Column: 29 October 2000 - Israeli Porn

Israeli Porn
By A. D. Freudenheim

29 October 2000

Pornography: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction. This is the third definition of the word as listed in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Nudity, grotesqueries, or blood - it's all compelling, whether our secondary reaction is "I shouldn't be looking," or even "Gross!" It is human nature to be interested in the gory details, whatever the type, and these details constitute distinct forms of pornography, from the simplest erotic nude to the most psychologically compelling fetish.

Sexual pornography is also about the distortion of reality in order to achieve that intense emotional response. With magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, it is all about the come-hither look: look at me and think about how I good could make you feel. With movies, it is even an more explicit distortion, since what we see and hear are willing (or, perhaps, unwilling) couplings taking place - but more for our benefit, as viewers, than for that of the participants.

There is political porn, too; the Monica Lewinsky episode is a good example, combining both political and sexual titillation. Political pornography has a similar need for distortion - and these days, the Jewish community, has its own new collection of it: Israeli porn. As the fighting in the Middle East worsens, so does the volume of seductive e-mail circulating as "news" or collections of "myths and facts." Not a day has gone by in recent weeks without the arrival of a new article describing, in gory detail, the assaults made on Israelis; or a collection of photos, purporting to balance out media bias, showing Palestinians, looking angry and militant, with guns instead of rocks. These collections are then vigorously passed from friend to friend, each article or letter as irresistible as the last, and each one contributing further to the collective energy of American Jewry mobilizing in support of Israel's new fight with the Palestinians.

Many of these messages are quite alluring, casting their own come-hither look. Many are also misleading, propagandistic, or just plain incorrect. Some examples. One complains that "Whether you even support Israel itself, support truth and justice and don't allow lies to warp your thinking and that of your friends." This from an e-mail whose most noticeable - but certainly not only - sin of omission is to refer to Ariel Sharon's trip to the Temple Mount as "the unarmed visit of a Jew," and ignoring the surrounding 1,000 heavily-armed Jewish policemen. Another, this one a collection of photos, captures how militant the Palestinians can be, and their cruelty and cunning in sending armed children into the street. Brilliantly seductive - but the photographs do not represent accurately the disproportionate strength of the Israelis, even as they seeks to capture the realities of Palestinian aggression.

It's like dropping quarters into a peep-show slot: we are unable to stop. But we should heed the intellectual over the emotional, before we run out of quarters. Instead of thinking critically, and writing our correspondents that these missives are inexcusably deficient, our reactions are emotional, the result of the nervous system's control of the brain: titillating and thrilling, and giving us a surge of energy. Undoubtedly, these are more informed communiqués than the limited and biased reality CNN or The New York Times chooses to show us. No. The "reality" here is that while we'll never know the truth for either side, most of us don't seem to care. Nonetheless, we should take the time to stop, to think, and to worry. Spreading pornography of the standard variety would make most of us queasy; why don't we feel the same about these ugly, pornographic exchanges that pose as political discourse? How are these missives influencing our feelings about the situation, and for the worse, not for the better?

That we should have the right to distribute pornography is one thing. How we choose to exercise that right is something else altogether.

I owe a thank you to my father for helping me with this; discussions with him provided the initial idea, and he provided much-needed editing assistance as well. Copyright 2000, by A. D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired!