Wednesday, May 18, 2022

                                                          Interview with Richard Landes

Shireen Abu Aqleh died in the performance of her job as a journalist. That is an undeniable fact. Just about everything else you’ve heard from the mainstream media, however, is a lie.

The party responsible for Abu Aqleh’s death could not be identified by the official PA coroner, yet the media (and Susan Sarandon) have unequivocally pointed a finger at Israel.


None of this outrage and blame is about determining whether it was an Israeli or an Arab bullet that killed Abu Aqleh in a crossfire. The allegations are far worse: Israel is charged with the deliberate execution of Abu Aqleh, though there is no evidence to back this claim and no reason to believe it is true.

All of which makes this a blood libel.

What is a blood libel, really? It is a false allegation, a cynical use of dead people to smear and foment violence against the Jews. And the media would not serve it up to you on a plate unless the public were hungry for it—unless they themselves hated the Jews as a concept and a people.

In that sense, the Abu Aqleh story is not a fresh news cycle, but an old story. The comparison to the Mohammed al Durah story, in which the shooting death of young boy was falsely pinned on Israel, is obvious. And there is no one better to weigh in on how these two news stories have been handled than Professor Richard Landes.

Prof. Landes documented the blood libel that was the al Durah story. It was Landes who coined the term “Pallywood” to describe the theater put on for the media by so-called “Palestinian” Arabs in their cognitive war against the Jews. The media lapped up the al Durah fakery and more than that, helped to create it.

Pallywood I - According to Palestinian Sources from Israel on Vimeo.

Here, Richard Landes offers his insight on this newest example of Pallywood in regard to the death of Shireen Abu Aqleh, and how the media is helping to amplify this latest blood libel against the Jews.

Varda Epstein: It seems obvious to draw comparisons to the shooting death of Abu Aqleh and that of al Durah. The accusations that Al Durah’s death was at the hands of the IDF turned out not to be true. There was a longstanding attempt to cover up the truth not only by an Arab populace hostile to Israel, but by the media, and in fact, this was a collaborative effort between the two. 

Some recent footage has been aired showing gunmen gleefully stating that an IDF soldier had been shot, after which they began to drag the victim out, presumably to confirm or ensure “his” death, only to discover that the body was that of Abu Aqleh. If this short footage is as it seems, what do the accusations against the IDF signify, and how is this similar to what happened with al Durah? Is there a pattern here?

Richard Landes: The pattern is, above all, the successful accusation of deliberate murder of an innocent civilian carried forward as completely plausible, if not news, by Western news media. We heard immediately about a sniper, and claims by the eyewitnesses of deliberate, cold-blooded murder. There is no way they can know this; and now that we know the caliber of the bullet, sniper fire is out. But the media relayed the accusation (who else would kill her?).

In the case of al Durah, the details are very different. It was staged; and the body that was buried was not the boy who was allegedly shot. But the key accusation, what fuels the blood libel that the IDF deliberately targeted the boy, was not only made by the cameraman (Talal abu Rahmah) in a signed affidavit – which he later withdrew in a private fax – but more significantly by Charles Enderlin in his voiceover: “la cible de tirs venus de la position israélienne” [the target of fire coming from the Israeli position]. He thus became the first self-identified Jew (an Israeli who served as IDF spokesperson!) to spread a blood libel against his people.

Asked later by an Israeli journalist why he spoke of the IDF targeting them when he had no evidence, he replied, “If I hadn’t… they’d say in Gaza ‘How come Enderlin does not say it’s the IDF?’”

The response was so damning (not clear that Enderlin even realized that) that HaAretz removed it from their English version of the article. What on earth is an Israeli (or any) journalist doing taking orders from Gaza in a matter of assessing Israel’s “murderous intentions”?

Richard Landes holding his film, "Pallywood"

Varda Epstein: Did the al Durah episode set certain precedents in the “cogwar,” the term you have coined for cognitive warfare? Can you elaborate on that for us?

Richard Landes: Above all, it confirmed what the Palestinians had long claimed, but Western media was reluctant to believe (given the IDF’s code and behavior), namely that Israel deliberately kills kids and other civilians. From this point on, any claims Palestinians made of Israelis killing kids got ready credulity from the press. More important even than that, it meant that every time the Palestinians attacked Israel and Israel responded, the press led with the Israeli response. So, for example, Jacques Chirac told Ehud Barak on October 4, 2000, in what may be one of the stupider comments of the day: “You will never convince anyone that the Palestinians are the aggressors.”

He thus made it impossible for the West to see the first round of a global jihad which would soon target them as well, not just Israel.

As a result, Palestinian terror became a measure of Israeli guilt – they have “no choice” but to fight back. By 2003, at the height of the suicide terror war against Israel, Ian Buruma commented (as a self-evident aside) that being pro-Palestinian was a “litmus test of liberal credentials.” The very meme now so powerfully embedded in current “progressive” discourse – IDF are child-killers – starts with al Durah.

Varda Epstein: What lessons have the enemy learned from what happened with al Durah? How are these lessons applied today?

Richard Landes: They’ve learned that they can count on the media to promote their war propaganda as news (lethal war journalism), even when it’s against their own interest (promoting the enemy’s war propaganda as news = own-goal war journalism). I put together the eight basic principles of the Palestinian Media Protocols for Western journalists:

Palestinian Media Protocols

1. The Palestinians are the noble resistors - David. 2. The Israelis are the cruel oppressors - Goliath.
3. Thou shalt always portray Palestinians as victims, never as Aggressors. 4. Thou shalt never portray the Israelis  as victims, always as Aggressors.
5. Thou shalt not portray Palestinians unsympathetically. 6. Thou shalt not portray Israel sympathetically.
7. Thou shalt not challenge or undermine Palestinian claims.       8. Thou shalt challenge and undermine Israeli claims.

The compliance score of Western media is so high that even when Palestinians kill their own people they can count on the media to blame Israel. As a result, Hamas has developed a cannibalistic strategy where it promotes casualties among its own people (no bomb shelters, firing from civilian areas, random shelling that often kills its own), and counts on the media to create a massive PR disaster for the Israelis. Some of the compliance comes from ideological/emotional sympathy with those who hate Israel; some (I think most) comes from a fear of retaliation/intimidation.

Varda Epstein: Has Israel absorbed the full significance of the al Durah episode, and developed any significant, responsive strategies going forward?

Richard Landes: Not really. First of all it took over a decade for them to even challenge al Durah (as in not supporting Karsenty in his court cases), until the Kuperwasser commission tackled it, but even that was not promoted as it should have been. There was a brief moment when some took the cogwar seriously, but rather than learn from the people who had been fighting the cogwar for over a decade, they charged ahead without really understanding the dynamics. More broadly – and this may be a hard-wired problem for Israelis – they don’t understand the antisemitism underlining the appeal. They think – as I did initially – that it’s about information. But that’s just the most superficial level, and appeals to the empirical are limited. The Palestinian appeal to the West (alas Western progressives), is the latter’s apparently insatiable appetite for news of Jews behaving badly. Hard to fight that.

Thus, to take the most important issue in Abu Aqleh’s death, the immediate accusations of a sniper deliberately killing her, of the IDF opening fire on the journalists, wasn’t addressed. Instead, they tried to suggest that the Palestinians shot her – very possible – but didn’t immediately counter the “murder” charges (i.e. they focused on the empirical, not the question of intention). And that’s what the media ran with. So, when the Palestinians announced the caliber of the bullet, what should have been a major victory for Israel – it was not a sniper, the “eyewitness” testimony was not honest – became a fight over a joint forensic investigation. Huge opportunity lost.

Varda Epstein: How is world response to Abu Aqleh’s death similar to that of al Durah’s?

Richard Landes: The immediate acceptance of the accusation of deliberate murder, the ferocious attention to the event (as opposed to the 487 other journalists killed in war zones in the last two decades, none of whom have received this kind of attention). And, of course, many on the Palestinian side try to make the comparison. Certainly, in terms of how angered the Arab world is at this news, it’s comparable. Vic Rosenthal, one of the most astute bloggers on these issues put it this way:

If the production called “the death of Muhammad al-Dura” is the Gone With the Wind of Pallywood,* then the recent extravaganza starring Shireen abu Akleh is on its way to becoming its Star Wars.

Varda Epstein: Israel has stepped up with an offer to work together on the investigation of Abu Aqleh’s death, and the PA has refused to cooperate, yet world leaders are condemning Israel. Why? Why is the Biden Administration taking sides, and pretending that both sides are refusing to cooperate in an investigation, when only one side is doing so, the PA?

Richard Landes: The Biden administration is in the hands of people who have bought the Palestinian line. They don’t even have to be in the radical pro-Palestinian camp (like Tlaib and Omar); they just don’t understand the stakes and the rules of the game. So while supporting the Palestinian “narrative” of suffering at the hands of Israel has them thinking they’re siding with the underdog freedom fighters against the colonial oppressors, they’re actually siding with the global imperialists trying to wipe out Israel and subject the rest of the world to the Caliphate. The height of the folly came two years later when Europeans, responding to their news media’s lethal journalism about a “massacre” in Jenin, cheered on suicide terrorists who would soon target them.

Varda Epstein: What do you think of the police response to protesters trying to abscond with Abu Aqleh’s casket, against the wishes of her family? Was the response appropriate? Does it matter what the world thinks of what happened, or how they rush to judgment based on the footage aired by those aiming to demonize Israel?

Richard Landes: Classic and typical. Assume that the Palestinians are a single unit and the Israelis are yahoos. The thought that the (Christian) family might object to jihadis hijacking their funeral doesn’t even enter their minds. The Israeli police was caught in an impossible catch 22 situation; whatever they did, they lost. This cartoon from the Arab side illustrates nicely how they won this round.


Varda Epstein: Why is the Biden Administration seemingly so ready to weigh in on the Abu Aqleh shooting while it refrains from pressuring King Abdullah to extradite Ahlam al Tamimi? Abu Aqleh was an American citizen, but so were Malki Roth and Shoshana Greenbaum. Shouldn’t Biden act on these much older murders of American citizens before pointing a finger at Israel, America’s supposedly greatest ally, for this new incident, especially since the investigation of Abu Aqleh’s death is incomplete?

Richard Landes: The basic rules of the game have to do with whom you want (or don’t want) to cross. No one in the West wants to cross Arab Muslims. Say no to Israelis and at most they whine; say no to Arabs and there’s no end to the problems that can ensue. Same thing with antisemitic cartoons like the one Dave Brown did of Sharon as Chronos devouring Palestinian babies which got an award from the British Political Cartoon Society because it outraged the Israelis and got so many hits. When Martin Himmel asked why not a cartoon of Arafat eating Palestinian babies? the head of the BPCS said:

Maybe [because] Jews don’t issue fatwas . . . if you offend a Muslim or Islamic group, as you know, fatwas can be issued by ayatollahs and such like, and maybe it’s at the back of each cartoonist’s mind that they could be in trouble if they do so . . . if they depict an Arab leader in the same manner . . . they could suffer death, couldn’t they? Which is rather different. [smiles disconcertingly].

With the Roths’ case, I think it’s not so much that the US fears the king’s retaliation, but that the king will be fatally compromised by their forcing him to side with Western infidels against a fellow Muslim considered a “heroine” by so many. It says a lot about Jordanian society, not surprising, but rarely stated: the “alliance” we have with our allies in this part of the authoritarian world is not very deep (in contrast to Israel). If Westerners had understood this better, rather than pretending all cultures are equal and the same and the Arabs (according to the post-Orientalists) are on the verge of democracy, we would not have named the events of 2010-11 the “Arab Spring.”


Varda Epstein: How legitimate is it for the Arabs to claim Shireen Abu Aqleh as a martyr when she was not even a Muslim?

Richard Landes: Not at all. But that’s only in a world where real definitions and identities matter. Palestinians will say anything that works. If calling her a martyr galvanizes their world, what’s the problem with that?

They can easily make three radically different assertions serially: 1) the holocaust never happened, 2) the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews, 3) we want to finish Hitler’s job. In the Arab Muslim world, each of these appeal for a different reason, and they all have a great deal of power. The pathetic part of the story is that Westerners don’t see through it, and so deplore them for saying 1), accept their claim of 2), and ignore 3).

Same with their claims about the media. On the one hand they can relish political cartoons like the one above, while on the other, claim that Israel controls the media. If it feels good – builds “us” up, tears “them” down – go for it.

Varda Epstein: Many have said Israel should not be mourning the death of Abu Aqleh considering she worked for Al Jazeera, and independent of working for an antisemitic, anti-Israel outlet, had views in line with those sentiments. Is this a relevant consideration, in your opinion?

Richard Landes: I don’t know her work, but clearly the Palestinians thought she was on their side (hardly surprising for someone who has worked for a propaganda outlet). I certainly understand Israelis who do not mourn the death of someone who regularly engaged in Palestinian lethal journalism. The irony of course, is that the Palestinians insist that the Israelis shot her because of her journalism, which is a perfect projection of what they’d do to any journalist who had the nerve not to comply with their protocols.

Varda Epstein: How hard do the Palestinians have to fake it until they make it? Does the media question the Pally side of things? Does the public? Is the death of Abu Aqleh convenient as an opportunity for the media, kind of like a supply and demand situation for material that demonizes Israel in the public eye? If so, why does the public so desire this type of “news?”

Richard Landes: They don’t have to try too hard. The original title of the book I’m publishing in October was They’re so Smart cause we’re so Stupid. Partly it was inspired by how cheap the al Durah fake was, and how eagerly the media and “progressive” public snatched it up. In the case of Pallywood, for example, the Western news editors take obviously faked footage and turn it into believable sight-bytes.

My friend David Deutsch has a theory about a kind of social constant (he calls it “The Pattern”) – the need to legitimate hurting Jews. This kind of lethal journalism that feeds Palestinian propaganda into the Western (dis)information stream serves that need.

Put in psychological terms, I think there’s a moral rivalry here between the “progressive global left” (in USA, “woke”), who feel they’re at the cutting edge of global morality, and their only serious competitors are the first and oldest claimant to that moral title, namely the Jews. As a result they’re involved (largely, I think unconsciously) in a kind of supersessionism – we replace the Jews as moral leaders – and therefore, like the Christian and Muslim supersessionists before them, they revel in news that makes the Israelis look bad. As a result, the most progressive nation – by far, by light years – in the Middle East appears on the progressive screens as the worst violator of human rights, fascism and racism, while the most right-wing, imperialist, misogynist, genocidal movement on the planet appears on their screens as part of a global left anti-imperialist alliance.

They then open the door to an even more insidious form of replacement theory, the projection onto the Jews of a notion of chosenness which is a) not Jewish, and b) often gentile supersessionist, namely that being chosen gives the chosen the right to treat the non-chosen as subhuman (hence the appeal of the blood libel). That of course, thrives on descriptions of Israelis massacring Gazans and is impervious to any evidence that Hamas is killing Gazans.

Varda Epstein: Did Israel take the right steps, following the death of Shireen Abu Aqleh? What more could Israel have done to respond to this event?

Richard Landes: As I said, the focus should have been immediately to counter – nay ridicule – the accusations of deliberate murder. Even if we did shoot her, we didn’t do it on purpose. By focusing on this issue, the validity of Palestinian claims could have been undermined early on.

                                                          ***
Richard Landes is a retired medieval history professor, living in Jerusalem. His next book, entitled: Can “The Whole World” be Wrong? A Medievalist’s Guide to the Troubled 21st Century, is due to be published in October by Academic Studies Press.



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