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The Kibbitznik: Free Us From Bad Hasbara Videos

Alyssa Goldstein
July 25, 2011

by Alyssa Goldstein

Free Gaza from Hamas, not from the Blockade‬‏ - YouTube.

I know this video is a few weeks old already, but it is so endlessly repulsive and fascinating at the same time that I just had to share it with all of you. On the surface, it may look like just another hackneyed hasbara (public diplomacy/public information) video with terrible acting, but it’s really a wellspring of sociological knowledge! The way that gender and nationalism are intertwined is really interesting, and very different from the way they were presented in earlier Zionist thought.

In the video, a woman in a pink dress on the couch in a psychologist’s office. The camera pans slowly over her body, giving us a glimpse up her skirt as she folds her legs. The psychologist shows her a series of rorschach-blot style images, and she gets increasingly upset and begins to have flashbacks. She speaks of “a young woman who they’re forever trying to torment and harm for no reason” who just wanted to “have a bit of fun and live in peace” and “lie in her bed in her home.” It appears as if the woman is in therapy after having suffered a sexual assault, until the very end when she shouts that the Flotilla is a “provocation against the state of Israel!” and storms out of the office.

By now, most of you are probably thinking, “WTF?” Indeed, there is a lot of weird nonsense in this video, like why is this random lady so upset about the flotilla? What on earth did the psychologist do to merit such a reaction? What brilliant marketer decided it would make a great campaign to advertise Israel as deeply paranoid and irrational? But since I cannot begin to fathom the answers to these questions, let’s take a look at the gender dynamics here instead.

To make a long story short, Zionism has traditionally been extremely invested in masculinity. Starting with Max Nordau’s idea of the “muscle Jew,” the creation of strong, manly Jewish bodies was linked with return to the land of Israel in the minds of many Zionist thinkers when it came to combating Jewish “degeneracy” and “effeminacy” in the Diaspora. These Zionists had internalized anti-Semitic ideas about the Jewish body’s alleged weakness. Especially in the early years of the state, any display of weakness was incredibly taboo--and this extended even to the Holocaust. With this history in mind, it is significant that Israel is embodied in this video by the woman in the pink dress. Not only is Israel portrayed as a woman, she is a sexualized woman--the camera encourages us to objectify her, and if that isn’t enough, the video clip was originally entitled “Sex with the Psychologist.” She’s not the stereotypical suntanned sexy gun-toting ass-kicking soldier, either. She’s a distraught woman seeking help from a psychologist for what we are led to believe was a sexual assault. She is deeply and undeniably in a position of weakness.

Of course, the idea that Israel was in some sort of position of weakness in regards to the flotilla activists is an utter fantasy--the military killed nine civilians aboard the Mavi Marmara, which makes this video the YouTube equivalent of defiling their graves. (Not to mention how insulting it is to the people of Gaza, many of whom have actual PTSD from the Israeli military invasion which left 1,400 people dead.) Yet the video portrays the flotilla as an assault which made Israel traumatized--and not just any assault, but a sexual one. Thus the flotilla activists are linked with a kind of overly aggressive hypermasculinity. (Add sexual assault victims to the list of people this video insults.)

I would also argue that it’s not just pro-Palestinian activists who are portrayed as threateningly masculine within current Zionist discourse, but Palestinians themselves as well. When I watch this video, I can’t help but think about the recent lashing out in Israel about Jewish women who date Palestinian men. This discourse portrays the Palestinian men in these relationships as violent, aggressive, and overly sexual, and the Jewish women as vulnerable and weak, yet still the embodiment of the nation--the very dynamic that exists in the video between Israel and the flotilla activists. Petach Tikva even established a team of psychologists to “rescue” and provide treatment to Jewish women who date Palestinians. (This characterization of Palestinians as sexually aggressive and hypermasculine bears a lot of similarity to the racist stereotype of African Americans as such). Of course, there is no similar panic about Jewish men’s relationships--even though unlike Jewish women, Jewish men who intermarry will not have children who are halachically considered Jewish--which leads me to believe that this is not really about Judaism, but every bit as much about sexism as it is about racism. It also shows something about the complex nature of masculinity, and how it can be both a source of privilege as well as a way to vilify oppressed groups.