[I]t seems obvious that [the] effort to communicate fully, will continue to be blocked [...] so long as the possessors of power continue to carry on with impunity their policy of collective imbecilization through … the mass media.
– Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America
At the beginning of the new year, German weekly magazine Der Spiegel ran a controversial report claiming that the Lebanese movement Hezbollah was involved in drug trafficking to finance its “terrorist operations against Israel”. The article proceeded to allege that individuals involved in the cartel had contacts with the central nexus of the resistance movement including its Secretary-General. Needless to state, no factual evidence was cited in support of the claims as in the case of a growing list of previous smear-campaigns.
In his widely acclaimed book, Resistance is the Essence of the Islamist Revolution, director of Conflicts Forum, Alastair Crooke, argues that the West not only suffers from a “blind spot” when it comes to comprehending ‘political Islam’, but that it regularly employs a historically potent association of Islam with violence to drive in a perception of “reason capsized into madness” when depicting present-day resistance groups. As such, these groups come to symbolise everything that an idealised West isn’t; a big-toothed bogeyman of sorts. The recent allegations made by Der Spiegel touch on these historical stereotypes, and in tune with age-old precedent, they aim to influence policy patterns in one form or another.
Before examining potential policy implications, a brief survey of Der Spiegel’s coverage of Hezbollah over recent years is instructive:
“Again and again [Nasrallah] seeks to provoke: No mention is made without any incitement against Jews.” (18.08.2006); “Hezbollah’s high-tech weapons endanger Germany Navy” (15.09.2006); “Hezbollah is not Suppenküche! It is a war party that wants to destroy Israel!” (23.03.2007); “Israel must adjust to a new wave of terrorist attacks against “Jewish targets” overseas … Hezbollah [has] activated its “sleeper” cells.” (21.07.2008), et al.
These brief snippets do not even begin to take into account the derogatory imagery – bordering on outright racist – resorted to when portraying supporters of Hezbollah. If you’re on planet Der Spiegel, these individuals are nonsensical maniacs with “crooked teeth” whose sole aptitude is sloganeering, whereas their fellow Lebanese are cultured beings whose women don “Fendi handbag[s]”.
To suggest the description ‘asinine’ fits well with this variety of journalism, far from sounding harsh, would seem more like an understatement.
In the run-up to the June 2009 elections in Lebanon, Der Spiegel put together its most daring attack to-date against the Lebanese movement by linking it to the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri. Less than two weeks from ballot day, the German magazine’s blinding front-page headline: “Breakthrough in Tribunal Investigation: New Evidence Points to Hezbollah in Hariri Murder”, had unmistakably clear motives. Despite the rapturous outburst, Der Spiegel was unbecomingly silent after the elections; the breakthrough that was glowingly pitched mere days earlier as an outcome of “serendipity à la Sherlock Holmes and the state-of-the-art technology used by cyber detectives” was deemed unworthy of further commentary. The story had satisfied its use.
Moving on to present, the timing for the explosive drug-cartel exposé is likewise edifying. In the US, “Israel Lobby’s War on Al Manar TV” reflects a re-energised penchant on Capitol Hill to plaster the Lebanese movement with the dreaded “T” word.1
As with most, if not all, matters of relevance to the Middle East, one can trace the causes for Washington’s disposition to the not too distant Tel Aviv. The comments of Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, over the past week have heightened the possibility of a new war against Gaza, and increased the likelihood of another “July War” against Lebanon. Whilst the editors at Ha’aretz are making no secrets of an open inclination towards an inevitable war path, their suggestion that the Israeli political-military complex calculates war decisions on the basis of whether and when all its citizens feasibly possess gas masks is rather inane, amongst other things. All in all, the prospect of war looms large over the Middle East with Hobbes’ caveat ringing loud and clear, “the nature of war, consisteth not in actual fighting; but in the known disposition thereto”. Within this context, smear-campaigns and fear-mongering have obvious ends in mind.
Far more importantly, however, Der Spiegel’s smear-campaign against Hezbollah is aimed at policy circles within the EU. Over recent months, there has been growing momentum to adopt “dialogue” as the preferred paradigm in coming to grips with resistance movements in the Middle East. Organisations that have consistently stressed the importance of mutual dialogue, such as the Conflicts Forum, will have been encouraged, no doubt, by the positive steps taken during 2009 to shift away from a “failed” policy.2
Of the more notable exchanges, former British Cabinet member MP Clare Short visited Damascus to hold talks with Khaled Meshal, as part of a small delegation of MPs after which she underlined the need to “talk to Hamas”. Later in the same month, MP Hussein Hajj Hassan from the Loyalty to the Resistance party affiliated to Hezbollah visited Britain to take part in a symposium dealing with issues concerning the Middle East. Three months later in June, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana met with Hajj Hassan in Beirut, marking the first time a senior EU diplomat held talks with the political party.
The end of 2009 saw further drama for Israel. Towards the close of its rotating EU presidency role, Sweden proposed a resolution to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. By this time, Tel Aviv had simply seen enough. Pro-Israeli lobby groups and EU allies (primarily France and Germany) frantically pushed their weight around, and heavily watered down the draft resolution which eventually called for Jerusalem as “the future capital of the two states”.3
Meanwhile, Israel’s foreign ministry, which has unsurprisingly shed all considerations for diplomatic courtesy under Avigdor Lieberman, lashed out at Sweden for putting forward the resolution. “The peace process in the Middle East is not like IKEA furniture,” remarked a foreign ministry official, in reference to the Swedish furniture chain. “It takes more than a screw and a hammer, it takes a true understanding of the constraints and sensitivities of both sides, and in that Sweden failed miserably”, he sarcastically went on to add.
Israel’s take on the happenings in Brussels – putting aside the childish rattle – was manifestly clear. The obvious lesson to be derived from 2009 for Tel Aviv, as far as EU involvement in the Middle East is concerned, was similarly evident.
One must underline at this point that despite consistent pressures exerted by Israel and co., the positions adopted by a growing number of EU parliamentarians vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict has been very honourable. Earlier on Friday, a 60-member strong delegation made their way into Gaza to assess the wide-scale damage caused by Israel’s brutal war last year, as part of a bid to mount pressure for an end to the Siege.
For Israel, this sort of involvement is clearly not welcome. And hence, the appearance of baseless slander and smear-campaigns in leading European media outlets, which aim to cast resistance movements as erratic, lawless, mafia-like entities whose “sleeper cells” and “networks” pervade across the heart of Europe. Der Spiegel’s recent claims, apart from being the usual, old vituperations, should rather be viewed in the context of a wider agenda to curtail dialogue between resistance movements and western officials.
Evidently thus, there are certain stakeholders who wish to see the EU mutate into some variant of a collectivised imbecile, which keeps a measured silence on all subjects whose implicit or explicit implications reach Israeli shores. Der Spiegel’s recent tirades have set the new strategy in motion. However, if the most recent words from Gaza are any indication, Israel will need to try much, much harder.
- “The Israel Lobby’s War on Al Manar TV,” The Palestine Chronicle, 03 January 2010. [↩]
- “Language – a tool to transform different into dangerous“, Conflicts Forum, 02 February 2008. [↩]
- “Jewish settlers: We’ll burn you all!”, ChamPress, 26 December 2009. [↩]