Understanding the Political Theater Following the Flotilla Raid

Earlier this week I wrote that the Jews were good at P.R. But that was before I saw the "We Con the World" video, a spoof of Michael Jackson's 1985 song "We Are The World" which raised charity for Africa.

I saw "We Con the World," on -- where else? -- Facebook. A number of my friends here in America and Israel (where I lived and worked as a reporter a decade ago) posted the five-minute video, which I watched with my usual Facebook A.D.D. while IMing a few friends and checking status updates. It's a well-made skit, managing to mimic the original, which had famous headphoned artists holding sheet music and singing into recording mikes, but instead of opening with:

There comes a time when we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are people dying
and it's time to lend a hand to life
There greatest gift of all...

"We Con The World," opens with:.

There comes a time that we need to make a show
For the world, the web and CNN.
There's no people dying,
so the best that we can do is create
The greatest bluff of all...

The spoof got the original lyrically and musically -- even with the twangy country tone of a Kenny Roger's sound-a-like, but the singers in "We Con the World" video included spoofs of some Arabs -- someone with a mustache and captain's hat, another wearing a read checked Keffiyeh and some other people. Like I said, the first time I watched it I wasn't paying that much attention.

To be honest -- really, I have to be honest about my initial reaction -- I thought it was cute. I "liked" it on Facebook. Being formerly religious, I receive "insider-baseball" jokes like these all the time, such as this week's Kosher Top Ten Reasons Why Israel Did Not Make the World Cup: "Team's strong defense constantly confused with unnecessary offense." These things remind me of when I was religious and living in Israel and we made skits spoofing bible stories, like re-imagining Moses and Jews wanderings in the desert as a Star Trek voyage, or Abraham accidentally sacrificing his son Isaac because God's angel showed up too late. Funny stuff -- when it was performed before a live audience of about 300 people who were all of the same mindset, more or less. (We managed to offend a few humorless die-hards, for example, with our spoof outside the ritual bath. "Hey, can I borrow that towel?")

But "We Con the World" was no inside joke for a small audience of hundreds. In this viral YouTube age, it passed from Facebook friend to friend and has reached 3 million viewers. I shared it with my Israeli-American boyfriend, who was the first to point out to me its inherent unfunnyness. "Amy, people were killed. This is not the time to make a joke," he said. Since he usually has a terrific sense of humor, I took him seriously. And I actually watched the video, catching things I hadn't caught when I hardly watched it.

The opening sequence, like the original had a title, but here it was

Turkish "Aid" to Gaza Song with Captain Stabbing & Friends.

Under a logo of a red buoy of the Marmara. The first mustachioed captain singing was meant to parody the captain of the Mavi Marmara, and the singing was interspersed with footage of the passengers waiting on the boat with clubs and throwing soldiers off the boat. This video was from the partial edited video released by Israel's government shortly after the attack. The full, unedited video, taken from a lower deck, was just released today. Filmmaker Iara Lee, a Brazilian-American activist and filmmaker, smuggled it out of Israel, which confiscated other footage, and presented it to the U.N. on Thursday.

Examination of the footage and investigations of the attack will someday soon shed light on the truth of the attack, on who fired first, who was lying in wait for whom. What is clear, though, given that people died was that the "We Con the World" spoof was in poor taste.

CNN seemed to think so. In its web Site story "Israeli government office links to video mocking flotilla" it follows the government press office's explanation that it was "mistake," with the news:

"Nine Turkish citizens were killed Monday after violence erupted on one of six ships in a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Gaza Strip. A number of other people were wounded. Israel said the passengers initiated the attack; the passengers blamed the troops."

Jerusalem Post journalist Caroline Glick, who created the video, wrote on her blog, "We produced a clip in English. There we feature the Turkish-Hamas 'love boat' captain, crew and passengers in a musical explanation of how they con the world....We think this is an important Israeli contribution to the discussion of recent events and we hope you distribute it far and wide."

Glick, who moved to Israel in 1991, was born in Hyde Park, what she calls "Chicago's ultra-liberal, anti-American and anti-Israel stronghold" and attended Columbia University, what she calls "Beir Zeit on the Hudson." She served as an Israel Defense Forces officer for five and a half years and worked as adviser for Bibi Netanyahu. In her Jerusalem Post column (which also appears on her blog,) she writes,

"Similarly, the Israeli public feels that when we go out of our way to show our peaceful intentions and nature to the world, we are greeted with an international lynch mob. Rather than listen to us, the world shouts us down with mendacious propaganda in act after act of political theater."

This is her political theater. And I understand it, I do. I "liked" the video, until I realized the timing, the event it was spoofing and that the entire world would be seeing it -- and not seeing it in a particularly good light.

"You don't understand what it's like for us here in the heart of it, reading in the newspaper how the whole world hates us no matter what we do," a friend of mine in Israel told me on the phone before the Jewish Sabbath. Of course I don't understand, exactly, because I no longer live there, and I no longer subscribe to the narrative that the entire world is out to get me, and "it's the same as it always has been throughout history," as my friend said. She was glad the video was made, glad that the world would finally hear Israel's side.

But would it? Would the world? More than three million people have, although from the whitewashed YouTube comments it's hard to say (walksbyf8h writes: "Just thought? that I'd stop by to encourage you all. You have friends and even if not one human stands with you, never forget that HE WHO WATCHES OVER YISRAEL NEITHER SLUMBERS NOR SLEEPS. Shalom.") But on Robert Mackey's "The Lede" blog on The New York Times Web site talking about the video, one commenter, "Rev. Guss" from Queens writes: "Mocking the murders of those 9 individuals is simply disgusting. Gosh, I really hadn't realized quite how vile the Israelis have become. May God forgive them, although I wish I could say they know not what they do."

I suppose when I said in my article here on Jewish Chosenness that the Jews were good at P.R., what I should have instead said was that many Jews and many Israelis feel that it's all about P.R. It's all about spin, winning the media war. They often point -- rightly so -- to the 2002 Jenin attacks, when Israel was accused of killing hundreds, when in the end "only" 56 Palestinians were killed.

My friend -- and many Israelis -- are tired of the media maelstrom, regardless of what started it. Just like a child overly reprimanded for his actions won't learn a lesson if the rebuke is disproportionate, many Israelis and Jews -- certainly not all -- feel they lose the media battle all the time. They don't realize it's not just a media battle, it's not always about spinning a story. Sometimes the story spins itself.

"If only you could see what we're going through," my friend said to me. If only everyone could experience the world the way they see it -- attacked, vilified, criticized by the likes of Helen Thomas and other anti-Semites, Israel haters and, of course, the crazies, who like to throw their lot in any chance they can get -- then maybe you'd make a video like "We Con the World." And you'd even laugh.