tel aviv | Two days after last week’s flotilla incident, with Israel weathering a hailstorm of international condemnation, a group of young Israelis hunkered down in a Tel Aviv recording studio to produce a satirical music video they hoped would become a weapon in the battle for world opinion.
“We Con the World,” a spoof of the 1985 Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie charity song “We Are the World,” became an instant YouTube phenomenon. As of June 8, it had received some 2 million hits. (Watch it at www.tinyurl.com/2el2p5v.)
The lead singer, dressed in the white hat of a ship’s captain and given the name “Captain Stabbing” (a reference to Captain Stubing of the TV show “Love Boat” fame), opens by crooning in a thick mock Turkish accent, “There comes a time when we need to make a show, for the world, the Web and CNN.”
Singing in a Jackson-style falsetto, another character later picks up the tune, “We’ll make the world abandon reason. We’ll make them all believe that the Hamas is Momma Theresa.”
The video is one of several grassroots Israeli efforts to put out a pro-Israel message to the world in the wake of the confrontation aboard one of the ships on the Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine Turkish activists dead and several Israeli navy commandos injured. The interception stoked worldwide anger at Israel.
In a bid to redirect that anger and lay the blame where they believe it should lie — the Turkish activists who they say provoked the confrontation and the anti-Israel terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, Hamas — some Israelis are mounting their own citizen responses.
These Israelis, many of them young, have established new groups on Facebook and have built new websites to promote Israel’s perspective on the flotilla interception as well as on the blockade of Gaza. One student group even plans to launch its own flotilla — a fleet of boats it hopes will humiliate Turkey by calling attention to the plight of the Armenians and Kurds, who are known to be suffering under the Turks.
Israel maintains it was acting in self-defense after passengers on one of the Gaza-bound ships in the flotilla attacked Israeli commandos boarding the ship. Critics of the May 31 action paint Israel as the aggressor against an aid shipment in international waters.
Just two hours after the flotilla incident, Dan Illouz, 24, said he created a Facebook group called “The Truth About Israel’s Defensive Actions Against the Flotilla.” A recent Canadian immigrant to Israel and law school graduate, Illouz said the group now has more than 70,000 members.
“I saw there was no response from the government and I wanted to get something out there,” he said. “I know people from the navy and I knew stories on the news made no sense, and I wanted to get a group of people together to spread the story once it was available.”
Illouz also formed a website, Israelflotilla.weebly.com, to accompany the Facebook page. Through the website he has formed a group of some 200 people who use his talking points in letters to newspaper editors and elected officials.
“It’s not the first time Israel has been attacked, and every time we see a lot of media bias,” Illouz said. “There is a need out there to train Israel advocates in social media, a new generation of leaders who understand this sort of communication.”
The Israeli branch of the advocacy group StandWithUs also was quick to form a website, calling it FlotillaFacts.com
“The idea of websites is a multiplier,” said Michael Dickson, the Israel director of StandWithUs. “The messages and images and videos we find most effective we put in bullet-point form that can be understood and re-sent. We also have them in Tweet form to be sent out on Twitter.”
The site is viewable in 14 languages, including Turkish. Dickson said users from Turkey represented the fifth-largest group visiting the site. One of the videos the site helped circulate was “We Con the World.”
That video “struck a chord because people know that the media coverage was one-sided,” said Karni Eldad, a 36-year-old music producer who helped produce the video. “Nobody wants to hear more about the fighting, but when you talk in a funny way you get a laugh. And you get the truth.”
Eldad is part of a political satire group called Latma, which created the video. Latma is led by Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Glick.
Eldad is also the daughter of Knesset member Arieh Eldad of the right-wing National Union Party. Arieh Eldad praised his daughter’s efforts and the video. “This is a way to stand up and expose that hypocrisy,” he said. “It’s a very efficient tool for doing that.”
A report in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot congratulated the video’s creators, saying they had “defended Israel better than any of the experts.”
Not everyone was a fan, however. Some in Israel and abroad have criticized the video’s depiction of kaffiyeh-wearing, knife-wielding Arabs as carrying racist, anti-Muslim overtones.
Israel’s Government Press Office initially sent an e-mail to foreign correspondents along with the video. Soon after, an e-mail was sent rescinding the message, apologizing and stating that the video had been sent by mistake.