Top Five Reasons Israel is Losing the Public Relations Battle

Right wing Israeli officials are concerned about attempts to ‘delegitimize” Israel, and fund former officials and intellectuals to attempt to combat this perceived trend. But it seems obvious that Israel is gradually sinking in the perception of the outside world, and there are concrete reasons for this change. Most of them derive from the train wreck that is Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Israeli blockade on the civilians of the Gaza Strip. Others derive from the hawkishness of the Likud government and its Kadima predecessor. They have nothing to do with anti-Israel sentiments or hatred of Jews. No one is condemning the municipality of Haifa or the administration of Tel Aviv. The criticisms are criticisms of aggressive expansionism and a trigger-happy government. The criticisms are getting louder and more mainstream, with potentially deleterious effects on Israel’s economy as time goes on.

1. Giving the finger to any ‘peace process. Israeli land theft in the Palestinian West Bank has reached epic proportions under PM Binyamin Netanyahu, with settlement populations surging 18%. The right wing in Israel is so isolated from the real world that they have begun claiming that the Palestinian territories are not even occupied. They claim that the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist forces them to occupy Palestine (in fact, the PLO recognized Israel as part of the Oslo accords, after which the Israelis screwed the Palestinians over royally). They distort history and say the most ridiculous things, such as that the League of Nations Mandate awarded to Britain in the 1920s allows them to now steal Palestinian land and water without recompensing them! The brazenness and zombie-like relentlessness of this march onto other people’s land has provoked an increasingly influential international boycott movement, targeting the ‘settler-industrial complex’ that preys on the hapless Palestinians under Israel’s control. That is why the Church of England recently endorsed a World Council of Churches-inspired program that brings people to the Occupied Territories to see for themselves what Occupation is doing to the stateless and rights-less Palestinians. The resolution was a major defeat for the Likud, right wing branches of Zionism. Likewise, the US Presbyterian Church very nearly adopted a resolution to disinvest from companies perceived as enabling the Israeli land grab in the West Bank. As it was, they urged positive investment to help the Palestinian victims of Israeli injustice. These votes are straws in the wind. As Israel moves formally to incorporate the West Bank into itself, it must offer citizenship to the Palestinians on the land it covets, or else it would perpetuate the new Apartheid.

2. Hypocrisy: Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu keeps threatening to launch a war on Iran and urging my country to sacrifice its young men, to stop Iran from continuing to enrich uranium (Iran says the enrichment is for peaceful energy purposes and there is no good evidence to the contrary). But Israel itself not only enriched uranium, it made 400 nuclear bombs. There are allegations by an Israeli and American journalist that Israel’s Mossad spy agency has murdered a series of Iranian scientists. (If Iran were alleged to have done something similar at Dimona in Israel, all hell would have broken loose). And, it now turns out that Binyamin Netanyahu was involved in a spy ring that smuggled nuclear triggers out of the United States to Israel. Israel is alleged routinely to threaten to use its nuclear weapons if it doesn’t get its way, deploying a sort of nuclear blackmail. It is very hard to see why Iran’s population should be reduced to a fourth world standard of living by international sanctions for doing much, much less than israel has done, or why Netanyahu should be able to smuggle US high tech out of this country with impunity.

3. Disregard for the rule of law: The Israeli practice of kidnapping Palestinians at will and holding them indefinitely without trial is abhorrent to all civilized persons. (They call it ‘administrative detention in Tel Aviv.) If a Palestinian is suspected of having actually committed a crime, then it should be possible to present evidence for it and to try the person. Israel took the Palestinian soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak into custody three years ago, and only just released him under severe international pressure. The Israelis say he is an Islamic Jihad terrorist, but clearly have no good evidence for this charge or they would have tried him. Instead, they just put him away, apparently forever. He went on a hunger strike that endangered his life, and provoked widespread protests from the soccer playing lobby. But Sarsak’s plight also elicited a condemnation from the Austrian senate (Bundesrat). Israeli complaints that criticizing ‘administrative detention’ is ‘anti-Semitic’ and that after all Syria is doing something much worse are absolutely painful to hear. It is playground ethics: ‘he hit me first,’ ‘you just don’t like me,’ ‘why punish me when other kids have done really bad things?’ The Israelis would benefit from a reading of the Universal declaration of Human Rights and of the US Bill of Rights on issues such as a fair and speedy trial for everyone arrested, and from an acquaintance with the basic international law of Occupations, which rules out most of their practices toward the Palestinians. Note that when the Bush administration attempted to make Guantanamo a legal black hole, the US Supreme Court struck it down.

4. Punitive Policies toward non-combatants The Israeli blockade on the civilian population of Gaza is evil, creepy and illegal in international law. That is why the international community is pushing back. For instance, UNESCO is establishing a science chair at a university in Gaza. Israel is the Occupying authority in Gaza, and is therefore bound by the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of its subjects. Some 40% of Palestinian families there are refugees from what is now Israel, expelled by militant members of the Yishuv in 1948, and many of them still live in camps. The blockade has reduced some 56% of them to food insecurity. Israel surrounds the Strip, and destroyed its airport and sea port, preventing it from exporting most of what it makes and produces, and limiting imports. The little territory of 1.6 million Palestinians suffers severe health as well as mental health damage from these Israeli policies. No Israeli official can explain what future the residents of Gaza might have that is not a kind of Israel-imposed hell. (And no, they aren’t generic ‘Arabs’ who will melt into the great sea of other ‘Arabs’ as the more racist Israelis might hope.) Israeli relations with Turkey, long excellent, have been deeply harmed by the blockade and Israel’s attack on a civilian Turkish aid ship that tried to get supplies to the non-combatant population there. Israel refuses to apologize for killing nine aid workers, including an American citizen.

5. Violations of international law: Israel’s occupation forces it into a whole range of illegal and reprehensible behaviors. This is nothing to do with Jews or Israel, it is to do with occupations. The Israelis have been arresting minors, sentencing them to harsh terms and fines, and treating them much differently than they would Jewish minors guilty of the same offenses. The British Foreign Office has just condemned these practices.

Israeli policies are no more off limits to criticism than are Argentinian or Indonesian ones, despite what the country’s remarkably thin-skinned and intolerant partisans often allege. And, when the chorus of criticism is coming from Anglicans, Presbyterians, the UK Foreign Office, the Austrian Senate, and UNESCCO, that is a pretty wide set of world institutions not easily pigeon-holed as mere bigots. Maybe it is time for the Israeli government to reconsider the self-destructive course it is on, which likely will lead to the end of the state some decades hence, as Israeli President Shimon Peres is frantically warning.

27 Responses

  1. The true crime is Israel’s embarrassing and non-democratic treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. If you want to effectively pressure / influence Israel and those who support it, focus on 1,3,4,5. Support for Israel among American Jews and American liberals, historically its base in the U.S., is suffering. The right-wing is taking their place, but they are not nearly as strong or a reliable base. In Israel too, they are cognizant of the difference. J Street’s criticism is more meaningful than the Presbyterian Church’s and Lieberman’s support is more significant than Demint’s. (Did Arafat not realize this too, isn’t there a famous quote?)

    When you start talking about #2, you lose me and most other Americans and some of our allies. Rightwing Israeli wackos aside (to include the current PM and his coalition), their policy towards Iran is closely coordinated with the U.S. (and generally with the U.K. and others). The assumption is that the U.S. is doing Israel’s dirty work with regards to Iran, but I suspect it is Israel that is doing our bidding here. After all, we worry about minimizing our profile and anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim worlds; Israel has no such qualms. Also, I can scarcely rememember any talk of Iran’s nuclear program until Bush named them as part of the ‘axis of evil.’ U.S. and Israeli fixation was always on Iraq (how foolish that was), at least that’s how I remember it. Obama has continued, if not intensified, U.S. opposition to Iran and its allies.

    This country has many reasons to be angry and distrustful with Iran and Hezbollah. When Israel gets in it with them, usually in self-defense, it garners U.S. support and sympathy. However, the only Americans that support Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians are ignorant of true conditions, disingenous, or flat-out rejectionists (that’ll never be convinced anyway). If you confuse Israel’s victims with its legitimate adversaries, you do Israeli rightwingers a favor and its victims a disservice.

    • To the degree to which Iran was not so prominently mentioned prior to GWB we can attribute the pre-emince of the Iraqi “near threat.” There is truth in your take of #2, but it is due to Iraqi overshadowing.

      The US does have strategic interests that happen to complement those of Israel to a degree, but only at the Grand Level of checking their power. Were it not for Israeli influence on domestic US politics, US policies and strategies I think would be far less belligerent toward Iran.

      But in this regard, notice the recent movement of of US Naval assets into the Gulf. A bluff, a deliberate provocation or legitimate preparation? Will Iran be wise enough to simply ignore these actions, despite possible provocations, and resume any serious discussions once the elections are past? How does the US election figure in for Obama here, or for the GOP as we notice Romney’s forthcoming trip to present his credentials to Israel, as he focuses ever more on his key constituencies?

      Wise heads may be playing a delicate and subtle game here, and that’s the hope. But it is never a good idea to bring a number of combustable elements together in such proximity, including the political and the military ones.

  2. The problem goes deeper; it is the notion of the “Jewish State” that is at the core of it all. A state that defines itself as for one privileged class of people must necessarily have another class of people who are held at the bottom.

    We Americans should recognize this, we had the same thing. We had segregation, “separate but equal”, “Jim Crow”, and all the informal “back of the bus” mechanisms that kept blacks at the bottom. We even had “tokenism” that was used to prove that we were not racist.

    Israel has all of these and worse.

    Condemning oppression without also condemning the logic behind it will solve nothing.

    • Yes. The central premise of zionism must be exposed as the archaic, inhumane vision that it is. Ethnic cleansing was unjustifiable in the former Yugoslavia, and its unjustifiable in Palestine.
      In this day and age, where code that suggests the mildest hint of a euphemism for a racial slur draws immediate widespread condemnation, the fact that a government can run around and proclaim its devotion to an openly racist vision, and make its citizens sign pledges to preserve the racist character of the nation, is nothing short of a rhetorical miracle.

    • Excellent comment. Only the dissolution of the Zionist racist structure will transform Israel into a normal state at peace with its surroundings.

  3. Why the US people do not see all of this? Or if they do, why do they keep sending their tax $$ over there (not only Israel, but Egypt and Jordan as well to keep playing nice with Israel)? File my questions under the rhetorical category…

  4. How can this be true? If it were, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton would be on the radio and television denouncing such crimes. ;-)

  5. As an American Jew, Israel embarasses me on a daily basis, and has for years. Its treatment of the Palentinian people, whether in Gaza, on the West Bank or in the illegal settlements, is a stain on the mark of Judiasm and Jewish people everywhere.

    When I am called an “anti-Semitic Jew” by acquaintances, I remind them that what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is precisely what Jews have suffered for centuries. Have we, as a people, learned nothing?

    • I sympathize to the extent possible. Then there’s that “self-hating Jew” business to shut people like you up, copyrighted by exactly whom?

    • As a Jew myself, I can tell you that in the grand scheme of things, when the Zionist state dissolves, it will be remembered as a stain on Judaism, much like the Crusader State and the Inquisition are on Christianity. It is the hijacking of the Jewish religion into a nationalist militant creed that has made me ashamed of being even associated with this psychopathic phenomenon.

      • I’m Jewish myself, and feel much the same. The survival of Judaism would be an inspiring story were it not for the consciption of Jewish communities into endless Hasbarah. I loved the hasidic idea that Hashem made the material out of the spiritual, and our task is to reach back into the spiritual to find unity with the creator, and thereby be an inspiration to all peoples.

        Instead, Zionism sacrifices every spiritual goal to the sordid, brutal business of stealing land.

      • In a sense, Ron, America and Israel are the last two unreconstructed European-nationalist states. By which I mean, a Western nation-state that indoctrinates:

        Exceptionalism
        Military and cultural imperialism as mandate
        War as eternal and purifying
        The rich as the purest distillment of our tribe’s superior culture, the rest as midlevel yet still “brothers” of the elite, and all foreigners as only fit to be ruled

        Obviously, this has a religious dimension too. The rest of Europe learned the hard way, got the shit kicked out of it in various wars especially in the 20th Century, and has evolved past these characteristics. But since WW2 crowned America as hegemon without it really suffering, and gave Zionists their special status as victims (“everyone else got liebensraum, now we’re owed a shot”), they alone got to skip the lesson that the UN Charter practically requires be enforced on everyone else.

        I am not commenting here on non-Western nationalisms. Too complicated. I think there are also many benefits to nationalism, which is why the West had so much power. The problem is that sophisticated nationalists seem not to know how to fight back against atavistic throwbacks like us and the Israelis and a certain fellow with an ugly little mustache.

  6. The religious racism which is now apparently endemic to Zionism and things like this certainly don’t help either:

    Rabbi: Gentiles exist only to serve Jews
    link to jpost.com

  7. Look, on many levels, the U.S. exploits Israel just as much as one might ever think Israel exploits the U.S.

    That’s why we aren’t of any real help to a peace process with Palestine.

    Don’t interpet my statement wrongly. It’s merely an observation.

    We’re part of it. We should at the very least admit it.

  8. In order for Israel to lose the ‘public relations battle’ the American public would have to wake up and pay attention. They don’t want to wake up, and most of all they don’t want to pay attention. That sounds too much like learning which sounds like school (without the proms and/or the ‘pranks’). The MSM will keep giving them circuses and little bits of misinformation.

    • The people who make policy don’t listen to MSM in any way other than to assess how the people are being managed. It is the elites who must finesse the people to do their bidding, one way or the other.

      Hence, the “problem” is solved by 1) getting past this representative democracy vanity, 2) having a offsetting voice that is as effective, if you choose to stay with the current set-up.

      There are bound to be other tacts, but I need to focus on feeding my own personal wolves.

  9. I disagree with the assumption that Israel’s policies will lead to its termination some decades from now. Israel’s existence is a European artifact just as the boundaries of many other countries in the region are artifacts, or so I am told, and without daily influx of money and without political pressure on other nations based on either guilt for the holocaust or some form of blackmail (nuclear, Mossad, who knows), Israel would be in a very different situation.

    Rather than being the institution that calls the shots, tells American presidents where to get off, demands that the UN sanction Iran for daring to advance technologically, Israel would become more like a summer camp for rich Americans that was mistakenly placed in the middle of a metropolis instead of a paradise. In other words, there would be no reason to go there or to have West Bank settlements or, dare I say, an “Israel.”

    Several other bloggers who follow such things as Hubberts Peak – and now the modified form that looks more like a breaking wave than a bell curve, climate change and things like the current, ongoing destruction of the US’s corn crop and think of the famine and upheaval that followed the last food upsets, the curious developments in world monetary situations where there is apparently no place to invest that yields growth because with declining energy, there is a contracting rather than expanding world economy, oh and decades of resentment, distrust, and outright tedium directed at the Ariel Sharons and Beni Netanyahu’s who demand that “Israel has the right to defend herself” mainly by preying on malnourished Palestinians, and one might come to believe the unthinkable.

    Namely, that without constant, illogical support than no one can afford, Israel might just close up and go home like a dishonest shopkeeper facing an audit.

    But what happens then to Israel’s 400 nukes? Does Israel hold a yard sale?

  10. It’s not really surprising that the right-wing Isreali government and its supporters would think they can do anything they like and suffer no consequences. Consider what they got away with on June 8, 1967, when Israeli warships and planes attacked the USS Liberty, a US Navy intelligence ship, in international waters – killing 34 Americans and wounding another 174. President Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara covered up the attack, which Israel claimed was a “mistake.” Why LBJ did this has never really been fully explained. Why the Israelis did it is easier to understand, they apparently realized that the US ship could disprove their claim that Egypt had attacked first. In any case, the lesson learned was that the USG was simply a lapdog for the Israeli master. I can imagine that they are now astonished that any significant US institution would dare to challenge them.

  11. Israel’s policies and actions make sense only in the context of the Old Testament of the Bible.

    They have no place in the modern world.

    • That’s true. It’s a combination of European colonialism and a biblical conquest. A combination of Apartheid S. Africa and well.. don’t even want to go there but they have reduced Palestinians to untermensch level.

  12. An excellent article.

    “Administrative detention” was a legal concept promoted by the Soviet Union to suppress “counter-revolutionary” conduct by its citizens. Under this legal theory persons who were merely “doubtful” could be held by the authorities in camps where “concentrations” of these prisoners would be detained – hence the term “concentration camp”. This system was described in great detail in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago trilogy.

    Solzhenitzyn descibed how a friendly and trusting people under the supervision of a benevolent czar had the fabric of their society torn apart by Marxist elements who were largely criminals and sharp operators financed by the Kaiser.

    In his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem”, Thomas Friedman likewise describes Palestine under the British Mandate as two peoples – Jewish and Arab – who peacefully coexisted for 2,000 years who were subjected to European Jews who were extremely shrewd in the formulation and execution of a plan to dispossess Arabs for the benefit of those Zionists who wanted to create a nation that was constructed for the primary advantage of Zionists. The kibbutzes that were Jewish-only and separatist land development programs of the Jewish National Fund would be repugnant to an American-style democracy. Plan Dalet, described by Professor Ilan Pappe (formerly a listed Knesset candidate of the Meretz Party, now residing in Britain)

    The existence of J-Street, Machsom Watch and B’tselem organizations are examples of Jews criticizing Israeli government conduct. Shimon Peres concluded several years ago that Hamas could never be defeated by the IDF, that it would have been done long ago if it were feasible. Much like the U.S. trying to destroy the Viet Cong. Never will happen.

    Israel cannot move any farther right politically without continuing to damage its standing in the international community. Will Avigdor Lieberman ever be elected prime minister? Will young Daphni Leef’s leftist social movement in Israel translate their popularity into political power? Left wing parties such as Meretz and Hadash have expresed hope that Ms. Leef’s network and ideals wll gain influence to turn the tide of Israel’s political center to the left.

    • I think the first use of the term “concentration camp” was when the British imprisoned Afrikaner civilians during the Boer War.

      • You are correct, but I think the British viewed the Boer camps as a temporary measure in what they mistakenly assumed would be a short foreign war. The Soviet use of camps against their own citizens gets closer to the idea of permanent removal of entire peoples from one’s own territory. However, the Czar wasn’t exactly running a artist’s retreat in Siberia, Mark. Solzhenitsyn was a reactionary maniac who worshipped Czardom. Don’t forget the Czar’s own black propaganda machine forged the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to slander Jews worldwide. Only a sick society produces the kind of hatred that fed the pogroms, and the Communists, themselves victimized by repression and torture, directed it in a different direction than the Czar did.

        • Solzhenitsyn claimed the quality of life of a political prisoner under the czar in Siberia was superior to that of the average unincarcerated Soviet citizen under Stalin.

          Compare the 1975 Khmer Rouge depopulation of the major Cambodian cities at gunpoint so the evacueees could relocate to the countryside to form collectives with the Plan Dalet planned and endorsed by David Ben-Gurion and other leading Zionists. Ben-Gurion had heated exchanges with other Jewish leaders, including Marek Edelman, the only surviving commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, with the proposal of creaing a Jewish state. Dr. George Habash’s family was forced with other residents of his hometown of Lydda to leave at gunpoint and walked for three days without food or water to reach Arab lines. Deir Yassin, the Arab Muslim village near Jerusalem, declared itself neutral and militarily repulsed an Arab militia before the Irgun terror gang came in and massacred several hundred residents. The Irgun actually wanted the incident publicized so that it would facilitate Arabs to abandon their towns due to the terror the episode instilled. Haifa was depopulated of most of its Arabs as was Jaffa. Many of the Arab families that inhabit Gazan refugee camps today are originally from Jaffa.

  13. Excellent and timely obsedrvations.
    At the heart of this debate is the idea whether, a state based on a separate and even opposite ideal of what generally a modern state should be, will long conntinue to survive even if it has powerful allies.

    If in England the notion was put forward that the English nation or race (whatever that means) has sole right of occupation on English soil and ALL other people will be treated in a different way to that nation or race who would racially and religiously be defined as English, this would rightly be condemned as a racist state even if it was not beligerent. The fact that Israel is precisely that makes one wonder why and to what end is this accepted and promoted.

  14. […] Juan Cole has some useful tips that will be ignored by the Zionist establishment. For them, belligerence and accusing any critics of anti-Semitism is a way of life. All the while, Israel is committing a very public form of suicide: 1) Giving the finger to any ‘peace process’ 2) Hypocrisy 3) Disregard for the rule of law 4) Punitive Policies toward non-combatants 5) Violations of international law […]

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