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August 22, 2014 1:21 pm
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The Foley Beheading and Israel’s PR Problem

avatar by Ruthie Blum

Opinion

James Foley shown in a released video moments before his beheading. Photo: Twitter.

The video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley went viral this week, in “Žspite of Twitter and YouTube efforts to remove it from their sites for its graphic content.”Ž

This is understandable, as there is an element of voyeurism involved in watching the gory “Žclip. And its mass circulation has the unintentional effect of cheapening the horror of “ŽFoley’s death in an almost pornographic way.”Ž

However, it is precisely the chilling depiction of the slaughter that provides the world “Žwith a glimpse into the nature of the Islamic State group (ISIS), the Sunni terrorist organization that is trying to “Žtake over Syria and Iraq, before turning the entire region (and then the world) into an “ŽIslamic caliphate.”Ž

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Not that the group has been hiding its blood lust. On the contrary, it is proud of its “Žbrutality and pedophilia. And tales of its raping, maiming and killing of Christians are “Žbeing told, albeit with far less gusto than the media reserves for Israeli air strikes in Gaza.”Ž

Nor was it unknown in Washington that Foley and other Americans were being held by “ŽISIS.”Ž

But it wasn’t until President Barack Obama watched the footage of Foley’s murder, in “Žthe video titled “Message to America,” that the ostensible leader of the Free World was “Žforced to face what the West is up against. And though his response was to say that ISIS “Ž”Ž”speaks for no religion,” even he could not escape the horrors going on in the Middle East “Ž”Ž — and in this case cultivated in Britain — perpetrated by Islamists. “Ž

Indeed, it is one thing to spend years theorizing, strategizing and looking the other way “Žwhen mass murder is taking place; it is quite another to see an individual U.S. citizen being “Žexecuted on camera. “Ž

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity of the shock value of the “Žvideo to tell the world, particularly the Obama administration, that “Hamas is ISIS. ISIS “Žis Hamas. They’re the enemies of peace, they’re the enemies of Israel, they’re the enemies “Žof all civilized countries.””Ž

Netanyahu’s restating of the obvious about terrorism did no good, however. Ten minutes “Žafter extending public condolences to Foley’s grief-stricken parents, Obama was off to “Žthe golf course, and State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf was telling the “Žpress that Netanyahu’s comparison was not accurate. “I think by definition they are two “Ždifferent groups,” she said. “Ž

Harf had to say that. Otherwise, how could her bosses continue to “caution” Israel about “Žthe use of excessive force against Hamas targets in Gaza? “Ž

Which brings us to one of Israel’s main handicaps in the battle it keeps losing in the “Žinternational arena: a lack of willingness, based on moral concerns, to employ the PR “Žmethods of its enemies. Israel has truth on its side. But lies sell better and spread faster “Žthan facts. “Ž

Nowhere is this more evident than inside a media outlet that strives to uphold a “Žprofessional level of journalistic standards and ethics. It is something I experienced first “Žhand as a member of the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post during the Second Intifada. “ŽThis was the suicide-bombing war launched by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Yasser Arafat in “Žanswer to the Oslo Accords, which he repeatedly breached.”Ž

That guerrilla war, which began in 2000 and culminated in Israel’s unilateral withdrawal “Žfrom Gaza, was characterized by its barbarism. Every day Palestinian terrorists blew “Žthemselves up on buses, in restaurants and at malls. The ensuing carnage was horrifying “Žbeyond belief. “Ž

Whenever interviewed at the scene of one of these crimes against humanity, police and “Žparamedics always said the same thing: that they would never get used to seeing and “Ždealing with this kind of abomination. Each such incident was so bloody and full of “Žsevered body parts that even seasoned security and ambulance personnel were deeply “Žtraumatized. “Ž

At every morning meeting, held to discuss the stories that we would cover in the paper “Žfor the following day, we would end up debating the issue of the photos accompanying “Žthe inevitable terrorist attack or, as was often the case, multiple attacks.”Ž

Publishing gruesome pictures was deemed by a majority of the editors to be out of the “Žquestion for a number of reasons, chief among them the dignity of the dead and the “Žprivacy of their families. After all, who can bear seeing a child’s bloody backpack on the “Žground — with its owner’s name in plain sight — next to an arm or a leg of someone else? “Ž

On one occasion, the blown-off head of a suicide bomber flew into a schoolyard in “ŽJerusalem, and we noted the invisible injuries sustained by those onlookers fortunate “Ženough to have emerged physically unscathed from the bombing. But without an “Žillustration of what a severed head rolling into a schoolyard actually looks like, it is hard “Žto grasp. Still, the decision stood: the photo would not appear in our pages.”Ž

The Palestinian press had a different approach. Any retaliatory action on Israel’s part was “Žmet with a media blitz of blood and gore for the world to see. Then, as today, many of “Žtheir photos were staged, stolen from previous wars in other countries and touched up for “Žboth local and foreign consumption. “Ž

Then, as today, it has the desired effect. Israel looks like a vicious Goliath trampling a “Žhelpless David. After that, the rest is catch-up commentary that nobody listens to or “Žbelieves.”Ž

A perfect example was the alleged and subsequently debunked Jenin “massacre.” As part “Žof Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, the Israel Defense Forces entered the Jenin refugee camp in Judea “Žand Samaria (the West Bank) to snuff out and extinguish terrorist strongholds from “Žwhere many of the suicide bombings were planned and carried out.”Ž

While we editors were busy keeping photos of dismembered Israeli men, women and “Žchildren away from the already shaky public, the Palestinian Authority media were “Žhaving a field day with their own footage. By the time the U.N. determined that what “Žhappened in Jenin was not a massacre, it was too late. The damage had been done to “ŽIsrael, and all that remained was to try and shake off the residue.”Ž

A picture is not merely worth a thousand words. When monstrous enough, it renders one “Žspeechless. Just ask anyone who viewed the Foley decapitation.”Ž

Perhaps the time has come to show our own photos for a change.”Ž

Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab “ŽSpring.'””Ž This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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