Monday, August 26, 2013

Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 4: Why Is Israel So Lousy at Making Its Case?

Check out the previous installments in P. David Hornik’s ongoing series exploring how Israel is perceived around the globe.
August 4: Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 1: The Whole World Against Us
August 11: Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 2: That Bird Could Be a Mossad Agent!
August 18: Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 3: From Woodstock to the Promised Land
In a recent blog post British Jewish author and commentator Melanie Phillips took the European Union to task for deciding to boycott Israelis who live in East Jerusalem, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), and the Golan Heights.

Phillips clarifies why the EU’s designation of all Jewish life and activity in those places as “illegal” is legally, let alone morally, baseless. But if the EU and the UN regularly and ritually make this “illegality” charge, and pressure and punish Israel accordingly, Phillips claims that
    the fault in large measure surely lies with Israel. For although some may find this incomprehensible, Israel does not make to the world the one case that matters—why Israelis are fully entitled under international law to build their homes in these territories….
And Phillips attributes that failing, among other things, to
    Israel’s bleak and despairing judgement that the international community, composed of those who historically and presently were and are driven by obsessive hatred of the Jewish people and which finds expression for that hatred through vehicles such as the UN and EU, will always do the bidding of those who wish to destroy the Jews and is therefore impervious to reason and morality.
While I wouldn’t put it quite so strongly, I found those words noteworthy and insightful. It’s true, as many have complained, that Israel tends to be hesitant and diffident in making its case. Here I want to suggest three of the factors that have a discouraging effect.

1. Blatant hypocrisy on the Palestinian issue.

Ever since Israel won the 1967 Six Day War and assumed rule over Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza (Israel has by now left Gaza), the world has adopted “the Palestinians” with a special fervor. The cause of turning these territories into a Palestinian state is a cause célèbre; the Palestinians in them have received more aid per capita than any other group; even Israeli defensive measures like checkpoints and the security fence draw obsessive scrutiny and condemnation.
Special concern for one group might seem morally acceptable. The problem is that the concern gets directed only at Palestinians interacting with Israel; otherwise “the Palestinians” don’t seem to count even when subjected to severe abuses and hardships—by other Arabs.
For instance, hardly anyone seems to care that:
- Palestinians in Lebanon are confined to refugee camps and restricted by apartheid-type laws.
- Palestinians caught in the Syrian crisis are getting killed and tens of thousands are fleeing to Lebanon and Jordanwhere they endure miserable conditions and persecution.
- In 1991, in the wake of the First Gulf War, Kuwait forcefully expelled about 200,000 Palestinians (and denied return to another 200,000) as retribution for the PLO’s (Palestine Liberation Organization’s) support for Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. At around that time, Israel’s deportation of four convicted Palestinian terrorists received vastly more condemnation. It may seem incredible, but you can read all about it.
- Egypt has been engaging in a crackdown on Gaza that—if Israel were to take remotely comparable measures—would have the world abuzz. As Walter Russell Mead observes:

In a word, Egypt has the power to make life in Gaza unlivable, and they’re using it.
We can’t help but think that if Israel made life miserable for Palestinians—intentionally and without compunction, as in Egypt’s case—the world would be up in arms.…
One thing some people in Europe might want to think about: If something fills you with rage when Jews do it, but doesn’t bother you at all when others do it, you might consider asking yourself why that is.
Just a thought.
Yes, it’s just a thought, and Israelis have it often. When the hypocrisy on the Palestinian issue is so naked and so brazen, it doesn’t fill us with confidence that pointing out the facts and inconsistencies will have much effect on those to whom the “Palestinian cause” is so dear.

2. Holy places.

When Israel conquered East Jerusalem and the West Bank in June 1967, it meant Israelis and other Jews regained access to holy Jewish sites there. The most significant, of course, was the Old City of Jerusalem with its Western Wall and Temple Mount. But there was also Hebron, the second holiest city in Judaism, with its Cave of the Patriarchs; Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem; Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, and others.
To say that Jews who wanted to pray at—let alone live near—these sites got bad press is a great understatement. The Israeli government, in an act of folly, handed administrative control of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Wakf; thus Jews who insisted on their right to pray there became “zealots.” And Jews who went to live in or near Hebron, and other parts of Judea and Samaria with biblical resonance, became “settlers,” a systematically defamed and caricatured group.
Meanwhile the Palestinian claim that “peace” required the removal of “settlers,” and even of Israeli sovereignty from the Temple Mount, was not only accepted by the EU and UN but by the U.S. foreign policy establishment, too. It wasn’t asked why, with Muslims already enjoying full rights to pray on the Mount, and (of course) full sovereignty over Mecca, Medina, and countless other holy cities and shrines throughout the vast Muslim world, full access to the Mount under Israeli sovereignty should be an intolerable situation.
So, again, Israelis feel themselves to be up against a deep-rooted, systematic bias. When there’s a vast Arab and Muslim world to be appeased, with its oil power and liability to terrorism, who cares about a few Jewish places?
Even conservative, Bible-inspired U.S. presidents like Reagan and Bush, Jr., adopted the cause of Palestinian rule—that is, restoring Muslim control—over Judea and Samaria.
Yes, it can look bleak from here.

3. Trashed documents.

Five months after the Six Day War, in November 1967, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which was supposed to set the terms for Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
An epic diplomatic battle preceded 242’s adoption. It pitted the U.S., Britain, and Israel against Arab states and the Soviet Union, and it centered on one word: the.
In the end, the official text contained the clause “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict….” The Arabs and Soviets had fought hard for it to read “from the territories….”  Instead, the U.S., Britain, and Israel prevailed.
The significance seemed clear, and crucial: the omission of the meant Israel was not required to withdraw from all the territories. It had a claim to them; they were in dispute. Neither 242 nor any other official international document has ever stated that Israelis are forbidden to build or live in these areas it conquered in a war of survival in 1967.
Yet, important as it seemed at the time, we’ve seen 242 turn into a dead letter before our eyes. As mentioned, the EU has now gone so far as to officially boycott all Israelis who live, work, and study in these places. And in a speech that shocked Israel and the pro-Israel community, President Obama negated Israeli’s claim to any of the territories that are supposed to be in dispute.
There are many other examples, but I’ll note just one more. In April 2004, as he was preparing for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon secured “the Bush letter” from President Bush. It states clearly that Israel would not have to make a similar total withdrawal from the West Bank:
    In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949….
That document—even though it was ratified by both houses of Congress—now lies somewhere in the same wastebasket in which 242 molders. In its absence Israel is under constant pressure to withdraw from all of the land “with swaps”—meaning that for whatever tiny parts of Judea and Samaria it might be allowed to keep, it would have to pay with pieces of pre-1967 Israel.
In both cases Israeli leaders fought hard—in 242’s case, along with Israel’s allies at the time—for the more favorable language. But it all went for naught.
That kind of thing doesn’t make us optimistic about getting a fair hearing in the world.
Those who say Israel should make its case anyway, despite it all, are right. There’s nothing to lose; and of course there are those in the world—in Congress, in the U.S. population, even pockets of sympathy in Europe—who are open to Israel’s message.
But if you had to decide how much of Israel’s national budget—constrained and bitterly contested in any case—to allocate to hasbara (public advocacy for Israel), it wouldn’t be an easy decision. A big hasbara effort requires a certain faith that in the end it will make much difference.
To me it seems that Israel gains more by building its high-tech, military, and economic capabilities. A lesson—perhaps melancholy—from 65 years of this state’s existence is that, ultimately, it’s power that counts.
Yes, you should seek justice, but there’s not too much of it to go around.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the new book Choosing Life in Israel. He blogs at
Thanks Ted Belman

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