Drowning out the anti-Israel voices and countering anti-Israel activism

Hating Israel for dummiesReader Pete asked in the comments the other day:

I have been wondering why so many anti-Israel posts keep showing up on Yahoo News.  Are there really that many people who are anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic?  I actually doubt this is true.  Yes, some people who dislike (or hate) Israel do exist.  But on a daily basis I do not hear so much talk about Israel that is negative.  Therefore, I am actually wondering if the Arab countries are operating some kind of disinformation program on the Internet to cast a “negative shadow” on Israel.  It would not be that difficult for them to pay some of their own citizens to routinely post anti-Israel rhetoric on Yahoo, Google and other news outlets.  Generally I do not embrace conspiracy theories – there are far too many of them around.  But the number of anti-Israel posts that you read in news stories seems vastly out of proportion to actual feelings on the street.  So I can’t help wondering if something else is going on here.

Pete’s comment got me thinking and also got me searching. I answered him at the time that he was probably correct that most people are not anti-Israel or antisemitic but:

it’s the loudest voices that are heard. The Israel-haters are passionate about their cause and make a huge noise, magnified by the hostile media. The pro-Israel crowd took much longer to get organized and anyway have a much harder time getting their voices heard, so the “anti” crowd have a head start on them.

At the same time as Pete’s perceptive comment, a series of virulently anti-Israel events on university campuses around the world went to illustrate my point, and possibly proved Pete’s conjecture as well, that the Arabs, or their supporters in the media and academia, are indeed “operating some kind of disinformation program on the Internet to cast a “negative shadow” on Israel.”

Over the course of just a couple of days in November we read about the following anti-Israel campus events:

From Trending Central, a very serious article despite the cheeky headline: What the Falk is King’s College doing inviting a 9/11 truther?

In a rather quiet corner of the Strand lies King’s College London’s (KCL) rather elegant baroque style campus. On Monday, this beautiful complex was host to a rather ugly personality. Richard Falk, a notable member of the United Nations’ Human Rights’ Council and Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, was invited by the University itself to give a lecture on ‘state crime.’

It was compulsory for certain undergraduate law students, and while advertised as a leading international jurist, Falk is nothing more than a rabid conspiracy theorist.

He has been criticised by his own ambassador, Susan Rice, for what are truly disgraceful opinions on the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks.

[…]

In 2004, he signed a statement by the organisation 9/11 truth, believing the September 11th terrorist attacks to have involved the Bush administration. He reaffirmed his support for this petition in 2009. As Ban Ki Moon commented, Falk’s sentiments, ‘affront…the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in that tragic terrorist attack.’ In light of this, it is truly disappointing and indeed bizarre that an academic institution as respected as KCL invite such an offensive individual.

Falk is on record for expressing the worst kind of anti-Semitism

[…]

So why on earth did King’s College invite this clown? Why should King’s grant legitimacy to this complete and utter nut? And more bizarrely, how can this be a compulsory session for students? Who’s next? Alex Jones?

In essence, it boils down to that obsession with Israel which permeates nearly every academic institution. A pathological infatuation which latches onto any crank so long as he has something bad to say about Israel. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Holocaust denier like Israel Shamir – the House of Lords will warmly receive him. Nobody cares if it’s someone as offensive as George Galloway – the Oxford Union will still invite him. Who gives a damn if they’re an apologist for suicide bombers? Azzam Tamimi continues to hop from campus to campus spouting hatred.

Another nasty campus event took place across the Atlantic at Brooklyn College who was to play host to Ben White, the anti-Israel bigot:

The City University of New York’s (CUNY) Brooklyn College is again provoking passions, playing host this week to an anti-Israel activist who many, citing his published writings, believe to be anti-Semitic.

Ben White, who describes himself as a writer, freelance journalist and researcher on his Twitter page, will give a talk Thursday, November 14th called “Israel: Apartheid not Democracy,” as part of a mini-tour of college campuses that will also include a stop at John Jay College in Manhattan. The event is to be hosted by the school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

White has in the past compared Israel’s policies to those of Nazi Germany – classified as anti-Semitic by the U.S. State Department; once declared he can  “understand” why some people are anti-Semitic; and has served as an apologist for previous Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s Holocaust denial.

The event comes on the heels of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) talk in February that many members of both Brooklyn College and the New York community objected to. The controversy reached a crescendo when four Jewish students were forcefully removed from the event because of what organizers said was a disruptive presence. The school later conducted an inquiry into the incident and determined “there was no justification for the removal of the four students.”

[…]

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a CUNY trustee, was infuriated by the news.

“No academic setting of which I am aware would tolerate open racism directed against any other group in such a forum. In the very least, we would hear hearty condemnations left and right,” he told The Algemeiner. “I will state plainly: his relativism on the Holocaust and his other pronouncements make him an out-and-out anti-Semite. His appearance is a black mark at Brooklyn College, which follows several others and is outside the realm of measures by the board and Chancellor which continue to advance CUNY.”

Melanie Goldberg, who graduated last spring and was one of the four students evicted from the BDS talk, said that Jewish students she has spoken to on campus aren’t happy, but feel as if they have no power over the situation.

“They’re waiting to see what happens. We’re not really surprised considering that following the BDS event last year the SJP was actually given more funds by the school,” she told The Algemeiner.

[…]

To compound the problem, as the students see it, is the fact that the Political Science and Sociology Departments are co-sponsoring the event.

Paisley Currah, head of the Political Science Department, claimed that his department “is not a ‘supporter,’ advocate, champion, or endorser of these events and the views that will be expressed there,” adding “We co-sponsor events because we as a department value the open and free exchange of ideas. As educators, we place great value on learning, inside and outside the classroom.”

[…]

The school’s president, Karen Gould, however, did not issue any public comment on White’s appearance.

Kenneth L Marcus, President and General Counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, wasn’t buying the excuse — or Gould’s silence.

“Federally funded colleges must promptly and effectively respond to hateful incidents that are so severe or pervasive that they deny equal educational benefits to students based on race, color or national origin.  This is the case when a hostile environment is crested for Jewish, Israeli, or other minority students,” he said.

“When hateful speakers come to campus, some college presidents mistakenly believe they must decide between suppressing free speech or permitting open bigotry. In fact, the right answer is never to do nothing.  Even if the speech is constitutionally protected, university leaders may forcefully speak out against it. There is no legal reason why President Gould cannot firmly explain that such prejudice has no place in an institution of higher learning.”

Certainly there is no legal reason for President Gould’s silence – but the pressure of political correctness and the fear of appearing un-liberal would appear to outweigh any sense of justice towards the Jewish students.

Yet more anti-Israel academic nastiness was seen at the University of Washington which held a disgusting BDS and pro-Hezbollah event, sponsored by the anti-Israel (despite its name) JVP.  Michael Roberts at Legal Insurrection writes:

The  BDS 101 program was held in a lecture hall filled with a mix of Muslim and Progressive students and a small handful of pro-Israel students and community members. The program  featured a four member panel anchored by Stefanie Fox of the anti-Israel group, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and included Cindy Corrie, mother of the infamous Rachel Corrie. Two co-ed hosts from the sponsoring group (SUPER-UW) opened the event by declaring their solidarity with all of the other righteous struggles on the planet “we condemn all injustice” they said.

BDS event at Washington University

The panel members each on cue took their turn at demonizing Israel. The perky Ms. Fox educated the students that Israel is a rogue apartheid state run by war criminal olive tree killers that must be penalized until in compliance with basic civilized norms.

[…]

Fox flaunted her Jewish bona fides with her comparison of the BDS call to boycott the Jewish state to a 1902 Lower East Side boycott of price gouging kosher meat producers. The only thing missing from her heimish plea to destroy Israel was a fiddler on the roof. There was a clear effort made to divide Jews into good Jews (JVP supporters and the like) and bad Jews (the rest of us). In fact the use of Jewish and Jew in a negative context was bandied about with uncomfortable ease and frequency. In a new and clearly deliberate effort the word Jewish was consistently attached to Israeli with the new amalgam identifier of “Jewish-Israeli” used at every opportunity.

The only good part of the event was the presence of several pro-Israel activists who stood their ground and even successfully challenged some of the anti-Israel activists. (Emphases are mine):

When a pro-Israel woman sympathized but explained that Hezbollah was to blame for what he had suffered, he responded coolly with “I am Hezbollah”. As the discussion continued, the young man defended the bombing of pizza restaurants and buses “what do you expect them to do?” he said with a righteous dose of indignation.

As the woman, seemingly unfazed,  firmly challenged the young man point for point, he began to  back away from her and said “I feel threatened by you”. “You feel threatened by me?” responded the surprised mother of four to the young man a head taller than her. At that moment I recalled the scene from a comedy film of a few years back where the grossly anti-Semitic Borat was petrified in fear of a pleasant elderly Jewish couple with whom he was staying. But thus is the victim mentality.

[…]

But to counteract the slick anti-Israel indoctrination that this already angry young man had been subjected would be a tall order indeed.

It is not hopeless; tough questions were asked during the Q&A by the few pro-Israel members of the audience. The BDS panel were ill equipped to respond to the tougher, better formulated of these questions.  In addition, I saw that many of the ostensibly anti-Israel students were eager to engage with a contrary point of view and several positive impromptu discussions did take place.

Unfortunately as it relates to the difficult hand to hand combat for hearts and minds, American Jewish establishment organizations, with the notable exception of StandWithUs, have been AWOL on our campuses. While organizations like Hillel do much good work, their approach is sometimes closer to Woody Allenesque hand wringing than to proud Israel advocacy.  For  example Hillel UW has screened films like “A Two Sided Story” which artfully equates Israeli self defense with Arab terror and have hosted organizations like “Breaking the Silence” that disseminate the harshest aspersions against Israel.

Meanwhile groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and SUPER-UW confidently peddle their concentrated hatred on a near empty playing field with few visible opponents.

Michael Roberts’ concluding words above hold very important lessons for all of us pro-Israel activists, whether on campus, in the media, in diplomacy or in politics. As commenter Pete intuited  and as I answered, the anti-Israel activists get their opinions published and magnified by an acquiescent and compliant media. But their job is amply helped by the very absence of an equally loud pro-Israel activism. We are all doing our best, but the other Jewish and pro-Israel organizations must get their act together to help us fight this prejudice together.

It is not only on campus however that we need to combat anti-Israel bigotry. Anti-Israel activists even have the chutzpah to peddle their prejudice while acting as bona-fide tourists in Israel itself. Via Camera,  (h/t Robert Harris) Ardie Geldman tells us about responding to pro-Palestinian solidarity tours. From a lengthy, depressing but extremely worthwhile read, here are a couple of excerpts:

When a stopover in Efrat follows a visit to Dheisheh or Aida, the questions the visitors ask convey the mistaken assumption that the state of Israel created these camps. It is further believed by many of the visitors that Israeli authorities forcibly interred the original Palestinian residents in 1948 and that Israel remains responsible for the camps’ continued existence and their current squalid conditions.

Skepticism within the group is apparent when I attempt to disabuse its members of these “facts.” Why else, ask visitors, would the Palestinians be living in refugee camps today, if not for Israel? The historically accurate reason, say Marx and Nachmias, is that “[UNWRA] has been resisting any contraction of its operations, never took any steps to fold up, and to date, service responsibilities were never transferred to the legitimate Palestinian Authority. UNRWA continues to act as a ‘non-territorial government’ competing with the elected Palestinian Authority for funds and responsibilities. Other problems involve a hastily drawn mandate resulting in lack of proper accountability and management procedures, and lack of clarity concerning UNRWA’s involvement in the human rights of the refugees.”

[…]

Since it is in the interest of the tours organizers to promote the calumny that Israel maintains an apartheid system throughout Judea and Samaria, a visit to the Ariel University Center in Samaria to meet some of its more than 300 Arab students, including non-citizen Palestinians, is never included in the itinerary of any of these groups; nor would a drive along the many highways of Judea and Samaria to demonstrate that these allegedly “apartheid” roads are, in fact, open to – and well-traveled daily by – Palestinians, often in late model and expensive vehicles.50 A walk along many of Jerusalem’s main commercial streets and through her shopping malls testifies to the openness of Israel’s capitol to East Jerusalem Arabs as well as West Bank Palestinians, a reality that starkly contradicts what these groups are told. Are overseas visitors made aware of the April 2010 interfaith marathon between Jews, Christians and Muslims, including Palestinians, whose route began in Bethlehem and ended in Jerusalem’s Old City?

[…]

No group of pro-Palestinian visitors to Efrat, to my knowledge, has ever been taken to visit the emergency rooms or wards of Israel’s hospitals where they would witness non-citizen Palestinians benefiting from Israel’s first class medical care, the cost of which, depending the circumstances, might be borne either by the hospital itself, the state of Israel, or private philanthropy. Here the visitor would also see Israeli – Arab as well as Palestinian patients receiving treatment from both Arab and Jewish doctors, nurses and technicians. Nor have these groups been informed of Israel’s highly celebrated “Save-a-Child’s Heart” organization, based at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, whose mission to provide life-saving cardiac treatment and heart surgery to impoverished Third World children includes Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.52

[…]

Israel is fighting international delegitimization on multiple fronts. The NGOs mentioned above, those who successfully exploit the openness and freedom of Israeli society to promote a pro-Palestinian agenda, ironically offer Israel a useful model for combating delegitimization at the grass-roots level. Holy Land Trust, for example, is a Palestinian non-profit organization founded in 1998 in Bethlehem by Sami Awad. HLT’s purported mission is to work “with the Palestinian community at grass-roots and leadership levels to develop non-violent approaches that aim to end the Israeli occupation and build a future on the principles of non-violence, equality, justice, and peaceful coexistence.”  But in reality HLT creates and executes highly politically-oriented tours and educational programs with an unambiguous anti-Israel theme. Its worldwide market targets churches, community organizations, college and high school students, as well as individual tourists.  HLT’s market is broad based and grass roots and it spreads a wide net.

Missing in Israel’s public relations arsenal is a robust Counter Tourism program directed, like Holy Land Trust, primarily to non-elites.  It would offer balance to the partisan experiences and imagery that constitute the essential elements of pro-Palestinian protest tours. The goal of Counter Tourism is to improve Israel’s international image and recapture people’s hearts and minds. Its programmatic objective is to provide personal encounters for (mostly non-Jewish) international visitors with (1) Israeli families, religious and secular, living in Judea and Samaria, and (2) joint Israeli – Palestinian projects in both the private and public sectors, including projects undertaken by Israel on behalf of Palestinians.

Read the whole article for an eye-opening but extremely alarming view on the protest-tourism phenomenon.

A similar article by Ardie Geldman in the Jerusalem Post asks who are the victims? explaining that anti-Israel activists, in their zeal to side with the underdog, do not want to consider the idea that Israelis are or ever were victims.

The lessons to be learned from all these depressing narratives are that we – Israelis, Jews, Zionists everywhere – must be much more pro-active in our pro-Israel activity on campus, in the media, in tourism, in government, everywhere. We must demand from our government and from our community leaders to be present and pro-active in countering the vicious anti-Israel and antisemitic bigotry emanating from the anti-Israel, BDS-promoting, terrorist-supporting crowds.

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10 Responses to Drowning out the anti-Israel voices and countering anti-Israel activism

  1. Betty says:

    I am really impressed that there are brave pro Israel defenders who are prepared to stand up to overwhelmingly antagonistic and self righteous ill informed do gooders and enablers as well as the really ill intentioned vilifiers. It would be really inspiring if some of the actual discussions and arguments as well as the actual questions being asked could be recorded. This would help those who might know the information but lack the gift of being able to think quickly on their feet. They might then be able to have some ammunition in order to have the self confidence to do more confronting and defending.

    • anneinpt says:

      Betty, you make a very good point about recording successful counter-arguments to Israel’s vilifiers. If you want some ammunition right now, there are several excellent examples out there already.

      The blogger Richard Millett makes a point of documenting his interactions and arguments with Israel-haters – it’s what his blog is all about.

      Honest Reporting also has pages and pages of counter-BDS arguments, and Neil Lazarus (who I think is connected to Honest Reporting) has an online Mideast Crisis course which is extremely worthwhile.

      If you look down my right-hand sidebar you will see many other websites all dedicated to providing information about Israel so that we can be well-armed in the face of anti-Israel bigotry and ignorance.

  2. Rob Harris says:

    Hi Anne, a fine analysis of the current situation – something does indeed need to be done. This sort of thing goes on most commonly when no high-profile guests are invited to universities. They target the impressionable minds of young adults, at a time when they are most open to politicisation by the views of ideologues, who so often are just demagogues. At University College Dublin, for example, the student wing of Richard Boyd Barrett’s anti-Israel Socialist Workers Party http://www.crethiplethi.com/the-many-vices-of-richard-boyd-barrett/eurabia/2011/ are involved with fairly intemperate weekly demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy in Dublin, whilst the head http://www.universityobserver.ie/2013/10/15/israel-condemns-total-ignorance-of-ucd-swp-2/ of the SWP’s student wing proudly calls for Israel’s destruction, echoing Boyd-Barrett, as the unofficial SWP’s head, whilst running the odd anti-Israel event or “discussion” at the college (e.g. a recent talk: “Israel: the hijack state”), which is never challenged. It is this drip-feeding that I think causes most damage but never (or very rarely) reaches the attention of pro-Israel advocates or media.

    • Betty says:

      It’s not only the ongoing drip feed of vicious anti Semitic vitriol it’s also the use of slogans and shorthand such as”Israel the hijack state”. Or “Israel the apartheid State.” So catchy and memorable at an emotional level. We need to be just as adept with emotive and memorable taunts eg the “Palestinians a made up people” or Abbas out of term dictator

      • Rob Harris says:

        @Betty, I agree that the slogans convey a strong message that is clearly taking hold. Having strong focused slogans would seem to require a degree of unity within the pro-Israel community, to justify those messages, and to continue to push them. Unfortunately such a unifying co-ordinating element is lacking as it is, except perhaps to some modest extent in the US, e.g. over here in Ireland, pro-Palestinians have big delegations, bought numerous ships to travel to Gaza etc. while the tiny pro-Israel camp is hardly visible at all.

        • anneinpt says:

          Rob, you are absolutely correct that the pro-Israel activist community is nowhere near united enough or vociferous enough. There is the additional problem of Israel activists who are essentially anti-Israel, even unintentionally, by siding too much with the Palestinians. We see no such similar sympathy from the Palestinian side towards the Israelis. They are always “on message” whereas the pro-Israelis are not always thus.

          I’m not so sure that there big delegations and flotillas etc. are that big. They are just very good at PR and gimmicks and play to a friendly media that is willing to amplify their message. The pro-Israel activists do not get the benefit of a level playing field.

  3. peteca1 says:

    anne – here is what made me think harder about this issue. I follow security concerns around the world. If you take a look at the country of Mexico – what is happening there due to the drug cartels is just absolutely horrendous. it’s like the Devil himself took a trip to Acapulco, liked the scenery, and decided to move in permanently! Hahaha! I’m joking – but it’s not funny. The gruesome things done by the drug cartels are beyond the worst human imagination. every week I say to myself – well THAT’S bad, and it cannot get any worse. And then the next week they do something even worse!!

    So if these bad things are happening in Mexico … where are all of the anti-Mexico posts on the Internet? Mostly … they don’t exist. But if people were objective and wanted to criticize bad things in the world, wouldn’t the Internet be filled with anti-Mexico sentiments? and the UN too? so in that case, why do we keep seeing so much anti-Israel propaganda? something is clearly out of balance with the world media and Israel.

    my theory is that some kind of smear cmpaign does exist against Israel. Perhaps it is a covert program coming from the Revolutionary Guards in Iran. or maybe a “hidden hand” from some sources in the ME. but the degree of negative publicity is out of proportion to what is happening in Israel itself. so something is going on.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      You’re quite right Pete that there is a smear campaign going on against Israel. It’s no secret really. As you pointed out so clearly with the example of Mexico, the double standard regarding Israel is absolutely glaring. The double standard continues in places like the UN where we saw that entertaining, but ultimately depressing video of the interpreter noticing the imbalance in anti-Israel resolutions.

      Who is funding it and who is the moving force behind this delegitimization campaign is a whole other question. Certainly the Arab regimes with their petro-dollars play a part, but today I think it is equally if not more funded and motivated by the extreme left.

      Ultimately though, it hardly makes a difference who and why. For us, i.e. Israel and its supporters everywhere in the world, we have to shine a light on the double standards to expose them, and we also need to be pro-active, not just defensive, in promoting Israel’s case to the world.

  4. Betty says:

    It certainly does not help our cause when the Israeli newspaper most quoted outside Israel is Haaretz which features journalists who could just as easily be writing for the Palestinian news agency and at least one who has been shown to be a liar. The New York Times also viewed as a leader in the field has been shown time again to be totally slanted in its reporting on Israel . With firiends like these…….? That’s Democracy! The one bright spot in all this is that these papers and others of their ilk are going broke and losing their readers. Bloggers are a growing force and readers now can search out the news and views that they find more enlightening. Keep up the good work

    • anneinpt says:

      You have certainly hit the nail on the head with Haaretz – it’s been compared to the Guardian and has been called “dangerous” by Honest Reporting.

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