Promoting Double Standards and Stereotypes

The breaking of the story about Eden Abergil’s now infamous Facebook photographs prompted not one but two articles by Rachel Shabi in the space of as many days.

Let’s make it clear right from the start; there is no excusing Abergil’s actions and the photographs demonstrated her lack of sensitivity and lack of respect, both for the Palestinians photographed and for herself. But from there to the type of conclusions which Shabi would have her reader reach, the road is very long.  And, the generous use of quotations from figures belonging to assorted organisations renowned for employing frequent double standards, and engaging in extreme bias, against Israel indicates Shabi’s desire to make the most of this incident to promote her shameless stereotyping, and smearing, of Israeli society.

Shabi conscripts Dr. Ishai Menuchin , CEO of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and a founding member and former spokesman of Yesh Gvul’: an organisation which engages in the encouragement of refusal to serve in the Israeli army despite the obligation to do so under Israeli law. Menuchin thinks that conscientious objectors are “heroes” and that the main reason for the continued Israeli/Palestinian dispute and for terror attacks is “the occupation”. In Shabi’s article he is quoted as saying:

“These cruel pictures reflect Israel’s ongoing objectification of Palestinians and complete disregard of their humanity and of their human rights, and especially their right to privacy.”

Menuchin ascribes Eden’s behaviour to:

“an Israeli military culture that brings young Israelis to systematically violate the basic rights of Palestinians”.

This statement of course puts a blanket stereotype upon Israeli society. Menuchin is not saying here that some Israelis objectify Palestinians and disregard their human rights; he is saying that all Israelis do so – and, furthermore, the use of the word ‘systematically’ implies an organized system, method and plan. This assertion is of course very far removed from the truth, both in terms of the civilian and military laws and the IDF’s code of conduct and in terms of the reality which exists on the ground.

In her second article Shabi quotes Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative (aka MIFTAH) – an organization which routinely describes Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ and Palestinian terrorists as ‘activists’ .

“This is not very different to what was exposed at Abu Ghraib in Iraq,” said Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative. “It is not an individual act, or a personal act or a lack of judgment, but a part of the constant racist behaviour that is implanted in the Israeli army and a whole philosophy of discrimination against Arabs and Palestinians. The most important characteristic of this treatment is humiliation.”

Once again we see here an attempt to stereotype all Israeli soldiers as racists, and by extension (seeing as almost everyone serves in the army) Israelis as a group. The comparison to Abu Ghraib is obviously nothing more than cheap sensationalism; as Tim Marshall recently wrote on his blog.

“Abu Ghraib: Systematic, long-term torture and humiliation encouraged at a high level, involving officers, hundreds of photographs, a dark place utterly out-of-bounds to the media, mostly hidden from the human rights groups, which, when uncovered, sparks a fierce debate in the USA with a significant minority of people arguing that ‘it ain’t that bad’.

Israel: One girl, Eden Abergil, on one occasion, gurning in front of detainees, which when uncovered, horrifies popular opinion in her country where she is now ridiculed as ‘one hell of an idiot’.

Next in Shabi’s parade comesBreaking the Silence(Shovrim Shtika) , best remembered as the NGO which tossed around accusations of “war crimes” based on hearsay in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead . Yehuda Shaul is quoted as saying that:

“Being in a place where you cannot see Palestinians as human beings is the default when you are serving in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Once more an all-encompassing stereotype of Israeli soldiers is being propagated here and it continues in Shabi’s final quote from Khalida Jarar of Addameer – a heavily politicized NGO based in Ramallah which has been instrumental in the promotion of the Goldstone Report .

“There are many more violations and abuses of Palestinians, without photographs. The soldiers take these pictures to show that they can do anything they want to Palestinians.”

Can Israeli soldiers do “anything they want” to Palestinians? Of course not; even within the complex framework of Israeli attempts to counteract terror they operate under strict rules and regulations defined by the law of the country and military codes of conduct and, of course, the overwhelming majority of soldiers act accordingly and those who do not face court-martial and punishment.

Apart from the unsubtle attempt here by Shabi and her quoted sources to engage in sensational stereotyping of an entire nation, the issue of double standards also comes into play in this article. Whilst Shabi is trying to persuade readers that conclusions can be drawn as to the psychology and morals of an entire nation on the basis of a few undoubtedly tasteless photographs, one cannot but wonder what manner of conclusions Shabi and her interviewees reached when they saw photographs such as these:

A young British man is caught urinating on a WWI memorial during the Carnage student bar crawl in Sheffield.

Does the above picture prove anything about the morals and psychological state of the British nation or is it a depiction of the disrespectful and idiotic behavior of one drunken British student?

Does the highly offensive cartoon about Gilad Shalit made and circulated by Hamas  say anything about the entire population of Gaza down to every last man, woman and child, or does it tell us that there are certain people within the Izz ad Din Al Kassam brigades who are cruel and despicable?

Do the shocking pictures of the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah mean that all the Palestinians in that town behave in a sub-human manner or that some did?

And do pictures of a few Palestinians brandishing the entrails of fellow Palestinians who they murdered mean that the entire Palestinian people approve of such things and that this is the norm within Palestinian society? Of course they do not.

Shabi’s engagement in disproportionate criticism of the actions of some members of Israel’s armed forces who acted entirely on their own initiative, and do not in any way represent the ethos of the organization they serve, and her fabricated claims that these actions are part of official policy and a national ethos, reek both of racist stereotyping and double standards. Contrary to her suggestion that Eden Abergil’s miserable photographs prove that all Israelis dehumanize Palestinians, Shabi herself has, in these two articles, succeeded in dehumanizing Israelis and does gross injustice to the hundreds of thousands of Israeli soldiers who carry out their very difficult mission within the letter of the very strict IDF codes of conduct.

Whilst we obviously find ourselves aghast at Abergil’s clear lack of understanding as to what she has done wrong, can we be any less repulsed by Shabi’s cynical use of this isolated event to promote her particular warped, and highly bigoted, political agenda? It seems to me that both Abergil and Shabi have much to learn when it comes to showing respect for others.

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