Remembering Ezra Schwartz: A Hasbara Story

By Ira Glunts 

“My deepest sympathy for the family of Ezra Schwartz. My deepest sadness that some lives are more valued than others. “ — Dave Zirin, @edgeofsports tweet, Nov.23, 2015.  The only tweet I found questioning the appropriateness of the Patriot’s moment of silence.

In a brazen attempt to conflate the struggle between Palestinians and Israeli Jews with random terrorist political violence in the consciousness of the American public, the New England Patriots recognized Ezra Schwartz in a brief ceremony before a Monday Night Football game. (See video here.)  On November 23rd, a crowd of 70,000 stood in honor of Schwartz while they and millions of viewers were told that he was among

“… the many who have recently lost their lives in senseless terrorist attacks abroad.  Last Thursday, this reality struck close to home when 18-year-old Ezra Schwartz, a native of Sharon, Massachusetts  and a huge Patriots fan, was gunned down nearly 5500 miles from home, while studying abroad.  At this time, we would like to honor Ezra Schwartz and the hundreds of victims like him with a moment of silence.”

The following day the ceremony was featured on Channel 2 News in Israel.  (An article on the Channel 2 News website (Hebrew) and the video of the ceremony with Hebrew subtitles can be viewed here.)

What the crowd and television viewers were not told is that Ezra Schwartz, who was Jewish, was killed while traveling to perform community service in Oz Vegaon, an Israeli-occupied West Bank park that is even illegal according Israeli government law.  Places such as Oz Vegaon are called outposts and their residents and those that maintain them are among the most militant of the settler population.

The park, which Schwartz and his fellow Yeshiva students had previously visited twice in order “to clean and beautify,” according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz (registration required), contains a memorial to the three Jewish Israeli West Bank teens who were kidnapped and killed near there in the summer of 2014.  Their killing served as a pretext for Israel’s subsequent brutal invasion of Gaza.

Oz Vegaon is located in a region known of Gush Etzion.   This place is the scene of mass civil Palestinian insurrection in which the participants hope to obtain national self-determination and freedom from the yoke of a more than half century of Israeli oppression.  By performing community service in an outpost in Gush Etzion, Schwartz became a partisan in ongoing civil strife and was in no way a victim “of senseless violence” in the same way as the Americans who were killed recently in ISIS attacks in Paris and Mali.

The owner of the Patriots, Robert Kraft, who is Jewish and an ardent supporter of Israel, cynically ordered the public recognition of Schwartz in a brief ceremony that incorrectly conflated Schwartz with American soldiers who were honored on Veterans’ Day and U.S. citizens who were random victims of terrorism.

The Significance of Gush and Kfar Etzion in the Greater Israel Movement

Gush Etzion (the Etzion Bloc in Hebrew) was among the first areas to be colonized by the Israelis after the 1967 War. It contains Kfar Etzion, the very first Israeli settlement in the occupied territory, which was founded in 1967.  The settlers were returning to an area first colonized by the Zionists in the 1920s, that had been destroyed by the Jordanians in 1947.  In a battle to defend Kfar Etzion, 24 Jews were killed and are considered martyrs by Jewish Israelis.

The core of the founding settlers came from the descendants of the residents of the original Kfar Etzion.  They built the settlement on land appropriated from Palestinian owners.  Many of these settlers joined others to form Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), the group which spearheaded the religiously-based Greater Israel movement, which seeks to annex all the occupied territories into Israel.  The members of the terrorist group known as the Jewish Underground of the late 1970s and 1980s, sprang from the ranks of Gush Emunim.  The Jewish Underground was responsible for the maiming of West Bank mayors, the killing of Palestinian university students, and attempts to blow up Palestinian school buses and to destroy the al Aqsa mosque.

The story of Gush Etzion is an important part of the founding myth of the settler movement.  Kfar Etzion is the Plymouth colony of the religious settler movement.  Its myth, like the story of Plymouth, is taught in the schools. (Here is a piece from the Israeli website, 972mag that compares Gush Etzion with the Alamo.)

According to Peace Now in 2005, Gush Etzion was comprised of 11 Jewish-only settlements within which live over 41.000 residents.  Palestinians who live within the Gush Bloc number 18,600.  All of these settlements are illegal according to international law and the vast majority of nations do not recognize them or their residents as legitimate.

Today Gush Etzion is the scene of ongoing, almost daily violence between Palestinians and Israeli Jews.  It is still a hotbed of radical settler activism.  Ezra Schwartz knew this when he went to do community service there. He was not only studying the Jewish religion, but was learning the justifications the settlers employ to maintain and expand their occupation of Palestinian lands. The young Yeshiva (Jewish religious school) student was a partisan who identified with the settler cause.  This, of course, does not justify his killing, but it indicates that he willingly assumed the risks involved in volunteering in a war zone and sympathized with the oppression of the Palestinians.  This was not the case with the innocent victims of the recent Paris and Mali attacks.

Hasbara (הסברה) is the Israeli word which literally means explanation, but is usually translated as propaganda.  It is the art of making Israeli oppression and belligerence appear to be reasonable acts of self-defense.  It is a strategy of justification which makes a society which is brutally oppressing millions of indigenous inhabitants appear to be enlightened and a victim of irrational Muslim forces.  Robert Kraft’s moment of silence was hasbara.  Even though “Israel” and “Jewish” were words unspoken, the fact that Schwartz was killed in the Israeli occupied territories was widely reported and was very much part of the ceremony.

Pressuring the US government to recognize Schwartz 

Led by the Orthodox Union, Jewish groups in the United States were disappointed at the initial official U.S. reaction to the news of the killing of Ezra Schwartz.  The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) quoted the U.S. State Department statement in the following manner: “We were deeply saddened to learn about the death of Ezra Schwartz, an American citizen from Massachusetts who was murdered in a terrorist attack on Thursday while in Israel to pursue his studies,” the State Department said in a statement sent Friday to reporters.

“‘We extend our deepest condolences to the victim’s family, friends and community, as well as the family and friends of the four other people killed in yesterday’s tragic events.’

“Schwartz, 18, of Sharon, Massachusetts, was one of three people killed in a shooting attack near the Alon Shvut settlement in the West Bank. Hours earlier, a Palestinian attacker stabbed two men to death near a prayer service in Tel Aviv.

“‘We continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms these outrageous terrorist attacks,’ the statement said. ‘These tragic incidents underscore the importance of taking affirmative steps to restore calm, reduce tensions and bring an immediate end to the violence.’”

What is irksome to the pro-Israel hasbara crowd is that firstly, there is no effusive praise of Schwartz or Israel.  Secondly, and probably more bothersome, is the final sentence which implies that Israel may have the power to at least ameliorate the current tensions.

Daniel Shapiro, who is more of a representative of the Jewish and Zionist American community in Tel Aviv than a diplomat working for the interest of the U.S., quickly hit the exact note that Zionists want to hear.  According to the JTA,

“Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, condemned the attack on Schwartz almost as soon as it was reported, in a statement on his Facebook page. Referring to a speech he had given the day before likening the terrorism in France to that in Israel, Shapiro wrote: ‘As I said yesterday, terror is terror, and we condemn it forcefully.’ [Emphasis mine, IG]”

Again with the hasbara, the Ambassador implied that the attack on Schwartz and Israeli Jews by Palestinians are as inexplicable as those of ISIS.  It is the same theme that Robert Kraft’s Patriots peddled to millions of football fans.

After receiving a flood of criticism from American Jewish groups for his insufficient response to the killing of Ezra Schwartz, President Obama telephoned the parents of the deceased Yeshiva student.  It was reported that the President said Schwartz’s studies strengthened the bond between the United States and Israel. How this is so, is anyone’s guess, but the Jewish lobby was pressing Obama to come up with something quickly and this meaningless inane statement sounds complimentary.

But by far the hasbara prize of this news story cycle went to Secretary of State John Kerry, who solemnly and ludicrously intoned,

“When citizens can be murdered like Ezra Schwartz, my citizen of Massachusetts, driving in a car on a mission to learn and to share, [emphasis mine, IG]… this is a challenge to all civilized people.”

The learning and sharing to which the Secretary refers apparently to a false story widely reported in Israel that Ezra Schwartz was a volunteer bringing food to Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers at the time of his death.  This is the army which brutally enforces the Israeli occupation and defends the settlers as they continue to steal Palestinian land, curtail their human rights and deny them the independent state to which they are entitled.

To the Palestinians, whether Schwartz was feeding soldiers or cleaning a memorial, he was aiding and abetting the enemy.  This is the truth that the Jewish lobby and people such as Robert Kraft do not want Americans to learn.

– Ira Glunts first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992.   He lives in Madison, New York where he writes, and operates a used and rare book business with his wife. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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