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Theatre of the Surreal

Before I get to my post below a brief follow-up on “Bollocks”. As you remember, that’s how Weaver of the Cape Times dismissed my TIMER Report. He could do that of course because in the absence of an impartial adjudicator (like a court of law or an Ombudsman with teeth) that is what substitutes for argument and fact in the world of the media.

But I dragged out of him the accusation that I had missed numerous reports (14?) in the Cape Times on the Toulouse-Montauban shootings. Well, I was both astonished and disbelieving, since I come from a science background where we take our facts seriously – apparently unlike modern journalists for whom the criterion seems to be “what you can get away with” and general moral posturing.

But I went back to the media monitoring service and asked them to look very carefully once again (since they had done so repeatedly in the first instance) into Weaver’s  claim of important missed articles relating to the TM shootings. So once again, ZILCH! Now the ball is in Weaver’s court. Come up with the actual reports on the TM shootings or you will stand naked and exposed.

Now to today’s post:

I attended a performance of the Theatre of the Surreal – and the Absurd – as part of Israel Apartheid Week. This particular production was presided over by Dean Cool, whose job was to keep order and to create the illusion that the absurd was actually a form of academic exchange, meriting respectful attention. Unless you are a trained and talented actor, such a sleight of hand can only be credibly carried out if you actually believe in what you are doing…an extraordinary thought considering that Dean Cool is a respected member of the University staff.

The chief actors on stage were Prof Unctuous, Mr Revolutionary and Mr Pedantic, apparently in the process of becoming Dr Pedantic, which only added to the atmosphere of unreality. The basic script was the same for each one of the actors and they were apparently free to present the material in the style which best suited their temperaments and talents.

The audience all knew the script, of course. They were divided into “supporters”, a very small sample of the University student population, and a somewhat smaller number of “opponents” reflecting a greater range of ages but almost all Jewish. The job of the “supporters” was to applaud the performances of the 3 actors on the stage and the role of the “opponents” was to challenge and, where possible, ridicule them.

The script (also termed the “narrative” and the “discourse”) is straightforward in substance but allows for a certain flexibility of emphasis depending on the actor and the occasion. The foundational message is that Israel is a mighty/colonial/apartheid/racist/militaristic/occupying and  illegitimate state oppressing/brutalising/humiliating/stealing from and murdering its helpless and innocent victims, the Palestinians.

To polite Western audiences, like most of those at UCT, Israel is an “occupier” of the West Bank and the implicit remedy lies in withdrawal to “1967” borders. But to other audiences it is an illegitimate Zionist/Jewish excrescence which must be eliminated entirely. To many that includes the enjoyable prospect of killing as many Jews as possible while others would be satisfied with elimination via demographic euthanasia. To both, however, the idea of Israel as an expression of Jewish identity and nationhood is anathema.

The authors of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) script, which serves as the unifying thread for the Theatre of the Surreal, are deliberately vague on these possible outcomes. But Norman Finkelstein, veteran and avid critic of Israel was fairly clear in his assessment, “We have to be honest… They [BDS Movement] don’t want Israel. They think they’re being very clever, they call it their three tier – we want the end of the occupation, we want the right of return and we want equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they’re very clever because they know the result of implementing all three is what? …There’s no Israel… there’s no Israel, full stop…”

So whether Israel is to end with a bang – let’s call it the Iranian option – or a whimper (the Open Shuhada Street option), the outcome is the end of Israel as a Jewish state… full stop.

Such an outcome must be made palatable (sold) to the world at large. By the 1980s it was clearly understood by all that the Palestinians together with virtually any combination of Arab states, could not defeat or destroy Israel without incurring their own destruction. But the situation was not hopeless, at least in their eyes. They had a number of advantages: much larger populations, highly authoritarian societies in which the flow of information and interpretation could be controlled and a unifying religion which was in the process of being radicalised into a potent political weapon.

But at the same time, and this is crucial, the powerful and self-reinforcing  leftward drift of Western academic and media elites offered much better potential allies than the discredited, old-style anti-Semites still existing in pockets in the West and Eastern Europe. Arab-Muslim anti-Semitism was rife and virulent but could be kept hidden from the Western populations with the aid of their new prospective allies.

At this point, late 1990s and especially at Durban, 2001, enter the Theatre of the Surreal and the BDS campaign. The program was simple – first, demonise Israel in any way and at every opportunity possible to inflame public opinion and make Zionism and Israel synonymous with “Nazi” and “apartheid” as terms of universal abhorrence.  Secondly, offer a programme of action in the form of the BDS campaign and, thirdly, finish Israel off by any means available, from diplomatic for the squeamish to physical genocide for the Jihadist and other extremists.

Parts of this programme were easy to implement. It was simple to manufacture, exaggerate and distort facts. Just a steady stream of unsupported allegation, as every social-cognitive psychologist will attest, will do the trick in the absence of contrary direct experience. It was also easy to co-opt academia and the media in the main. They were already primed for anti-colonial discourse, could pass off the surreal as academic and media freedom and there were good career and other tangible factors predisposing to spineless acquiescence.

But the campaign also encountered many problems. Diaspora Jews were not pushovers and they mounted a counter-offensive (with minimal support from Israel let it be recorded). Even more importantly, many Christians, especially the Evangelical movement, made Israel’s cause their own. Then, despite every attempt at filtering and selecting news and comment, the excesses, atrocities and the violence of the Arab-Muslim states was just too big an elephant to hide away successfully. Those not wholly blinded by ideology and an urge to punitive action, simply could not ignore that reality.

But, most importantly, Israel has continued being successful and generally maintaining the very values that define current Western aspirations. It is an economic and technological powerhouse in the region. It remains democratic, often painfully so under the circumstances. It is redressing many of the past injustices, relatively slight though they were, to their own Arab citizens. Its diplomatic outreach is significant. Western leaders and others understand the dynamics of the Middle East and parts of the Asian subcontinent in ways that the general populace do not, given the distortion of information in the mainstream media. And, on top of that, Israel has found unexpected huge reserves of gas and oil within its territory which undermines its economic vulnerability.

So, repellent in its crass stupidity, hypocrisy and malevolence as the BDS campaign and its by-product, the Theatre of the Surreal, are they are both lost causes. The chief sufferers, and we must not forget or forgive this, are the Palestinians themselves and other Arabs and Muslims seeking a way to reconcile productively their own traditions with the modern world.

Mike Berger


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