Check It Out

    Published: 05/11/04, 7:17 PM / Last Update: 05/06/04, 5:55 PM

    At Israel´s Right

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    By Gil Ronen
    This article originally appeared in Hebrew in the April 29, ‘04 edition of B'Sheva newspaper. The weekly B'Sheva newspaper is Israel's third largest circulation publication (home delivered to 130,000 families), and rated the largest circulation newspaper to Israel's religious public.

    If the title of Righteous Gentile is ever bestowed upon friends of Israel in this war, Charles Johnson will deserve a place on the list of candidates for the honor. If anyone ever compiles a list of Internet sites that contribute to Israel’s public relations effort, Johnson's site will probably come in first, far above the Israeli Foreign Ministry's site.

    Johnson isn't Jewish. He's an American, born in New York, who grew up in Hawaii and currently lives in Los Angeles. He was raised Catholic, considers himself an agnostic, and is not one of the Zionist Christians, whose support for Israel is based on messianic faith. He is an educated American, brilliant and multi-talented, who comes from a liberal artistic background, and yet struggles for us in a way that commands respect and warms the heart. The man is simply very much on our side, because of the war, because we are here, because of who he is and because of who we are.

    Influence through the Internet

    Johnson has a long, varied and successful career behind him. For many years he was a professional guitarist who accompanied well-known jazz artists both onstage and in recordings. In addition, in the 1980's he acquired a reputation as a groundbreaking computer programmer and was one of the first programmers to write for Atari computers. Today, he and his brother Michael have a successful web design studio. He is a very busy man who somehow manages to radiate calm, and to find time for his hobby, the sport of cycling. But since the fall of the Twin Towers in New York, most of his time is devoted to another matter altogether.

    At the beginning of 2001 Charles Johnson opened his own "blog" – short for "weblog" – which refers, in Internet lingo, to a sort of personal column or online diary where one posts links and commentary on the news, on one’s field of professional expertise or hobbies, about oneself… or about whatever one wishes. The charm of the blog as a medium, is that it allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to be a news commentator, a comedian, a pundit, a philosopher – or a combination thereof. There is no serious financial outlay, there are no editors standing over your head, and there is no censorship.

    There are many blogs in cyberspace, but few of them manage to attract a large, regular audience. Johnson's blog, with the strange name of "Little Green Footballs" – LGF for short ( – is rated sixth in the listing of popular blogs in the world. His site is currently accessed by anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 visitors per day. The number of site visitors grows monthly and on the list of regular readers are some well-known intellectuals and top American journalists – mainly right-wing conservatives – who sometimes also contribute comments.

    All of this happened in the past two years. At its inception, LGF focused on programming and web page design, with occasional links to amusing news items. But the events of September 11, 2001, changed everything, and Johnson’s blog became a warblog.

    Johnson links news items about events in Iraq, in Israel, and in the rest of the world and adds commentary generously spiced with humor, charisma and creativity. In the course of time, he has generated a following of people who are influenced and inspired by him. In a world searching for leaders, Johnson is a kind of leader.

    The ‘Wonders’ of Palestinian ‘Culture’

    The leftist/anti-Israel bloggers hate Johnson and view him as a dangerous rival. Some of them have posted a doctored photo of him with a Hitler moustache, and compare LGF readers' comments with Nazi propaganda. Johnson, for his part, has compiled an online slide show composed of hundreds of photos of Palestinian children wearing bomb belts, brandishing weapons or marching aside armed men, all under the caption of "Palestinian Child Abuse." Looking at the photos in succession, one can’t help feeling that Palestinian culture is terminally sick and depraved.

    [From Johnson's site: pictures of Arab suicide bombers replaced by images of Elvis Presley]

    He coined the expression "car swarm" to describe what happens when an Israeli helicopter shoots a missile at a car carrying terrorists: the photos Johnson displays alongside the news (photos that rarely appear in Israeli media for some reason), always show Palestinians running amok, climbing all over the burnt car while removing body parts with their bare hands, in a horrifying recurring ritual.

    Johnson regularly refers to Reuters News Service as "Al Reuters", due to the obvious pro-Arab slant of their reports. He also makes recurring use of a particularly ugly photomontage of a fish resembling Yasser Arafat, known as "Arafish." Occasionally, when Yasser Arafat makes yet another ridiculous pronouncement in his broken English, Johnson puts the words in the fish's mouth. The effect is entertaining.

    Johnson also encourages other Internet warriors like the excellent caricaturists Cox and Forkum who received their initial exposure on his site, and Aaron Weisburd who runs "Internet Haganah" Weisburd, an American Jew from Illinois, takes down Islamic incitement sites – usually by contacting their internet service providers (ISPs), who are usually not aware of the sites’ Arabic content.

    Weisburd has taken down more than 420 jihad sites to date – sites that spread propaganda from terrorist organizations, encouraging Muslims to jihad and sometimes even providing instruction for carrying out violence. Hardly a day goes by without Weisburd’s proudly announcing the removal of yet another website. His and Johnson’s names are notorious in the online jihadist world, and many a discussion on Islamic chat sites has revolved around proposed ways of thwarting their work.

    Arab honor is victorious

    In the Internet Age, you can get to know a person and follow his life closely for years on end without ever seeing his face. The lack of visual information is a problem, but in some ways it is like reading a book – one is forced to use one's imagination. This goes for internet interviews, too: I cannot tell my readers what Charles Johnson's voice sounds like, if he is tall or short, or describe the view from his window. We’ll just have to imagine all that. The interview with Johnson was done via Microsoft Messenger chatware, by means of keyboard and monitor. I can only confirm that he types pretty fast and is a good speller.

    You are very pro-Israel in your blog. Do you have any kind of connection to Israel, through family or friends?

    Well, not really -- except that one of my oldest friends, who I met when I first moved to Hawaii, is Jewish. I have been to Israel, in 1994; I was playing guitar with Al Jarreau, and we did a concert in Tel Aviv.

    Can you be bothered to tell me why you chose the name “Little Green Footballs”?

    I could, but then I'd have to kill you. I am at liberty to reveal that it has something to do with an incident in my youth, that happened in Japan.

    Were you a political animal at all before 9/11?

    Well, yes -- but you won't find much of it in those early LGF posts. 9/11 certainly focused my attention. Among other things.

    Were you the lefty type one associates with long haired guitar players?

    I was pretty much center-left before 9/11. Never an America-hating loon, though. I've been a history buff most of my life, and on 9/11 I knew instantly who and what was responsible; I was aware of Bin Laden's declaration of war on the US and as soon as I turned on the television that morning and saw the World Trade Center collapse, I knew it was Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

    But that day was a real mind-blower, for many people, myself included. At first, my center-liberal leanings caused me to ask, "Why do they hate us?" and similar questions; that questioning led me to begin serious investigation of the Islamic fanaticism that was growing unchecked in the Middle East.

    Now I think the question is a pointless one, not because we shouldn't self-examine, but because the answer lies within the Islamists, not within us -- and understanding them will not achieve anything, except to the extent it allows us to defeat them.

    What does 'defeat' mean, though? Make them cry 'uncle'?

    Yes -- the real problem is that America (and most of the civilized world) has tended to brush the Islamists off as "all talk." They were able to attack us over and over in the years leading up to 9/11 (the USS Cole, Nigerian embassy bombings, first WTC, etc), and never suffered any consequences.

    In the Arab/Islamic shame-honor mindset, this is interpreted as weakness -- and it was. It was that perceived weakness that was directly responsible for 9/11. The only way to rectify this is to demonstrate superior force; and that's what President Bush did after 9/11, smashing the Taliban and dethroning Saddam Hussein.

    Have you learned things about Israel and the Jewish people in the past few years?

    Oh yes. Too much to easily describe! Before I started blogging, I knew some of the large outlines of Israel's history, mostly from the film/book Exodus, I have to admit. I've learned an enormous amount about the history of Israel, from many different sources. And it's only increased my feeling that the US should recognize Israel as
    the full partner she deserves to be, and realize that we are fighting the same war.

    How would you characterize Israel, besides being a democracy in a sea of dictatorships?

    I must confess that I'm only familiar with the broad outlines of Israel's internal politics; that is one complicated mess of opinions you've got going over there in the Knesset!

    But the important thing above all else IS that Israel has a representative gov't, completely unique in the area. Flawed, yes. Fractious, yes. But it's a democracy, and that counts above all.

    Are you surprised by the strength of Israel's Left?

    Yes, to some extent. But I think this is what happens in any prosperous country; the comparative ease of life leads to an illusory sense that being "nice" will always create good results -- in a world where raw power is the dominant paradigm.

    Do you have a picture of Israeli society as being militaristic, pacifist, brave, cowardly, arrogant, timid, hawkish… what? What about Sharon?

    Hang on -- troll infestation at LGF -- be right back (Johnson takes care of a group of hostile posters – ‘trolls’, as they are known – who were fouling his site up with abuse. A minute later, he is back.)

    Actually, a bit of all of the above. Ariel Sharon has a reputation in much of the world as a fierce hawk, but I think it's deceptive. He's actually a much shrewder politician than he gets credit for. One measure of his effectiveness is the extent to which he is demonized by the Arab world -- and by Europe.

    The Israeli Right is now concerned that Sharon has done an about face and wants to retreat from Yesha without getting anything in return. You think he's bluffing?

    Tough question. It's possible that he believes it will never come to pass, that the Palestinians will once again do something to wreck the deal, but is playing politics to keep the Zeropeans somewhat mollified.

    Your blog focuses on Israel pretty intensively. Why is that?

    Because Israel is very much the front line of the war against radical Islam.

    Are there many other non-Jewish warblogs that focus on Israel as much as yours does?

    Hmm. I'm thinking... and I'm drawing a blank. Of course there are others that do write about Israel, but I'm not aware of any that do as much as LGF.

    Are there famous names among your readers?

    I've been contacted by many well-known political figures, authors, and columnists, who tell me they read LGF daily. LGF has been cited in columns by Mark Steyn, Diana West, Melanie Phillips, and lots of others whose names escape me right now. Columnist/blogger James Lileks is a reader, and often posts in our comments. Saul Singer of the Jerusalem Post recently contacted me and sent a copy of his book ‘Confronting Jihad’ (which is excellent, by the way). Michael Ledeen and David Frum are also readers. Oh, and John Podhoretz of the New York Post as well, whose web site I designed.

    I was told by a reader who met Victor Davis Hanson that he reads LGF. Also Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt, and Dennis Prager, popular radio talk show hosts. I was actually on Dennis Prager's show once. Daniel Pipes is a reader, and I've met him personally.

    What are some of the memorable moments in your blogging history?

    The greatest thing is the community that has developed around LGF. As with any popular site that allows reader comments, we get our share of nuts and extreme cases, but overall we have a terrific mix of knowledgeable, experienced commentators, including many ex- and current military members.

    American military, yes?

    Yes -- and some Israeli military as well.

    How influential is the ‘blogosphere’ in American politics?

    The thing about American politics is that it's a gigantic beast. I honestly don't think the blogosphere has that much influence yet; the vast majority of Americans probably think a "blog" is something you wipe off with a tissue. But the influence is definitely growing, and the candidates for the presidential election are beginning to see the potential and try to exploit it.

    Reuters, AP, and Google News are often on your sights: have you been effective?

    Yes -- actually, Google News was persuaded to remove Indymedia from their index after LGF and other blogs began relentlessly pointing out the insane antisemitism that is so prevalent at all branches of Indymedia. Reuters and AP? Lost causes.

    This is a form of warfare, isn’t it, what you and Aaron Weisburd are doing?

    Aaron is doing a great job. I have a lot of admiration for him; he goes literally into the lion's den and has had incredible success in identifying and shutting down jihad sites. We also once had a serious run-in with the freaks at An-Najah University, which I have dubbed the University of Death. For a while someone from that place was sending me hate mail.

    I'm sure you get hate mail every other minute. What made that experience unique?

    I had exposed their connections with the University of Dundee in Scotland, and I received a letter from An-Najah's "administration," demanding that I retract and apologize. And some of the hate mail from them was extremely creepy and threatening, in that inimitable Palestinian way.

    You recently wrote: “I feel like I’m standing on a railway track looking at an oncoming locomotive, unable to move out of the way, as Iran continues its headlong rush to obtain nuclear weapons, and the whole world keeps playing this brainless ‘do they or don’t they?’ game”. I don’t see that many people writing about this subject with urgency, like you do. How do you explain this?

    Michael Ledeen has been writing about it a lot. But you're right. The situation is truly horrible and the media just doesn't seem to want to cover it. It's tremendously frustrating, because if people understood the seriousness of this threat it would scare the hell out of them -- and it should.

    Do you think PC culture, including PC feminism, has perhaps made us soft? Would it have been possible, in the 1970s, for four men of medium build armed only with boxcutters to hijack a plane with dozens of male American passengers on it, kill a stewardess and not be jumped?

    I think there's some truth to that. But also, the precedent for airline hijackings until then was NOT to crash planes into buildings. If people cooperated with hijackers, they had a good chance of surviving the incident. That all changed on 9/11.

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    Gil Ronen, a former Correspondent in the Territories and Correspondent in the Knesset for IDF Radio, founded Or Adom, an activist group against police brutality, which led to the establishment of the Department for Investigation of Police Officers in Israel's Ministry of Justice. Ronen now runs, a studio specializing in Flash animations.