While attempting to read an article on the Haaretz website this afternoon about the brutality of the IDF takeover of the Gaza-bound boat Irene, filled with Jewish activists, I was distracted by an advertisement at the top of the page.
The ad featured a cheerful non-Israeli woman with bangs and a flowered scarf around her neck, a picnic scene in the background, and a skewer of meat oscillating at her side. The accompanying speech balloon, which alternately appeared in Hebrew, Russian, and English, was a reference to the skewered meat: “Cooking methods in Israel are quite primitive…”. The balloon was then replaced by a black box of text with the following appeal:
Are you tired of seeing how we are portrayed in the world?
You can change the picture! Now in English, Russian and Hebrew.”
Viewers interested in multilingual pictorial change are invited to visit a website established by the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, which refers to visitors as “Novice Ambassadors” and announces:
Many of us [Israelis], whether we’re traveling or living abroad for an extended period of time, get involved in discussions with locals during which they bring up misconceptions and false information regarding Israel, without our having the tools and the correct information for coping with the questions or the barbs of criticism put to us. At such moments, we’re seized with an urge to make the other person open their mind and especially their heart, and see us—see Israel—differently.” [excessive emphasis in original]
This past week in Washington, D.C., I met with award-winning Argentine photographer Daniel Cima, who spent over a month in Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake.
The following series of Cima’s photographs is an example of disaster-inspired creativity of a different nature than that espoused by hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean, who preferred to channel his artistic talents into a bid for the Haitian presidency before settling for a musical album entitled “If I Were President, the Haitian Experience”.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of former Honduran president Mel Zelaya’s sudden reappearance in Tegucigalpa following his June 28 expatriation at the hands of the Honduran military. After extensively debating whether or not said military expatriation qualified as a military coup, the U.S. State Department finally arrived at the conclusion this year that whatever it was it had resulted in a government committed to democracy and constitutional order. The U.S. would presumably not welcome similar thought processes by foreign opponents, or a situation in which Iran spent the better part of a year hemming and hawing over whether it had in fact executed political prisoners before determining that the term execution was inconsequential and not an obstacle to the maintenance of human rights.
As for regimes slightly less adept at the manipulation of truth, Honduran coup president Roberto Micheletti was eventually forced to amend his claim last Sept. 21 that Zelaya was in a hotel in Managua, Nicaragua, after being presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, such as the legitimate president’s appearance on the balcony of the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Aside from hiring U.S. lobbying firms to promote the coup on Capitol Hill, other coup government attempts at truth manipulation consisted of crafting pro-coup commercials for Honduran television starring Zelaya’s cowboy hat alongside the red beret of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—although it was never clear why these two forms of Latin American headgear were any more ominous than those used by right-wing dictators.
Today’s top story in the Honduran paper El Heraldo, one of the mouthpieces of last year’s coup against President Mel Zelaya, proclaims that Honduras celebrated 189 years of independence from Spain yesterday “in peace and tranquility” and that “every Honduran heart beat stronger” with love and pride for the land. These rosy characterizations are difficult to reconcile with news from other venues, such as the communiqué from the Honduran band Café Guancasco—pillar of the anti-coup Resistance and source of political compositions like “Club of Idiots”—according to which their peaceful concert in San Pedro Sula was attacked with tear gas and water cannons courtesy of the police and military with no regard for the presence of children and the elderly. A band member was also severely beaten.
El Heraldo acknowledges that the Resistance was also involved in Independence Day celebrations but stresses that these centered around praise of Hugo Chávez and Che Guevara, which is presumably intended as proof that anti-coup Hondurans are not in fact in favor of national independence. Additional care is taken to specify that Chávez also led a coup in the past; other relevant news provided is that Zelaya is in “self-imposed exile in the paradise of the Dominican Republic”, followed by a discussion of the crown worn by a member of a gay and lesbian organization at yesterday’s Resistance march in Tegucigalpa.
During my last visit to Beirut, I asked a Lebanese friend why the digital billboard downtown marking the number of days since the February 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri had been switched off if Hariri was still dead. My friend suggested that stopping the clock gave the appearance that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, charged with prosecuting Hariri’s murderers, was actually accomplishing its task.
Were Lebanon not plagued by severe electrical shortages, digital billboards might be set up to count a number of things, such as the number of political assassinations that have gone unsolved since the start of the Lebanese civil war, the number of days suspects in the Hariri case were imprisoned without charges, or the number of visits current Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has made to Syria after accusing that country of killing his father.
Yesterday in Washington, D.C, I encountered a Bolivian immigrant named David who had just returned from a trip to La Paz in order to verify that Evo Morales was not in the process of expropriating his house in his absence and who informed me that other world leaders were taking advantage of Morales’ minimal education level to fill in the gaps with their own ideologies. It turned out that the list of usual culprits had been expanded to consist not only of the presidents of Venezuela and Ecuador but that of Iran, as well, whose first ambassador to Bolivia met with Morales this week.
The opening of Iranian diplomatic offices in South America has been of special concern in recent years to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department, prompting them to produce such things as “secret reports” about Iranian acquisition of regional uranium and to alert Jewish travelers to their potential kidnapping at the Caracas airport as part of a joint Hezbollah-Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps scheme to transport hostages to Lebanon via the weekly Caracas-Tehran flight on IranAir. (Despite the seeming logistical simplicity of the scheme, it is apparently more difficult to carry out than, for example, assassinations of Hamas leaders in their Dubai hotels.)
In an interview this week with Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, omnipresent Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev addressed the difficulty of defining the border between Israel and Palestine without knowing “what’s going to be on the other side” and whether whatever it is will recognize the Jewish state.
Deftly skirting Rattansi’s interjection that the Palestinians had already recognized Israel in 1993 by saying he would “answer that in a second” despite the fact that it was not a question, Regev continued: “How can we agree to a border unless we know what’s the nature and the character of the society on the other side of the border?” As for the nature and character of the Jewish state, comparable spiritual exclusivity on the other side of the fence such as an Islamic Republic of Palestine would presumably not merit comparable insistence by Regev of the state’s utter democracy.
As it is conveniently impossible to determine the precise identity of something that does not yet exist, it seems at this point that God should bring about Middle East peace by donating Uganda to the Palestinians. A former option for the Jewish national home before God decided definitively on Palestine, Uganda has thus been firmly established in the category of lands without people awaiting people without land.