In an effort to improve its image, the Israeli government – and its supporters at home and abroad – have long conducted outreach campaigns, called hasbara in Hebrew. Some of these efforts are intended to explain away specific actions by the Israeli army, while others contain more generic messages that try and portray Israel in a more positive light.
In a 2014 lecture at the University of South Florida entitled “Black-washing and Sex-washing”, and a 2015 article entitled “How Israel Covers Up Its Ugly Racial Holy War,” I discussed how hasbarists (purveyors of hasbara) have tried to convey a sanitized version of the State of Israel in order to hide the country’s horrific racism. Examples of this false revisionism abound, but one recent case stands out as especially perverse.
After a white supremacist entered a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine people on June 18, 2015, a Twitter account calling itself “ILNewsFlash” (Israel News Flash) published an image from February 2015 of a memorial at a synagogue in Copenhagen where a Palestinian-Danish man went on a rampage and murdered an Israeli-Danish man. A message was added to the image: “We know what its [sic] like being attacked for who you are. Charleston, we got your back.”
The shooting spree in Denmark, which also took the life of a film director and injured several police officers, was a tragic act of terrorism, to be sure. But there is no logical basis for drawing a direct connection between the Copenhagen attack and the Charleston massacre, if only because the Copenhagen killer was shot dead by police before he could be questioned and his motives ascertained.
Of course, if the Copenhagen attacker targeted his Israeli-Danish victim believing his ethnicity made him responsible for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, that would constitute a despicable hate attack. Notwithstanding this, however, the Israeli government’s crimes are not imagined – they are very real. By Israel’s own admission, it killed nearly a thousand Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip just last summer.
The perpetrator of the Charleston massacre chose his victims simply because they were black, not because they were implicitly to blame for crimes committed by their fellow countrymen. If the Copenhagen murderer unfairly blamed an Israeli national for (one of) his government’s actual crimes, the Charleston murderer targeted his victims for crimes that were never committed. While both are heinous incidents, the two cannot possibly be equated.
The attempt to link the Copenhagen killing with events in Charleston is especially ironic, considering a parallel event that occurred in Israel on the exact same day. Sometime on the night of June 18, a Christian church on the Sea of Galilee was thoroughly torched and vandalized. While no suspects have been arrested thus far, the perpetrators left a clear clue as to their ethnic identities and religious motivations: Hebrew-language graffiti with the words of a prayer that Orthodox Jews recite three time daily: “And the idols will be utterly smashed.”
As the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights has noted, there have been forty-three attacks against churches, monasteries and mosques in Israeli-controlled territories in the last five and a half years. In all of that time, Israeli courts have not issued a single indictment for any of those hate crimes.
A USA Today report from Charleston indicated that while the murderer was carrying out the massacre, he told his African American victims: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Sickeningly, this is exactly the same false narrative that top Israeli government officials have promoted about non-Jewish African asylum-seekers for years: that they rape Jewish women, that they are taking over Israel, and that they must be deported.
Israeli government reports have consistently found that the crime rate among African asylum-seekers is much lower than among native Israelis. Particularly ludicrous is the notion that African asylum-seekers could somehow “take over the country,” since they make up less than 1% of the population, are heavily marginalized by the state, and despised by much of Israeli society.
And yet, Israel is most definitely deporting these individuals, because they are non-white and non-Jews. Since 2012, the Israeli government has expelled a third of the 66,000-strong African asylum-seeker community, and is determined to rid itself of the rest. It routinely rounds up these asylum-seekers into desert detention centers, intent on coercing the remaining 44,000 Africans to self-deport themselves back to the tortures they fled from.
It would have been one thing for individual Israeli leaders and Zionist organizations to offer condolences to the victims of the Charleston massacre. But, this is not what “ILNewsFlash” did. It not only expressed solidarity with the victims, but also attempted to use the massacre as a PR opportunity to try and subvert the media narrative and recast Israel as the victim of violence.
Such a transparent attempt to derail a discussion about anti-blackness and white supremacy is unfortunate enough. But, when the original story more accurately mirrors racist Israeli attacks on Palestinian Christians and African asylum-seekers, attempts to transform it into a piece of Zionist propaganda becomes especially offensive.
The “ILNewsFlash” Twitter account does not link to any website, and its only contact information is an e-mail address. My request for more information about the organization was answered with polite refusal. As of this writing, the person or people operating the “ILNewsFlash” account – which has over 20,000 followers – remain unknown; if they want to prevent further embarrassment to themselves, they would be wise to stay that way.