Ayal Beer, former Israeli soldier, and Gideon Meir, head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s public affairs directorate, visited Brandeis on Tuesday, Nov. 4, to discuss their experiences with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and other topics.
Beer led the first half of the presentation, focusing on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and combat reactions, using his own time in the IDF to explain its effects on soldiers. Meir led the remaining part of the presentation, which centered on the media’s portrayal of Israel, particularly of the nation’s involvement in war.
Beer began his presentation by showing clips from two different movies, one depicting the funeral of an Israeli soldier in 1982, the other showing Israeli soldiers fighting in 2007. Beer chose these clips so they would demonstrate the changing mindset of Israelis. He said that before 1982, “the state of mind of Israeli society was, ‘We are so invincible, so strong’ … Within the culture there wasn’t space for mourning.” He pointed out evidence of possible PTSD in the soldiers portrayed in the second film. The soldier, who began crying as another soldier sang, was exhibiting combat reaction, or the “lack of ability to function in the situation,” Beer explained.
Beer concluded his presentation by telling a story from his experiences in combat with the IDF. He read from a journal he kept during the summer of 2006, when Israel was fighting in the Second Lebanon War. He described the area he was in, and spoke of missile attacks and his platoon treating their wounded soldiers. At the end of the story, Beer told the audience that though he knows he was there, he has no memory of the event. He also explained that many soldiers, after completing their service in the IDF, travel to places like Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia. After asking the audience what they thought these soldiers did there, he replied, “Drugs, extreme sports, drink, all of these, if you look through the lens of psychology, are escaping mechanisms”.
Following Beer’s presentation, Meir spoke. He is the former Israeli ambassador to Italy and the current head of the Israeli Foreign Ministries public affairs directorate. Meir discussed the media’s portrayal of Israel, a viewpoint he sees as biased and often anti-Semitic.
“It is legitimate to criticize the Israeli government,” Meir said. “What is not legitimate is to delegitimize, what is not legitimate is to use a double standard … I don’t think we Jews, we Israelis, have to do any explaining. We do have to do PR for the state of Israel, but we don’t have to do any explaining.”
Meir explained that, in his view, the media’s often negative portrayal of Israel is contributing to the growing anti-Semitic atmosphere in Europe and other parts of the world. Giving an example, Meir showed the now infamous Chicago Tribune picture, which shows a young man covered in blood and an angry Israeli soldier. The picture was captioned to suggest Israeli brutality toward Palestine, when in fact the young man was Israeli and the soldier had been helping him. Meir also presented a British cartoon depicting former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian baby.
Meir later discussed the media’s portrayal of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. He showed a video taken in Jenin, a town in the West Bank of Palestine. Meir argued that the reporter was falsely creating the image that Israel was killing innocent Palestinians, an image that he described as being like “a Jew coming out of Auschwitz.” He said that Israel “had to battle in order to convince the world that we did not create a massacre.”
The Brandeis Zionist Alliance and Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee hosted the talk. It was co-sponsored by Hillel at Brandeis, Students for Accuracy about Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, Brandeis Republicans and Alpha Epsilon Pi.