Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Costs of Demonising Israel

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Update from AIJAC

August 6, 2010
Number 08/10 #02


Today's Update focuses on the movement to demonise and boycott Israel, and its malevolent effects. It comes in the wake of a new must-see short video on the "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement against Israel, which reveals that this movement not only deliberately destroys efforts aimed at Israeli-Palestinian bridge-building and reconciliation, but is quite clear that its goal is Israel's destruction, not ending "occupation".

First up is Mudan Zahran, a Palestinian-Jordanian academic now working in Britain, who calls attention to the way the relentless focus on Israel's alleged misdeeds is hurting Palestinians. He points out that the focus on Israel frequently means that the often terrible situation of Palestinians in the Arab world is simply ignored. He focuses especially on the Palestinians of Lebanon who are, in many ways, worse off than the residents of Gaza, but also has some comments on the Palestinians of other countries. For his full argument, CLICK HERE. Israeli-Arab journalist (and recent visitor to Australia) Khaled Abu Toameh makes some similar points about the Arab world while noting that for all the complaints and claims against Israel, what many Palestinians in the territories want above all is to live and work in Israel.

American Jewish Committee head David Harris makes some similar points in an open letter addressed to those compulsively anti-Israel (such as the BDS movement). He also raises the silence over the plight of the Palestinians of Lebanon and the regional lack of human rights. He goes on to highlight other silences - such as on the "occupation" of Northern Cyprus and the many Turkish settlers moved there, as well as the sins of commission, such as the claim that Israel alone is "illegitimate" when it has at least as much legal foundation as any other state in the region. For his letter, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Israeli academic Professor Gerald Steinberg dissects how the BDS movement and other efforts to isolate Israel are in fact a deliberate political strategy concocted at the UN's Durban conference in 2001. He looks at how the UN, dominated by the OIC block of Muslim-majority states, has led these efforts through a number of channels over the years, culminating in the 2009 Goldstone report. He puts these efforts into the context of the international political situation of Israel in the wake of the Oslo peace process. For his complete history of the phenomenon, CLICK HERE.

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Demonizing Israel is bad for the Palestinians

By MUDAR ZAHRAN 

Jerusalem Post, 08/01/2010 05:53

The negative focus on Israel by the global media has harmed the Palestinians’ interests for decades.

 Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the international media have been unhesitant in criticizing the Jewish state on almost everything. This has evolved into a media culture by itself, to the point that many internationally renowned newspapers would have a button labelled “Israel” or “Israeli-Arab conflict” on their Web sites including very little positive content about Israel. Media hostility toward Israel has been mainly focused on its military operations and, in more quiet times, on the living conditions of the Palestinians in Israel.

Amazingly enough, the international media, and particularly the Western ones, pay very little attention to the conditions of the Palestinians living in Arab countries, despite the extreme oppression they have been enduring for decades in most Arab countries.

These Palestinians do not have someone to speak for them in the global media, possibly because a news story about countries other than Israel is less interesting or “sexy” by media standards. This tendency to blame Israel for everything has lead to the development of numerous myths about the situation of the Palestinian there that have provided an excuse to purposely ignore and compromise the human rights of the Palestinian in many Arab countries.

THE EXAMPLES for that are plentiful and sometimes cross the line into tragic comedy. While the world is crying over the Israel-imposed blockade on Gaza, the media, for some unknown reason, choose to deliberately ignore the conditions of the Palestinians living in camps in Lebanon.

Lebanon, a country with some of the most hostile forces to Israel, has been holing up Palestinians inside camps for almost 30 years. Those camps do not have any foundations of livelihood or even sanitation and the Palestinians living there are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours. Compare this to the fact that Palestinian laborers were still able to go to work every day in Israel while Hamas was carrying out an average of one suicide bombing per week a few years ago, and until recently launching missiles daily on southern Israel. Not to mention the fact that Israel allows food items and medications into Gaza if handled through the Palestinian Authority.

The Lebanese atrocities toward the Palestinians have been tolerated by the international community, not only by the media. Today, while some Israeli military commanders have to think twice, in fear of legal consequences, before they visit London or Brussels, well-known Lebanese leaders who had directly participated in mass killings of Palestinian civilians, during and after the Lebanese civil war, are becoming world-respected political figures – Nabih Berri, for example, the leader of Amal Shi’ite militia who enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them. The Palestinians underBerri’s siege were reported to be consuming rats and dogs to survive. Nonetheless, he has been the undisputed speaker of the Lebanese parliament for a long time. He travels frequently to Europe and criticizes Israel for its “crimes against the Palestinians” on every occasion.

MANY OTHER Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians. Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of “apartheid” in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.

While Palestinians targeted by the IDF are mostly fighters pledging war on Israel, the world swiftly overlooked the Sabra and Shatila massacre in which Lebanese Christian and Shi’ite militiamen butchered thousands of Palestinian women and children. Unsurprisingly, the international media accused Israel of being responsible for the massacre, despite the fact that live testimonies aired by Al-Jazeera satellite television a few years ago show massacre survivors confirming that IDF commanders and soldiers had nothing to do with the killing.

The demonization of Israel by the global media has greatly harmed the Palestinians’ interests for decades and covered up Arab atrocities against them. Furthermore, demonizing Israel has been well-exploited by several Arab dictatorships to direct citizens’ rage against Israel instead of their regimes and also to justify any atrocities they commit in the name of protecting their nations from “the evil Zionists.”

This game has served some of the most notorious Arab dictatorships, and still does today, as any opposition is immediately labelled “a Zionist plot.”

This model had served Gamal Abdel Nasser in ruling Egypt with an iron fist until he died, and was the main line for Saddam Hussein, who was promoting that “Iraq and Palestine are one identical case” in his last years in power.

The global media must be fair in addressing the Palestinians’ suffering in Arab countries and must stop demonizing Israel. It should start focusing on the broader conditions of the Palestinians in the Middle East region.

There is much to see.

The writer, a Jordanian of Palestinian heritage, is a researcher at the University of Bedfordshire.


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To the Chorus of Chronic, Compulsive Critics of Israel

David Harris

Huffington Post, July 25, 2010 04:04 PM

You just can't contain your rage against Israel, can you?

A mere mention of Israel and you're out of the starting gate in record time with another tirade accusing it, and its defenders, of every conceivable evil in the world - from Nazism to Apartheid, from blood libel to mass murder.

The facts be damned--they only get in the way of your outrageous assertions and gross distortions. You follow the approach recommended by Lenin: "A lie told often enough becomes the truth."

Your narrative is pre-cooked, airtight, and impervious to reason. It's filled with a hatred of Israel that eludes logical explanation, a blindness that shuts out any contrary evidence. 

For you, Israel can do no right other than to close up shop and call it quits, while the Palestinians, your hallowed victims on a pedestal, can do no wrong.

Strikingly, all this is done in the name of such vaunted values as democracy, legitimacy, and an end to occupation.

Yet you interpret and apply those values in rather strange ways.

Take democracy.

Israel is a democracy. Much as you may breathlessly try to dismiss the notion, it's a fact. 

Israel has free and fair elections, smooth transfers of power, and an independent judiciary. It has a wide array of political parties, a freewheeling parliament, including members who have openly cavorted with the country's enemies, and a feisty press. It has a well-developed civil society and countless human-rights and civil-rights groups. It protects freedom of worship for all. It has a vibrant gay community. It has strong labor unions. And minority communities enjoy legal protections.

No, Israel may not be perfect -- and I would never suggest otherwise -- but, then again, what democracy is, especially one so young and subjected to so many challenges to its very existence? But democracies, by their very nature, invite self-criticism and improvement.

Now take a look at Israel's neighborhood.

For all your purported concern about defending democracy -- or freedom or human dignity -- why is your voice on mute?

Could it be that your real ideal is a Hamas-run society, with its all-enveloping political and religious suffocation, relegation of women to the status of virtual male property, intimidation of the tiny Christian community, unadulterated anti-Semitism, and reverence for the cult of violence?

If your world view is defined by the belief that Palestinians are mistreated, then why not a peep about their condition in, say, Lebanon?

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lived in Lebanon for decades, yet by law they are excluded from working in dozens of professions, have no right to own property, and have limited access to healthcare. Is this acceptable to you? Have you petitioned the Lebanese government to respect their human dignity? If so, please don't keep it a secret.

In fact, why not go a step further and expose the absurdity of a flotilla heading from Lebanon to Gaza to "assist" the Palestinians? Whatever happened to the notion that "charity begins at home"?

And, dare I ask, when was the last time you spoke out in protest against the treatment of women, gays, religious minorities, labor activists, and human-rights defenders in the larger Middle East?

You talk about legitimacy, accusing Israel of being an "illegitimate" state.

Israel is an entirely legitimate state.

From the Balfour Declaration to the League of Nations Mandate, from the recommendation of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine to the overwhelming vote of the UN General Assembly, Israel's foundation is rock-solid. In fact, it's far stronger than that of most other countries.

And I'm not even invoking the Jewish people's ancient history and literature, and the findings of archaeology to support it, relevant though they are.

Not only is the nation entirely legitimate, but so is its government, a product of the periodic expression of the will of its people.

But if you're truly seized by questions of legitimacy, why not examine some of Israel's neighbors?

You'll discover a few uncomfortable truths.

First, their historical legitimacy is questionable, the result either of conquest or cynical European leaders drawing borders at will. And second -- as in Syria, for instance -- political legitimacy derives more from the bullet than the ballot, and from the entrenched notion of filial dynasties.

Either way, it doesn't do much for the legitimacy case.

And then there is the "end to occupation."

Since the 1967 war, Israel, unlike many nations victorious in battles of self-defense, has withdrawn from lands it seized.

It gave back to Egypt the vast Sinai region, with its oil fields and strategic depth, withdrew from Gaza, and yielded to Jordan on border issues. It has also pulled all its troops out of southern Lebanon and dramatically lowered its profile in much of the West Bank. And it has repeatedly declared its readiness to embrace a far-reaching two-state solution with the Palestinians that would entail further territorial sacrifices.

Israel, so small that it's barely a speck on world maps, has one overriding preoccupation -- security. Until the Palestinians finally get their act together and pursue peace seriously and credibly, Israel has every right to act against groups operating in Gaza and the West Bank that stockpile weapons and plot terrorist attacks.

Any other nation defending itself would act similarly -- or, perhaps, more ruthlessly and with less regard for the well-being of civilians cynically used by enemies as human shields.

But those of you in the chorus of chronic, compulsive critics of Israel blithely ignore Israel's withdrawals to date and repeated offers of peace, instead robotically hammering away at the "evils of occupation" -- by which you presumably mean Israel's very existence, irrespective of its borders.

Yet again revealing your rank hypocrisy, the chorus is strangely silent when it comes to other occupations.

Take, for instance, Cyprus. The island has been divided since 1974, there are tens of thousands of Turkish troops in the northern part, and it is an open secret that the Turkish government generously encourages thousands of settlers -- yes, settlers -- to move there from Turkey and shift the demographic balance.

Any chance that the chorus will speak up? It hasn't since 1974, and is unlikely to start now. After all, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has positioned himself as the champion of Hamas -- and, for the chorus, that must be a dream come true. Why jeopardize it?

Winston Churchill faced his own chorus of chronic, compulsive critics who willfully tuned out obvious truths when he sought to alert the world to the great dangers of the 20th century.

He famously said: "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened."

Sounds as if he had people like you in mind.

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Isolation as Political Warfare


Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg

Bitterlemons.org, August 5, 2010

Since 1948, Israel has been relatively isolated. In contrast to the Arab League, there is no "Jewish" League, and alliances depend on shared interests and values. European support has generally been problematic, and close cooperation with the United States only developed after 1967, with periodic friction, particularly during the Carter presidency (1977-1981). In the region, informal security links with Iran, Turkey and Jordan and the 1979 treaty with Egypt were exceptions.

The 1993 Oslo declaration opened many doors, and the era of Israel's isolation appeared to be over. But the Oslo process' violent end and other changes in the region reversed much of this progress. European governments became more distant again, and tentative ties with some Gulf countries and North Africa were reversed. However, cooperation with the US during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations remained very strong and Israelis were able to ignore the wider isolation.

The Obama administration has different priorities and perceptions, and relations have cooled considerably. Friction over Jerusalem construction, and images of humiliation during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's March 2010 visit to the White House, suggested a major crisis. Conflict with Europe over the peace process and demands for Israeli concessions also expanded. In the region, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reversed years of close ties, instead forming alliances with Syria and Iran and joining in their support for Hamas and Hizballah.

In parallel, a different form of isolation grew out of campaigns based on accusations of "war crimes", opposition to settlements and acceptance of a version of history that argues that Israel, as a Jewish homeland, has no right to exist. The NGO Forum of the 2001 UN Durban Conference on Racism, in which 1500 organizations participated, called for promoting "a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state . . . [and] the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes . . . between all states and Israel". The text highlighted alleged Israeli "racist crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing, acts of genocide."

This strategy has been quite successful, generating momentum from the Jenin "massacre" myth (2002) through the "apartheid wall" (2004-5), Lebanon (2006) and Gaza. The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHR Council after 2006), dominated by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, provides the base for this political warfare. In each round, the OIC and its non-governmental organization allies have established a committee to condemn Israel for alleged "disproportionate force" and "violations of international law".

The 2009 Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict, which quoted many NGO publications, has been the most effective, reflecting Judge Richard Goldstone's reputation and Jewish background. Goldstone's recommendations are addressed to the UN Security Council and include the threat of proceedings in the International Criminal Court.

These accusations also propel the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, designed to promote political, economic and cultural isolation. The 2002 British academic boycott campaign was followed by church-led divestment efforts and other forms of economic warfare. The BDS movement, like other aspects of the Durban strategy, is aimed at reversing Israel's acceptance as the Jewish national homeland.

In parallel, a number of NGOs have initiated highly publicized legal cases against Israeli military officers and political leaders, using universal jurisdiction statutes as a means of waging "lawfare". In 2002 political NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, launched such a case in Belgium against then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This tactic has since been used against Israeli firms and officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former foreign minister (and current opposition leader) Tzipi Livni. All these cases were eventually dismissed, but the main purpose has been to add to the isolation and demonization, as articulated in the Durban strategy.

In general, the Israel Defense Forces and government of Israel have downplayed the implications of media spin, NGO claims and UN inquiries, while the Palestinian and Hizballah leadership give these dimensions priority. Videos disproving some key allegations against IDF forces were not released for months after the events, and suggestions for policy changes, particularly regarding non-cooperation with UN investigations, were rejected. At the civilian level, until very recently, no Israeli government ministry devoted resources to respond to academic and other forms of anti-Israel boycotts.

However, as the threats from this form of isolation have increased, including boycotts, lawfare, ICC involvement and possible arms embargoes, the need for an effective Israeli counter-strategy has finally been recognized. A concerted effort prevented the convening of another NGO forum at the UN's 2009 Durban Review Conference. Israeli policies that contributed to this isolation have been changed, including an end to the prohibition on transfer of civilian goods into Hamas-controlled Gaza. The publication of detailed reports on the Gaza war, as well as prosecutions resulting from human rights violations, suggest that Israel has begun to implement a strategy aimed at preventing ICC involvement resulting from the Goldstone report.

Most importantly, the relationship between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama appears to have warmed, at least for now. As a result, European leaders are less likely to shun Israel, while some of the sharper aspects of conflict with Turkey are easing. Although Israel is unlikely to win political popularity contests regardless of developments, the threat of complete isolation has receded.

Gerald M. Steinberg is the founder and president of NGO Monitor and professor of political science at Bar Ilan University

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