Monday 18 March 2013

Suicide by cliché

The problem with blogs that criticise the BBC.

Here on “IS” Craig frames his critiques in a conscientious and fair manner. Rational, and some may say, even-handed. Me - probably less so, but I try not to hurtle towards irrational or extreme language.

We hope someone somewhere will be persuaded by our brilliant reasoning and charming personalities.

The drawback is that the minute we express our views, we risk stereotyping ourselves and losing the very people we wouldst seduce. By continually hammering out complaints about the same old things we’re almost bound to be ‘stereotyped’ without really trying. But while the same old things are bothering us, what can else can we do? Give in? 

When we wrote articles for the Biased BBC blog we had the same problem. Even when we set a measured tone, as reasonable and restrained as could be, the below the line commenters, in their enthusiasm, would frequently lapse into cliched memes and mantras. What more foolproof way to antagonise readers who didn’t see it their way. 

A few years ago one or two spokespersons from the BBC dropped in to defend their employer, or to dispute some point or other with the B-BBC community. At best, a rally of claims and counter-claims might ensue, but the banter usually involved a lone BBC representative versus a gaggle of aggressive Biased-BBCers. You had to admire the pluck of the former.   More often than not the BBC’s input would be in the form of a one-off snipe. Not much use to man or beast. Any replies and responses piled up unanswered, stranded; the best that could be hoped for was that the silent sniper had lurked, read and left.

In an act of principled self-destruction we decided to forgo a widely read platform and languish here on our own-io. To be hoist by our own supporters, or stand alone, fancy-free and self-determining in obscurity, that is the question. 

Last week I read a piece by popular blogger and author Chas Newky-Burden, in which he argues that “using hasbara clichés” is counter-productive. I agree, but In my opinion he then damages his case by citing some weak examples.

As a devoted and proud Israelophile, Newky-Burden feels he can safely criticise Israel in the same way that one member of a family can freely criticise another. From a position of love and trust, in other words.  
The same criticism made by an outsider would immediately take on a different hue, and worse, be a gift, an open invitation to any opportunistic foe that happens to pick it up and run with it. 

Vigorously defending unjustified criticism is not the same thing as refusing to concede when the criticism is valid, however inconvenient, but there’s a delicate balance between over-generously handing out the benefit of the doubt thereby unwittingly arming the opposition.

Here is one of Chas Newky-Burden’s examples of a statement that crosses the line:
“the IDF is the most moral army in the world”. A superlative too far, maybe,  but he should stop  worrying about it being a nebulous contention because it’s easily rectified by a tiny qualification. Just say it’s “One of the most” and the same point can be made with a clear conscience. Anyone who is interested in finding out about the measures the IDF takes to control moral issues in ‘the fog of war‘ can easily do so. No real need to research the moral codes of Panama or Timbuktu I’d wager.
Another example is claiming that “Gaza is a holiday camp, bursting with luxury swimming pools and decadent shopping malls.”  
Bursting with luxury stuff? Who claims that?  That seems almost as disingenuous an exaggeration as the claim itself. It’s true that such photos are used to counter the proposition that the Gazans are all starving in a famine of Michael Beurklical proportions. Doing that is a bit cheap, maybe, and perhaps a bit lazy. But these places do exist, and it does show what it says on the tin. Yes there’s probably poverty, and in Chas’s own words, squalor.  But not because of Israel’s blockade. Not because of Israel’s anything. It does highlight the inequality and corruption in Gaza, which is Hamas’s doing. I understand the deprivation is barely worse than that in most failed Islamic regimes.  Not that I claim to be an expert, so feel free to show me if I’m wrong.
Of course Chas Newky-Burden is wise to avoid sloganeering, and tell individual personal tales that show Israel in a favourable light instead. But these tales can quickly become sloganeerified too.
“Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East” has indeed become a slogan, but his tale about a gay Arab amounts to ‘Israel is the only gay-friendly country in the Middle East ” which is just as likely to follow suit in the sloganeering stakes. In fact it already is a slogan. 
All valid points eventually become worn out and clichéd, but If they contain a truth they need to be rephrased, not abandoned altogether.   

Chas Newky-Burden goes on to ask himself why British anti-Israel campaigners are denounced for saying the same things that Israelis themselves say. I think he’s smart enough to know the answer. The British say it with venom, while the Israelis do so with familial affection, and, tragically and bafflingly, they’re unconcerned about handing over the ammunition that might aid their own destruction.

The difficulty I mentioned at the beginning looks insurmountable. If you gather together all the expertise you can muster, and scrutinise the BBC’s errors and omissions with a fine tooth comb, you’re very likely dismissed out of hand. Just because you’re a Zionist, a term that has been hijacked and become synonymous with evil, in the way that the word ‘gay‘ no longer means joyful.   

If Israel’s supporters do resort to slogan-quoting, anti-Israel campaigners positively wallow in them. In fact their arguments are almost entirely  dependent upon them. Illegal under international law comes to mind. No! 
Settlements, occupations, the creation of Israel itself, none of these are technically illegal under international or any other law. So there. 
“Apartheid state”. Wrong. 
“Stolen land?” not really. 
“Aggressive?”   Defensive.
“The biggest open-air prison in the world.” Not.
“The most densely populated place on earth.” No.
“The Jewish Lobby” (me?)
We’re all bored with this list. Instead here’s Huddie Ledbetter singing about Hitler. 

Hiltler started out in nineteen hundred and thirty two(x2)
When he started out, he took the homes from the Jews

We're gonna tear Hitler down(x3) someday.
We're gonna bring him to the ground(x3) someday.

When Hitler started out, he took the Jews from their homes(x2)
That's one thing Mr. Hitler you know you done wrong.

We're gonna tear Hitler down(x3) someday.
We're gonna bring him to the ground(x3) someday.

You ain't no iron, you ain't no solid rock(x2)
but we American people say "Mr. Hitler is got to stop!"

We're gonna tear Hitler down(x3) someday.
We're gonna bring him to the ground(x3) someday.

Mr. Hitler we're gonna tear your playhouse down(x2)
you been flyin' mighty high, but you're on your last go round.

We're gonna tear Hitler down(x3) someday.
We're gonna bring him to the ground(x3) someday.

Mr. Hitler, you know you ain't so keen(x2)
But we American people say you're the biggest liar they ever seen.

We're gonna tear Hitler down(x3) someday.
We're gonna bring him to the ground(x3) someday.

From their pool of pick’n’mix  staff reporters, the BBC dispatches random individuals far and wide. Equipped with the one-size-fits-all BBC mindset, they're there to gather news, filter it through the BBC’s prism and spread the word back home. Have BBC mindset, will travel.

 At the time of writing Kevin Connolly’s mission is dish the dirt on Israel and Jon Donnison’s is to decontaminate the images of Hamas and the PA from Gaza or Ramallah. This morning Kevin Connolly narrated an item loosely tied to Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel. “America loves Israel” he begins, without even a sneer. The sneer is implicit in the phrase. Why bother with auditory scare quotes when that very sentence contains the requisite disparagement on so many levels.
The carefully selected soundbite/ vox-pop he treats us to was a generous gift from a pregnant woman, who opines that the all-powerful Israel lobby controls the American Government. This out of context remark is just the ticket for Connolly. The woman is an Israeli who mistakenly assumes she’s among friends. She can state an idea containing a grain of truth without considering the potential fallout, should it land in the hands of  the enemy. She probably doesn’t realise that Kevin Connolly IS the enemy.

 The irony is that it is the anti-Israel lobby that really does hold sway with the BBC, and is the very influence behind that particular choice of soundbite.

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