Israeli Settler Minister: We Published Pictures Of Corpses For Hasbara


It’s hard to believe that any minister of any government, even Israel’s, would’ve given an interview so patently disgusting and self-serving as Yuli Edelstein did with Haaretz’s Nir Hasson.  Edelstein is the aptly named ‘minister of hasbara’ (in Hebrew–in English he’s the ‘minister for public diplomacy’).  And what he’s done is disseminate terror.

To get the full flavor of just how odious the interview is I’ll quote extensively from it and let Edelstein hang himself with his own words:

Two days ago, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs released horrific photographs from the scene of Friday night’s terrorist attack in Itamar. The photos show the stabbed and bleeding bodies of the members of the Fogel family, with only the faces blurred, as per their relatives’ request. Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein is the one who made the unprecedented decision to release them.

Do you think this sort of publicity can change Israel’s image?

People who deal more with information sent quite a few supportive messages. I know that on the Internet the images are really catching on and circulating. It’s hard to talk about in terms of success, because we all understand that this is an unbelievably heinous crime. But it does have an important impact.

What astonishes is an Israeli minister publicly admitting that he’s exploiting the dead for the propaganda value of their images.  This is one of the worst sins Judaism can imagine: exploitation of the dead.  It’s a hillul ha-Shem, a desecration of the divine name.  Edelstein, who is a settler himself and Orthodox Jew, has allowed Israel to become his religion, while abandoning his actual religion.

The Ashrey prayer says: “the dead will not praise God…but we [the living] will bless Him from now and forever.”  Not so in this perverse version of Judaism (or perhaps I should use Bernard Avishai’s apt term, Judeanism, to distinguish this from real Judaism), in which the dead don’t praise God, but rather Israel.

In the days of the Temple, Jews used to slaughter animals as sacrificial offerings to propitiate God.  Now, we allow our own slaughtered co-religionists to be the sacrificial animals.  What kind of religion is this?  A religion in which God approves of the blood of his followers?  Is this the religion of Abraham where, instead of God staying the father’s hand as he raises it to slay his son, Issac, God actually demands and approves of the act of child-murder?

To be clear, I’m not saying that either the Jewish God or the settlers approve of murdering their own. But clearly they’re not only willing, but eager to use the dead for political purposes.  Perhaps we should put a value not only on human life, but on a pint of the poor victim’s blood.  How much is it worth to the propaganda ministry??

How did the decision to publish the photos come about?

From Saturday night, when I found out about the terrible event…we started checking to see if there was any documentation and what happened to it. I started receiving reports that the family apparently would not object [to publishing the images].  I sent messengers to the family to make sure that nothing was done in the heat of the moment. The family had some deliberations and they agreed.

…We held a professional consultation with people from the Foreign Ministry and from the Prime Minister’s Office. Not everyone thought the way I did, that the photos should be published, but everyone was starting to realize that, in this case, it was necessary to act in an unusual manner. The majority felt that since all red lines had been crossed, it would be impossible to just carry on normally, and so we decided to publish the photos.

Every time the topic of public relations and information in Israel and abroad is raised, I’m always asked – why don’t we publish the photos? I say with a bit of cynicism that I can already answer this question in several languages. I always explained that there was the matter of the family and a desire not to cause further suffering – and also that we are not like them, we are not like the Palestinians.

“We are not like them.”  Just how are we not like them?  We don’t butcher their children as they butcher ours?  We don’t exploit our own dead to score points in the international propaganda war as they do?  Of course we do.  In fact, one of my Israeli readers sent me images of Israeli dead from the Maaleh Akravim terror attack going all the way back to 1954.  And for those interested in terror it’s available to you, where else, but on the ministry of foreign affairs website.  So to act as if this was the first time any Israeli government decided to do what Edelstein’s ministry did is ahistorical and a lie (though perhaps one based on ignorance since I doubt Edelstein is the brightest bulb in the box).

So are we like the Palestinians now?

No, there is a huge difference. They have no problem issuing such photos a few minutes after the incident, without asking the family and without blurring anything out. It is also needless to say that, in some cases, fabricated images are released too.

Israel always criticizes the Arab press for airing photos of damage from IDF attacks in an endless loop, which leads to incitement and hatred. What is the difference here?

There is a big difference. I remember photos of a girl being brought into a hospital in Gaza without a stretcher, of course. They held her in their arms so that everyone will see her and air the picture over and over, as a kind of background image. This is something that causes hatred, whose purpose is to incite more than to shock.

And releasing the images of the murdered Fogel family is NOT intended to cause hatred and its purpose is not to shock??!  Then what is its purpose?  This is a perfect example of the propagandist who deliberately ignores the impact of his own actions.  He so believes in his own victimization and that he is merely responding to evils perpetrated upon his own people, that he simply cannot grasp that he is doing precisely what the other side does.  This is a case of willful blindness.  It’s as if the entire Israeli government along with much of the country is the blind leading the blind.  They kill us.  We don’t kill them.  They exploit their dead.  We don’t exploit ours (except in response to them).

Another point to consider is Edelstein’s absolute inability to understand that it isn’t the image that incites hate, but the IDF’s murder of thousands of Palestinian civilians, some of them in cold-blood, that provokes Palestinian rage.  To break this down to its simplest form: pictures don’t kill, weapons do.  Whether they be your own guns turned on others or the knives of your enemy turned on you.

Here’s more from Edelstein:

I also don’t put it on Israeli television and ask everyone to watch it. I have no problem with a journalist who decides not to print the image, but I want him to deal with it on his own and always remember the picture. If he doesn’t remember it, then he is less of a person than I thought.

Oh, he’ll remember the picture all right…along with his conviction that any government which would deliberately exploit such images for short-term political gain is a bankrupt one, both morally and politically.

There have been numerous horrific attacks in the past. Why specifically after the attack in Itamar was the decision made to distribute the photos?

It is true that we have experienced quite a few horrors, but at the same time, slaughtering an entire family in their sleep, including children and an infant is, thank God – even according to the standards of these wicked people – something out of the ordinary. There also appears to be an accumulation of things here, with an understanding that words can kill and there must be a response.

Again with the incitement themes: it was the Palestinians who made the killer act, who poisoned his mind with hate.  Not the murder and maiming of scores of Palestinian villagers by Itamar goons and those of other extremist settlements.

Recently, a kind of dialogue has emerged to the effect that IDF soldiers are clearly murderers, rapists and looters. This is the feeling that exists around the world and I’m not speaking about [just] the Palestinian Authority.

Well, as for the first and last, there are surely more than enough examples of this.  But as for rapists, Edelstein has clearly been smoking a bit too much of the hasbara weed.  If there are accusations of rape against the contemporary IDF, they’re made by the most those who lack any credibility.  Though it is possible Edelstein is talking about the War of Independence when even a right wing historian like Benny Morris concedes there were instances of rape by the Palmach.  But for Edelstein to raise this claim here is merely to invoke solidarity in his fellow Israeli readers for the allegedly terribly injustices perpetrated upon Israel in the world press and on the world stage.

In this atmosphere, of wild incitement against and demonization of Israel, there needs to be a shocking reaction [to the attack] that will cause people to recognize the reality here. We are not doing this out of hysteria and panic, but in a thoughtful way – to convey this image to the same people who think that words do not kill.

No, surely not out of hysteria or panic.  Because the hasbara war is going so very well for Israel.  So well that it can stand above the fray and act wisely and dispassionately.  So that it needn’t milk every situation for potential points scored in the propaganda wars.  And as for “thoughtful,” if this is what thoughtful is in an Israeli context, then it’s no wonder that Israel’s Occupation pathology has proceeded to the advanced state of deterioration that it has.

I don’t think that every politician who says that Israeli policy is militant incites murder, but the cries that Israel is “an apartheid state” and “a state of occupation” can lead murderers to think that, by carrying out their murderous crimes, they are freedom fighters.

Do you know if the media around the world used the photos?

The emphasis is on the foreign media. I know that in Israel, apart from a few people for whom not everything makes sense, you don’t have to convince anyone to use horrific images.

Pity the poor lefty extremist editor or pinko peace activist who rejects such images because he simply can’t “make sense” of the fact that the nation NEEDS these images splashed all over the pages of the world’s newspapers.  I’d venture to say that there are more than a few such deluded souls even in an Israel debased by Occupation, who couldn’t be convinced of the efficacy of doing precisely what this propaganda minister did.

I also knew that because of the disaster in Japan and the barrage of reports from there, it would not be a lead photo on the front page of The New York Times. The possibility that the images would not be published was also considered. But the mere fact that an editor or senior analyst would receive the photos and look at them and carry out a discussion – I’m certain that this had an effect, and these are the people who shape public opinion. I am sure that whoever has not lost their humanity, will in the future be more careful with regard to Israel.

What kind of “discussion” does he think that Bill Keller had about whether to run these photos beyond: “Run these?  Are you kiddin’?”  As for editors “losing their humanity,” I’m sure that the next time Yuli Edelstein’s ministry sends anything to any self-respecting journalist they’ll hold it up by two fingers to make sure it doesn’t stink to high heaven before even opening the package.

In the event of another terrorist attack, should we expect the publication of such photos?

Definitely not after every attack. First of all, the family’s wishes will be the determining factor and every case will be considered separately. But at the same time … we will have to think about the specific sort of documentation. The photos taken this time were taken for the purpose of the investigation, not for the needs of the press.

Extraordinary that the Israeli police or whoever investigates such a crime would allow the images to be circulated around the world in such a way.  There is such a thing as polluting the scene of the crime and polluting Israel’s case on the world stage.  Edelstein has done this with the collusion of investigators who should’ve known better.

Next time – let there never be a next time and let it never happen – I hope we will be prepared with a photographer who has a media-oriented approach, instead of an investigative focus.

Yes, next time let’s have a designated photographer hired by the propaganda ministry whose job it will be to monitor the settler radios for terror activity and get there before the police and ‘shoot’ the bloodiest pictures possible.  And instead of waiting, let’s use the latest technology to distribute these images directly from the camera to newsrooms throughout the world.  Why even wait and get the family of the victim’s approval?  Don’t the needs of the state trump mere human feeling or sorrow?

This article first appeared at Tikun Olam

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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