Re-Branding Oppression

There has been an ad on television recently, one featuring a young couple walking or drifting into a place of enchantment, a warm and colourful fantasy world, a kind of biblical Disneyland. Every step of their brief journey is met by people smiling warmly, moving slowly, even bowing, greeting them at each turn with Shalom!

It is interesting that all the faces in the ad are the same kind of faces we might see in New York or London, except that here they are all bathed in glowing antique light. We see no harsh fundamentalist types cutting down someone else’s olive groves and cursing anyone, even other Jews, as interlopers. We certainly see no arrogant settlers, strutting around with machine guns, sneering at the camera.

The couple quick-cuts their way through pleasant scene after scene – images of ancient middle-eastern streets and buildings and finally a man watering a garden, back-lighted by sun so that each drop he sprays is seen like blessing making the desert bloom.

We see no check-points bristling with guns, no razor-wire, no concrete wall dwarfing Berlin’s fabled one. We see no Palestinians, indeed, no one resembling an Arab. We see no endless line-ups at check points with poor people waiting around for hours just to do the business of their lives or go to hospital. We hear no soldiers cursing and abusing them.

We see no images of the giant open-air prison that is Gaza nor the slow, inhumane siege that grips the place night and day, making it close to impossible for a million and a half souls to cloth themselves and eat and enjoy basic amenities. We certainly see no Hellfire missiles incinerating people as one did just the other day, murdering six without a hint of legality.

No, there’s the handsome young couple briefly, dreamily drifting through sunny fantasy, the woman with lovely, frizzled long red hair glowing in the sun.

That last image of the smiling man sprinkling a sun-filled patch of garden reminded me of another piece of film, an historical oddity recently brought to light.

The other film was similar in many respects despite being 70 years old and in black and white. It was done for similar purposes. It was made on the occasion of Germany’s upcoming Olympic Games in 1936, and the satanic genius of marketing, Joseph Goebbels, saw the need to reassure visitors about Germany’s treatment of the Jews.

You see, while the Holocaust was years away in 1936, and even the murders and burning and pillaging of Kristallnacht were yet two years away, there still had been a lot of ugly and brutal behavior towards Germany’s Jews, generating nasty press coverage abroad. The Nazis were concerned lest the “bad press” keep tourists away from what was planned as the most grandiose Olympics to date.

The old film offers a fantasy version of the Nazis’ treatment of German Jews. It shows a happy village of re-located Jews with people walking about and looking pleasant and doing pleasant things. In particular, there is a scene of Jews carrying huge watering cans, happily sprinkling large, lush gardens. Well, the film is inferior in quality to the 2008 film from Israel, three-quarters of a century later, but one could be excused for thinking that someone in Israel got his or her inspiration from Dr. Goebbels’ film.

But maybe not: like conditions tend to breed like ideas and actions, over and over again across nations and eras. History is regularly forgotten, its main stories re-staged with new directors and lists of characters, and rarely have I seen a more striking example than Israel’s current re-branding effort.

Now, a new ad has appeared, this one with visiting children going through a different sequence of glowing images. Gone is the woman with the red hair. A series of ads may always have been intended, but I couldn’t help thinking perhaps the ad with the beautiful red hair had been pulled because it reminded too many viewers of Rachel Corrie. She was a real visitor to Israel, a sweet-tempered, innocent young woman, and she had strawberry-blond hair, at least before she was rendered into pulp by an Israeli D-9 armored bulldozer, diverted momentarily in its work of smashing Arab homes.

That’s not the kind of image you want in your re-branding effort for sure.