Playboy: Pictures and Propaganda

This time it’s Playboy. As we’ve noted previously, distorted articles about the Arab-Israeli conflict have increasingly turned up in popular magazines and professional journals that don’t ordinarily cover world affairs (eg: Vogue, Architectural Review, Oprah and Lancet). Editors of such publications are generally unequipped to spot inaccuracies, distortions and lack of context on Middle East issues. Because these publications usually provide information on non-controversial or human interest stories, when they promote fringe, false and inflammatory points of view the mainstream public is likely to accept these views as credible.

It is most troubling, then, that Playboy magazine, the racy but popular men’s magazine, has published in its October 2007 issue an article comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa. The article, “Israel shouldn’t get a free pass” by Jonathan Tasini, argues that “Jimmy Carter is correct in his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid when he describes the control over Palestinians’ movements as similar to South Africa’s apartheid system.”

Because the apartheid canard (and Carter’s book) have been repeatedly debunked (see, for example, here and here), we won’t go over the facts again here, but simply note that it is clearly an extremist, inaccurate accusation often used in an attempt to delegitimize the very existence of Israel.

In the article, Tasini also

• accuses Israel of violating international standards and supposedly “turning Lebanon into rubble” during the 2006 war with Hezbollah.

In fact, the vast majority of Lebanon — and even most of Beirut — was left untouched by Israel. It’s worth noting too that, long before his column ran in Playboy, Tasini had absurdly alleged in a campaign video that “80 percent of [Lebanon] has been destroyed” as a result if the war. This laughable falsehood alone should have indicated to Playboy that Tasini is not a fair or honest commentator on the Arab-Israeli conflict;

• criticizes American politicians for “pander[ing] to Jewish votes” (note that Tasini himself is Jewish);

• faults Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton for their “endorsements of Israel’s right to defend itself” against Hezbollah aggression; and

• levels the false and clichéd accusation that it is “impossible” to be critical of Israel without being called an anti-Semite.

Also striking is what isn’t mentioned in the article. While spending the bulk of his article excoriating Israel for its attempts to defend itself, he virtually ignores the reasons why Israel is forced to fight. The only instance of terrorism he mentions — in order to “establish [his] bona fides” as a Jew with relatives in Israel, he explains — is the murder of his step-grandfather in 1994. But even here, he makes sure to note that the attack was in response to Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Palestinians in Hebron. By contrast, Tasini doesn’t even entertain the idea that Israel’s security barrier, which he criticizes, might be a response to Palestinian terrorism. In fact, other than this singular attack almost fifteen years ago, there is not even one mention of Palestinian terror. The words “Hamas,” “Islamic Jihad,” or “al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade” do not exist on the these Playboy pages.

In other words, this is the kind of distorted, one-sided article that one might expect to find on an anti-Israel propaganda site, but not in Playboy.

Tasini and Playboy are also responsible for conveying factually false information. According to the article, “Israel is holding 1,000 Palestinians in administrative detention, where, according to B’Tselem, they are exposed to ‘moderate pressure,’ a euphemism for torture.”

Tasini is off by 22 percent. B’tselem’s most up-to-date published statistics state that Israel is holding 818 Palestinians in administrative detention. They also show that Israel has never in the past four years held 1000 people in administrative detention. More significantly, not even B’tselem claims that all Palestinian prisoners held in administrative detention have been tortured or subjected to “moderate physical pressure,” although they do allege mistreatment of some. 

Moreover, Israel’s Ministry of Justice complained that B’tselem “distorts the reality prevailing in the course of arrest and interrogation of security prisoners,” and noted that B’tselem’s report on the treatment of Palestinian prisoners is “fraught with mistakes, groundless claims and inaccuracies.” Apparently more interested in slurring Israel than in the facts, Tasini made no mention of the rebuttal to B’tselem’s claims.

If Tasini wants to publish such propaganda and falsehoods, he should be forced to publish in discredited fringe publications that have little regard for fairness or fact. And if Playboy continues to run such shoddy articles, it will eventually be regarded as one of those publications.

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