Israel’s new battlefield… and how to respond
16th November 2010 by Andrew White
- What ‘delegitimisation’ means….. in everyday language
- From toxic extremes to the polite mainstream
- The liberal embrace of delegitimisation – ten illustrations
- Britain as a global hub of delegitimisation
- The results of the assault – emboldened adversaries, weakened friends
- The weakening messages of Israel’s supporters
- Measuring friendship by what is said to Israel’s future peace partners
- What about a change in Israel’s policies? Isn’t that the key?
- Why British public life matters in Israel’s battle of ideas
- Ten suggested responses to the assault
- The biggest challenge: empowering people at the grassroots
- Gabriella Shalev, Miki Goldwasser and pride in Israel
What ‘delegitimisation' means… in everyday language
‘Delegitimisation’ is a problematic word.
Quite understandably, many people can neither spell nor pronounce it. And the word hardly exists (so far as I am aware) outside the context of Israel. It cries out for explanation…. in everyday language.
Delegitimisation is a type of intellectual assault on the national rights of the Jewish people. It’s an intellectual assault, but with tangible consequences.
The assault is underpinned by the following ideas:
- a denial of the historical narrative of the Jewish people
- the manipulation of international law, to cast Israel as a lawless, rogue state
- the relentless demonisation of Israel, which involves the portrayal of Israel as persistently cruel and inhumane, with few redeeming features, and as a cause of global instability
The assault is characterised by blatant double-standards, obsessive singling out of Israel for denunciation, the acceptance of lies and half-truths about Israel at face value, one-sided blame on Israel for the conflict, and practical steps to treat Israel as a pariah state.
Baroness Ruth Deech, eminent lawyer, academic and member of the House of Lords, relates that she once went into Blackwells bookshop in Oxford, asking for Alan Dershowitz's book The Case for Israel. The shop assistant snapped back: "there isn't a case for Israel…"
That, in a nutshell, is the mindset. Because Israel is fundamentally illegitimate, it doesn't have a context, a narrative, a right to a respectful fair hearing, much less the right of self-defence.
From toxic extremes to polite mainstream
Most analysts of delegitimisation focus on the flagrant and hate-filled manifestations of this assault. For example, they point to ‘Israel Apartheid Weeks’; open demands for a ‘one-state solution' which would mean the end of Israel as we know it; the invective pouring out against Israelis and ‘Zionists’ in street demonstrations and on Islamist websites; nasty cartoons insinuating Jewish / Zionist control of public life or the media; picketing of Israeli retail outlets; boycott and divestment campaigns; hate speech on campus, and the physical intimidation of pro-Israel speakers.
This focus is necessary. But it is only partly correct. It misses a vital feature of delegitimisation.
In my view these flagrant expressions of hostility to Israel are just symptoms of a wider phenomenon. They are visible, headline-catching reflections of the climate of hostility - and they are widely condemned. But they are not the prime drivers of that hostility. The prime driver is a long-term pattern of 'polite' acceptance of extreme, revisionist ideas about Israel among non-extreme liberal intelligentsia.
The acceptance of these ideas follows a drip-drip pattern, and has been going on for decades. It’s insidious rather than dramatic. It is almost hidden to the eye, rather than being “in your face”. Yet it has a pronounced long-term impact. Israel’s narrative is steadily eroding, and in some respects is vanishing completely from public life. Israel’s moral legitimacy is being called into question.
The liberal embrace of delegitimisation – ten illustrations
Here are ten illustrations of the way in which the ‘polite’ assault on Israel’s national rights is occurring in unexpected places, including textbooks which are widely used in English schools:
- GCSE textbook – Israel did not accept the UN partition plan in 1947: GCSEs are the main public exams taken by hundreds of thousands of 15 and 16 year old students across the UK, each year. An Oxford history textbook written for GCSE students on the Arab-Israeli conflict (‘The Arab-Israeli Conflict’ by Tony Rea and John Wright, Oxford University Press) opens its chapter on Israel’s war of independence in 1948 by stating (p20): "The United Nations decision to partition Palestine meant that two states would be created – one Jewish and one Arab. Neither side could accept the idea of their homeland being divided and hostilities between the two soon broke out…." This is a blatant historical falsehood. The Jewish leadership accepted the UN partition plan, admittedly against some internal opposition. And to state that hostilities “broke out” conceals the fact that the armies of five sovereign Arab states invaded Israel on the day after its independence was declared.
- GCSE textbook: Israel and Palestinian terrorists are both “utterly ruthless” in their use of violence: The same textbook later compares the conduct of Israel with Palestinian acts of terrorism including aircraft hijackings by the PLO and Palestinian splinter groups in the 1970s. The section concludes (p53): "We can see a large number of similarities in the way violence has been used by each side. For example, each side has been prepared to be utterly ruthless in the use of violence….". This is a classic statement of so-called ‘moral equivalence’ – the equal treatment of the morality of Palestinian violence directed against civilians, and Israel’s military tactics. This claim underpins the entire school textbook
- Parragon Press history textbook: Jerusalem was built in a country called Palestine: A Parragon Press history textbook called ‘Investigating World History' starts its section on Israel with the sentence: "The ancient city of Jerusalem, spiritual homeland of the Jews, was in a country called Palestine". This implies that there was a sovereign country called Palestine thousands of years ago, and that the Jews “moved in” to someone else’s country. Hamas in its virulent charter has a less polite way of expressing the same idea…
- Royal Festival Hall hosts prestigious exhibition of news photos featuring dead Lebanese children: In August-September 2007 the Royal Festival Hall in central London mounted an exhibition in its main foyer of winning photos from World Press Photo. World Press Photo is a prestigious annual competition of news photography from around the world (see www.worldpressphoto.org). The photos on display in the Royal Festival Hall included images of drug crime in Chicago, breakdancers in Paris, and Mexican football fans weeping over their team’s loss. But the top, winning photo was of a car containing affluent Lebanese driving through Beirut taking photos on their mobiles of a suburb shelled by Israel during its 2006 war with Hezbollah. The exhibition also contained four photos of children, drawn from any conflict anywhere in the world. Three of the four were harrowing photos of Lebanese children killed in the Israeli-Hizbullah conflict. The photo captions gave cursory information at best about the causes of that conflict. The overriding impression was of shocking Israeli inhumanity. Predictably, there were no photos of injured, dead or traumatised Israeli children as a result of the 4000 rockets which Hizbollah fired into Israel during that conflict. The World Press Photo exhibition would have been viewed by tens of thousands of visitors to the Royal Festival Hall, and the South Bank Arts Centre. The exhibition then went on tour to 45 countries, and World Press Photo claimed at the time that it was likely to be seen by two million people.
- Mearsheimer and Walt present The ‘Israel Lobby’ at Chatham House: In 2007 John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy' came on a speaker tour of Britain, to publicise their book which depicts the Israel lobby in the US as secretive and manipulative, and that it promotes Israel's interests over those of the USA. Many critics have highlighted the book’s lack of rigour, consistency and logic. And some have claimed that it panders to anti-semitic themes of a powerful Jewish ‘conspiracy’. But the authors nonetheless enjoyed a full house audience for the presentation which they gave on their theme at the prestigious thinktank the Royal Institute for International affairs at Chatham House, London.
- Noam Chomsky… free summer reading from The Times: In Summer 2008 the Times newspaper gave away free paperpacks with its daily edition, as part of a two-week summer promotion. Most books were light summer reading, including classics like John Buchan’s ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ and ‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. There was just one political or current affairs book – Noam Chomsky's ‘Hegemony or Survival’, several chapters of which contain no-holds barred denunciation of Israel and the US-Israel link, and demonise the country….
- Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad depicted in Daily Telegraph cartoon as knife-wielding street thugs: In July 2008 Britain’s leading right-of-centre broadsheet newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, published a prominent cartoon on its editorial pages under the caption ‘Danger on the Streets’. It depicted then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as street thugs loitering on a dimly lit street. Each was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, with one hand casually in his pocket. And each was also brandishing a large dagger. The cartoon was published at a time of heightened public concern in the UK over random and brutal knifings of innocent people on the streets of Britain’s major cities. Iran is a rogue state. To the Daily Telegraph cartoonist, so is Israel.
- Shlomo Sand’s book ‘The Invention of the Jewish people’ is featured by primetime BBC radio and Borders bookshop: In 2009 Tel-Aviv University academic Shlomo Sand published his book ‘The Invention of the Jewish people'. Sand calls into question the historic link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel and indeed denies the concept of a historic Jewish people at all. Sand – who has admitted on his own blog that Jewish history is “not his area of expertise” - was interviewed on the primetime BBC Radio discussion show ‘Start The Week' when he visited the UK to promote the book. He did not receive a single challenge to the book, either from interviewer Andrew Marr or from the other members of the studio panel. The tone of the discussion was one of flattery and acclaim. Sand later attended a book-signing in the flagship central London branch of leading bookstore Borders.
- The legal team trying to get Israeli leaders arrested wins Financial Times award for innovation, and professional acclaim: The legal team which is leading the effort to have Israeli leaders arrested for war crimes in the UK won a prestigious professional award in 2009 for outstanding legal innovation. The award was conferred by the Financial Times on the law firm involved, called Hickman & Rose, in a competition which was fought over by the world's largest law firms. The FT awards report praised "the unprecedented strides in bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice. Hickman & Rose has been among the leaders of that fight, with its work on behalf of the victims of alleged crimes against humanity committed against the people of the West Bank and Gaza…." The FT then went on to quote lead Hickman & Rose partner Daniel Machover, who said: “This is immensely important work that aims to strengthen the international reach of criminal law, and to protect civilian victims around the world….”
- The Economist reports on racist traffic lights in Jerusalem: The Economist newspaper, which I have been reading avidly for over 20 years, is commonly thought of as fair to Israel. But its book reviews contain a frequently lopsided narrative of Israeli history. The Economist also gives disproportionate coverage to Palestinian and Israeli writers who blame Israel for the conflict, and its news reports sometimes contain downright falsehoods. In a prominent report on tensions in Jerusalem which was published on 6 March 2010, the Economist stated that "traffic lights flick green only briefly for cars from Palestinian districts while staying green for cars from Jewish settlements for minutes…." – ie Israel was accused of operating racist traffic lights. We are accustomed to this sort of wild statement in Palestinian Solidarity Campaign literature, but now it is endorsed and regurgitated by the Economist. And I did not see a retraction or clarification……
There is something very alarming and insidious about how lies, distortions, historical revisionism and half-truths have become accepted within liberal public life – whether in schoolbooks, book launches or photo exhibitions. What is the mechanism for protest? Who is challenging this process, and where?
And note: none of these ten examples are what I would call “legitimate criticism” of Israel. Each of them goes further.
Flagrant episodes of delegitimisation attract the headlines, and are quite widely denounced. But the episodes illustrated above are happening by osmosis. No-one denounces them. They are absorbed quietly into the mainstream.
You need to multiply the ten illustrations I have cited thousands of times… and I don’t think that is an exaggeration.
Multiply them across the BBC and other major media, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, the charities and non-governmental organisations, local authorities, the churches and other faith groups, theatre, creative arts and literature, schools, adult education institutes, universities, thinktanks etc. When you do that, you have the context and intellectual backdrop for the assault on Israel in this country.
(In early 2011 we on Beyond Images will be publishing on the Beyond Images website an online chronology of the above ten illustrations and many others, stretching back to 2005. The tool is called ‘Israel’s Vanishing Narrative’)
Britain as a global hub in the delegitimisation of Israel
What is the cumulative effect of these trends?
Howard Jacobson, acclaimed writer and 2010 Booker Prize winner, wrote in 2009 that in British public life we are becoming “habituated” – ie acclimatised - to a “culture of hate” regarding Israel.
Gidi Grinstein is the founder of the Israeli thinktank Reut, which published a major research study into the phenomenon in February 2010 (called The Delegitimisation of Israel - available on www.reut-institute.org). In Grinstein’s view Britain has become the "mecca" – ie the hub – of this assault on Israel.
The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks expressed it the following way, at a conference on the position of the Jews in the UK today which was hosted in the Houses of Parliament in 2009: "what worries me is not the physical assaults, but the climate of opinion that is being formed".
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Scharansky, hero of the struggle to free Soviet Jews, spoke at the same conference. He said that when it comes to the demonisation of Israel, the climate in Britain leads the world.
And Israeli Ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor wrote in the Daily Telegraph in June 2008, only a few months after he had taken up his diplomatic posting, that Britain was a “hotbed” of anti-Israel sentiment.
To repeat: it is not just the flagrant public campaigns against Israel which are so threatening. It is the drip-drip way in which ideas underpinning them are being embraced among liberal, mainstream intelligentsia in a polite, subtle and steady way. In his speech to the Inter-Disciplinary Centre in Herzliya, Tony Blair recently alluded to these two types of assault – the blatant assault on Israel and the polite assault on Israel - running in parallel, and feeding off each other.
It is the polite, liberal central ground which is the key battleground in Israel’s battle of ideas in the UK – a point which I will come back to below.
The results of the assault: emboldened adversaries, and weakened friends
The results of the phenomenon are emboldened adversaries and weakened friends.
Firstly, delegitimisation damages prospects for peace. Israel's future peace partners are encouraged by delegitimisation. ‘Moderate’ Palestinian leaders have come to believe that Israel's growing international isolation, and the hostility of Western publics, can result in concessions being forced on Israel without the Palestinians needing to concede anything at the negotiating table. The result is Palestinian intransigence. This is one important reason why the Palestinian Authority resists peace negotiations – it actually sees advantages in pressing Israel outside of the negotiating table, and using the climate of international opinion to do so.
But the assault on Israel also emboldens the Iran-Hamas-Hizbollah 'resistance' alliance. They have a vision of long-term confrontation with Israel, using their missiles for asymmetric warfare and to wear down the civilian Israeli population. But they are also driven by an ideology that declares that Israel is a temporary feature of the region, and they can bring about its eventual internal collapse. Israeli experts such as Ehud Ya’ari and Jonathan Spyer rigorously expose this vision of ‘resistance’. It is reflected in the speeches of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Arabic language interviews of Hamas leaders like Khaled Mashal or Mahmoud al-Zahar, and the words of Hizbollah’s Sheikh Nasrallah.
Delegitimisation of Israel in the West gives the ‘resistance’ ideology of these leaders great reinforcement. It shows them that there are Western forces which aim through intellectual means to bring about the same end-result that they seek to achieve by physical means.
And, needless to say, these players are all intent on sabotaging a long-term, stable two-state solution, or at best utilising it as a short-term platform to build further ‘resistance’.
When, for example, the London School of Economics student union twins with the Islamic University of Gaza, which is a centre for the teaching of extreme Hamas doctrine, this is more than just gesture politics from British students. To Hamas it is a big deal. It energises their ideologues, and it is a prized form of endorsement. It confirms to them that their strategy is a long-term winner.
Thus, however you wish to look at it, “delegitimisation” is bad for peace. It encourages Israel’s future peace partners to be intransigent. And it strengthens Israel’s long-term adversaries in their rejectionism.
For these reasons, Israel's supporters on the left – and the doves within the domestic and international scene who wish to see an end to Israel’s presence in the territories - should be as concerned about delegitimisation, and as vocal in confronting it, as Israel's supporters on the right.
The weakening messages of Israel’s supporters
Meanwhile, the messages of Israel's supporters in the West are steadily weakening.
How many times do they say "we support Israel's right of self-defence"… but then criticise Israel every time it exercises that right?
How many times do they say "we support a two-state solution" but then solely blame Israel – expressly or implicitly - for not achieving it?
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown undoubtedly has warm feelings towards Israel. Yet it was Brown who stated in the UK parliament in January 2010, in the course of answering a question from Labour MP Karen Buck, that Israel had "absolutely" committed war crimes – turning allegations into established facts.
Former British foreign secretary David Miliband also claims to be solidly behind Israel’s security and basic rights. Yet it was Miliband who stated that the Goldstone Report was "credible and serious". And during his time in office, the UK government abstained at the UN General Assembly at the crucial vote to endorse the Goldstone Report – a report which, in the words of the US Congress is “irredeemably biased”, and which is possibly the largest single engine of delegitimisation today.
More recently, Prime Minister David Cameron – another friend of Israel - stated in a speech to Turkish politicians that Gaza is a "prison camp". Cameron made no attempt to place this situation in context, or assign ultimate responsibility for that situation.
All of these are ‘pro-Israel’ politicians. Yet they don’t even see the contradictions in the positions they take. The climate of public hostility is taking its toll.
Measuring friendship by what is said publicly to Israel’s future peace partners
In the current climate we should measure “support” for Israel not just by the warm words which British politicians utter when they address Jewish community gatherings at lavish black tie dinners in central London.
Nor should we measure support by what they say to Israeli politicians when they address diplomat banquets in Israel, or during photo opportunities.
Neither of these is a sufficient guide to friendship today. In the current climate, we need to measure their support by what they say, publicly and unambiguously, to Israel's future Arab peace partners, and about them.
Last week Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Israel. Leaders of the British Jewish community, and foreign office spokespeople, were quick to hail the visit a “resounding” success. The photograph of William Hague meeting the parents of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was heartwarming. Without question that is support, and we should appreciate it.
But in the sense I refer to, how supportive was the Foreign Secretary’s visit?
What, in particular, did he publicly say - or omit to say - to the Palestinian Authority when he met them in Ramallah, and during his press conferences with them?
- Did he publicly call on the Palestinians immediately to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, a step they adamantly refuse to take? I did not see that
- Did he publicly demand an immediate freeze to media incitement against Israel on Palestinian Authority TV – incitement which has carried on unabated during the last four months, as Palestinian Media Watch has just demonstrated to devastating effect in a new report? I did not see that
- Did William Hague publicly demand that the Palestinians accept the concept of territorial adjustments to the so-called ‘green line’ in the context of land swaps and a peace agreement? I did not see that
- Did he publicly demand that they stop denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem? I did not see that
- Did he publicly condemn the truly outrageous decision of UNESCO in late October to designate Rachel’s Tomb – which has been a focal point of Jewish prayer for thousands of years - as a mosque and as an inherent part of “occupied Palestinian territories”? The Palestinian Authority was active in promoting that UNESCO declaration, which is a historic travesty, but I did not see a word about it from William Hague when he addressed the Palestinians
- Did he publicly demand that the Palestinians relinquish the right of return into Israel, and publicly accept that Palestinian refugees would basically have a right of residence only in a future state of Palestine? I did not see that, either
These are the ideological issues which are the true obstacles to the achievement of a two state solution. Once they are addressed, this would unlock the key to resolving the territorial issues including settlements.
It is messages such as these which could genuinely increase prospects for lasting coexistence. I did not see Mr Hague saying any of these things. It is a measure of how far our concept of "support" has slipped that we in fact rarely if ever see such points articulated.
Some might argue it would have been “undiplomatic” for Hague to call for change within Palestinian thinking. But diplomatic etiquette did not inhibit him in his public criticism of Israel, and in his demands for change. During his trip he publicly called on Israel to reinstate the settlement freeze, buying in to the false Palestinian argument that the end of the freeze is the block to progress at the peace negotiations. And he stood overlooking the Israeli security fence at the Palestinian village of Bilin, praising Palestinian protestors against the fence.
In the climate of Western delegitimisation, the narrative of Israel is steadily eroding. Understanding of its context is vanishing. Its Western friends express warm words. But they don’t translate that warmth into public messages which could trigger the changes of attitude in the Arab world which are needed for peace.
Once again, the hostile climate of opinion is steadily and remorselessly taking its toll.
What about a change in Israel’s policies? Isn’t that the key?
Some people argue that “if only Israel changed its policies”, the climate of delegitimisation would end.
This is mistaken, for one basic reason: the assault is not on what Israel does, but on what Israel is.
The mindset that we face is not open to context, or the other side of the story. It is incapable of giving Israel credit for anything. Policy changes by Israel and unilateral concessions are ignored, or treated with cynicism as manipulations. For example:
- Israel recently dismantled the barrier which it had set up in 2001 between the Arab village of Beit Jalla, south of Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo. The barrier had been erected to stop Arab sniper fire into Gilo. Was there a positive reaction outside Israel to the barrier’s removal? None
- In 2008, direct peace talks reached an advanced stage. In an interview published a year later in the Jordanian newspaper al-Dustour (26 June 2009), lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Israel had offered the Palestinians “100%” of the West Bank (by which he meant the equivalent of 100% taking account of a 7% land swap). Indeed, Reuters among others reported on these Israel offers at the time. Was there a positive reaction from Israel’s detractors? None
- Hamas violently seized executive power in Gaza in June 2007. And Hamas ideology amounts to a declaration of long-term permanent war with Israel. Yet since 2007, Israel has more than doubled the number of Gaza Palestinian women, children and men entering into Israel to receive medical treatment. Was there a positive reaction to this medical support from the delegitimisers? Of course not. To the contrary. They have managed to portray this influx of medical patients as part of an Israeli plan to recruit more Arab spies.
In fact, you can go further. The reality is the other way round. It is not the absence of peace which causes delegitimisation. It is delegitimisation which contributes to the absence of peace.
For the reasons we have explained, a climate of public hostility to Israel impedes the chances for peace and a two-state solution.
Why British public life matters
It is sometimes argued that Israel’s friends are too worried about British public opinion, and that in fact Britain does not "matter much" nowadays. It is argued that Israelis "aren't too interested" in Britain. And it is also claimed that events in the region are shaped by the USA and not Europe, and that economic influence is shifting to Asia, and emerging powers like Brazil.
While in one sense all of this is true, it misses the point.
Britain’s media brands – the BBC, The Economist, the FT, The Times etc – have global reach. The Guardian website is successful in the USA. The English language is becoming globally dominant. British performing arts, culture, theatre, tourism and its liberal institutions have global appeal. And British academic life attracts tens of thousands of visiting academics and foreign students every year, many of whom are destined to become future leaders.
In the realm of ideas, Britain is highly influential. And perceptions of Israel in Britain therefore really matter in the global village. The battle of ideas has key significance for Israel. And Britain is not a peripheral battleground, but a central one.
Ten suggested responses to the assault
There is no quick fix to the challenge of delegitimisation.
But here are ten suggested responses. I was asked to provide a ‘big-picture’ analysis at this seminar, and therefore these responses are not specifically tailored to the British campus scene. They would obviously need to be adapted and implemented according to local conditions:
- Acknowledge the gravity of the problem, and the need for urgent changes of strategy: It is too easy to dismiss the phenomenon of delegitimisation as the actions of extreme and unrepresentative fringe groups. And it is all-too-common to claim that delegitimisation has emerged as a serious problem in the UK only in the last two years. This is backed up by the argument that elite-to-elite relationships are warm and supportive in Britain, and that the hostility to Israel among “pockets of civil society” has not impacted upon that elite-to-elite understanding. I have seen this claim made by a heavily resourced pro-Israel group in the UK in recent months. But it is a naive perception. Whatever understandings may be reached at an elite-to-elite level cannot be readily translated into action on the ground because of the public mood. And because it is naïve, the strategies shaped by this thinking are naïve too, and reflect a form of denial. What is needed is a long-term strategy which recognises the magnitude of the challenge and avoids self-congratulation on what have usually been short-term, transient victories. Quite simply, the pro-Israel community in the UK urgently needs to face up to the problem, and raise its game to meet the challenges ahead.
- There needs to be greater cooperation and collaboration, including across borders: Linked to this is the need for collaboration. In the UK some groups within the pro-Israel community are highly collaborative, and others are not, and insist on doing things “their way”. It is impossible to fight delegitimisation effectively without a much greater spirit of coalition building. The challenge of delegitimisation is a shared challenge faced by the pro-Israel community in the UK across the religious and ideological spectrum. Advocacy structures need to reflect this. Linked in with this is the need for far more cross-border cooperation. Some of the best organisations in the world at fighting delegitimisation are not yet operating in the UK. We here need to welcome them, publicise their work and their services, and take full advantage of what they have to offer.
- We need to pro-actively expose outright lies and half-truths, and support media monitoring groups which already do so: You cannot build rational two-state solution advocacy in a climate of hatred. Fighting lies and half-truths – publicly, coherently and professionally - is not an optional extra to the behind-the-scenes advocacy. It is a prerequisite to advocacy. Leading media monitoring groups Just Journalism, Camera, CIF Watch and Honest Reporting are vigorously exposing distortions in reporting, and failures of professional standards in Israel coverage. Lies and half-truths which are not rebutted take root as fact. The direction of this work, and its underlying purpose, is extremely important for combating delegitimisation. These groups and others need support and encouragement for their work
- We need to engage pro-actively in the battle of ideas amidst liberal intelligentsia: We need to engage in the arguments amidst liberal intelligentsia, and seek to isolate the delegitimisers. Not in an “Israel right-or-wrong”, kneejerk way, but in a balanced and coherent way. The Jewish people have a right of national self-determination in the land of Israel. This is a liberal concept which is underpinned by universal morality and international law, and it needs to be framed as one. It is the denial of this right by the Palestinians and the wider Arab and Muslim world which lies is at the very heart of the conflict. This denial can be clearly demonstrated. Israelis yearn for peace: the vision of future peace is a lifeline. And if recognition of the legitimacy of Israel by the Palestinians and the Arab world was forthcoming both in word and deed, then the parties could negotiate viable Palestinian statehood, and achieve future coexistence, stability and prosperity. Of course we need to show that finding a solution to the conflict is not a zero-sum game, and that you can be pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian people at the same time. Of course we need to talk peace. We need to talk coexistence. And we need to talk about the “painful concessions” which Israel is prepared to make for peace, as Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated when the peace talks restarted in Washington. But first, we need to talk about rights. The pro-Israel camp across the political spectrum – from ‘left’ to ‘right’ – needs to be equally forthright in asserting the Jewish people’s national rights, and remind liberal audiences that you cannot build a Palestinian state by demonising the Jewish one.
- We need to help people build credible advocacy in civil society institutions: We need to empower individuals and groups to engage in internal debates in specialised segments of society. To grapple with the issues as seen by the NGOs, we need people committed to those NGOs’ goals to work long-term within them. Someone who does not believe in the goals of Amnesty International is not likely to be able to effect long-term change in the attitudes of Amnesty International towards Israel. Meanwhile, we need lawyers to work inside the legal fraternity, and doctors to do the same among the medical community. There are growing challenges to Israel’s legitimacy in both professions. The overriding theme is credibility. Pro-Israel advocacy needs credibility to succeed. Central advocacy groups “jumping in” from above and seeking to shape change in these forums cannot be effective. They should act as background facilitators, as much as frontline voices.
- Building alliances with non-Jewish groups: Linked in to this is the building of fresh alliances. Many times I am approached by devout Christians who are working within their church communities to combat vehement hostility to Israel. They often comment that they receive virtually no practical support or encouragement from the Anglo-Jewish community. I hear the same said from time to time by members of ethnic minority groups who stand up for Israel’s basic rights. To build up these friendships across cultures and boundaries is a key tool in responding to delegitimisation
- We need to expose the warped value system and hypocrisy of the delegitimisers: We need to show how Israel’s detractors hijack the global human rights agenda in their obsessive pre-occupation with Israel, and in fact routinely ignore human rights violations throughout the Arab world. (Geneva-based UN Watch is already highlighting the damage caused by this obsession). This warped value system is seen most blatantly in the way they turn a blind eye to Hamas human rights violations. This summer Hamas forcibly shut down Palestinian-run NGOs in Gaza. And Hamas permitted Islamist groups to trash Palestinian childrens' summer camps which were being run on Gaza’s beaches by the UN. Well-known international NGO Human Rights Watch has condemned these incidents, and other Hamas human rights violations. But most detractors of Israel say nothing on the subject. Hamas seriously suppresses Palestinian human rights. Those in Britain who call for Britain and the European Union to engage with Hamas, without conditions, are complicit in these human rights abuses. It is they who should be on the defensive. And this needs to be said, loud and clear....
- We need to reduce the focus on anti-semitism as an Israel advocacy tool: Pro-Israel advocacy needs to use positive messages about our beliefs and values, in a positive tone. Far too much Israel advocacy is built around the monitoring and fear of anti-semitism. I have not used the claim once in this presentation that the cause of delegitimisation is anti-semitism. Too often the assertion is over-simplistic or plain wrong. And in all but the most blatant examples it is almost always a counter-productive claim to make. Furthermore, it conveys the impression that we are paranoid, and manipulate emotion to try to win arguments. Of course some of Israel’s vehement critics are motivated by anti-semitism. And for sure some of the visual images and rhetoric that shape delegitimisation inflame anti-semitic feeling. British writer Melanie Phillips has powerfully exposed this link, as have reports from the Community Security Trust and others. But we have to distinguish between an anti-semitic motive, and an anti-semitic effect. I would argue that many of those who delegitimise Israel do not have an anti-semitic motive. They should therefore be challenged not on their motive, but on the effect of what they do and say – namely to discriminate against Jews, and inflame hatred. It’s a subtle but vital point.
- Reclaiming positive, values-based advocacy: We should speak more about our positive values, and share tangible stories of how these values are being furthered. That's why projects such as Soldiers Speak Out from Stand With Us is important – a project which conveys acts of humanity, self-sacrifice and compassion by Israeli soldiers for the benefit of Palestinian civilians during the Cast Lead fighting in Gaza. Likewise, a central theme of advocacy should be that for all its flaws and limitations, Israeli society affords freedoms and opportunities for its Arab citizens which the vast majority of them value and exercise. "Israel is the only democracy in the middle east" is just a slogan. And it is greeted with scorn by adversaries. We need to demonstrate how Israel’s minority groups exercise their rights, in practice, under that democracy. In the long-term, that can change perceptions. So can information and practical examples of Israel’s remarkable ethnic and cultural diversity. For example, the Idan Raichel Project is a startling refutation of many preconceived ideas about Israel. Just explaining what it – never mind listening to Raichel’s music - can change perceptions.
- Highlighting how Israel is connecting to the global agenda ‘beyond the conflict’: As a further element of this values-based approach, we should be pro-active in highlighting, in appropriate forums and at appropriate times, how Israel is connecting to the global medical, environmental and humanitarian agenda, and reaching out to the Muslim and wider world even in the midst of conflict. Over 1000 Palestinian children from Gaza and the West Bank have received free, life-saving heart surgery in recent years at Israel’s Save A Child’s Heart medical centre near Tel-Aviv. The work of the 70 volunteers at Save A Child’s Heart is inspiring and a unique bridge-builder. The MASHAV division of Israel’s Foreign Ministry is expanding its international cooperation activities. There’s IsraAid which functions as an umbrella body of international humanitarian groups operated from Israel. IsraAid were very quick to mobilise to support the people of Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake earlier this year, complementing the efforts of the IDF field hospital team. And there’s Israel’s recent collaboration on disaster relief with the most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia. Meanwhile Israel is making major advances in medical research and innovative healthcare, advances which stand to benefit millions around the world (and in some instances, such as the fight against malaria, already have). And Israel is making significant strides in combating global warming. Its solar energy projects, its efforts to help other countries combat ‘desert creep’, and its water management and recycling knowhow all offer a huge amount to the world. The world is coming to recognise this, as shown by the massive numbers of delegates from Africa, Asia and elsewhere who now converge on Israel for its conferences on water technologies and on other environmental themes. Indeed, behind-the-scenes, Israel is working with Palestinian and Jordanian scientists and planners in many of these areas. (For many more illustrations see www.israel21c.org). All of this demonstrates how Israel is connecting to a global humanitarian agenda. It's not Israeli creative energy as such that is a powerful Israel advocacy platform. It’s the way in which that creative energy can be harnessed and is being harnessed to help make the Middle East region and the world a better place. These Israeli contributions shatter the stereotype of the callous and heartless Israeli. And they can help in building fresh alliances, and other forms of support. You don't rebut demonisation just by saying "we are not demons" but by tangibly demonstrating how Israel furthers universal values which liberal-minded people care deeply about.
The biggest challenge: empowering people at the grassroots
Above all, we need to galvanise grassroots people to become long-term ambassadors for Israel, and involve themselves in the fight against delegitimisation. We will never win in Israel advocacy by the numbers of people who are involved, but by recognising that their talent and commitment are our greatest strength. Empowering them is the greatest challenge for Israel advocacy.
We need frameworks in which advocates can work, in the long-term. Advocacy structures in the general community UK need to be inclusive, and their strategies and methods need to be transparent and accountable. We need to connect people together in a spirit of teamwork, and help people share and celebrate successes. We need to train them to lead and inspire others. We need to develop great speakers, debaters, and listeners. And above all we need to provide advocates with in-depth knowledge, resources and advocacy techniques. The goal must be to enable them to engage in Israel’s battle of ideas with credibility, balance and confidence. That has been the aim of the Beyond Images project which I’ve lead for the last eight years.
Behind-the-scenes education of British journalists is important, including taking them on all-expenses-paid trips to Israel. And face-to-face meetings with policy-makers is vital too. But these efforts need to be reinforced by visible, energetic grassroots advocacy. By themselves the behind-the-scenes methods of arguing Israel’s case are insufficient, and can even be counterproductive. We have been over-reliant on these methods in the UK. This contrasts with other countries, like Canada, Italy and Australia, where I understand that there is a stronger sense of partnership between elite-to-elite advocacy organisations, and so-called ‘grassroots’ advocacy projects. In the UK we lack that partnership approach. The climate in which Israel currently finds itself in this country is one result of that deficiency.
The Zionist Federation and Israel Connect in the UK and Europe have put grassroots structures in place, and are leading several advocacy initiatives. The Union of Jewish Students have a range of leadership training and advocacy programmes, designed for the specific and challenging circumstances of the UK campus scene. And of course there are the ‘Friends of Israel’ Parliamentary groups – Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour - which work extremely hard to engage with politicians and policy-makers, and in some cases build grassroots backing. But elsewhere the lack of advocacy coordination is all too apparent. There are many excellent and committed local Israel advocacy projects in the UK, and many excellent, talented and energetic individuals. I come into contact with them through having run seminars for many of them over the years. But these local projects and activists are not joined up. They are fragmented. Inevitably they sometimes duplicate each other’s work. Above all they lack resources or any meaningful encouragement from major and well-resourced central communal bodies.
The Reut Institute report I referred to earlier has identified the need for a grassroots-based approach in the UK and elsewhere. The Israeli Government now recognises this too, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespeople routinely stress this theme. Ironically, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and like-minded groups adopted a long-term grassroots-based strategy in the UK decades ago. The impact of this is apparent in today’s public climate. Massive grassroots mobilisation among pro-Israel constituencies in the UK is now needed, and the new advocacy ‘frontier’ of the social media, from Facebook to YouTube, has made this need more clearcut than ever.
The challenge was well-expressed by lawyer Steven Jaffe, the founder of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel. Jaffe is doing remarkable work fighting for Israel in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and elsewhere in public life there. In a letter on these topics which was published in October 2010 in a community newspaper, Jaffe wrote:
"Up and down the country, events are being organised often with deliberate or unthinking bias against Israel… These is no shortage of people offering ‘quick-fix' solutions on how the anti-Israel campaign in the UK can be countered. But if our …. community is not prepared to organise, invest and engage at a grassroots level, throughout the country, then the battle is as good as lost…."
Jaffe is right. And meeting this challenge will require a transformation in how Israel advocacy in the UK is organised, led and resourced.
Gabriella Shalev, Miki Goldwasser and pride in Israel
At the end of the day, advocacy needs to spring from a sense of pride in the enduring values of the Jewish people, and in the knowledge that Israel and Israelis yearn for peace, and want to build a better future.
Gabriella Shalev recently ended a two-year term of service as Israel's Ambassador to the UN in New York. In a parting interview, she was asked what gave her the strength to combat the in-built, Flotilla-focused, Goldstone-focused hostility to Israel within UN bodies. In words which we should all take to heart, Shalev said:
"If you are safe, secure and proud of your values and ideals, and you know that your country has the right to live in peace and security, you can walk into these alienating hostile forums with pride, knowing that you represent the right values…"
And then there are the messages of Miki Goldwasser. Mike is the mother of slain Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser. Ehud was seized by Hizbollah in the course of its cross-border attack into northern Israel from Lebanon in July 2006 – the action which triggered the second Lebanon war. For two years it was not known whether Ehud was alive or dead. Hizbollah refused to say. In July 2008 the terrible reality became known, when Ehud’s body was returned to Israel by Hizbollah, together with the body of a second soldier, Eldad Regev.
Ehud's mother Miki was asked shortly afterwards what had kept her going during the two agonising years of waiting to find out whether or not her son was alive. One of the factors which she highlighted was the knowledge that people outside Israel were striving to tell the truth about her son and fight the demonisation of the Israeli armed forces. At Ehud's heartrending funeral, attended by thousands of Israelis, Miki said the following words:
"We have found this nation to be a wonderful nation. We have found bereaved families with superior mental fortitude; we have found generosity. We have found the spirit of volunteering, the meaning of the word friendship. This is an amazing nation. I will not cry here. I will save the crying for later. I turn to the Jewish nation and ask you to hold your head high in national pride…."
Each one of us can make a difference in Israel's battle of ideas. Each one of us has a responsibility to try to make a difference. And I know, looking round this room, that many of you are already fully engaged in the challenge. Each one of us needs to connect up with others, whether before, during or after university to make that difference. The battle of ideas is Israel's new battlefield. And the outcome of that battle in the UK public arena has a tangible impact on the search for peace. We have an ethical obligation to respond, out of elementary solidarity. Now as never before it’s time to stand up and make our voices heard. That is what real support for Israel involves today. And it is the least that the people of Israel require of us.