Published on January 6th, 2011 | by Daniel Luban1
Fact-Checking Noah Pollak and the IDF’s Unofficial Spokespeople
By now, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attempts to spin the story of Jawaher Abu Rahmah — the Palestinian woman who died last week following a protest in the West Bank village of Bil’in, by all indications due to exposure to tear gas fired by the IDF at the protesters — have fallen to pieces. (See +972 magazine for the most thorough coverage of the Abu Rahmah story.) Soon after Abu Rahmah’s death, a senior IDF officer — since revealed to be Major General (Aluf) Avi Mizrahi — gave a briefing to what one participant described as an “exclusive group of bloggers” raising questions about the circumstances of her death.
The secretive nature of the briefing reflected the fact that the allegations being made were simply innuendo that the IDF did not wish to attach itself to in public. (The Israeli Government’s press office did, however, subsequently disseminate the central allegation; they have since removed the offending tweet without a trace.) The main claim was that Abu Rahmah had died of leukemia, and that her death had nothing to do with tear gas. This claim was quickly discredited, but not before it had raced through the right-wing blogosphere. (Here’s one example.) In my mind, an even more galling innuendo was this one, courtesy of the same participant in the briefing:
IDF has heard about the honor killing theory, that Abu Rahma was stabbed to death for being pregnant as a family “honor killing”, however they cannot confirm this and the direction they currently are progressing is more in towards death from a chronic illness.
Who had discussed the possibility of Abu Rahmah’s death being an “honor killing?” As far as I can tell, no one. Here Gen. Mizrahi appeared to be engaged in what is referred to in rhetoric as “paralipsis” — that is, bringing something up under the pretense of not bringing it up. (“I won’t even mention that my opponent beats his wife.”) By gratuitously bringing up the mention of honor killing, the IDF seemed to be trying to raise the specter of Muslim Barbarism in the public mind while appearing high-minded and generous by dismissing it in favor of the leukemia theory.
In any case, now that these allegations have been discredited, a more interesting question is: who was in the “exclusive group of bloggers” that the IDF chose to disseminate its innuendo? It would be helpful, for future reference, to know which public commentators have been chosen for the role of unofficial IDF spokespeople.
For example, one of the most persistent propagators of the since-discredited claims about Abu Rahmah has been Noah Pollak, head of the right-wing advocacy group Emergency Committee for Israel. He was one of those who disseminated the cancer story, as well as numerous other IDF innuendos (it wouldn’t even be fair to call them IDF talking points, since the IDF itself was unwilling to get behind them in public.) Now, if Pollak wanted to mention the rumors, while making clear that they were unverified claims by an anonymous IDF official with a vested interest in the story, that would be one thing. Instead, he simply repeated each claim as fact. After the cancer story was discredited, he refused to offer any correction, and instead appears to have stopped talking about Abu Rahmah at all.
According to David Frum, Pollak (who understands that “modern warfare is PR by other means”) was instrumental in convincing the IDF to step up its media efforts. Yet the exact nature of the Pollak’s relationship with the IDF is a bit unclear. Given that Pollak is the head of an American advocacy group that was formed to intervene in the 2010 U.S. congressional elections, it would be helpful to know exactly what his relationship to the Israeli military is. Answers to the following questions would be a useful start:
1) Has Pollak made aliyah?
2) Has he ever served in the IDF? If so, when?
3) Does he have a formalized professional relationship to the IDF? If so, what?
4) Has he ever been paid by the IDF for services rendered? If so, what were they?
5) Has he consulted with the IDF on an unofficial basis?
Lest I be accused of making claims about “dual loyalty,” let me make clear that there is nothing wrong whatsoever with U.S. citizens having sympathies for other states, including Israel. An active relationship with the military of a foreign state, however, is a somewhat different question — while it should by no means disqualify Pollak from working in American politics, it is certainly the sort of information that the public deserves to know, particularly it he aims to be a player on the U.S. domestic political scene.