Editor’s Notes: Defamed and deaf to it

By David Horovitz March 27, 2009

Staunching the tide of delegitimization first requires that we recognize here at home what is happening to our standing abroad

In a few days’ time, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is scheduled to convene a meeting dedicated to the issue of exports to Britain from the West Bank.

Specifically, it is understood, British supermarkets are being pressed by critics of Israeli settlement policy to initiate a new labelling practice, whereby goods from Palestinian and Israeli producers are respectively marked as such, so that British consumers will know whether they are buying Israeli or Palestinian products.

Pro-Israel activists in the UK believe they stand a good chance of heading off this initiative. As of this writing, it does not appear likely that a representative from or supporting Israel will be present at the meeting, but lines of communication are open, and a strong argument has been formulated that such a practice as regards exports from disputed territories would be uniquely unfair and discriminatory.

If, however, the argument fails to prevail, this seemingly marginal initiative could yield far wider, indeed critical, repercussions.

For a start, pro-Israel activists in the UK and Europe believe that supermarket chains, with their attention firmly focused on profit margins, would likely be disinclined to enter the complex and costly minefield of separating ‘Palestinian’ exports from ‘settler’ exports, and might well decide just to purchase their goods somewhere else altogether.

Furthermore, the activists worry, the assiduous Israel-bashers who relentlessly press for academic and journalistic boycotts, who recently sought (and failed) to prevent seven Israeli university lecturers from giving talks to high school students at two British science museums, and who are now targeting settlement exports, will not stop at the Green Line. They will, rather, move on to seek a South African-style ban on all Israeli exports.

What begins in the UK, the activists with whom I spoke this week further noted, could quickly spread to Europe – where, incidentally, there have already been some extremist-organized consumer protests against the sale of Israeli products, and where Sweden will soon be succeeding the notably more sympathetic-to-Israel Czech Republic as president of the European Union.

The notion that the tried and true methods of anti-apartheid trade protest could be widely adopted against Israel in Britain and then Europe may seem unthinkable to some. But it is not unthinkable to those who are internalizing the degree to which Israel is being demonized and delegitimized post-Operation Cast Lead, and the extent to which this process makes defending Israel uncomfortable even for those on that continent who do have the rare capacity to distinguish between legitimate criticism and distortion, manipulation and outright falsehood.

Put simply, Israel has rarely looked this bad in European eyes.

CLAIMS FROM august-sounding UN bodies that Israel was guilty of war crimes in Gaza have been reported with immense resonance overseas. New allegations that Israel deliberately killed civilians (as detailed by Israel itself, in the shape of the head of a pre-army military academy), that it targeted medical personnel and that it illegally used children as human shields are making the front pages of many influential newspapers and feature high on TV news lists too.

Reports that Israeli soldiers designed ‘humorous’ T-shirts, featuring slogans such as ‘The smaller they are, the harder it is’ (accompanying a drawing of a Palestinian child in IDF gun sights) and ‘1 shot, 2 kills’ (under a similarly framed sketch of a pregnant Palestinian woman), have been widely circulated, and set tellingly against Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s insistence that ours is ‘a moral and ideological army.’

And all such claims are detailed in the wider context of the massive civilian death toll in Gaza – ‘an estimated 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of them believed to be civilians,’ as the relatively pro-Israel London Times put it in its atrocities and T-shirts story this week, basing itself on Gaza’s Hamas government figures.

Good faith consumers of news take such reports at face value. Why wouldn’t they?

They don’t know that Israel fiercely disputes the Hamas-fuelled assertion that most of the Gaza dead were civilians, with the IDF formally stating on Thursday that the ‘vast majority’ of Palestinians killed in Operation Cast Lead had been found to be ‘terror operatives’ – a total of 1,166 dead, of whom 709 had firm terrorist identifications, 295 were noncombatants and 162 men who had yet to be classified.

They don’t know that Israel credibly argues that several key UN bodies and personnel highlighting Israeli atrocity allegations have a dismal track record of anti-Israel bias.

They don’t know that even the patchy information released by the IDF makes plain that many of those ‘medical personnel’ mourned as victims by the Gaza authorities and the disseminators of their narrative were actually Hamas gunmen.

They don’t know that the reprehensible ‘humorous’ T-shirts are not a widespread phenomenon.

They don’t know that the head of the pre-IDF academy who compiled the targeting-the-innocent allegations went to jail for refusing to serve in the West Bank, that key soldiers involved now say they were discussing ‘rumors’ and have no direct evidence of any such crimes, and that the central terrible charges of ‘cold-blooded’ killing have been refuted after investigation by the relevant unit’s brigade commander.

(As The Jerusalem Post was told by the IDF on Thursday, ‘In the [central] incident of the alleged shooting of the mother and her children, what really happened was that a marksman fired a warning shot to let them know that they were entering a no-entry zone. The shot was not even fired in their general direction… The marksman’s commander ran up the stairs of a Palestinian home, got up on the roof, and asked the marksman why he shot at the civilians. The marksman said he did not fire on the civilians. But the soldiers on the first floor of that house heard the commander’s question being shouted. And from that point, the rumor began to spread. We can say with absolute certainty that the marksman did not fire on the woman and her children… We know with certainty that this incident never took place.’)

Many Diaspora Jews don’t know much of this either. I was approached on several occasions in recent days by friends and acquaintances, anxiety etched into their features, asking me to help them distinguish between legitimate concerns that merit serious investigation and outrageous misrepresentations about what had happened in Gaza. ‘Why were so many Gaza civilians killed?’ I’ve been asked a few times. ‘And what about those reports of deliberate attacks on civilians? It’s Israelis themselves who are saying it.’

I’m only glad that these people asked me.

Others, I’m sure, have peeled off in one of four directions: to join the chorus of under-informed or ill-motivated criticism, to silent noninvolvement, to a perceptive if uncertain sense that Israel is being defamed, or to a misguided I-don’t-want-to-know because Israel-can-do-no-wrong mindset that precludes necessary discussion.

IN THE current toxic climate, there is little likelihood of Israeli generals being enabled to travel to parts of Europe in the near future safe from the risk of arrest and indictment for war crimes. There is every prospect of new and intensified boycott efforts.

And as our new, Right-led government takes office, the campaign of demonization will only gather force.

The confused results of the Israeli election showed a nation that, on the one hand, has long since internalized the need for an accommodation with the Palestinians but, on the other, saw scant possibility of achieving it on terms that don’t threaten our ability to live here in elementary safety.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s acknowledgement, with the cameras running, at the March 15 cabinet meeting that the failure to reach an agreement was ‘first and foremost the result of the Palestinian leaders’ weakness, lack of will and lack of courage,’ merely confirmed what a consensus of his countryfolk had already sadly concluded.

But the fact that the most flexible Israeli government to date, insistently dedicated to seeking an accommodation, failed to prod its Palestinian interlocutors into accepting viable terms for coexistence has not resonated with remotely comparable impact to the various atrocity allegations. The argument that Israel tried, again, under Olmert, to build a sustainable two-state partnership, and that it failed, again, because even the relatively moderate Mahmoud Abbas would not meet him halfway, is all but inaudible outside resolutely pro-Israel frameworks.

Thus the electoral swing to the right is incomprehensible to some, and for others is ostensible proof of Israel’s implacable, despicable refusal to liberate the Palestinians – proof, that is, of our obdurate opposition to peace.

The daily drip-feed of war crime claims reinforces this train of thought. The demolition of Palestinian homes and the disinclination to respect Supreme Court demands for the demolition of Jewish homes on private Palestinian land in parts of the West Bank adds further fuel to the fire. So, too, film of the far-Right marching in Umm el-Fahm. Loyalty oathman Avigdor Lieberman, getting ready to succeed gentle Tzipi Livni at the Foreign Ministry, is emblematic of our ostensible irredeemability.

Staunching the tide of delegitimization is a strategic imperative – an arduous battle that, first and foremost, requires the internalization here at home of what is happening to our standing abroad. Abysmally, while our political leadership is preoccupied with coalition-building (or more accurately with reconciling the conflicting narrow interests of egotistical would-be ministers) and a sensationalist, sometimes politically motivated media often exacerbates the problem, there is no sign at all that any such realization has dawned.

LABOR’S DISPUTED, Ehud Barak-led decision to bring stability and political width to the Netanyahu coalition will easily be dismissed by some of Israel’s continental critics as meaningless. Labor, it will be claimed – indeed, as the party’s own defeated minority does claim – is nothing but a fig-leaf, its leaders clinging desperately to power, betraying their voters, empowering the political enemy.

Netanyahu’s genuine and desperate pursuit of some kind of ‘unity’ partnership belies this. So, too, does the deliberately more dovish tone that the Likud leader set both during the election campaign and after its cloudy conclusion.

Where the Netanyahu-Barak partnership can emphatically stage a rhetorical defense against the swelling depiction of apartheid Israel, however, is in a reiteration of the vision of Israel contained in our Declaration of Independence and fundamental to our very establishment here as a Jewish state.

The international community brought Israel back to life 62 years ago as one of the two entities into which it was partitioning the former British mandate territory of Palestine. Israel’s nascent leadership, though deeply unhappy with the contours of that proposed division, chose to accept it. Those who spoke for the Palestinians did not, and set about what they fondly and incorrectly imagined would be the rapid destruction of the new Israel.

‘We extend out our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace,’ we declared in our founding statement. Our new government should make this plain again today. Netanyahu has said he seeks peace with the Palestinians. He has said he has no desire to rule over a single Palestinian. He has also said that Israel cannot countenance statehood for the Palestinians so long as there is every danger that their leadership would abuse the freedoms of their sovereignty to bring an end to ours.

But there is no contradiction between those positions and a ringing reendorsement of the principle of a two-state solution. Israel needs to separate from the Palestinians if we are to remain at once a majority Jewish state and a democratic one. That goal should be advanced by any and every government, and restated at any and every opportunity.

© The Jerusalem Post

It will not persuade those who are resolutely deaf to the fundamentals of our reality. It will constitute nothing revolutionary for those who truly know and understand us. But it will have an impact on those many good-faith consumers of information from our region who currently don’t know who or what to believe and who are being encouraged, day after day, by those whose real interest is not to ‘end the occupation’ but to end Israel, to believe the very worst.