June 8, 2010
Israeli grass-roots effort fights flotilla fallout
TEL AVIV (JTA)—Two days after last week’s flotilla incident, with Israel weathering a hailstorm of international condemnation, a group of young Israelis hunkered down in a Tel Aviv recording studio to produce a satirical music video they hoped would become a weapon in the battle for world opinion.
"We Con the World," a spoof of the 1985 Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie song "We Are the World," was promptly e-mailed, Facebooked and Twittered around the globe, becoming an instant YouTube phenomenon. To date it has received some 2 million hits.
The lead singer, dressed in the white hat of a ship’s captain and given the name "Captain Stabbing" (a reference to Captain Stubing of the TV show “Love Boat” fame) opens by crooning in a thick mock Turkish accent, "There comes a time when we need to make a show, for the world, the web and CNN."
Singing in a Jackson-style falsetto, another character later picks up the tune, “We’ll make the world abandon reason. We’ll make them all believe that the Hamas is Momma Teresa.”
The video is one of several grass-roots Israeli efforts to put out a pro-Israel message to the world in the wake of the confrontation aboard one of the ships on the Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine Turkish activists dead and several Israeli Navy commandos injured. The confrontation has stoked worldwide anger at Israel.
In a bid to redirect that anger and lay the blame where they believe it should lie—the Turkish activists who they say provoked the confrontation at sea and the anti-Israel terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, Hamas—some Israelis are mounting their own citizen responses to make the case for Israel’s enforcement of the blockade of Gaza and tough line toward Hamas.
These Israelis, many of them young, have established new groups on the online social networking site Facebook and built new websites to promote Israel’s perspective on the flotilla raid as well as on the blockade of Gaza. One student group even plans to launch its own flotilla—a fleet of boats it hopes will humiliate Turkey by calling attention to the plight of the Armenians and Kurds, who are known to be suffering under the Turks.
Israel maintains it was acting in self-defense after passengers on one of the Gaza-bound ships in the flotilla attacked Israeli commandos boarding the ship with clubs, knives and even two pistols stolen from the soldiers. Critics of Israel’s actions have promoted a different narrative of the May 31 raid, painting Israel as the aggressor against an aid shipment in international waters.
Just two hours after the flotilla incident, Dan Illouz, 24, said he created a Facebook group called "The Truth About Israel’s Defensive Actions Against the Flotilla." A recent Canadian immigrant to Israel and law school graduate, the group soon took off and now has more than 70,000 members.
"I saw there was no response from the government and I wanted to get something out there," he said. "I know people from the Navy and I knew stories on the news made no sense, and I wanted to get a group of people together to spread the story once it was available."
Illouz also formed a new website, Israelflotilla.weebly.com, to accompany the Facebook page. He can track who views and forwards his posts, and through the website he has formed a group of some 200 volunteers who use his talking points in letters to newspaper editors and their elected officials.
"It’s not the first time Israel has been attacked, and every time we see a lot of media bias,” Illouz said. “There is a need out there to train Israel advocates in social media, a new generation of leaders who understand this sort of communication."
The Israeli branch of the advocacy group StandWithUs, which works mostly with university and college students, also was quick to form its own online messages, creating a website called Flotilla Facts.
"The idea of websites is a multiplier,” said Michael Dickson, the Israel director of StandWithUs. “The messages and images and videos we find most effective we put in bullet-point form that can be understood and re-sent. We also have them in Tweet form to be sent out on Twitter," the online messaging service.
The site is viewable in 14 languages, including Turkish. Dickson said readers from Turkey represented the fifth largest group visiting the site. One of the videos the site helped circulate was "We Con the World."
Karni Eldad, 36, a music producer, helped produce the “We Con the World” video.
"It struck a chord because people know that the media coverage was one-sided," she said. "Nobody wants to hear more about the fighting, but when you talk in a funny way you get a laugh. And you get the truth."
Eldad, whose father is Knesset member Arieh Eldad of the right-wing National Union Party, said that "So many people have watched it; it’s unbelievable. I am proud it’s made an impression, that it’s had an effect.”
Arieh Eldad praised the work of his daughter, who together with friends who run a political satire group called Latma, which is led by Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Glick, created the video.
"It shows how individuals and civilians feel something wrong has been done to the State of Israel by the international community, and this is a way to stand up and expose that hypocrisy," Arieh Eldad said. "It’s a very efficient tool for doing that."
Shlomo Balas, the director of the Latma website, told the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot that he decided to strike back with satire the day of the raid.
“The blood was boiling in my veins,” he said. “I immediately called the site editor, Caroline Glick, and said to her, ‘We have to do something.’ ”
A report in Yediot congratulated the video’s creators, saying they had "defended Israel better than any of the experts.”
Not everyone was a fan, however. Some in Israel and abroad have criticized the video’s depiction of keffiyeh-wearing, knife-wielding Arabs as carrying racist, anti-Muslim overtones.
Israel’s Government Press Office initially sent an e-mail to foreign correspondents with the video. Soon after, an e-mail was sent rescinding the message and stating that the video had been sent by mistake.
(To watch the video, and for more updates on the flotilla fallout, visit www.jta.org/bigstory.)