06 March 2007 - Cut-and-paste at Electronic Intifada
Today’s Business Day features the following letter from Arjan El Fassed, one of the co-founders of Electronic Intifada (where El Fassed’s letter is also featured), responding to my article from last week about John Dugard’s biased UN report:
Joel Pollak wants people to believe comparisons between Israeli policies and apartheid are nothing but a fraud, The trouble with the apartheid analogy (March 2). He castigates former US president Jimmy Carter for quoting a six-year-old letter from Nelson Mandela to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman making the apartheid comparison, and accuses me of perpetrating a hoax and admitting I made the whole thing up.
There is no possible basis for Pollak to say I intended people to believe the memo was written by anyone other than myself. At the time, Friedman, a staunch defender of Israel, was famous for writing mock memos in the voice of the US president. In a clearly labelled spoof, under my byline, I published a mock memo from Mandela to Friedman on March 27 2001. Unfortunately, someone forwarded it on the internet without my byline, as I explained to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.
The point is: although the Mandela memo was only a piece of satire, it is not necessary to believe it to understand the Israel-apartheid comparison is grounded in an ugly reality.
In 2002 South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu made the analogy in The Guardian and The Nation. Other South African anti-apartheid activists who were struck by the similarities were Farid Esack, Ronnie Kasrils, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Allister Sparks, Arun Ghandhi, Dennis Goldberg and Breyten Breytenbach.
Former Italian prime minister Massimo D’Alema told the Israeli press in 2003 that in a visit to Rome, Ariel Sharon had “explained at length that the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Current Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert noticed the similarity in 2003: “We are approaching the point where more and more Palestinians will say: ‘There is no place for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All we want is the right to vote.’ The day they get it, we will lose everything.”
And warning that Israel could not remain both a Jewish state and a democracy if it held all the territories, Olmert said: “I shudder to think that liberal Jewish organisations that shouldered the burden of struggle against apartheid in SA will lead the struggle against us.”
Surely Pollak is not suggesting I made all this up?
Arjan El Fassed
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, The Netherlands
I began preparing a response and I almost immediately stumbled upon some rather damning evidence of El Fassed’s intellectual dishonesty.
The Wikipedia article “Allegations of Israeli apartheid” contains the following text (as of 06 March 2007):
In 2002 Anglican Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu wrote an op-ed for The Guardian titled "Apartheid in the Holy Land" and another in The Nation titled "Against Israeli apartheid" . . .
Other South African anti-apartheid activists have used apartheid comparisons to criticize Israel's policies in the West Bank, and particularly the construction of the separation barrier. These include Farid Esack, a Muslim writer who is currently William Henry Bloomberg Visiting Professor at Harvard Divinity School, Ronnie Kasrils, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Arun Ghandhi, Dennis Goldberg, and Breyten Breytenbach . . .
Former Italian prime minister Massimo D'Alema told the Israeli press in 2003 that in a visit to Rome, Prime Minister Sharon had "explained at length that the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict" between Israel and the Palestinians.
El Fassed has basically cut-and-pasted this text, without attribution, into his letter. Compare the Wikipedia text with El Fassed’s letter and you will see that aside from a few minor edits (done, perhaps, by the staff at Business Day and not by El Fassed himself), the text is the same. It is possible that El Fassed himself is the author of the Wikipedia text, but nevertheless he failed to cite his original source.
This sort of cut-and-paste fakery seems to be standard practice among Israel-haters. I was pondering the Wikipedia text when I suddenly realized I’d heard it somewhere recently. Of course!—Hadas Thier had recited chunks of it in her opening statement during our debate last week. Had I realized that, I would have called her on it; I will definitely ask future opponents about their sources.
Much false anti-Israel propaganda is circulated this way. People simply repeat what they find on various websites, without attribution, giving the impression they know what they are talking about when they are really peddling recycled garbage. False claims of Israeli “apartheid,” Jenin “massacre” and so on are given credibility in this way, proving Goebbels’s propaganda tactics remain potent in the Internet age.
It is interesting to note that Goebbels actually described the technique of the “big lie” not in describing his own methods but in attacking British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: “The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” (Other uses of the term “big lie” by Goebbels seem to be unreferenced.)
In the same way, Arab states accuse Israel of racism and apartheid when in fact their own discriminatory and repressive policies are more comparable to those of apartheid South Africa. Over time, the terms “racism” and “apartheid” are actually stripped of their meaning. And when words lose their meaning, as Moynihan and others have pointed out, human rights are in danger of losing their substance.
That’s why it is important to catch these propagandists in the act, as bloggers did last summer in exposing the Reuters fauxtography scandal. El Fassed’s made-up Mandela memo, and his cut-and-paste job in Business Day, also point to one of the fundamental problems plaguing the Palestinian cause: the pervasive use of false, borrowed, and self-defeating narratives that restrain true authorship and agency.