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Remembering Cast Lead and Israeli PR Equations

Israeli child draws picture of Qassam rocket: evidence that Israelis were the true victims of Cast Lead (Photo: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye)

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the start of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, a 22-day onslaught in which Palestinian civilians perished at a rate of approximately 400: 1 vis-à-vis their Israeli counterparts.

I happened to be in Argentina during this particular conflict and was thus able to monitor how well the Israeli embassy and Jewish organizations in Buenos Aires complied with the orders from acting Israeli Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, who had called for an intensified global public relations campaign in order to counteract the fact that “[u]nfortunately, some of the world’s decision makers are swayed by public opinion and the media”. In response to a march in Buenos Aires in support of the Palestinians being slaughtered in Gaza, a pro-Israel “counter-march” was promptly organized. Defying the traditional definition of “march”, it consisted of a closed-to-the-public meeting at the AMIA Jewish cultural association—site of a deadly bombing in 1994, the alleged Iranian perpetration of which Israel insists on passing off as fact, presumably in order to justify a disproportionate response at some point in the future. Parts of the meeting were televised, such as the speech by Israeli ambassador to Argentina Daniel Gazit in which he claimed that, had the IDF done even one-fourth or one-eighth of what the world had accused it of doing in Gaza, the war would have been won in a day.

Since its inception the state of Israel has engaged in a creative form of mathematics according to which it is not disproportionate to suggest that one Israeli civilian is equal in value to 400 Palestinian civilians. The prevailing Israeli notion is that massacres of Arabs do not affect Israel’s fundamental position as victim, which calls into question the necessity of Livni’s announcement during Operation Cast Lead that the purpose of the military endeavor was to “change the equation”.

As for equational change in South America, the website of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires obediently uploaded a piece during Cast Lead entitled “Proportionality – terror in the skies”. In the counterintuitive tradition of Israeli logic, this was a reference to Palestinian terror in Israeli skies, despite the fact that Qassam rockets—in addition to generally being a result of Israeli breakage of ceasefires—do not for the most part land on target, nor do they dispense white phosphorus. The section of the site devoted to the 1994 AMIA attack and the bombing of the embassy itself in 1992 meanwhile claims that the embassy bombing, in which 29 people perished, “was considered at the time to be the most brutal act against civilians to have occurred since the end of World War II”.

It is not surprising that events such as the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, in which 17,500 people—primarily civilians—died, are not perceived as posing a challenge to the aforementioned equation of brutality, as Arabs are not generally permitted the luxury of human suffering that Israelis and Jews are. It is somewhat more surprising to invoke this equation in the Argentine context, however, given that just a decade prior to the embassy attack an estimated 30,000 suspected leftists in Argentina were disappeared by the military junta. According to a 1984 report by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons, Jews accounted for more than 15 percent of the victims of killing and forced disappearance.

Click here to read my piece “Changing the Equation: Israel’s PR Campaign in Buenos Aires”, written during Operation Cast Lead, in CounterPunch.

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