October 26, 2010

Slavery Mall in Israel

A few days ago, I came across a piece of news (Prostitution in Israel) in a pro-Ahmadinejad news website, Rajanews. Quoted from another website, significant sentences of the story were as follows:

“In an evident case of promoting indecency and moral corruption in Zionist society, women are displayed for sale in Israel’s chain stores... According to Haaretz, each woman has a label that includes her age, weight, dimensions and country of origin. Following pictures shed some light on modern slavery in Israel, the country which claims to be a democracy.”

Then, some photos of the store, along with ‘Slavery Mall in Israel’ caption, were provided to make the whole story even more striking.

Being sure that something should be wrong with the story, I checked the web. A simple search in Google made it clear: “the display was part of an installation by the Working Group Against the Trafficking of Women, part of a widespread campaign.”

I criticized the fallacy in my Persian weblog and sent an SMS to a friend close to Rajanews administrators, asking them to hire qualified gatekeepers for their website. Several other people made fun of Rajanews as well. Consequently, the page was removed from Rajanews website. (Its cached version is still available in Google, copies of it are available here and here, and to get an impression of its impact, check Persian webpages that reported it).

According to Rajanews, original website that reported the fake story was either Mashreghnews or Qodsna. Given the frank, unambiguous article published in Haaretz, I can hardly imagine that this case could be a simple misunderstanding. Rather, it’s fair to believe that the original news editor/translator distorted the story, assuming that no one would ever dare to find the truth. Such a bitter fact that awkward distortion of the truth is still considered a suitable instrument to manipulate the minds of the audience.

Second implication of the event, however, is far more important. Many Iranians had visited the page, found the story to be consistent with their preconceived perception of the Jewish state, thus related to it and cached it in their long term memory as another indication of Israel’s brutality and corruption. The Israeli society I knew, however, could not be this wild and obscene. That is why I doubted the originality of the story, while many other people, even the educated and the elite, did not even give it a second thought. In other words, average Iranian perception of Israel is far different from the objective truth. Unfortunately, the same point arguably applies to the Israeli side as well.

Opposing or disagreeing with another country is one thing, hating it for non-existent causes is a far different thing. Put it slightly differently, there is a knowledge gap that needs be bridged. When, how and by whom? It’s a difficult yet critically important question.