The Israeli political right is wont to argue that Israel’s only real problem is PR. We’re doing the all the right things; we’re the only real democracy in the Middle East; we want peace and the Palestinians don’t, they proved that in 1947 when they rejected the partition plan and – so goes this brand of kosher whine – we are terribly misunderstand. We need to make our case better. The complaint is sometimes echoed by the kind of “pro-Israel” voices abroad that fail to distinguish between supporting Israel and supporting the policies of the current government, destructive as they may be.
Well, if the government and its supporters want to prove that’s the problem, they’ll have to do a better job at PR than they’ve done in recent days. There are no candidates for best hasbarah (Heb. n.: information, PR, propaganda, bull); only candidates for worst. Readers of SoJo are invited to cast their votes.
- Avigdor Lieberman’s Foreign Ministry angrily answered criticism from the four European representatives on the U.N. Security Council – Britain, France, Germany and Portugal. A statement by the four countries had blasted settlement expansion as standing in the way of “the two-state solution that is essential for Israel’s long-term security” and expressed concern about attacks by settlers on Palestinians. The Foreign Ministry’s response attacked the Europeans for “interfering with Israel’s domestic affairs, including on issues which are to be solved within the framework of direct talks” between Israel and Palestinians. There are too many things wrong with this as hasbarah (Heb. n.: PR, propaganda, bull) to list here; I’ll mention just three: 1. Settlements and settler violence against Palestinians are not “domestic affairs” because the West Bank is not part of Israel. There’s an argument between Israel and the rest of the world about East Jerusalem, but Israel itself rules the rest of the West Bank under laws of military occupation, not as part of the state. 2. The statement acknowledges that the future of the West Bank needs to be discussed in talks with the Palestinians – thereby contradicting in the second clause what is fallaciously asserted in the first clause (that the settlements are a domestic Israeli issue). 3. And most important: There is a long history of regimes asserting that the international community should not “interfere in their internal affairs” or those of their allies. The phrase is used most often by regimes with which decent people do not like to be identified, and with which decent countries are not proud of doing business. Like Lieberman’s praise of Russia’s elections, this comment places Israel in bad company.
- The New York Times invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to write an article for its opinion pages. Netanyahu adviser Ron Dermer wrote back to decline the offer on the grounds that the oped page was biased against Israel. Yup. Offered the chance to balance what the prime minister’s office claims is unfair commentary on his policies, Netanyahu said no because he wouldn’t appear on a page that doesn’t have balance. Netanyahu is supposed to be a master of hasbarah (Heb. n.: propaganda, bull) but he simply ceded the podium. Dermer objected to columnist Tom Friedman’s assertion that applause for Netanyahu when he addressed Congress was purchased by the Israel lobby. But Netanyahu is unwilling to face the wider audience of the Times, which cannot be accused of being bought. At first glance, Netanyahu and his advisers gave into childish petulance. If we assume a more adult, reasoned choice, they decided to plead nolo contendere to the criticisms made on the Times oped page rather than risk new criticism based on the inevitable weakness of their defense of Netanyahu’s policies.
- Representative Steve Rothman, Democrat of New Jersey, issued a statement that attacked Friedman for the same column. “I gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a standing ovation, not because of any nefarious lobby, but because it is in America’s vital national security interests to support the Jewish State of Israel and it is right for Congress to give a warm welcome to the leader of such a dear and essential ally,” he said. U.S. News reports that the second largest set of organizational and organizational-linked donations to Rothman since 2009 have come from Norpac, which identifies itself as “the largest pro-Israel PAC.” That obviously doesn’t mean Rothman’s applause was bought; he may have meant it sincerely and his sincerity may be what convinces Norpac to give him money. But Rothman wasn’t just applauding Israel, he was applauding a particular Israeli leader whose policies include continued Israeli rule over a disenfranchised population (that is, extreme ethnic discrimination), supporting legislative attacks on basic democratic principles, and extreme free-market economics. I assume that despite Rothman’s American patriotism – or precisely because of it – a Democratic congressman from Jersey would refrain from leaping to his feet to applaud an American leader who had similar policies. Reading Rothman, we can choose two versions. Either Netanyahu has fooled him, or he thinks he can fool the public. And either way, it shows that bad hasbarah (Heb. n.: bull) can be conducted from Washington as well as Jerusalem.
Those are my candidates. Feel free to vote.