Are the Palestinians finally catching on to the rules of Western public relations? For decades, the face of their cause was Yasser Arafat, a blood-soaked terrorist who didn’t even try to pretend to be an advocate for peace, even when signing the Oslo Accords back in the 1990s. Other Palestinians who have tried to fill the vacuum Arafat left behind after his death in 2005 have been similarly unappealing. While Western critics of Israel have longed for some kind of marketable icon, all that the corrupt and violent political culture of the Palestinians has been able to produce were a collection of cold-blooded murderers and hijackers.
But in Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinians finally have someone they might be able to sell to a gullible Western public willing to put an attractive, youthful face on a century-old war whose goal is the destruction of Israel. So far, they’ve succeeded. Support for the imprisoned 17-year-old Palestinian Arab girl has expanded from the usual leftist suspects who can be expected to sign Amnesty International petitions on behalf of anti-Western terrorists, such as actor Danny Glover, scholar Cornel West and activist Angela Davis, to a far more important figure: American Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman.
Silverman is not only more hip and popular than the list of 27 prominent figures who signed Amnesty’s petition for Tamimi. She’s also very identifiably Jewish, and known for the fact that her older sister (Women of the Wall’s Rabbi Susan Silverman) and family live in Israel. Rather than a typical, knee-jerk Hollywood leftist who is routinely linked to boycotts of Israel, Silverman actually took a drubbing on Twitter from left-wing Israel-haters recently when she posted a picture of her 19-year-old nephew—a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces—congratulating him on his birthday.
The combination of the attractive Tamimi, with her blonde curly hair, and Silverman means that the former’s imprisonment is becoming more of an issue than Israeli authorities thought when they arrested the teenager in December. It’s infuriating Israelis and their friends while encouraging supporters of the Palestinians; the result is that the already bitter tone of the debate about the conflict is getting nastier. But before Silverman and those applauding her (as well as those who are flaying the comedian) go any further, it might do both sides some good to consider who Tamimi really is and whether her imprisonment is doing Israel any good.
The first thing to understand is that the attempt to depict her as an innocent victim of oppressive Israeli occupiers or an advocate for peace is a lie.
Even at the tender age of 17, Tamimi is a veteran provocateur whose main purpose is to create anti-Israel propaganda. Like the last few generations of Palestinian children, she has been sent out by her family not to protest, but to seek confrontation with heavily-armed Israelis and get them to respond to insults—and even forceful, often violent attacks—so as to create more martyrs for their cause.
Though she has been lucky to escape injury, in that sense she is no different from the hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian children who have been sacrificed on the altar of hate for Israel by their parents. From the first intifada that started in 1987 until now, kids have been told to attack Israeli soldiers with fists, knives, lethal rocks and even firebombs in order to get them to shoot or otherwise beat them. The goal is nothing less than to force the Israelis to hurt children while the cameras roll.
Some of the casualties of such incidents are genuine. Some are fake, like the infamous case of Mohammed al-Dura, a Palestinian child who was supposedly shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in the arms of his father at the start of the second intifada in 2000. Subsequent investigations proved that al-Dura was probably killed by Palestinian fire or part of an even more elaborate hoax. That proved the most famous of what are now called “Pallywood” productions, in which incidents are staged to create anti-Israel propaganda.
Tamimi’s been playing this game for years, and in December, she attacked an Israeli soldier, hitting and slapping him. To his credit, the soldier wasn’t provoked to violence, and Tamimi was later arrested for assaulting him. She justified her attack by saying a cousin was hit by an Israeli rubber bullet earlier that day. But bringing her family into it doesn’t help her case. Her aunt assisted in carrying out the infamous 2001 Sbarro pizza bombing in Jerusalem that took the lives of 15 Jews, half of them children eating lunch. As some of the survivors of the murdered pointed out to Silverman, they should be the ones remembered when anyone treats the Tamimis as “victims.”
Just as important, Tamimi is no peacenik or mere advocate of a Palestinian state. In addition to her efforts to aggravate Israeli soldiers, she has made numerous public statements supporting terrorism—like her aunt’s murderous attack on Israelis—and calling for Israel’s destruction.
Yet that hasn’t stopped some on the left from treating her as not merely a heroine, but a role model for the world’s youth. Some have the gall to call her the Palestinian “Joan of Arc.” Israeli poet Yehonatan Geffen actually compared her to Anne Frank, but was later forced to retract his words.
As for the Israeli authorities who will judge Tamimi’s case, they might be better advised to stop treating her as a mass killer rather than as a minor propagandist. The worst thing Israel could do to Tamimi and her backers is to keep her jailed and allow her to go on playing the martyr. As infuriating as she may be, she does less harm to Israel on the loose spouting to the media than she’s currently doing in prison.
But what Silverman and others who instinctively sympathize with what they think is a nonviolent protester need to realize is that our attitudes about Tamimi shouldn’t be dictated by our views about Israel’s presence in the West Bank or even the overall conflict with the Palestinians.
The Palestinian movement’s use of children as cannon fodder for the sake of a propaganda victory is nothing less than a war crime, in which impressionable youths are told to risk death while engaging in violent behavior. Whatever one thinks about the issues involved in this conflict, treating children in this way is deeply wrong and should not be condoned—let alone applauded by decent people who would never hesitate to condemn such behavior in any other context.
There are those who are so committed to hatred of Israel and the Jews that they are willing to endorse any tactic, no matter how awful, to hurt the Jewish state. But the message to Silverman and others who have been gulled into treating Tamimi and her family as victims should be one that seeks to educate them about the facts, rather than just engage, as many have done, in Twitter tirades that do nothing but turn the argument into a zero-sum game.
The last thing supporters of peace should be doing is treating Ahed Tamimi as a heroine.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.