Back to the second, and final, day of the Jerusalem Conference. And today I want to look at some very different aspects of the difficulties we face, beginning with what is called the new anti-Semitism and the specter of Durban II.
For those who do not remember, Durban I, held in 2001, was an international conference under UN auspices that was supposed to combat racism, but which morphed into an incredible anti-Semitic nightmare, setting the tone for much that followed such as boycotts against Israel.
Part of what happened in Durban is that NGOs, many ostensibly concerned with human rights but in reality virulently anti-Semitic, co-opted the conference with a vengeance.
Rabbi Abe Cooper, of the Wiesenthal Center , who was at Durban, described a scene in which all the NGOs had gathered to approve a document. One woman raised her hand and said, "Paragraph 11, clause 3, deals with anti-Semitism (it was a very obvious statement that should have been automatically accepted, such as one disapproving attacks on synagogues). "I don’t understand this," she continued. What does anti-Semitism have to do with racism?" And the representative of NGOs agreed and deleted the clause.
Coming up in 2009 will be Durban II. It’s important now to examine the environment we’re dealing with and to know how to handle what lies ahead.
Gerald Steinberg, who founded and directs NGO-monitor, out of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, spoke about the way in which many NGOs, under the guise of protecting human rights, have established positions designed to prevent us from defending ourselves. They level broad and sustained attacks on us, and they rely on big funds for the demonization of Israel. Many of you may be familiar with this approach — the speed with which "human rights" groups run to attack Israel for killing children in Gaza, for example, even before facts are known.
Steinberg’s group several things. It monitors and exposes the bias of these groups. It communicates with donors who often have no clue what their funds were actually used for and withhold further donations once they learn. What is significant is that large amounts of EU money go to such groups; for the first time a report is about to be released that tracks precisely where the EU money goes. And it communicates with NGOs, eliciting information about their intended Durban II participation.
He is optimistic that progress is being made and that we’ve moved beyond where we were in 2001.
Prof. Robert S. Wistrich — Director, Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, Hebrew University — explained that anti-Semitism that was peripheral years ago has become mainstream today, in part because leftist students of a generation ago now hold positions of power.
But he addressed another problem as well — one that I will come back to: There is a Jewish/Israeli contribution because of anti-and post-Zionist arguments that are exported to the rest of the world. In certain quarters there is a lack of conviction as to why Israel exists and what it represents.
Anne Bayefsky, of the Hudson Institute, who founded Eye on the UN, spoke about the disinformation campaign, utilizing a UN platform, that followed Durban.
In an immoral inversion, Israel has been fashioned as the racist element in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The UN criticizes Israel twice as often as it criticizes Sudan. And it was someone associated with the UN who declared that there must be a "distinction between mindless terror and acts that are part of a liberation movement," concluding that Israel cannot expect a cessation of violence.
Bayefsky offered this very useful term: "humanitarian racists." Simply, it refers to groups that are ostensibly humanitarian, but hold only white people responsible for their actions. Colored peoples are only victims. (Starting to sound familiar?) But the refusal to hold colored peoples responsible for actions is racist at its core, for it relegates them to a lower moral level.
Charles Jacobs, who founded and directs The David Project in Boston, observed — right in line with Bayefsky’s term — that what motivates human rights groups is the identity of the oppressor and not of the oppressed. People who are victims of non-Westerners are abandoned. Jacobs, who has done work on this issue, pointed out that in Mauritania and Sudan there are slaves owned by Arabs, but the world pays little attention. Just as the human rights groups are enraged about perceived Israeli mistreatment of people in Gaza, but pay scant attention to the human rights suffering in Sderot. Jacobs suggest we ally with others and go on the offensive.
Jacobs also offered this insight: There is a Muslim idea that the act of Jews ruling over themselves puts the world out of joint because Israelis (as Jews) are Dhimmi. (Dhimmi is a concept in Islamic law that relegates to certain non-Muslim groups, notably Christians and Jews, second class, subservient status.)
The goal of The David Project , I will add, is to populate campuses in American with students who are articulate and informed with regard to Israel.
The final participant on this panel was Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. I recently attended a very informative lecture by Dr. Gerstenfeld on anti-Semitism, its nature today and how to combat it, and would like to save his comments for another posting.
And so I will turn now to the subject of hasbara (alternately defined as information or propaganda). Journalist Caroline Glick, who chaired the forum discussing this subject, defined it thus: information dispensed in the public arena in order to advance the national interest.
What is necessary for hasbara, she says, is the national desire to advance in the public arena, a goal that is logical or rational, and an appropriate style.
I ask that you follow the ensuing discussion closely , as it is exceedingly important:
Glick maintains that Israel’s hasbara has collapsed because we are saying that the solution to the situation we find ourselves in is two-states (i.e., the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside us). This puts the onus on us, and we have no way to explain ourselves.
What we have actually said is that we want to advance the interests of our enemy. This leads to a covering up of truth because the truth works against the declared two-state goal.
Caroline Glick is absolutely correct. Think about the bind in which we’ve put ourselves.
Others participating in this forum carried this theme further. Isi Liebler, who chairs the JCPA Diaspora-Israel relations committee, asked what went wrong. His assessment was that the change — which led to doubts about the justice of our cause — came most significantly with Oslo. Israel had declared herself ready to accept Arafat as a "peace partner" and so the obsession became one of promoting him as such.
This led to a refusal to defend ourselves. PM Yitzhak Rabin, at the start of the Oslo, told AIPAC to stop defending us. I’ve heard in other contexts stories about how Shimon Peres, as Foreign Minister, gave orders that nothing negative was to be said about Arafat.
We began defending "peace" instead of promoting the Israeli narrative.
What other nation, it was asked, minimizes the sins of its enemies?
It has gone so far that Olmert has essentially strong>adopted the Palestinian narrative. And if you look back to what I wrote, with despair, about Livni yesterday, you see that she fits the same mold — so eager to pursue "peace" that she has lost the ability to stand up for who we are.
But Elyakim HaEtzni, lawyer and former MK , didn’t accept that things fell apart with Oslo. For this doesn’t explain how we got to Oslo.
His conclusion is that this is pathological, that we (as a nation) are sick. And this is something that I have suggested many a time. HaEtzni, citing other thinkers, offered a couple of reasons as to how we got this way. The first is that we were beaten down in galut (diaspora) and have internalized the hatred of our oppressors. I concur. We need more than 60 years on the land again to get past this, after 2000 years of being subservient to others around the globe. There is an eagerness to please that is a result of needing to please when we were powerless.
Another suggestion HaEtzni offered comes out of our religion, which leads us as Jews to be self-critical. The Temple was destroyed — our tradition didn’t ask what did others do to us, it asks what we did to bring this upon ourselves.
Self-critique, to a point, is a moral virtue and a strength; it allows us to be responsible for ourselves rather than think like victims. But beyond a certain point it is decidedly unhealthy and counterproductive. There is the example of the Al Dura case (about which I wrote not long ago). Israeli soldiers were accused by devious plotting Palestinians of having shot the Al Dura boy during a gun battle. Before a serious analysis of the situation was done (which would have shown that, because of the angle of the shooting, etc. etc. we couldn’t have done it), IDF officers were apologizing.
Yet another thought offered during this discussion was that our people to a considerable degree have lost touch with our religious traditions and who we are, which makes us unable to defend ourselves or share our narrative. Truth lies here, as well.
Last, British journalist Melanie Phillips addressed this issue from a British perspective. There is, she informed us, incredible venom against Israel in Britain today. There is, of course, Muslim influence, as well as a variety of other factors at play. But part of it, she explained, is ignorance. The British truly believe that Israel was created after the Holocaust so that European Jews (who had no previous connection to the land) could be brought, displacing Arabs who had been on the land since antiquity. This, of course, is the Arab narrative.
But the British don’t receive the Israeli narrative.
She said people’s jaws drop when she tells them about our ancient connection to this land, and the fact that no other people ever had a nation here, as well as about the legal foundations of the Mandate for Palestine, giving Jews a promise of a homeland well before the Holocaust. People just don’t know.
And so, my concluding thought is this:
It’s difficult not to be deeply pained and depressed by what is discussed here. But it seems to me that what matters is that we right matters however and wherever we can.
What we see is that there is Gerald Steinberg doing a great job with NGO-monitor, and Anne Bayefsky with Eye on the UN, and Manfred Gerstenfeld, who has a very effective blog on anti-Semitism, and Charles Jacobs doing The David Project, and Melanie Phillips in Britain. And Professor Richard Landes, also a conference participant, who took on the Al Dura case, and on and on. It’s an effort we all need to join, each in his or her own way. This is essentially why I write these posts.
We’re not all pathological, and some of us know our narrative and believe in who we are.
I turn to each of you reading this, if you care about Israel staying strong in this world: I suggest that each of you needs to be a messenger — informing yourselves and telling Israel’s narrative wherever you can. Don’t imagine that it doesn’t matter. It does.