week into the war between Israel and Hizbullah I found myself embroiled in an escalating verbal war with Israeli relatives and friends usually known as moderate, liberal, even progressive. One of the most heatedly debated topics was our bombing of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure. My adversaries, like most Israelis at the time, applauded IDF’s ingenuity: the Lebanese will surely blame Hizbullah, for ruining their beautiful country again by bringing on the Israeli attacks. Therefore, all we have to do is keep bombing, then sit back and watch the Lebanese tear Hizbullah apart.
I countered that according to foreign media reports from Lebanon, this is not happening. There was widespread anger with Hizbullah at first, but when the barbaric reprisals from our “most moral army in the world” started hitting airports, power plants, roads and civilian neighborhoods across the country, the wrath very quickly converged on Israel. Then, in most Lebanese eyes Hizbullah have turned into heroes who stand up to this bully (a perception which, incidentally, was one of Hizbullah’s original goals when conducting their July 12 raid). My point was not well taken, to put it mildly. I was accused of relying upon ‘biased anti-Israeli’ news sources, and of being a very bad Israeli in general. The rest, as they say, is history.
At the end of the war a friend forwarded to me a Hebrew translation of an article that has been making the rounds in Israeli inboxes. The author is a Lebanese journalist living in Beirut, one Michaël Béhé (he is not the American “Intelligent Design” proponent with the same name; from here on, the dots and apostrophes will be dropped for convenience). This 2500-word article, dated July 30 and titled “The most hypocritical people on Earth”, confirms the Israeli mainstream’s talking points to the letter - especially regarding the impact on Lebanese public opinion. Here are a few gems:
“…It is easy now to whine and gripe, and to play the hypocritical role of victims…Of course, that is nothing but rubbish! The Security Council’s Resolution 1559 – that demanded that OUR government deploy OUR army on OUR sovereign territory, along OUR international border with Israel and that it disarm all the militia on OUR land – was voted on 2 September 2004. “
“…Lebanon a victim? What a joke! Before the Israeli attack, Lebanon no longer existed, it was no more than a hologram…That was the case, for example, of Hezbollah’s and the Syrians’ command zone in the Haret Hreik quarter … possessing its own institutions … its government. A “government” that, alone decided… to attack a neighboring state, with which we had no substantial or grounded quarrel, and to plunge US into a bloody conflict. And if attacking a sovereign nation on its territory, assassinating eight of its soldiers, kidnapping two others and, simultaneously, launching missiles on nine of its towns does not constitute a casus belli, the latter juridical principle will seriously need revising.“
“Thus almost all of these cowardly politicians … are blessing each bomb that falls from a Jewish F-16 turning the insult to our sovereignty that was Haret Hreik, right in the heart of Beirut, into a lunar landscape. Without the Israelis, how could we have received another chance – that we in no way deserve! – to rebuild our country? … Once again, the soldiers of Israel are doing our work. Once again, like in 1982, we are watching – cowardly, lying low, despicable, and insulting them to boot – their heroic sacrifice that allows us to keep hoping.”
“…Like the overwhelming majority of Lebanese, I pray that no one puts an end to the Israeli attack before it finishes shattering the terrorists…Like the overwhelming majority of Lebanese, I have put the champagne ready in the refrigerator to celebrate the Israeli victory. But contrary to them – and to paraphrase Michel Sardou – I recognize that they are also fighting for our liberty, another battle “where you were not present”! And in the name of my people, I wish to express my infinite gratitude to the relatives of the Israeli victims – civilian and military – whose loved ones have fallen so that I can live standing upright in my identity. They should know that I weep with them.”
This article immediately seemed fishy to me. The author poses as a Lebanese dissenter, harshly critical of his country’s leaders. Being a dissenter myself, I know something about how dissenters write. No society looks the same from the outside and from the inside, and dissenters – their views notwithstanding – are still insiders, a trait that should be evident from their writing in countless ways. I am not a Lebanese insider, but the article’s perspective seems too similar to the way Lebanon is viewed from the outside – specifically, from mainstream Israel. It follows too closely the Israeli mainstream’s arguments, some of which may not be even known in Lebanon. It caters to Israeli sensitivities, while trampling upon Arab ones. In short, the article smells un-Lebanese.
My suspicion led to a web search, with surprising results: The article’s English version is posted all over the right-wing/’pro-Israeli’ cyberspace, and made it even into high-profile outlets like The New Republic (the Hebrew version is also widespread, appearing even on one left-of-center site). The source is an obscure website called “The Metula News Agency”, where it first appeared in French.
I looked for more articles by Behe on their site; there were none. I looked for external evidence of his existence; there was none to be found. So I sent the following email to the agency’s desk:
You have recently published an article by Michael Behe. I wonder if you have his contact details, and can refer me to other writings by him and/or his personal website etc.”
The reply was swift:
“Mr. Behe has no website and his coordinates are not public, thus for obvious security reasons. You may find his numerous articles on the Net and with the search engine located on our agency’s website.”
Perhaps prematurely, I blew my cover:
“Dear Ms. XXX,
Thank you for your prompt reply. I searched on your website, and found only the one famous article. Nothing more by Mr. Behe. A Google search reveals the same. Should I conclude that Mr. Behe does not really exist, or that it is the pen-name of some Jewish author?
Thanks again, Shabat Shalom, Assaf”
But the provocation paid off handsomely, because this is what I got in reply from the agency’s generic email box:
“You go to my agency’s website www.menapress.com, to the search engine in the right column and you type Behe : B-e-h-e And you learn how to read, then how to search the web !
Michael Béhé in Beirut
N.B Please don’t write to me again.”
On the very same day (August 18) a second, and thus far last, article by Behe appeared on their website. There is a saying in Hebrew: “On a thief’s head, the hat [easily] catches fire”. It seems quite appropriate here (thanks G.V. for pointing this out!).
Behe was correct on one count. My search skills are far from perfect, because others did manage to find about a dozen more articles by him , all in French, all originating from the same web source, and dating back as far as early 2002 (thanks, J. Schwarz). This does not alleviate the suspicions regarding the current article, though: first, the previous ones may be genuine (I haven’t examined them yet), but this one does not seem to be so. Second, how come this author is so loyal to a single agency that is located outside his country, and never publishes anywhere else? The agency’s evasive responses did not help clarify matters. Perhaps real Lebanon insiders could help decipher the mystery.
I contacted Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, to help determine whether Behe exists. Star’s Journalist Kristin Dailey corroborated my impression that the “Behe” piece does not appear to represent a genuine Lebanese perspective, adding insight regarding domestic nuances and place names. For example, saying Haret Hreik is “right in the heart of Beirut” is like saying Oakland is “right in the heart” of San Francisco or Rishon is “right in the heart” of Tel-Aviv – something that a local would never do.
Even the author’s name sounds phony. “Michaël” with the dotted ‘e’ implies pronunciation close to the Hebrew one. But Lebanese Christians use the French pronunciation and the spelling “Michel”. Unlike Lebanese family names, “Behe” is not an Arabic word; the closest-sounding name in all of Lebanon is “Bahhe”, belonging to a few families of…. Sunni Palestinian refugees. According to Lebanese government sources, there is no one in Lebanon with a name reasonably similar to “Michäel Béhé”. One may suggest that it is a pen-name used “for obvious security reasons”. But it is quite foolish for a Lebanese journalist claiming to represent Lebanon’s supposedly pro-Israeli silent majority, to choose a pen-name that does not even sound Lebanese.
To sum it up, the “Behe” article is almost certainly a fake.
The deeper question is: why have the Israeli and Diaspora-Jewish mainstream (and their supporters) so readily embraced this dubious article from a virtually unknown source - without the simplest double-check? For me, this affair is another illustration for how far off to la-la land the Jewish-Israeli mainstream has gone. By now it is totally enveloped within its own propaganda and denial bubble, and completely divorced from Middle East reality (including the reality of Israel itself). In an attempt to soothe the inevitable cognitive dissonance, it uncritically jumps upon this “Behe” hoax as a rare piece of evidence supporting its worldview.
This is not a trivial problem: our mainstream’s false consciousness and unwillingness to confront reality is the major reason why we plunged ourselves headlong, without any compelling need, into the Gaza and Lebanon campaigns this summer, and why we appear poised to draw all the wrong lessons from the resulting catastrophe.
Meanwhile, I challenge the Metula agency, the New Republic, and any site that posts this piece: produce some credible evidence that the “Behe” article was written by a real Lebanese journalist living in Beirut, or else remove it with a loud and clear apology.