Guardian

Promoting Double Standards and Stereotypes


The breaking of the story about Eden Abergil’s now infamous Facebook photographs prompted not one but two articles by Rachel Shabi in the space of as many days.

Let’s make it clear right from the start; there is no excusing Abergil’s actions and the photographs demonstrated her lack of sensitivity and lack of respect, both for the Palestinians photographed and for herself. But from there to the type of conclusions which Shabi would have her reader reach, the road is very long.  And, the generous use of quotations from figures belonging to assorted organisations renowned for employing frequent double standards, and engaging in extreme bias, against Israel indicates Shabi’s desire to make the most of this incident to promote her shameless stereotyping, and smearing, of Israeli society.

Shabi conscripts Dr. Ishai Menuchin , CEO of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and a founding member and former spokesman of Yesh Gvul’: an organisation which engages in the encouragement of refusal to serve in the Israeli army despite the obligation to do so under Israeli law. Menuchin thinks that conscientious objectors are “heroes” and that the main reason for the continued Israeli/Palestinian dispute and for terror attacks is “the occupation”. In Shabi’s article he is quoted as saying:

“These cruel pictures reflect Israel’s ongoing objectification of Palestinians and complete disregard of their humanity and of their human rights, and especially their right to privacy.”

Menuchin ascribes Eden’s behaviour to:

“an Israeli military culture that brings young Israelis to systematically violate the basic rights of Palestinians”.

This statement of course puts a blanket stereotype upon Israeli society. Menuchin is not saying here that some Israelis objectify Palestinians and disregard their human rights; he is saying that all Israelis do so – and, furthermore, the use of the word ‘systematically’ implies an organized system, method and plan. This assertion is of course very far removed from the truth, both in terms of the civilian and military laws and the IDF’s code of conduct and in terms of the reality which exists on the ground.

In her second article Shabi quotes Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative (aka MIFTAH) – an organization which routinely describes Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ and Palestinian terrorists as ‘activists’ .

“This is not very different to what was exposed at Abu Ghraib in Iraq,” said Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative. “It is not an individual act, or a personal act or a lack of judgment, but a part of the constant racist behaviour that is implanted in the Israeli army and a whole philosophy of discrimination against Arabs and Palestinians. The most important characteristic of this treatment is humiliation.”

Once again we see here an attempt to stereotype all Israeli soldiers as racists, and by extension (seeing as almost everyone serves in the army) Israelis as a group. The comparison to Abu Ghraib is obviously nothing more than cheap sensationalism; as Tim Marshall recently wrote on his blog.

“Abu Ghraib: Systematic, long-term torture and humiliation encouraged at a high level, involving officers, hundreds of photographs, a dark place utterly out-of-bounds to the media, mostly hidden from the human rights groups, which, when uncovered, sparks a fierce debate in the USA with a significant minority of people arguing that ‘it ain’t that bad’.

Israel: One girl, Eden Abergil, on one occasion, gurning in front of detainees, which when uncovered, horrifies popular opinion in her country where she is now ridiculed as ‘one hell of an idiot’.

Next in Shabi’s parade comesBreaking the Silence(Shovrim Shtika) , best remembered as the NGO which tossed around accusations of “war crimes” based on hearsay in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead . Yehuda Shaul is quoted as saying that:

“Being in a place where you cannot see Palestinians as human beings is the default when you are serving in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Once more an all-encompassing stereotype of Israeli soldiers is being propagated here and it continues in Shabi’s final quote from Khalida Jarar of Addameer – a heavily politicized NGO based in Ramallah which has been instrumental in the promotion of the Goldstone Report .

“There are many more violations and abuses of Palestinians, without photographs. The soldiers take these pictures to show that they can do anything they want to Palestinians.”

Can Israeli soldiers do “anything they want” to Palestinians? Of course not; even within the complex framework of Israeli attempts to counteract terror they operate under strict rules and regulations defined by the law of the country and military codes of conduct and, of course, the overwhelming majority of soldiers act accordingly and those who do not face court-martial and punishment.

Apart from the unsubtle attempt here by Shabi and her quoted sources to engage in sensational stereotyping of an entire nation, the issue of double standards also comes into play in this article. Whilst Shabi is trying to persuade readers that conclusions can be drawn as to the psychology and morals of an entire nation on the basis of a few undoubtedly tasteless photographs, one cannot but wonder what manner of conclusions Shabi and her interviewees reached when they saw photographs such as these:

A young British man is caught urinating on a WWI memorial during the Carnage student bar crawl in Sheffield.

Does the above picture prove anything about the morals and psychological state of the British nation or is it a depiction of the disrespectful and idiotic behavior of one drunken British student?

Does the highly offensive cartoon about Gilad Shalit made and circulated by Hamas  say anything about the entire population of Gaza down to every last man, woman and child, or does it tell us that there are certain people within the Izz ad Din Al Kassam brigades who are cruel and despicable?

Do the shocking pictures of the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah mean that all the Palestinians in that town behave in a sub-human manner or that some did?

And do pictures of a few Palestinians brandishing the entrails of fellow Palestinians who they murdered mean that the entire Palestinian people approve of such things and that this is the norm within Palestinian society? Of course they do not.

Shabi’s engagement in disproportionate criticism of the actions of some members of Israel’s armed forces who acted entirely on their own initiative, and do not in any way represent the ethos of the organization they serve, and her fabricated claims that these actions are part of official policy and a national ethos, reek both of racist stereotyping and double standards. Contrary to her suggestion that Eden Abergil’s miserable photographs prove that all Israelis dehumanize Palestinians, Shabi herself has, in these two articles, succeeded in dehumanizing Israelis and does gross injustice to the hundreds of thousands of Israeli soldiers who carry out their very difficult mission within the letter of the very strict IDF codes of conduct.

Whilst we obviously find ourselves aghast at Abergil’s clear lack of understanding as to what she has done wrong, can we be any less repulsed by Shabi’s cynical use of this isolated event to promote her particular warped, and highly bigoted, political agenda? It seems to me that both Abergil and Shabi have much to learn when it comes to showing respect for others.

15 replies »

  1. Whilst we obviously find ourselves aghast at Abergil’s clear lack of understanding as to what she has done wrong, can we be any less repulsed by Shabi’s cynical use of this isolated event to promote her particular warped, and highly bigoted, political agenda? It seems to me that both Abergil and Shabi have much to learn when it comes to showing respect for others.

    I can find it in me to forgive Abergil citing that she is young and hence has raging hormones although I do wonder what mistakes in our educational system and IDF selection filters that allowed her to become a soldier.

    Rachel Shabi is another kettle of fish all together. She eats, breaths and sleeps ‘hate Israel’.

    And she is hardly alone on CiF.

  2. She did nothing wrong. The young woman in question did not abuse the Arabs, mistreat, kill them or show a lack of regard for them. Her behavior as a captor was far from indecent. Leftist Israeli Jews who attack her (and their fellow Arab and Western fellow travelers abroad) are idiots who don’t get the context: the IDF’s treatment of Arab detainees has far exceeded anything the Arabs have ever done to the Jews and it should be pointed out that the Arabs honor those who murder Jews. If we want to talk about stereotypes and lack of respect for moral behavior, let’s start by discussing Arab attitudes towards the Jews.

    Or what they do to their own fellow Arabs. Israel’s conduct towards minorities may leave some things in need of improvement but the regard for human dignity and human life is there even from the unfairly maligned Ms. Abergil. There is none from the other side, no similar self-awareness and the need to give real meaning to all of it. That is the context in which her Facebook photos need to be discussed.

  3. NormanF

    She did nothing wrong. The young woman in question did not abuse the Arabs, mistreat, kill them or show a lack of regard for them

    You’ve got to be kidding.

    If the positions were reversed and Israeli prisoners were similarly photographed, would your reaction be the same.

    Mine would.

  4. really the world objects because these IDF people fly in from across the world to abuse the Palestinian… if they just committed the deeds in their own land on their own people – nobody would have a problem.

  5. fair to all, you said, “these IDF people fly in from across the world to abuse the Palestinian… if they just committed the deeds in their own land…”

    Perhaps you would share with us exactly what you consider to be Israel’s “own land” if it’s not Israel?

  6. there is no excusing Abergil’s actions and the photographs demonstrated her lack of sensitivity and lack of respect, both for the Palestinians photographed and for herself.

    A “lack of sensitivity”? A “lack of respect” for herself?

    Why not just say it was disturbing and/or despicable, Israelinurse?

    At the same time, however, the images cannot be compared with those of the infamous Lynndie England in Iraq.

    The story obviously deserves coverage – but the Guardian homepage is currently running a story entitled “Israeli army female recruits speak out”. So you do have a point re. the essential point of your article, i.e. overkill.

  7. NormanF

    She did nothing wrong. The young woman in question did not abuse the Arabs

    Even posing for or taking those photos constitutes abuse.

    Don’t defend the indefensible.

  8. pretzelberg

    The story obviously deserves coverage – but the Guardian homepage is currently running a story entitled “Israeli army female recruits speak out”. So you do have a point re. the essential point of your article, i.e. overkill.

    Yes. They haven’t overstated the facilities provided by the evil Israeli Zionist democracy which enables these women to voice their opinions openly without danger.

  9. Pretzel

    Why not just say it was disturbing and/or despicable, Israelinurse?

    Because they are not. They are exactly as IN said insensitive and unrespectful but nothing else. Please don’t be so quick to condemn actions commited under a set of condiditions you never have experinced and hopefully never will experience. I know very decent and respectful fellows who have been photographed after a heavy battle with many dead soldiers and burnt-out tanks (obviously full of bodies) in the background. True they belong to my generation and didn’t publish these private memories on the web (somehow Facebook didn’t exist at that time anyway), but today’s youngsters are much more extroverted and open about themselves and publish absolutely private details on their Facebook pages.

    BTW What about the pictures of Soviet soldiers escorting thousands of German prisoners trough the streets of Moscow? The German and Japonese deads and prisoners with their USA and/or British guards? The members of the French Resistance posing with arrested collaborators?

  10. @normanf ‘Her behaviour as a captor was far from indecent,leftist Israeli Jews who attack her,and their fellow Arab and western travellers abroad are idiots who dont get the context’.

    Oh they got the context alright!! Her behaviour,although not unusaul amongst some soldiers from all armies, was shameful and showed no respect,humanity or morality.Abergil posted on facebook;’What a day that was,see how he completes my picture,I wonder if he’s on FB,I have to tag him in the photo ha ha’. The majority of Israeli’s and Jews worldwide were outraged at this woman’s behaviour, yet you see fit to defend her, why is that?. However, The Abu Ghraib comparison is riddiculous and superficial. ‘Soldiers’ in the US army who relished in posting graphic truly horrendous images of abuse, all American smiling female soldiers posing with hooded prisoners with wires fixed to their bodies, the US soldiers, who set guard dogs on Iraqi prisoners genitals and lower legs, who used electric shock tortue and water tortue, who forced shackled hooded Muslim prisoners to mastubate eachother,and forced them to perform oral sex on each other,whilst delighting in posting their sick abuse on the internet should be in prison for a very long time.

  11. @peter the hungarian ‘please dont be so quick to condemn the actions committed under a set of conditions you have never experianced’.

    What set of conditions? the woman is clearly posing with captured,blindfolded prisoners.She showed no respect or humanity. The IDF have condemned her actions,why cant you?

  12. smtx, you followed the tortures at Abu Ghraib in such detail? How very strange.

    You really didn’t need to go such lengths to make you point, did you?

  13. @snigger ‘smtx u followed the tortues at abu ghraib in such detail, how very strange’.

    why strange snigger? they were widely reported. I notice you havent responded to the rest of my post regarding abergils photo shoots, and your thoughts on them.