Israeli Military’s Twitter Warrior Posed ‘Obama Style,’ in Blackface
Robert Mackey, NYT, Nov 26 2012
Robert Mackey, NYT, Nov 26 2012
A young Israeli officer who leads the campaign to cast his nation’s military in a positive light on social networks restricted access to his own Facebook account on Sunday, after a Lebanese blogger discovered that the soldier had uploaded an image of himself with mud or dark paint on his face captioned “Obama style.” The officer, Lt Sacha Dratwa, a 26-year-old who emigrated to Israel from Belgium eight years ago, was identified last week by Tablet and Gawker as the man marshaling Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and Pinterestto support and celebrate the actions of the IDF. After Dratwa blocked access to the photograph on Sunday, he defended himself on Twitter,writing:
I’m not racist, please stop to spread lies about me
In a statement posted on Facebook he insisted that he had “nothing to hide,” but was merely trying to stop what he called the “cynical use” of “private photos from my Facebook profile in order to publicly misrepresent my opinions.” The photographs of himself posted on the social network, he added, “do not reflect my beliefs and have no bearing whatsoever on my position in the IDF.” Another copy of the photograph, with the same caption, remained in a public gallery of Lt Dratwa’s Instagram photographs on Monday. In a comment to an Israeli news site, the officer’s superiors said that because the image was posted on the soldier’s personal Facebook account, it had no bearing on his official role. Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, the Lebanese writer who drew attention to a screenshot of the photograph on Friday, mocked the Israeli soldier on Monday, writing:
So this is what the Zionists call social media war? An IDF spokesman who is so moronic as to keep a rabidly racist photo like brown-face on his FB profile on PUBLIC settings, so that a half-asleep Zionist-hater like myself could discover it on Friday morning within seconds of flicking through his pics? He made it too easy. Sad to see that USAians on Twitter and elsewhere will only understand Zionist racism when viewed through their own cultural lens and lose sight of it when it is practiced in institutionalized form and in a most brutal fashion against Palestinians. But at least this is a start.
Yossi Gurvitz observed on +972 Magazine:
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 SAian.
As al-Akhbar reported, Dratwa did find some support from fellow Israelis online. Miriam Young, a 20-year-old video blogger who recently moved to Israel from Los Angeles, wrote that as a USAian she was not insulted by the image:
It’s really not a big deal. And I’m a USAian and not offended. And it wasn’t work related.
Ms Young’s credentials as an objective observer, however, were undermined by the fact that she posted a snapshot of herself with Dratwa on Twitter two hours before she defended him. She also works with the pro-Israel advocacy group Stand With Us. A second screenshot of the image on the officer’s Facebook page, posted on the US blog Your Black World under the headline “Israeli Army’s Social Media Director Poses as Obama in Blackface,” showed some of the replies it garnered when Dratwa first uploaded it in late September. Among the positive responses was one from David Saranga, an Israeli diplomat who seemed to signal his approval of the joke with a smiley face emoticon and a lighthearted reply. Saranga teaches the use of viral marketing techniques at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. According to the part of his Facebook profile that is still public, Dratwa is a graduate of the center who was working last year on a Web site set up by them. Saranga was one of the first Israeli officials to help publicize a hoax in which an actor pretending to be a liberal Israeli video blogger recounted what turned out to be a fictional encounter with the organizers of the Gaza flotilla movement. He did not reply to a request for comment on Monday. Although Israeli soldiers are not supposed to express political opinions, Dratwa’s other social media accounts offer clues as to his ideological leanings. The most recent post on his personal blog, written in October, explained his view that Romney was likely to win the US presidential election. Dratwa wrote:
Obama sold a dream in 2008. But with dreams no one can fill his fridge or feed his children. USAians today need a father who is able to lead the country with a strong hand, not a dreamer.
Several of the officer’s older blog posts appear to have been removed from his site, including one featuring a video described as a “comic caricature of Islam” and another that recounted “the true story of an arrest in the Palestinian territories.” Dratwa’s YouTube channelincludes video of Geert Wilders praising Israelis for “defending their country against the Islamic jihad.” In the videp interview with the far-right, Islamophobic German site Politically Incorrect, Wilders says:
Their fight is our fight, so at the end of the day, we are all Israel.
Wilders expressed strong support for Israeli settlements built on West Bank land occupied militarily since 1967 during a visit to Tel Aviv in 2010. Another clip on Dratwa’s YouTube channel is a satirical sketch mocking pro-Palestinian activists produced by Caroline Glick’s Latma TV. One Latma sketch produced in 2010 was a fake news report on “Kazabubu the Jewish Cannibal,” an African tribesman who claimed to be Jewish, played by an actor in blackface. It remains unclear what the substance on Dratwa’s face was, but one quirk of the@IDFSpokesperson Twitter account under his control is that it so often draws attention to photographs of female Israeli soldiers applying mudor camouflage paint to their faces. Apparently part of a continuing campaign to soften the image of the IDF by showing smiling women in its ranks, the IDF Photo of the Day features such images again andagain. Strangely, Dratwa appears to have been well aware of the risks inherent in using Facebook to document one’s own life. In a comment posted on the Web site of France 24 three years ago, he wrote:
Facebook is basically an enormous avenue on which every user opens a shop with a window display on their private life. With all the information you upload onto the platform, photos, interests, occupation, hobbies, favourite books, films and music, marital status, political leanings, dress sense, you’re handing over your electronic DNA. We no longer have a private life. We’ve reached a stage where our bosses can find out what we do at home, where our children can follow our adult relationships, our colleagues can spy on us and advertisers can find out exactly what makes us tick. We’ve lost our freedom and the ability to do the things we like without anybody’s knowing about it.