Fact Check- 3 case studies in the distortion of reality and “extremizing” peace advocates

As Republican pollster (and Israeli Hasbara guru) Frank Luntz knows all too well, the relationship between reality and language is increasingly tenuous. Words are how he carefully works to shape political outcomes. But it’s also true that the rather wide space between reality and language, especially on the issue of Israel-Palestine, is where the blogosphere can make a real difference.

Here are three examples of deliberate and not so deliberate blurring of messages and how people and peace groups are routinely “extremized”, as Naomi Klein says.

CASE 1) Though I have some real disagreements with Moshe Yaroni’s post in Zeek on the Reut Institute analysis (Yaroni didn’t have the whole report at the time), he has many insightful points including his analysis of how nuanced approaches to divesting from the occupation find little reward. As one example, he looks at my group, Jewish Voice for Peace, and our campaign on Caterpillar and work with church groups on selective divestment from companies that profit from the occupation:

The response was a campaign of disinformation that cast these efforts in precisely the opposite light. Opponents of any sort of organized action against the Occupation simply said this was a boycott of Israel, ignoring completely that it was only the settlement project and the Occupation that were targeted. The strategy worked, and the Methodists and Presbyterians as well as JVP were cast as anti-Israel and as opponents of the state itself, not merely the Occupation. Anyone looking at the groups’ work on the issue would have known this to be false. Unfortunately, most believed what their opponents said.

CASE 2) Naomi Klein goes to battle line by line with the Reut Institute’s Eran Shayshon in this fascinating exchange that was printed in Mondoweiss. (As a side note, after controversy over the the use of the words “sabotage” and “attack” to which Klein refers below, Ali Abunimah discovered that Reut cleansed their newest iteration of the offending language, but not the intent.)

Most worrying, the report explicitly urged Israeli intelligence agencies like Mossad to take unspecified action against peace activists using entirely legal methods: “Neither changing policy nor improving public relations will suffice…Faced with a potentially existential threat, Israel must treat it as such by focusing its intelligence agencies on this challenge; allocating appropriate resources; developing new knowledge; designing a strategy, executing it.” The think tank also called on the Israeli government to “sabotage network catalysts” – defined as key players in the “delegitimization network.”

The Reut report identified several cities with active Palestinian solidarity communities as “hubs” in this supposed network, one hub being my own city of Toronto. Another is the Bay Area, home of the indispensible and courageous Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Cecilie Surasky, JVP deputy director, has an overview of the Reut controversy with lots of links. In it, Surasky succinctly undercuts the entire premise of the attack: “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.”

Recently, I’ve gotten a taste of Reut-style “sabotage” myself. Last month, Eran Shayshon, a senior analyst at Reut, was invited on CBC radio to explain why he singled out Toronto in the report. Shayshon proceeded to equate the non-violent human rights movement with Hamas and Hezbollah and made several false and damaging claims about me, including the claim that I oppose Israel’s right to exist and oppose a two-state solution. There is no basis for this, as JVP called out in its response, “Reut Institute Report Lies About Naomi Klein.” You can listen to the inflammatory CBC audio interview here.

What follows is going to seem like a lot of detail and he-said-she-said. But keep in mind that Reut has openly called for covert tactics to be deployed against groups and individuals using legal, non-violent methods to advocate for justice. The goal, according to the Jerusalem Post, is to “establish a ‘price tag’ for attacking Israel and punish boycotters.” In other words, they are trying to shame people into silence, which is why each one of their lies needs to be countered. (read the back and forth here.)

CASE 3) And finally, UC Berkeley’s student senate, after what all described as a pretty remarkable and civil evening of testimonies from both sides lasting until 3 am, passed by 16-4 a bill advocating for divestment specifically from companies that profit the occupation. But what did opponents and the press say?

The UC Berkeley Hillel said in a technically inaccurate statement that the Senate, ” passed a bill calling upon the UC Berkeley administration and the UC Regents to divest from companies due to their business relationship with the Israeli government.”

But JWeekly has this headline: U.C. Berkeley student senate votes to oppose U.C. investment in Israel

The San Jose Mercury News said “UC Berkeley student leaders voted early Thursday to drop the student Senate’s investments in companies doing business with Israel.The Senate, meeting into the early hours of the morning, voted 16-4 to divest itself from Israel and to ask the University of California system to do the same.”

And oh so predictably, Alan Dershowitz issued a statement saying, “Divesting from Israel is immoral, bigoted and if done by a state university illegal,” Dershowitz said in a statement Thursday.

So what did the bill REALLY say? It called for divestment from 2 multinationals that make money off of killing people.

RESOLVED, that the ASUC will ensure that its assets, and will advocate that  the UC assets, do not include holdings in General Electric and United Technologies because of their military support of the occupation of the Palestinian territories; be it further

RESOLVED, that the ASUC will further examine its assets and UC assets for funds being invested in companies that a) provide military support for or weaponry to support the occupation of the Palestinian territories or b) facilitate the building or maintenance of the illegal wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes, or c) facilitate the building, maintenance, or economic development of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories; be it further

In fact, (rare) kudos go to the Simon Wiesenthal Center for actually getting the facts right here:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced today’s 16-4 vote by the Student Senate of UC Berkeley calling on the UC Regents and Student Government to divest from two companies, General Electric and United Technologies, that do business with the State of Israel. This vote was in response to what the Student Senate says, “Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories” and “Israel’s siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip.”

In the end, does the strategy (deliberate, though in the case of the media, their laziness allows opponents’  framing to enter their language) help or hinder the Israeli cause. It can be argued, as Yaroni does persuasively, that this kind of painting all forms of BDS as extremist merely encourages those with a laser sharp focus on the Occupation to give up on such nuance. In other words, it drives more and more people into the all or nothing camp.

Or there’s Klein’s analysis, that it’s a form of creating a “price tag” against peace activists.

They’re both right. But I do also know that the core root of the growth of the BDS movement still is Israel’s occupation, especially the blockade of and attack on Gaza, and that the only way the BDS movement can be destroyed or greatly damaged is by ending the Occupation. Tomorrow.

Sure, there are plenty of folks who support a one-state solution or who are more focused on the ideology of Zionism than the rule of international law- but the fact remains that if the Occupation actually ended and Palestinians actually got a fair shake, the broad-based support for the BDS movement (which after all identifies international law, and not Zionism or one state as its goal) would dry up overnight.

As far as concerns about a one-state solution go- the number one force making that more and more of a reality is Israel itself and its policy of perpetual settlement expansion on land intended for a future Palestinian state. If only the folks at Reut has gotten that one point right.

-Cecilie Surasky

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