now BDS is a frightening antisemitic monster that must be stopped! An Israeli supporting BDS is a traitor, an enemy of the state. It’s amazing to see the GoI squeal. As in South Africa, boycotts, divestment and sanctions was the only viable response to the oppressive and murderous SA govt. It’s the best way to deal with an oppressor – hit them in the only spot they have feelings – the pocketbook. Viva BDS!
Ryan Bellerose says
didn’t read past the second paragraph, you tend to use 60 words when 3 will suffice, but thank you for the video, I will share it massively