De­fend­ing Is­rael? Anger works

Ad­vice re­cently given by PR ex­perts on how to pro­mote Is­rael in the me­dia was wrong


HOW DOES one best put Is­rael’s case in pub­lic? This was the theme of the re­cent con­fer­ence hosted by Bicom. Un­for­tu­nately, I was un­able to ac­cept my in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend be­cause of press­ing fam­ily com­mit­ments. How­ever, had I done so I sus­pect I would have sum­moned up the courage to dis­agree with the ad­vice ap­par­ently given by some of the pre­sen­ters, and re­ported in last week’s JC.

What are my cre­den­tials for hav­ing the chutz­pah to dis­agree? Well, I have writ­ten widely on Zion­ism, the his­tory of the Pales­tine Man­date, anti-Jewish prej­u­dice, and Is­lamic and Chris­tian at­ti­tudes to­wards Jews and Ju­daism, and al­though not a his­to­rian of the state of Is­rael, I have read widely around this sub­ject and have in­deed ne­go­ti­ated the mind-blow­ing bu­reau­cracy of that state to dip into some of its ma­jor archival col­lec­tions. I have a slight me­dia profile in Is­rael and — to judge by the de­mands made on my time by do­mes­tic print, ra­dio, TV and in­ter­net me­dia — a some­what higher profile here in the UK. Whether I do a good job is for oth­ers to say, but from the feed­back I re­ceive I ven­ture to sug­gest that I make an im­pact and have scored some telling points.

My first piece of ad­vice for any­one con­tem­plat­ing writ­ing a let­ter to the press, or ap­pear­ing on a panel dis­cus- sion, is: be very cer­tain of your facts. The past two decades have wit­nessed a con­certed ef­fort by the en­e­mies of the Jewish state to re-write his­tory. Prom­i­nent within this re­write are a num­ber of com­plete fic­tions.

It is not true that most rab­bis in 19th and 20th cen­tury Europe op­posed Zion­ism. It is not true that, fol­low­ing the First World War, the Bri­tish per­mit­ted Jews to re­side any­where in “Pales­tine” (the area east of the Jor­dan was — and still is — pro­hib­ited to Jews as far as per­ma­nent res­i­dence is con­cerned). It is not true that the land on which Jews re­set­tled west of the Jor­dan was “stolen” — it was bought, paid for and re­ceipts ob­tained. It is not true that the Arabs played no part in the Holo­caust. It is not true that Is­rael is in “breach” of UN res­o­lu­tions; Is­rael has vi­o­lated no UN res­o­lu­tion that it is re­quired to obey. It is not true that the Jewish so-called “set­tle­ments” in Judea and Sa­maria are “il­le­gal”, since the right of Jews to dwell any­where in those ar­eas was con­firmed by the League of Na­tions and reaf­firmed by its suc­ces­sor body, the UN. (Cer­tain of th­ese set­tle­ments may not have been au­tho­rised by the gov­ern­ment of Is­rael, but that is a dif­fer­ent is­sue.) It is not true that UN res­o­lu­tion 242 (Novem­ber 22, 1967) re­quires Is­rael to with­draw from all ter­ri­to­ries “oc­cu­pied” in the Six-Day War — as a mat­ter of fact the res­o­lu­tion only speaks of Is­rael’s “armed forces” (as op­posed to civil­ians) with­draw­ing from some of th­ese ter­ri­to­ries.

It is true, how­ever, that res­o­lu­tion 242 ex­pects all par­ties to the con­flict (and not just sov­er­eign states) to ter­mi­nate “all claims or states of bel­ligerency”, and that to date only three such par­ties have done so — Is­rael, Jor­dan and Egypt.

My sec­ond piece of ad­vice to any­one mak­ing any sort of pub­lic ap­pear­ance is to go on the at­tack at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity. At­tack was, is and al­ways will be the best means of defence. One speaker at the Bicom con­fer­ence re­port­edly told his au­di­ence to be “nice” and to “never show your anger”. I do not agree. Some­times it helps to show a mea­sured anger, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to anti-Jewish prej­u­dice. Most op­po­nents of the re-es­tab­lish­ment of the state of Is­rael refuse to con­cede that the Jews, too, have a right to na­tional self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and (hence) a na­tion state. They have — in other words — a prob­lem with Jews, and the sooner this can be brought out, and aired, an­grily, the bet­ter for you. Do not ac­cuse your op­po­nents of be­ing “an­ti­semites”. Ac­cuse them, rather of hav­ing a prob­lem re­lat­ing to Jews and the Jewish world, and even (when you have calmed down) of­fer to help them over­come this per­sonal dif­fi­culty.

I used this approach to ex­cel­lent ef­fect last Oc­to­ber ago when I de­bated live, on TV, with a lead­ing Bri­tish Mus­lim. The pro­gramme’s pre­sen­ter sub­se­quently emailed me to con­fide that my Mus­lim col­league had left the stu­dio “rather bro­ken”.

Serves him right.

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