I have just finished reading Julian Barnes ‘The History of the World in 10½ Chapters‘.
I am currently doing my thing of finding an author I like and then gorging myself on the complete oeuvre.
The book is amusing and thought-provoking and, ultimately, eschatological.
And the end of the ½ chapter, which is titled ‘Parenthesis’, I was struck by a tidbit, a wee morsel of prose which struck a chord about the two parallel narratives with regard to Israel and the Palestinians which I’ll come to shortly.
This dual narrative is familiar to those involved in hasbara and defending Israel and I came face to face with the ‘other side’ on Twitter recently. A guy called Zbigniew was rather annoyed that I was tweeting the good news of the failure of the BDS brigade to stop the performance of Habima, the Israeli national theatre, at the Globe theatre in London where they performed The Merchant of Venice on two consecutive nights.
I have written previously about the shameful attempt by a group of luvvies who should know better to have Habima banned and the disgusting singling out of Israel just because Habima has played in settlements in Judea and Samaria/West Bank. It is, therefore seen as somehow complicit in the counter-narrative of colonialism, land-stealing and general oppression.
Zbigniew told me that Israel was to be ‘loathed’ and when challenged about which other contries he loathed he placed Israel in a group with Syria, Libya and Zimbabwe.
What I will, for the sake of shorthand, call the pro-Pal narrative always sees the conflict as one of good (Pals) against evil (Israel, or more precisely – Jews). Any wrongdoing by an Israeli or group of Israelis confirms them in their demonisation and hatred of Israel.
This is how Z tweeted:
“I think every right minded person should be concerned about Israel and what is happening…”
“does the expulsion and mistreatment of Palestinians not concern you? chants of Death to arabs?”
“Attacks on Arabs by (illegal) settlers, racism towards the african communities? Israel should be loathed!”
Of course, if you want to cherry-pick specific incidents, ignore history, and even fail to ask yourself questions like “why did these (mainly Muslim) Africans come to Israel in the first place rather than Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt etc.” then you will continue to see Israel and the conflict in this myopic and polarised way.
Such views never consider the actions of the other protagonists because you have already decided their cause is just and so whatever Israel does, even the patently good things, always have a malign intent or are dismissed as propaganda or irrelevant, or impossible without US dollars.
So here is the quote from Barnes which I believe so succinctly tells us about why hasbara is not working; historical truth is going the same way as moral relativism:
We all know that objective truth is not attainable, that when some event occurs we shall have a multiplicity of subjective truths which we assess and then fabulate into history, into some God-eyed version of what really happened. This God-eyed version is a fake – a charming, impossible fake… But while we know this, we must still believe that objective truth is obtainable; or we must believe that it is 99 per cent obtainable; or if we can’t believe this we must believe that 43 per cent objective truth is better than 41 per cent. We must do so, because if we don’t we’re lost, we fall into beguiling relativity, we value one liar’s version as much as another liar’s, we throw up our hands at the puzzle of it all, we admit that the victor has the right not just to the spoils but also to the truth.
Too many people – luvvies in the UK, Israelis in Israel, left-wingers and the whole motley crew of dillusionals – are throwing up their hands and then prostrating themselves before the god of fashionable and deluded ‘truth’ that tells them it’s all Israel’s fault and if Israel changed its policies all would be right with the world.
Yet all they do is to give succour to the loathers and haters who have their single cyclopean historical eye put out but then claim, nevertheless, that they can see more clearly.
On Naksa day, June 5th, Palestinians and Arabs have recently decided to commemorate the day that the 6 Day War started and which they lost. The war that led to the loss of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula.
On Sunday hundreds of Syrians tried to cross the Israeli border at Majdal Shams and Quneitra.
After the experience of the Nakba Day riots on the same border the IDF were better prepared to repulse these invaders.
Various news reports from Israel (foreign reporting is not allowed in Syria) showed images of the IDF firing live ammunition and tear gas.
Syria has reported 20 dead and 350 injured.
Israel is condemned again.
The Israelis say their procedure was to fire over the heads of the rioters, then fire tear gas, where that was practical, and if all else failed, to fire at the legs of the invaders.
I have seen no evidence that the IDF killed a single invader.
Reports say that the Syrians were stupid enough to throw Molotov cocktails towards the border which started fires which led to Syrian landmines exploding and causing injuries.
Yet we have not seen a single Syrian news report of these casualties, their funerals, interviews etc (as far as I know).
Because the media accept the word of a Syrian regime currently involved in murdering hundreds of its own citizens and repeat this over and over, it is now accepted wisdom that Israel killed ‘innocent’ Syrians.
So where are the Israeli efforts to rebut these reports?
Why do they allow these lies, if lies they be, to propagate?
Where is there version of events? Where the news conference?
It’s the Mavi Marmara all over again.
No doubt in a year’s time we’ll see the evidence that no-one was killed by Israelis. When it’s too late and the damage is already done.
On Friday night I had the privilege of being at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem to listen to Melanie Phillips address a group of visiting Americans from Kehillath Jeshurun.
The American group come regularly from Manhattan led by Rabbi Lookstein. They are strong supporters of Israel.
Melanie Phillips had been invited to speak to them after dinner, a difficult task in a hall where the acoustics were poor and Ms Phillips had to speak without electronic aids as it was Shabbat.
Nevertheless, Phillips’ message was loud and clear.
She quickly gave the history of her experiences in the UK and her gradual move through various stages of pariahdom in the UK, mostly due to her stand on Israel and her belief that Israel is the true victim of the conflict although the received wisdom, the default position in the UK media and in Europe is that it is Israel who is the aggressor.
Politicians in the UK, Europe and even the US have for years treated the conflict as if it were a mere border dispute.
According to Phillips – and I have always been in complete agreement on this point – the dispute, which has now raged since the State of Israel was declared, is ALL about Arab rejectionism. A true peace partner would continue to negotiate, they would not declare their intent to destroy the State and, in the case of Hamas and Hizbollah in particular, to kill Jews as a religious imperative.
What lies at the heart of the conflict, therefore, is Islamic Jew-hatred and a virulent anti-Semitism.
The Arab rejectionist narrative and the inversion of victim and aggressor has, according to Phillips, become the narrative of the UK, the US and Europe. They have adopted a false narrative which places the entire onus for progress and concession on Israel whilst the Palestinians have not only failed to make a single concession, but meet every Israeli concession with violence.
The West is rewarding the Palestinians for this aggression and rejectionism, and grants them a free pass.
Phillips bemoaned Israel’s failure to address this false narrative and, in some respects, adopts it itself. Israel always has to be explaining and defending its actions which are put under a microscope, whether it be Operation Cast Lead or the Mavi Marmara incident.
As a result of always having to explain its actions to a cynical world which has internalised as axiomatic that Israel is always to blame, Israel is always on the back foot.
This defensive position has been put forward not just to the UN but also to NGO’s foreign governments and international Human Rights organisations.
So what must be done to put Israel on the front foot?
Phillips offered some suggestions which were to delegitimise the delegitimisers. For example, as a counter to Israel Apartheid Week, why not hold Muslim Women’s Rights Week.
Israel must emphasise that the true story of Israel did not begin in 1967 or 1948 but much earlier. There is an educational problem and not just in the wider world but within the Jewish community worldwide and in Israel itself.
Israel’s claims to the Land are moral and legal and these rights must be trumpeted at all possible opportunities.
Although it may be politic for Israel to concede the West Bank as the basis for a Palestinian state, nevertheless, there is no legal imperative to do so and settlements are NOT illegal.
When Phillips puts these points to Israeli politicians they say that questions of legality of settlements are a legal minefield and that even to address questions about the legitimacy of the State is an admission that there is a question to be answered. No-one questions the legitimacy of New Zealand or Nigeria or Costa Rica (my examples)
Reactions from a conservative American audience were largely supportive and in some cases VERY supportive. A couple of speakers questioned this approach and said it had all been done before and that Israel’s case was constantly being put in the US by AIPAC, for example.
Phillips maintained that this was Jews speaking to Jews. The message requires to be heard outside the community of ‘believers’.
One speaker said that Christian Zionists were fully on message when it came to Israeli legitimacy. This is all very well, but even more needs to be done to reach a sceptical audience of neutrals.
This was, perhaps the crux. Is it really possible for a front-foot strategy to succeed? The walls of ignorance and prejudice are very hard to breach. The enemy is well-organised and has been winning the battle for hearts and minds for decades. To shift the narrative requires Israel to win battles in the UN, the media and in NGO’s.
The idea of countering the delegitimisers of Israel Apartheid Week with an attack on the Islamic world’s appalling record on women’s rights and human rights generally is attractive, but in the UK, for example, the pro-Israel support is so marginalised and small in comparison with the anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian side that the result could be extremely unpleasant and violent.
However, the idea of exposing Muslim and left-wing hypocrisy, beginning at the grass roots level on campus is an attractive one, albeit for the strong-willed and the thick-skinned. I am not sure if such a response could be organised in the UK where most Jewish students are far less radical than their Muslim counterparts and less willing to stir the pot. The diaspora fear of backlash is strongly engrained in the galut psyche.
The big question remains: do the Israelis really believe that such an approach is necessary?
A typical response is that of Asa Kasher who was an author of the IDF Code of Conduct
We as Jews ….. are acutely sensitive to every attack on us. Not only when it’s anti-Semitism or anti-Israel. Even when someone attacks us for this or that government’s politics. The lights go on. “They’re attacking us.” It seems to us to be absolutely terrible. I understand that feeling. We don’t have a history of being loved by everyone. Quite the reverse. But some perspective is required. Obviously we have to be active on all fronts. The international media is a front. So you have the IDF Spokesman. You have the Ministry of Public Diplomacy. Everyone must do what they can to improve this situation. But it’s not that important.
Look what happened after Operation Cast Lead. European leaders and the US president came here. That was a sign of solidarity with Israel. So I don’t think there’s a danger of us becoming [a pariah state] like South Africa. (my emphasis)
So if someone like Kasher is so sanguine about the outside world’s view of Israel, you have to wonder whether Phillips and all other pro-Israel journalists and writers and bloggers like myself serve any useful purpose as far as the Israeli government is concerned.
As they might say over here ‘Mah haBayah’ – What’s the problem?
I’ve known about the group British Muslims for Israel for some time and I link to them on my blog.
Now a spokesman, Hasan Afzal, has been interviewed on Israel’s Channel 10.
What he says is a breath of fresh air.
When the uprising in Egypt began, I wrote on this blog that I wondered where an Egyptian democracy would find its paradigm. I suggested that Israel represented such a paradigm. Of course, it will not happen, nor will it in Tunisia or anywhere else in the Arab world.
Afzal also tells us that Muslims would be better off living in a pluralistic democracy like Israel and his admiration of Israel’s success story is a telling rebuke to the authoritarian Arab regimes who have done little to advance the welfare of their people for the last 60 years.
What is also striking is that this Muslim voice is in contrast to the left-wing and other mouthpieces of Israel-bashing, Hamas-adoring ignoramuses in Britain. I noticed as I was about to write this piece that Melanie Phillips has also written about this brave Muslim and his group. I especially like this telling sentence:
If they go on in this vein, not only will these Muslims show they are very much more enlightened, decent and rational than so many others in the British intelligentsia – they will be doing rather better at hasbara and show rather more courage in openly saying what so desperately needs to be said than the Jewish community itself.
Hasan Afzal and British Muslims for Israel are brave menshen and should be considered Righteous Among the Nations.
The Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora affairs in Israel today published its new-improved Hasbara initiative called Faces of Israel.
The plan involves a disparate group of young people representing a cross-section of Israeli society who will travel yo the USA and Canada initially and present a different image of Israel from the usual political, diplomatic and high-prestige personalities who are the norm.
Here is what is proposed:
A special Israeli youth delegation, including Druze, Arabs, Jews, Ethiopian immigrants and representatives of the gay community, plans to leave next week on a unique public diplomacy campaign at leading US and Canadian universities. The delegation, entitled “Faces of Israel”, was formed at the initiative of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, with the assistance of the Foreign Ministry, and is designed to have Israelis present Israel. All members of the delegation volunteered to put aside their daily routines in order to undergo special training to present and represent abroad the true faces of Israeli society.
They will deal with a complex public diplomacy mission opposite young students like themselves and other organizations which, on campus, are promoting activities to incite against, and defame, Israel and are portraying it as an apartheid state, in the framework of a week of highlighted to be held next month.
Yuli Edelstein explains:
“… The delegation will divide into groups that will be sent to the various universities and participate in various forums, including open panels and direct meetings on campuses.
This is a new strategy that seeks to promote the human face of Israel not just by means of ministers and diplomats in suits but directly, face to face, by means of regular people who go out into the field.” US and Canadian campuses, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs held various training workshops, as well as personal training, for them in recent weeks, for approximately 40 hours.”
The specially chosen and culturally diverse delegation will present Israel, a variegated society that maintains values of equality and human rights. In order to prepare delegation members in the best way possible ahead of what awaits them on US and Canadian campuses, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs held various training workshops, as well as personal training, for them in recent weeks, for approximately 40 hours.
I think they are in for a tough time as the anti-Zionists will be out in force trying to disrupt and using every opportunity to spread hate and lies about Israel. But that’s why this initiative is so important. It will be a visible demonstration of the diversity of Israeli society which will pain a picture very different from the one being pedalled by Israel’s enemies.
At least, that’s what the intention is. How it plays out is another matter.
In a recent address to the Ariel Conference on Law and Mass Media, Melanie Phillips criticised the failure of Israel’s Public Diplomacy (hasbara) and outlined why the thrust of hasbara has been wrong and how it should be conducted.
Later, on Israeli TV, she laid into hasbara as being ‘a joke’ and you can see the interview in the video clip above.
Melanie makes connections between the progress of political Islam, antisemitism in the West and the Muslim world, far Left political discourse and the failure of western civilisation to defend itself against attack by forces inimical to it.
For Melanie, the defence of an imperfect Israel is critical to the defence of western, and therefore, Christian civilisation.
Israel is the redoubt of western democracy.
As former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar has said, if Israel falls western democracies will not be far behind.
All this is covered in great detail in her latest book ‘The World Turned Upside Down’.
Melanie outlines the ways that the attack can be taken to the anti-Zionists and how those who remain rational and outside any particular ideology and who have been fed lies about Israel can be educated.
Israel and its defenders have been fighting on the wrong battleground: the one that has been chosen by its enemies. The Arabs brilliantly reconfigured the Arab war of extermination against Israel as the oppression by Israel of the Palestinians.
That has transformed Israel from victim to aggressor — the reversal of reality which lies at the very heart of the western obsession with the ‘settlements’ and the territories.
Yet since Oslo, Israel has meekly gone along with this mad pressure. It has never said it is totally unconscionable. It has never put the all-important argument from justice on its own account. So it has allowed its enemies to appropriate this argument mendaciously as their own. But if Israel doesn’t make the case properly on its own behalf, how can anyone else do so?
To which Israel says realpolitik dictates it has to go along with the diplomatic game being played. But diplomatic realpolitik is what brought us all to this position — the brink of a terrible war with Iran which is treated by America with kid gloves while Israel is put under the cosh.
What Israel has failed to recognise is that the battleground on which it is being forced to fight is not just military. It is also a battleground of the mind, and the strategy being used against it – and to which it needs to respond in kind — is psychological warfare.
The fact remains that both Israel and diaspora Jews have to rethink. They have to realise they must start fighting on the battleground where the attack is actually being mounted against them. And the goal has to be to seize and retake the moral high ground.
A history lesson must be given to misguided and misinformed but rational people:
Israel’s behaviour is due to the widespread belief that its very existence is an aberration which, although understandable at the time it came into being, was a historic mistake.
People believe that Israel was created as a way of redeeming Holocaust guilt. Accordingly, they believe that European Jews with no previous connection to Palestine — which they believe was the historic homeland of Palestinian Muslims who had lived there since time immemorial — were transplanted there as foreign invaders, from where they drove out the indigenous Arabs into the West Bank and Gaza. These are territories which Israel is now occupying illegally oppressing the Palestinians and frustrating the creation of a state of Palestine which would end the conflict.
Of course every one of those assumptions is false. But from those false assumptions proceeds the understandable belief not just that Israel’s behaviour is unjust, illegal and oppressive but that it is unjust and oppressive by virtue of its very existence.
For these people there is an urgent need for a proactive educational approach. No-one has ever told them that these beliefs are false – and when they are told, the effect is often transformative.
For bigots, it’s another story entirely. These are people with closed mindsets.
… there is no point arguing with them. They are, by definition, beyond all reason. Their influence simply has to be destroyed. They have to be held to account for their lies and bigotry which should be forensically exposed.
So Israel and its defenders should be demanding of the world why it expects Israel alone to make compromises with people who have tried for nine decades to wipe out the Jewish presence in the land and are still firing rockets at it.
They should expose the pretence of Britain or European countries which claim to have Israel’s security needs at heart but forbid it from using military means to defend itself
Israel and its defenders should be asking why so-called friends in the west want a Palestine state, since once the IDF depart the disputed territories they will become in short order yet another Iranian-backed Islamic terrorist entity which will pose a further threat not just to Israel but to the west.
They should be asking why the EU is continuing to fund the genocidal incitement against Jews promoted by the Palestine Authority.
They should be asking so-called ‘progressives’ – including Jewish ‘progressives’ — why they support the racist ethnic cleansing of every Jew from a future state of Palestine.
They should be asking them why they are not marching against Hamas on account of its tyrannical oppression of Palestinians in Gaza. Why they are ignoring Arab and Muslim persecution of women and homosexuals.
Why they are not mounting a boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Mahmoud Abbas’s PA and Hamas, on account of Abbas’s Holocaust denial and the clear evidence of continuation of Nazi Jew-hatred in a direct line of descent from predecessors who were Hitler’s supporters in Palestine.
As for western Israel-bashers, Israel and its defenders should accuse them not of Jew-hating motives that cannot be proved but of absurdities and contradictions and untruths they cannot deny. They should ridicule them, humiliate them, destroy their reputations; boycott them, not invite them to social gatherings, show them disapproval and contempt. Treat them as pariahs. Turn their own weapons against them.
They should be telling the Jews ‘own story of refugees and ethnic cleansing – the 800,000 Jews driven out of Arab lands after 1948 ….
They should be holding Arab and Islamic democracy weeks on campus, to expose the oppression and persecution within that world against women, homosexuals and others.
They should be singling out the Anglican church and the revival of ancient theological Jew-hatred being spread within the Anglican world by the Palestinian Christians of the Sabeel centre.
At the same time, they should be focusing on their true friends within the Christian world, not just in America but also in Africa and Asia where there is an enormous reservoir of goodwill towards Israel which could be mobilised into a global fighting force.
They should be campaigning against the UN and the hijacking of international law and human rights by anti-western, anti-Jewish and anti-Christian ideologues.
They should be confronting head-on the false claim that bigotry is confined to the right. They should be pointing the finger at the ‘progressive’ left to show how it is actually supporting the mortal enemies not just of Israel but the west.
And they should be making this case to Israelis themselves, to counter the delegitimisation and ignorance in Israeli universities and to educate the Israeli young in their own national history.
For me, much of this is already mainstream hasbara in the blogosphere. It hasn’t worked. What is needed is action at higher levels and with better organisation. Activists, educators, academics, journalists need to have their energies combined and co-ordinated. It is especially effective when non-Jewish and especially Arab and Muslim supporters of Israel take concerted action.
Some of what Melanie demands of governments or progressives will never happen because of the closed minds she has already ascribed to them.
Turning the tide of irrational hatred will not be easy. Being proactive instead of reactive is also difficult. The sheer intensity of the attack on Israel requires responses. Such attacks cannot be given a free pass. So much is put into the defence it hard to mount an attack.
In fact, the mere act of attempting a large-scale counter-offensive will soon be characterised as an Israel or Jewish lobby or evidence of worldwide malign Jewish influence.
Nevertheless, in principle, Melanie is 100% right. The trick, as it were, is how to organise and how to choose targets. It’s often a numbers game and, sadly, can often come down to finances. Such political campaigns – because that is essentially what we are talking about on a global scale – can be very expensive to carry out.
I’ll be interested , in the coming weeks and months, to see if this call to action can be met with any truly organised and targeted response by supporters of Israel.