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Misspokesman: IDF New Media officer poses 'Obama Style' - in blackface

The IDF Spokesman is caught in a snafu, which paints him either as a racist or an ignoramus.

As a rule, junior or mid-level officers and officials, particularly spokesmen, prefer to stay behind the wall of anonymity of their office. They are termed “IDF spokesman” or an “officer in the Southern Command.” They are rarely mentioned by name. However, as part of the IDF Spokesman’s victory lap after Operation Cast Ballot, in which it tries to convince the natives it won the hard battles in the burning-of-consciousness theater, it exposed some of the people in its New Media unit in an article in Tablet. One of them, New Media Department Chief Lt. Sacha Dratwa, then became the focus of a cheap item in Gawker, of the kind we have become accustomed used to: he’s a sensitive man, he’s a normal guy, he likes macchiatos, he posts pictures to Facebook. The people in the IDF Spokesman unit probably thought this was good for showing the human side of their hasbara warriors; good for scoring a few points, if not with their target audience, then with the dying breed of kind Hadassah aunts from the United States.

But, as Eden Abergil and Avi Yakobov (Hebrew) have already learned, exposure on Facebook is a double-edged sword. Someone bothered to dig deep into Dratwa’s account, and dug up an unpleasant photo: Dratwa, mud spread over his face, with the subtitle “Obama Style.”

Oops. Dratwa was caught in homage to the genre of blackface shows, in which white actors would paint themselves black in order to portray blacks as caricatures. The Hadassah aunts, who still remember the golden age of the 60s fondly, are not likely to enjoy this particular sort of bad humor. Why does mud remind Dratwa specifically of Obama? Excellent question.

Which Dratwa leaves unanswered. He writes, in an IDF-sanctioned response, that “I am, and have always been, completely candid about my beliefs and have nothing to hide – as reflected by my Facebook profile.” A profile which he promptly closed to the public. The pictures, claimed Dratwa, “do not reflect my beliefs and have no bearing whatsoever on my position in the IDF.” Well, if it doesn’t reflect his beliefs, what was the picture doing there? And if it has no bearing on his position, why did Dratwa close his page to the public?

The simplest answer is that Dratwa was caught expressing soft racism towards blacks, which is pretty common in Israel; it is reflected in the attitude towards asylum seekers, and even in the attitude towards Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia. Israel is one of the few countries in the world where a large segment of the population believes Obama is a secret Muslim. One wonders whether the hostility of the Israeli media towards Obama – which was expressed even before he was elected in 2008 – would reach such heights if he were a white man.

But even if this is not racism on Dratwa’s part, this is gross stupidity. If you don’t know what blackface is, why it is considered offensive, then you are an ignoramus who has no business being in the media business. Particularly when your target audience is largely American. The behavior of the Dratwa and the IDF Spokesman, which sticks to the position (Hebrew) that that there’s nothing to see here, as Dratwa was only using his own private Facebook account, is unprofessional. Hmmm. Another IDF Spokesman soldier, Yair Netanyahu, was ordered to remove racist posts from his Facebook page, as soldiers are not allowed to express political opinions. Is Dratwa exempt from this rule? However, this unprofessionalism does not surprise me in the least.

Seeing as Sacha Dratwa decided to lift the clock of official anonymity and become a player, not just a part of an establishment, I have something to add to his public resume. When I exposed the case of Rabbi-Colonel Qarim and how he used religion to condone rape, Dratwa was the officer who called me in a rage, told me that my query to the army “disrespects the IDF, the State of Israel and the Jewish religion,” and informed me the IDF Spokesman will no longer answer my questions. I guess they got used to receiving only questions that respect all three. I still don’t know why the IDF took upon itself to defend the Jewish religion. Mission creep?

Now, the IDF Spokesman certainly has more serious problems than Dratwa’s blackface photo. One could begin with the blatant lie they sold us over the weekend (Hebrew): the Spokesman claimed IDF forces “fired in the air” at “300 Palestinian demonstrators,” some of whom were trying to plant Hamas flags on the wall in southern Gaza. As a result, one Palestinian was killed and several wounded. If you want to gauge the difference between the truth and the position of the IDF, watch the videos in the link above.

But Dratwa is important, nevertheless, because he is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with Hasbara: The fact that it is directed, even in English, to Israeli ears only; the fact that it is boorish, ignorant, tone-deaf; the fact that everything existing outside of Israel is foreign to it, and suspect.

Several years ago, the hasbara machine went into overdrive, demanding – and receiving – the head of Human Rights Watch’s military expert, Marc Garlasco. The latter exposed several war crimes by the IDF, and his findings were used by the Goldstone Committee, and the hasbara people demanded he be removed because of his hobby of collecting Nazi military memorabilia; he was described as a Nazi. However, when it is an IDF officer caught expressing either blatant racism (and I think the “Obama Style” subtitle clinches this argument) or stunning ignorance, suddenly we are asked to accept the excuse that he did so on his private Facebook page. Dratwa’s commanders should have sent him on his way simply for becoming a liability, but – as usual for the IDF – they prefer that the country take the hit, as long as no IDF soldier is harmed.

After all, the country is here to serve them. Not vice versa.

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    1. Danny

      Typical Israeli racism, which has always existed in Israel and is integral in Israeli culture. Even the word ‘kushi’ is still a very common one on the Israeli street, as it has always been. Making fun of Arabs and kushim is the God-given right of every Israeli, since it is well-known that Jews are better than both. Also one of the reasons the IDF continues to get embarrassed on the battlefield lately, because, after all, everyone knows that Arabs are dummies who cannot fight.

      Reply to Comment
      • Arad

        There is nothing racist about the word ‘Kushi’. It means someone who comes from Kush. It is the least racist word you can think of, as it identifies a man by his origin and not by his color. For some reason, people here decided it was racist, which is a real shame.

        As for the picture, it is racist. But the guy could simply be ignorant and not know that blackface is offensive. He should apologize.

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          The word ‘kushi’ is a Hebrew slang word for a black person, just like the word ‘nigger’ is in English. Both words are offensive in exactly the same way, except the latter’s use has become taboo while the former is quite ubiquitous in Israel.
          As for Lt. Dratwa – he may find that getting a visa to the U.S. has now become a much more difficult task, and that he will probably have to put on hold any trips he was planning to the U.S. Ever thus to racists!

          Reply to Comment
          • israeli

            You can spread all the lies you want, and it won’t change the facts.
            the real truth, for those of you that are interested in facts and not in lies with no evidence, is that the word “Kushi” means a person who comes from the land “Kush”, both are from the bible, and the land “kush” is lower egypt to sudan. there is even an article about it in wikipedia. so you see, it doesn’t matter how much lies you’ll spread, you cannot change the facts. the truth and justice will always prevail.

            Reply to Comment
          • Mike

            You’re right that there is a wikipedia article on the word, and that article says the word is used as a pejorative. The article even cites an Israeli court decision that agrees.

            Here’s a basic guideline: calling ethnic or racial groups by names they don’t choose for themselves is generally meant to oppress/otherize, and certainly will offend.

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            It is more complicated. When people say Eskimo rather than Innuit, or Gypsy rather the Roma, it is usually simply traditional. On the other hand, when Germans say “Polacken” it is not good even though Polak is a proper Polish word for a Polish man (but impolite in German).

            In this case, the photo itself is simply dark military camouflage, and without the context of hatred of Obama that was widely expressed in Israel the caption could be good-natured humor. But that context does exist. (Luckily for Dratwa, he did not apply lipstick to exaggerate the size of his lips, that would make it a proper blackface.)

            Reply to Comment
          • israeli

            “court said” so what if a single judge said it’s a racial slur? read the whole article, not just this single line, and you’ll see it says it is an old hebrew term, which is being used to describe all sort of things, for example chocolate cake is called in hebrew a kushite cake, or to call people that have dark skin but aren’t even african, like kushi rimon, a famous israli inn keeper. saying kushi in hebrew is like saying latino, europian, or asian in english.

            Reply to Comment
          • No, Danny, the Lt. will have no difficulty entering the US. In fact, I hazard that if Obama knew of this event he would insist the Lt. admitted on a visa. And there’s the difference.

            Reply to Comment
    2. When racism prevails it is not racism but, rather, correct, life protecting thought. And, indeed, racism is often a life tool. People get very angry when you take a tool of life from them, especially if they then have little left in their bag.

      A military officer should never contact a civilian journalist over any story unless to report an error and ask for printed correction. Any threatening contact constitutes a breach of civil society and misuse of military social power.

      I understand better some of your other opinion pieces now.

      Reply to Comment
    3. The Trespasser

      “Kushi” is Israel is about as racist as “Arvi”, “Rusi” or “Marrokai”

      I suppose it takes a great deal of mental sickness to claim that it is racist.

      Reply to Comment