Blackface or mudslinging?


Is the New York Times Lede blog reporting on an IDF spokesman donning blackface or dragging his — and Israel’s — name through mud?

This isn’t a defense of Dratwa, the 26-year-old Belgian immigrant to Israel who steered Israel’s social media campaign during the recent Operation Pillar of Defense. Dratwa is in hot water for having once posted a Facebook photo of his face covered in Dead Sea mud with the caption "Obama style." Until the photo was discovered, Dratwa had made all of his posts open to the public.

Robert Mackey at Times’ Lede blog offers a roundup of various commentaries on the incident, which to date hasn’t had any bearing on Dratwa’s employment. Mackey cites three sources suggest Dratwa’s blackface photo is reflective of Israeli racism.


One is from +972 magazine, where Yossi Hurvitz suggests that Dratwa’s action was reflective of negative attitudes towards black people:

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.

Writers at Al Akhbar’s Boxes & Briefs blog suggested Dratwa’s comment is "merely the tip of the iceberg," reflecting a racist paradigm through which Israel sees minorities, including Palestinians. Al Akhbar goes on to cite a handful of Tweets echoing support for Dratwa as evidence of this trend.

Mackey, too, seems to think the Facebook photo was part of a pattern by Dratwa, claiming Dratwa posted a video of Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders praising Israel (the link is now broken, but I’ll take his word for it.)

But there is another possible explanation for Dratwa’s post. Blackface doesn’t have the same connotation outside the United States as it does in America. In 2009, several online media outlets, notably Gawker, picked up on a YouTube video of Harry Connick Jr.’s appearance as a guest judge on an Australian variety show in which a quince of Australians did a rendition of the Jackson 5 in blackface. To the confusion of some of the Australians in the studio that night, the American judge was visibly perturbed.

Even if Dratwa’s photo fiasco was an indication of his political or racial views regarding President Obama — or black people — he should have known better than to flaunt those and risk damaging the brand he represents professionally, as GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons learned last year when posing for the camera while elephant hunting in 2011.

Whatever Dratwa’s motivation, why does Mackey appear to infer that Dratwa’s Israeli citizenship was a contributing factor in these incidents? How do we know it wasn’t the Belgian in him that informed his allegedly racist opinion? Aren’t either of those assumptions tinged with prejudice? And regarding the YouTube videos in question, it would be one thing if Dratwa had been recorded delivering a speech by Wilders. But doesn’t social media for journalists 101 teach that retweets or other shared social media tidbits don’t necessarily constitute endorsements?

Israel may have some problems with racism, but using an errant Facebook photo to imply a greater social trend in Israel is unfair — just as disingenuous as Max Blumenthal’s attempt to infer Jewish anti-Obama ideology from the spewings of drunk teens in downtown Jerusalem in 2009, which he posted on YouTube (the video subsequently was removed by the video-sharing website). Shortly after that video made the rounds online, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is black, brilliantly critiqued this type of journalism in a blog post titled "On Jewish Racism."

…the greater point about this style of "journalism," is made by this headline which I came across–"Drunk Americans=Israeli Public Opinion." Man listen, hand me a fifth of Henny, a video camera, and an hour, and I’ll show you Negroes claiming that God’s messenger lives in a space-ship orbiting the earth.

The Henny is for me. The Negroes can be found, sober, saying anything. As can all people. That’s the point. Bigotry is human. Why would the blacks and Jews be any different?

Citing one-off tweets or Facebook postings to cast aspersions on whole groups of people — as Dratwa’s critics seem to do — is as ridiculous as extrapolating the sexual tendencies of New York City taxpayers from a tweeted photo of Anthony Weiner’s underpants.

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