Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Peace Team: Politics & PR

"In order to disseminate an image [of itself], a government can employ what was originally labeled as propaganda. Following the harmful yet effective propaganda that was in circulation throughout the Second World War and the following Cold War, such image-shaping efforts have now been renamed in order to avoid the negative connotations. Governments now talk about 'public diplomacy'. Public diplomacy can affect the foreign policy of another country and thus influence their treatment towards one's own country. While this can be done through diplomatic, economic and military means, it can also be achieved through 'soft power'. Therefore governments target civilian audiences whose opinion has a bearing on the government's policy... In this way, outside governments began to realise that they can have a positive effect on the opinion of civilians and, in turn, on that country's foreign policy through carefully grooming their public image and explaining their actions to the rest of the world through information... The Israeli government takes the role of public diplomacy very seriously and as such devotes a number of resources to educating and influencing foreign audiences, particularly those in the United States. The Israeli government has its own word that has been used since the 1970s in relation to their own public diplomacy work. Hasbara is roughly translated as 'explanation' and is used in the context of Israeli policy and actions." (Israel: Propaganda, public diplomacy & soft power, Harriet Straughen,, 10/5/11)

One Israeli practitioner of 'public diplomacy', the so-called Peres Centre for Peace (PPC), has hit on the PR tactic of fielding joint Israeli/Palestinian sporting teams designed to mask and obfuscate the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation and colonisation of Palestine's indigenous inhabitants.

Its Australian representative, Tanya Oziel, who breezily talks of bringing together "athletes from the two war-torn nations" (one of whom is a tad more war-torn than the other) and "breaking down barriers" (apartheid walls and checkpoints notwithstanding) has been busy since 2008 in promoting tours to Australia by an Israeli/Palestinian AFL 'Peace Team'. The Peace Team not only played in the 2008 AFL International Cup, but, for maximum public exposure, it became the subject of a film, Tackling Peace, screened on Channel 10 in 2009. (See Tanya Oziel honoured,

This year, the promotion of the Peace Team - which is to say Israel - in the Australian press has become the pet project of Age sports journalist Martin Flanagan, who has so far produced at least 4 promos on the subject.

Flanagan is an interesting case, apparently atypical of so many of our Israel-bound journalist junketeers. One is reminded of Humbert Wolfe's cheeky little rhyme: "You cannot hope to bribe or twist/Thank God! The British journalist/But, seeing what the man will do/Un-bribed there's no occasion to."

In his first piece on the Peace Team in June, Flanagan was at pains to explain just how pure his motives were:

"A few months ago I had reason to reflect on my own mortality and realised that the cause which interested me most... is peace. I realise, to some people, peace is an empty word. Perhaps it is best understood by considering its opposite - war, particularly as it is fought nowadays, with lots of civilian casualties. Children with limbs blown off, that sort of thing. I think war is hell. I'm not a pacifist, but do think there are people who carry peace with them through the world and they have my undying respect. I've gone to Israel for 10 days. I'm part of a delegation led by Tanya Oziel, the woman who organised the Palestinian-Israeli football team that competed in the AFL International Cup 3 years ago and is preparing to return. For the record, I am paying my airfares but my accommodation is being sponsored by the PPC..." (Peace is more than just a word, 25/6/11)

As you can see, Flanagan's bought into the PPC's propagandist notion of a 'war' between two 'sides', akin to a game played between two evenly-matched football teams. It may be the case, to adapt the adage that to a hammer everything looks like a nail, that to Flanagan, the blinkered sports journalist, every conflict from World Wars I and II on down looks like a football game, including the utterly asymmetrical struggle between Israeli coloniser and Palestinian colonised. So, whatever his illusions about promoting the Peace Team, he's well and truly party to the PPC's monstrous misrepresentation of reality.

Flanagan further compounds this misrepresentation with such faux profundities as: "I know I'm going to a deeply troubled region. I also know I'm going to a powerful land. Three great religious dreamings emanate in one way or another from there."

Israelis and Palestinians, he'd have us believe, are really just kids with 'issues' from a tough neighbourhood. So don't bother your boofhead with the actual, ongoing colonial dynamic of Israel's relentless campaign of dispossession and ethnic cleansing, just bring the lads "from two of the most violently conflicted groups on earth" together as a team, watch them get whipped by Nauru (which, incidentally, routinely votes for Israel in the UN), and finally have coach Robert 'Dipper' DiPierdomenico farewell them with these edifying words: "'I'll miss you blokes. We gotta stay in touch. When you play footy with someone, you might not see 'em for years. Then you see 'em walking down the street and say, 'F..., what are you doing?'." After that you can go home, pretending you've brought peace in the Middle East just that little bit closer when all you've really done is slap a bit of lippy on Israel's apartheid pig.

I'd like to think that some readers of Flanagan's often maudlin drivel can see through it, but if the following response is anything to go by, the PPC will have gotten its money's worth. It comes from the notreallyaustralian blog:

"Read editorial written by Martin Flanagan. After reading it, I was curious [as] to who Flanagan was. So I asked Lord Wiki. He's a journalist who writes a sports column. He's also the brother of Richard Flanagan, the Tassie author. I should have suspected that. The editorial was about the Palestinian-Israeli football team. Flanagan and some others are going to Israel to meet the players. Flanagan is impressed with the whole business, and so am I. I don't often have a lot of understanding about why Palestinians and Israeli's [sic] hatefully and violently fight over a tiny piece of land. Flanagan is more understanding than me. 'I know I am going to a deeply troubled region. I also know I am going to a powerful land. Three great religious dreamings emanate in one way or another from there'. Flanagan uses the term power of place. I think for some Jews and Palestinians, there IS a power of place. For others, I think the power of place comes out of the animosity towards the other group. It reminds me of the time that Jack came to the lake house with fake cat vomit. He showed it to his cousins, and they played together. Then suddenly, there was a huge tearful fight over the cat vomit. My sister and I were dragged into the drama. Suddenly, we realised that this was cat vomit we were talking about; and it all seemed so silly. No, I am not saying that Israel is like cat vomit. I am just saying that sometimes we cling to something simply for the fact that other people are clinging to it as well. I'd say for many Jews... they hate Palestinians more than they love Israel. And for many Palestinians, I bet they hate Jews more than they love their land of Palestine. I think the Palestinians and Jews who reach out to each other and try to make peace... I think they're the ones who truly love the land of Israel." (That weird American who's obsessed with Australia: Peace, Ministry of Magic, Clergymen, & Age, 26/6/11)

You can see the kind of damage Flanagan's folderol is doing out there.

Now I wish I could say that his June piece was a one-off, but I can't. In July he was at it again, telling us that:

"I went to Israel to find peace. People I told said, 'Funny place to go'. Our Tel Aviv hotel was on the beach across the road from the nightclub blown up by a suicide bomber in 2001; 21 died, one as young as 14. In front of the wreckage is a sculpture, rough-hewn from steel. It has two shapes, one male, one female, and in Hebrew the words: 'We will never stop dancing'." (Finding peace in an unlikely place, 2/7/11)

Except that Israelis are not dancing in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Shooting, raiding, arresting, imprisoning, torturing, bulldozing, evicting, dispossessing, and colonising, yes, but definitely not dancing.

In August came an account of a PPC event which brought together students from Melbourne's Bialik College and "youths" from Newport Mosque. Flanagan, of course, regaled them with the story of St Tanya ("the woman who had this crazy idea of taking Australian football to the Middle East as a peace initiative") and 'her' Peace Team. After which they all sat back and watched the film Tackling Peace and listened to a nice policeman discussing such things as "empathy" and "respect" and "seeing things from other people's viewpoint as well as your own." Flanagan concluded, naturally, with a paragraph advertising the next public appearance of the Peace Team. (Saturday Reflection, 20/8/11)

Finally, in September, came another round of applause for the "brilliant" Tanya and this glowing tribute to the Peace Team's Israeli members:

"When I told my Jewish dentist that some of the Israelis in the Peace Team were great blokes, he smiled and said, 'Why wouldn't the Israelis be great blokes?' to which I replied, There are blokes, good blokes and great blokes. I'm saying there were some great israeli blokes in the team'. They were the men I admired because to me they had a full consciousness of the reality in their country and were trying to find a new approach to it. One of them, Nimrod, the son of an Israeli female lieutenant-general, had fought in two wars. He was a very smart young man with inner composure who was concerned about the morality of the conflict. When the Peace Team had its first internal dialogue, Nimrod said to the Palestinians: 'Let's do a deal. We're going to do one some day. Let's do it now'." (Without politics, Peace Team is peaceful, 24/9/11)

Top blokes all! But the Palestinians? Why, it's enough to break Flanagan's heart:

"It is no secret that Palestinians generally did not support the Peace Team, believing it masked the reality of their political situation. A number of Palestinian players were threatened. One was under cyber attack the whole time he was in Australia. The attacks continued after his return to his home in the West Bank. This week he pulled out of the Peace Team."

Maybe, just maybe, Palestinians know something our PR man doesn't. But, of course, Flanagan doesn't want to go there:

"Personally," says he, "I don't want to get involved in the politics of the Middle East."

Martin, maaate, don't pee on our legs and tell us it's raining, ok?

Related posts: Sport Rots the Brain (19/8/11); Foul Play (17/6/11)

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