A new video published by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has prompted ridicule and accusations of distorted history and racism. The clip, presented by officials as a short history of the Jewish people, was made by an Israeli production company on behalf of the Israeli government, as part of the latter’s PR efforts.
The concept is straightforward enough: a Jewish couple – Rachel and Jacob – live in a comfortable modern home that represents the “Land of Israel”. The pair then experience a series of “invasions” by the likes of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Crusaders and Ottoman Empire. Finally, the British Empire arrives, to announce that their home is finally theirs – before, right at the end, two Palestinians appear at the door.
The video has been rightly criticised for its historical inaccuracies and racist caricatures: the Jewish couple remain in suburban jeans-ware throughout while, as critics have pointed out, “portrayingnon-Jews over 3,000 years of history as primitive barbarians” in stereotypical dress. Nor does it do any favours to Jewish history, depicting Jews as entirely passive, and entirely ignoring the existence of Jewish communities around the world.
But it is the video’s portrayal of Palestinians as illegitimate Johnny-come-latelies, who turn up after the State of Israel was established to take someone else’s home that has prompted most outrage
The Palestinian citizen of Israel and Knesset member Ahmed Tibicondemned the video as a “ridiculous attempt to disinherit the Palestinians from their links and ties to their country and homeland”, adding that “Israel’s foreign policy is losing touch with reality.” Indeed, the video is at odds with the well-documented facts of the “Nakba” (Arabic for catastrophe), when up to 90 per cent of all Palestinians living in what is now Israel were dispossessed. A particularly dark irony is that many Jewish Israelis live in the actual physical homes of Palestinian refugees who were expelled at that time and are still denied their right to return.
This is not the Israeli government’s first propaganda own goal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused incredulity and diplomatic condemnation when he published a video describing a future removal of illegal West Bank settlements as “ethnic cleansing.”
In 2011, the then-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon starred in a social media-friendly video that rejected the international consensus over the settlements’ illegality (over a jazz background).
The latest video, however, is more than just a public relations embarrassment. For the Israeli government to commission and publish an explicit rejection of Palestinian identity, history, and presence in the land highlights a more disturbing political context.
This is not just an academic issue; Palestinian refugees remain displaced, Palestinian citizens are discriminated against and treated as immigrants in their own country, and the Israeli government is dominated by politicians who refer to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria”.
If you want a clue to why this video was produced now, see the comments made by Israel’s current deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said the video was “preventive” ahead of a “Palestinian campaign to sever the ties between the people of Israel and their historical heritage, which will reach its peak in 2017.”
What’s so special about 2017? First, it will be 50 years since the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and a reminder that millions of stateless Palestinians continue to live under an apartheid regime alongside hundreds of thousands of settlers. Second, the year is also the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, when the British government promised the Zionist movement its support in the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
While the state of Israel sees this as a cornerstone of its legitimacy, Palestinians see it as a major historical crime. And these days, of course, an imperial power promising the land of one group of people to another group of people is a harder sell.
Hotovely, like other members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, explicitly rejects the idea of Palestinian statehood and intends for Israel to hold on to the West Bank. Just last month, a Likud parliamentarian was in London pushing that very idea.
Yet, though the video has attracted around a million views on Facebook, the Israeli government would be making a mistake if it thinks these numbers equal success. It convinces no one, but offends many.