Monthly Archives: February 2010

Reframing myths and reality

The Israeli Ministry of Hasbara and Diaspora Affairs has started a new project to recruit Israelis traveling abroad to the cause of ‘explaining’ the kinder, gentler side of Israel. The Hebrew website (http://www.masbirim.gov.il) is called ‘masbirim,’ which literally means ‘we explain.’ The word comes from the same Hebrew root as Hasbara (explanation). For some reason, Israel translates Hasbara as ‘public diplomacy,’ but there is no diplomacy involved at all.

Hasbara (explanation) follows the misguided notion that if Israel could only ‘explain’ itself, people would understand the context for the images they see on TV and the reports they read in the press about the horrors of the attacks on Gaza and the ongoing Israeli occupation. Under this philosophy, Israel need not change its behavior one bit, just spend more resources hoping the world will finally get it.

The new ads, targeted to the Israeli public, present three theoretical myths that people are said to have about Israel. The Globe and Mail explains,

The commercials, part of an initiative called Making the Case for Israel, were first seen this past weekend, and are aimed at the large number of Israelis who travel abroad each year. One ad says people around the world think camels are a common form of transportation in Israel, another alludes to the belief that the Israeli diet consists of kabobs grilled over a primitive barbecue, while a third notes that Independence Day fireworks are often mistaken for military action.

Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Minister of Hasbara and Diaspora Affairs explains,

“We decided to give Israelis who go abroad tools and tips to help them deal with the attacks on Israel in their conversations with people, media appearances and lectures before wide audiences. I hope we succeed together in changing the picture and proving to the world that there is a different Israel.”

Mr. Edelstein has called the Israeli tourists recruited to this campaign ‘the Israeli Public Diplomacy Forces,’ a clear reference to the Israel Defense Forces, the country’s military.

Each one of the three commercials contains a sad irony that cannot be easily explained with more Hasbara.

A special prejudice appropriation prize goes to the fake-BBC commercial, where a fake-reporter shares with you a supposed myth about Israel: “This is the camel. The camel is a typical Israeli animal used by the Israelis to travel from place to place in the desert where the live. It is the means of transport for water, merchandise, and ammunition. It is even used by the Israeli cavalry.”

Whoever heard of a myth of Israelis riding camels?

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) on the other hand points to the “the tired stereotype of the Arab world as a place of deserts and camels, of arbitrary cruelty and barbarism,” and its consequences:

Dr. Shaheen remembers being taught in his Lebanese American home to be proud of his family’s Arab heritage. But at school, he remembers teasing, taunts and epithets: “camel jockeys,” “desert niggers,” “greasy Lebs.”

Oh, but for purposes of Hasbara, these appropriations of prejudice do not matter.

The remaining two fake commercials cannot help but remind me of Gaza.

Here’s the fake French-language newscaster: With a background of Israeli airforce planes flying above a city and leaving behind a white streak and of a multitude of fireworks noisily lighting the evening sky, the newscaster says, “We have just learned that at this moment war noises have been heard in several Israeli cities. Our special correspondents report shootings and strong explosions which can be heard throughout the whole country.”

The strong explosions being heard throughout the land bring to mind this January 10/09 witness account from Israel’s war on Gaza (Sleep hard to come by in bombarded Gaza):

At 12:15pm I’d noted and photographed the white stream of chemical clouds billowing over large expanses of eastern Gaza…

And later at 3:20 am:

In the hospital room where I tried to sleep between an ambulance shift and morning obligations, the tank shelling and firing is in the room, landing on my pillow.

It’s the shells, which crack and blast. The staccato gunfire. The drones’ whine, in menacing pitches. The fighter plane’s sudden, thundering presence.

The drone ramps up the decibels, a train wreck of disharmony.

And the inevitable whoosh before the explosion, an F-16 launch which erupts a crater where someone’s house, or a market, or a mosque once stood. The blast an hour ago was a market, another nurse tells me. “It was a beautiful market, sold everything, everything we need,” she says.

I have saved the Spanish-language fake commercial to the end because it tops the cake, so to speak. Here’s the fake Spanish-language newscaster: ‘In Israel in the majority of the homes there is neither electricity nor gas, so that Israelis continue using primitive cooking methods such as bbq.”

You gotta be kidding me! This looks like a bad joke, when you compare to the Palestinian reality, not the Israeli myth. From last year’s The Atlantic’s In Gaza, Eating Under Siege:

And then there’s the question of fuel for cooking. The borders sometimes allow cooking gas to enter, sometimes not. As the power facilities have been bombed several times, electricity is very sporadic. Many families have small generators, but most of the gasoline for these must also be piped in through the tunnels, which is very expensive. Faced with the frequent impossibility of finding any kind of fuel for cooking, many families have recurred to their grandmother’s memories, fashioning traditional adobe ovens on the roofs and balconies of their modern apartment buildings.

Lest you think that these were Gaza’s temporary troubles in 2009, I give you 2008:

Umm Jamal Al Baba, a 60-year-old from Rafah camp, stands visibly tired in a queue of hundreds for bread. “I can no longer make bread in my house – there is no gas for cooking, no electricity.”
Now that rice had disappeared under the siege, or priced out of the reach of most people, bread means survival for Palestinians in Gaza Strip.
In Gaza, It’s Darkness at Noon, IPS, Jan 23, 2008

and yes, 2010:

Cooking gas rationing continues…
(UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territory, February 2010 report)

If the commercials are bad, imagine the talking points for the Israeli traveler. Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Openheimer complained that the new Israeli government website were these videos are housed contains information that would move Jewish Israeli public opinion towards an uncompromising right. According to the JPost,

He noted that the site does not encourage advocating the two-state solution, it talks about the need to keep Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, and it suggests that evacuating settlers would harm their human rights.

Let’s see how these ideas are developed by the Israeli tourists who choose to join the “Israeli Public Diplomacy Forces.”

– Sydney Levy

Think tank tells Israeli government to declare war on peace groups

They’re baaaaack – Israel’s “most influential” think tank tells Israeli government to “attack” and “sabotage” global peace and human rights groups (as opposed to domestic groups which are already under attack.)

I wrote last month about the Reut (pronounced Ray-OOT) Institute’s report on what they see as the new existential threat to Israel. No longer military, the report said, the primary threat to Israel is political. Israel must fight a “delegitimization network” of peace and human rights groups based largely in four international “hubs”: Toronto, Madrid, London and the San Francisco Bay Area (where Jewish Voice for Peace is located.)

(Now, more of the report is available on-line, including a cool animated PowerPoint! Read terrific in-depth pieces on the new material by Ali Abunimah and Richard Silverstein.)

There are many astonishing elements of the report. One is the blame it places on others including the global left for the increasing political viability of a one-state solution. In fact it is Israel’s never-ending expansion of settlements that has made a two-state solution seem more and more unlikely by the day, not the global human rights movement. What groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) seek to delegitimize is the occupation and massive inequality and human rights violations committed against Palestinians, not Israel itself. Even most Palestinians, polls show, want their own viable state over a one-state solution. (JVP is neutral on the issue of one state or two or three for that matter, supporting any resolution consistent with international law which is largely supported by both parties.)

If the Israelis really wanted the Palestinians to have a state of their own, they could have made it happen years ago and the entire world would have cheered, and since 2002, they would have had full relations with all their Arab neighbors. But instead, the Israeli government has used endless peace negotiations as a way to expand settlements while keeping the international community at bay.  If the one-state solution marks the greatest existential threat to Israel, as the Reut report suggests, the Israeli government has no one to blame
but itself. The global peace and justice movement is the symptom, not the cause.

Secondly, the report actually dares to suggest “sabotage” of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace who are part of an international peace and justice  human rights network and who actively support Israeli and Palestinian activists on the ground (our sites include: www.December18th.org, www.FreeEzra.org, www.TheOnlyDemocracy.org etc..). We take this very seriously. Perhaps this is the way NGOs are
increasingly handled in Israel, especially under Netanyahu. But it’s certainly not how the government, and especially a foreign government, is expected to respond to law- abiding NGOs here in the United States (Ahem, Cointelpro and other efforts notwithstanding). And frankly, we won’t stand for it.

Plus it’s just a stupid idea.

How a report that says in one breath that Israel’s future lies in branding itself as a high-tech, eco-conscious and cultured democracy while simultaneously suggesting “sabotage” and “attacks” on law-abiding peace groups is stunning.  Instead of driving a wedge between “soft” and “hard” critics of Israel, as the report suggests, promoting these kinds of war-like responses against human rights groups will backfire and turn the most casual critics of Israeli policies into supporters of much harsher measures. This, after all, is
the primary legacy of Cast Lead, Israel’s massive attack on Gaza’s entrapped population.

If the Reut Institute really wanted to offer some helpful advice on how Israel might stop the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, they might start by advising the Israeli government to end the
occupation.

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Action Alert: Gaza photo exhibition threatened with closure

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East just sent out this action alert. The video features some of the photos in the exhibit.

Dear Friends,

On Monday, Feb. 15th, Cinema du Parc received an email insisting that CJPME’s Photo Exposition, Human Drama in Gaza, be immediately removed from the Cinema.  The email was from a legal representative of Gestion Redbourne PDP Inc., the owners of the building housing Cinema du Parc.  The Cinema has hosted dozens of expositions in the past three years, and this is the first time that such action has been taken.  This move on the part of Redbourne seems entirely political, to muzzle the message of Human Drama in Gaza.

If you live outside Montreal, click here to protest this action.

If you live in Montreal, click here to protest Redbourne’s action and to support the Cinema and the Exposition.

More Info

CJPME’s Human Drama in Gaza Photo Exposition features 44 photos, taken before, during and after last winter’s 22-day assault on Gaza by professional photographers from Israel, Palestine, and the West.  Produced by CJPME, and funded through private donations, the Montreal stop at Cinema du Parc is the first in a series of cross-Canada shows.

The Montreal Exposition began on Friday, Jan. 15th and was originally scheduled to continue through through Sunday, February 28th. The Exposition is open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays, and from 3:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. on weekends.  All the photos and captions used in the Exposition can be found here, and a video trailer introducing the Exposition can be found here.

Cinema du Parc has been great partner in the hosting of the Exposition in Montreal, and is standing its ground in the face of Redbourne’s action.

Countering Israel’s Crackdown on Pro-Democracy Activists

Im Tirtzu, the New Israel Fund, the Palestinian-led non-violent protest movement against the Wall, and the launch of our newest blog, www.theonlydemocracy.org.

Cross-posted at Huffington Post

By JVP Executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson and  Jesse Bacon, JVP Board Member and co-editor of theonlydemocracy.org.

Over the last week there has been a significant outcry in Israel and in some Jewish circles in the US about an ugly, anti-Semitic, and sexist ad campaign against the US-based New Israel Fund (NIF), a key funder of Israeli civil society and human rights groups.

The originator of the campaign, the far-right group Im Tirtzu (meaning “if you will it,” which is a fragment of a famous sentence of Herzl’s about the founding of Israel,) has drawn condemnation across more of the political spectrum than usual. What has caused the most outrage is a picture of an evil-looking Naomi Chazan, board president of the NIF, with a horn coming out of her head, a classic anti-Semitic trope. But more attention should be paid to the text of the ad: “Without the New Israel Fund, there could be no Goldstone Report, and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes.”

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Jew-haters of the week: Van Jones, Andrew Sullivan

with a few self-haters like Goldstone and a cast of thousands thrown in for good measure…

One wonders when the Anti-Defamation League or the Simon Wiesenthal Center will start a commission to investigate why in some progressive quarters, being called a self-hating Jew has started to become a point of pride. And why, worse, others simply shrug off charges of Jew-hater. Perhaps it is because the wielders of such venomous charges are so ridiculous, such caricatures in their reflexive protection of an Israel that has no accountability, that any thinking person immediately knows the wackos are at it again.

This shift in the culture is nothing to rejoice about. In fact, it’s something of a worst-case-scenario for those of us truly concerned about the fate of Jews.

Wacko Exhibit A: Andrew Sullivan. I’m loving the newly unleashed (former AIPAC and later, liberal pro-Israel Israel Policy Forum) MJ Rosenberg now that he’s gone over to Media Matters. His whole piece is a fun read:

I knew that Andrew Sullivan’s abandonment of the hard right position on Israel was driving his old buds at the New Republic crazy.

Andrew was once TNR’s wunderkind, the youngest editor in its history. Smart, cool, Oxford educated and a gentile Zionist. (Sullivan himself has written that he was pro-Israel long before he got to TNR).

Sullivan left TNR and its whacked out publisher, Marty Peretz, on good terms although Sullivan must have known that there was one condition for remaining on those good terms: he must never attack Israel’s policies.

But, after Gaza, the increasingly liberal Sullivan could not take it anymore. He remains pro-Israel but was, and is, utterly disgusted by Israel’s behavior in Gaza. Plus, he can’t stand the neocons.

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American Jewish Committee builds Israel lobby in Europe

The terrific global news service, Inter Press Service, has an interesting article which suggests that in light of concern about waning American power, the US-based Israel Lobby, namely the American Jewish Committee and a few others, is setting up shop in the EU to replicate their success in making criticism of Israel out of bounds. They’re urging that funds to human rights groups that criticize Israeli policies as racist or defacto apartheid be cut off. Hmmm.

Given the undeniable disaster thus far known as Obama and company’s efforts to make peace in Israel and Palestine, it is meaningful that the balance of power is shifting globally. As good as the AJC may be at invoking real forms of anti-Jewish hatred  to shut decent people up about Israel, they won’t get the welcome reception they’ve had here in the US. Meanwhile, since it’s absolutely clear that Israel won’t give Palestinians the rights to which they are entitled without pressure, let’s rejoice that finally, the question may not have to be resolved in the halls of Congress after all.

MIDEAST:

Pro-Israel Lobbies Work on Europe


David Cronin

BRUSSELS, Feb 2 (IPS) – Defenders of Israel’s aggressive stance have for many years been recognised as a powerful force shaping United States foreign policy. A less well-known fact is that the pro-Israel lobby has been making a concerted effort to strengthen its presence in Europe.


The lobby’s determination to make an impression on European Union policy-makers was exemplified by a new booklet published on Jan. 28.

Titled ‘Squaring the Circle?: EU-Israel Relations and the Peace Process in the Middle East’, the booklet advocates that EU should “rebalance its priorities” and pursue closer relations with Israel regardless of whether progress is made in resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.

Unlike the plethora of publications on EU affairs that quickly fade into obscurity, there are good reasons to believe that this one will not go unnoticed in the corridors of power.

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