On a recent visit to Israel, my mother-in-law told me she would like to be a better advocate for Israel, but never took speech and debate in high school.
Neither did I (though I later found myself grading speeches and judging Lincoln-Douglas debates for high school kids). And I’m not a lawyer, or a person who thinks on her feet very well. (My snappy rejoinders take hours to percolate, long after my smug adversary has departed.)
But none of those things really matters in advocating for Israel. What matters is knowing the facts, and where the flaws are in the rhetoric of Israel-bashers. This doesn’t take skill, but it does take patience and a will to learn Israeli history, as well as following current events. Some of the common accusations against Israel these days include the following:
- Israel is an apartheid state.
- The “occupation” of the West Bank is responsible for the poor quality of life of Palestinian Arabs.
- If Israel would just give the Palestinians a state, peace would break out throughout the Middle East.
- Hamas are just freedom fighters, using “rudimentary” weapons against Israel.
- Israel is guilty of human rights violations.
- The siege of Gaza has created a prison for the Palestinians, who are starving and suffering for lack of medicine, basic human needs, and building supplies.
- The settler movement is responsible for the stalled negotiations between Israel and the PA.
- Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayyad are moderate Palestinians and willing peace partners; it’s Bibi Netanyahu who is the problem.
Listening to these absurd (but typical) opinions about Israel, and holding them up against the facts as documented in history books and by responsible members of the press (not the ignorant cub reporters shipped here for a tour of Israel-bashing, Arab-adoring stories for the delectation and delight of an equally ignorant, “progressive” readership back home) should do the trick. Here are some articles which address each of these prevalent anti-Israel notions and offer facts to rebut them.
Israel is an apartheid state. This was lent even more credence by the participation of South African Jew, Richard Goldstone, in the mock investigation of Israeli war crimes during Operation Cast Lead—it takes one to know one, people probably thought. Many people have taken this inflammatory statement to task, a job which requires nothing simpler than thumbing through a dictionary for the definition and a one-day tour of Israel to rebut. But for those too feeble to open a dictionary, or too cheap (or scared) to get on a plane to come here, this Q&A session between an Israeli journalist and Khaled Abu-Toameh should take care of it.
The “occupation” of the West Bank is responsible for the poor quality of life of Palestinian Arabs. For a real look at the causes of Palestinian misery (and living in the West Bank, I think that at least in this part of the country, the “misery” is more than a little exaggerated), check out some articles written by Mudar Zahran (covered in my blog here). You may be surprised who is REALLY at the bottom of the poverty, statelessness, and decades-long refugee status of Palestinians in Israel, Lebanon, and elsewhere.
If Israel would just give the Palestinians a state, peace would break out throughout the Middle East. Again, this has been addressed by many commentators, who point out that most Palestinian Arabs envision a Middle East with no Israel at all (and a two-state solution would for them act as Stage 1 of a two-stage solution, where Stage 2 is to destroy Israel from without and within); that Arab hostility to Jews in this part of the world began almost 100 years ago, not in 1948; and that the true cause of instability and continued conflict involving Israel and the Arabs is the combination of Iran’s oil-financed sponsorship of terror organizations (Hizbollah and Hamas) and the West’s shoring up of weak leaders (i.e. Abbas and Fayyad) with no mandate, who are no readier to live in peace beside Israel than Hamas. Former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, wrote an enlightening essay in response to The Economist‘s recent cover piece, encouraging US President Barack Obama to impose a “solution” on Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Gold’s points about The Economist‘s argument, its misconception of the nature of the conflict, and the futility (and danger) of imposing a solution are concise, clear, and worth reading. (So is everything else I’ve read by Gold.)
Hamas just use “rudimentary” weapons against Israel. I saw a very disturbing YouTube video about pro-Arab activists on a US college campus demonstrating against a pro-Israel event, accusing Israel of atrocities, war crimes, and disproportionate force against Hamas in Operation Cast Lead. One of the chief arguments made by these pro-Arab activists was that there is a gulf between the sophistication and precision of Israeli weaponry versus the “rudimentary weapons” of Hamas. (Apparently, they think Hamas is using medieval catapults, sling shots, and water balloons, instead of storing up missile launchers capable of hitting Tel Aviv and beyond.) With Iran’s help, Hamas has smuggled weaponry through the tunnels dug between Gaza and Sinai, and Hizbollah has been rearming, importing (through Syria or by sea) six times the firepower it had in the Second Lebanon War (2006). Even the short-range mortars fired several times a day into Sderot and the Negev a few years ago were capable of serious property damage, maiming, and killing people. The only reason more Israelis weren’t killed was because they were huddled in their bomb shelters several times a day. Treppenwitz once compared Hamas’s firing of “rudimentary” weapons into Israel to a cantankerous neighbor who comes home drunk every night and shoots his gun at your house. Just because he’s only put pock-marks in your siding or broken a few windows doesn’t mean he’s incapable of killing you if you happen to step in his line of fire. A neighbor like that is a menace whether he’s an expert marksman or a violent alcoholic.
Israel is guilty of human rights and international law violations. This may sound compelling, but it’s awfully vague. In over two years of solo blogging about Israel, not one reader has been able to tell me what human rights Israel has violated, or what international laws it has broken. The closest anyone has come is to bring up the Fourth Geneva Convention which some interpret as forbidding Israel to settle the West Bank, but even that doesn’t hold water since Jordan does not recognize the West Bank as its own territory (nor, by the way, did the international community, even when Jordan occupied it from 1948 to 1967), and it was never at any time a sovereign Palestinian nation. So allowing Israelis to build and live here doesn’t violate any law on Earth as far as anyone’s been able to show me. In war, Israel makes every effort to avoid hurting civilians, even when fighting against a ruthless enemy that deliberately embeds itself in crowded civilians areas to 1) try to protect itself from harm from an Israel it knows will not attack it indiscriminately, and 2) create a situation where civilian casualties are likely to happen if Israel strikes at all, scoring it points in the international media, which will hold Israel—and not Hamas—responsible for their deaths. Violations of military conduct are reported, taken seriously (even if they’re frivolous or highly unlikely), investigated, and punishment is meted out to guilty parties. Accusations following Operation Cast Lead of unlawful use of white phosphorous (which I suspect most people had never heard of before, although it’s used by armies all over the world) were found to be groundless, and Israel in complete compliance with its internationally-recognized use.
The siege of Gaza has created a prison for the Palestinians, who are starving and suffering for lack of medicine, basic human needs, and building supplies. People who make this contention should get online and look at the pictures of the busy, well-stocked outdoor markets in Gaza City, the new shopping mall there, and reports by people who have been there (NOT on Hamas-guided tours) and hear what they have to say about it. Between the truckloads of food, medical supplies, toys, clothing, and other necessary goods that Israel allows through the Erez Border Crossing (try finding another country that supplies their sworn enemies like THAT), Gazan Arabs are far from starving. Building supplies are also allowed through the crossing, as long as they have an actual building site as a destination, rather than a Hamas munitions plant. There is little doubt that life could be better for Gazan Arabs, and that they are not as free as Israelis are. But that is the fault of their government, a fanatically Muslim, terrorist organization dedicated to keeping themselves in power, to their mission of destroying Israel (unrealistic though it may be), and NOT to making a better life for the people they rule over. No one can justify blaming Israel for that.
The settlements are responsible for the stalled negotiations between Israel and the PA. Oh, that it were so simple. Or even true. But the truth is that the PA is unwilling to make the slightest concessions in order to further negotiations. They refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland that it is (i.e. that it’s here now and always will be), to relinquish their imagined “rights” to return to Israel (for refugees and their descendants), or to stop incitement against Israel in schools, mosques, and the PA-controlled media. But because the Arabs have chosen to ignore Security Council Resolution 242 (which states that Israel is entitled to safe, secure borders, NOT NECESSARILY those which existed on June 4, 1967) and everyone else seems to have forgotten it, the settlers can conveniently be blamed for standing in the way of instant, everlasting peace in the region (and, indeed, the world, if you follow Obama’s, The Economist‘s, and the Left’s logic). The fact that the region’s Arabs refused to acknowledge any rights of the Jews to live here before 1948, made constant war on them between 1948 and 1967, and only a month ago published a “study” claiming that there has never been a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, belies any culpability of settlements to the continued lack of resolution. Even a 10-month building freeze, accepted by Netanyahu (against the wishes of his electorate), failed to bring the Arabs to the negotiating table until the ninth month, from which they bolted the minute the freeze ended. I found Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz’s in-depth interview with Beni Begin on this and a dozen other matters to be engrossing reading. (I’m still scratching my head, wondering how it is that any politician anywhere is as honest, forthright, intelligent, and—apparently—clean as Begin.)
Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayyad are moderate Palestinians and willing peace partners; it’s Bibi Netanyahu who is the problem. Mahmoud Abbas’s term as President of the PA ended almost two years ago. Why is he still in power? Because he knows that if he holds elections, he’ll lose. He was Arafat’s Number Two, but lacks Arafat’s star quality, and is no improvement over him where commitment to peace with Israel is concerned. A moderate? His doctoral thesis, written at a Moscow university, is a Holocaust-denying diatribe. Fayyad, on the other hand, seems to have charmed many in the West, as well as some of my more credulous friends here in Israel. He may show signs of promise in his efforts to create a viable economy in the West Bank, but he’s still not moderate enough to be willing to commit himself to a two-states-for-two-peoples solution. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has expressed a willingness to consider a two-state solution, as long as one of those states is reserved for the Jews. What is problematic about that? Many of Netanyahu’s supporters think that is untenable, others think it is a betrayal of their trust and a chillul Hashem, and others think it’s all that is realistically possible to discuss nowadays. And the truth is, Netanyahu is probably safe discussing such a solution since, like Barak and Olmert before him, he knows that no matter how generous an offer of land, water rights, etc. he offers the Arabs, they’ll always say no. Because it all goes back to their inability to envision a Middle East that includes Israel. And as long as that stays constant, Netanyahu can promise them the moon without being responsible for the outcome.
Those are some answers to the most commonly-bandied accusations against Israel. But as they say, the best defense is a good offense. So rather than limiting Israel advocacy to answering outrageous accusations and lies, the best advocacy includes turning the tables on Israel’s enemies and asking THEM some tough questions in response. Here are a few to file away for use:
- If the Arabs want peace so badly, why do they continue to incite hatred and jihad against Israel in their schools, mosques, and media?
- If the Arabs want peace so badly, why have they turned down two offers of peace which included nearly 100% of the land they requested, East Jerusalem, and safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank?
- When you talk about Middle East peace, what concessions do you demand from the Arabs?
- Abbas and Fayyad refuse to recognize Israel as the eternal Jewish homeland, or indeed, any Jewish connection to the land of Israel. Why do you think the PA are real peace partners?
- Israel is a country with freedom of religion, freedom of the press, women have equal rights, and where gays and lesbians are not only accepted, but have been allowed to serve in the military for years. Are those important to you? Then why do you support the Palestinian Authority, which has none of those things?
- A former president of Israel was recently convicted of rape. While it’s a source of outrage, shame, disappointment, and heated discussion in Israel, it also shows that no one in Israel is above the law, and that women’s rights will be defended at the highest levels of government against the most powerful men in the country. Do you see the same social and legal culture in Arab states?
- As a liberal and progressive person, women’s rights are important to you. Would you support the rights of men to deny women the right to divorce an abusive husband, the right to live free from the threat of honor killings (by men of women) or female genital mutilation? Then why do you champion the cause of the Palestinian Authority?
- As a liberal and progressive person, would you support a regime in which the government controls the press, denies its citizens the right to practice their religion or criticize the government, calls for the death penalty to anyone who sells property to Jews, and carries out summary killings (i.e. murders without trial)? Then why do you champion the cause of the Palestinian Authority?
- If the settlements are the main obstacle to peace, then why wasn’t there peace before 1967 (i.e. before there were settlements), when Israel gained control of Gaza and the West Bank? Or before that, when the Arabs were offered a state of their own in 1948?
- At the Khartoum Conference (September 1, 1967), the Arab nations that met after the Six Day War vowed not to recognize Israel, negotiate with Israel, or make peace with Israel. This is effectively the policy still in place with the Palestinian Authority. Why should Israel be expected to give land to people who hold fast to this policy?
- When Israel uprooted settlements, unilaterally withdrew, and gave land (Gaza) to Palestinian Arabs with no concessions on the Arab side, that land was taken over by Hamas terrorists who fired thousands of missiles and mortars into Israel in the ensuing three years, damaging buildings and kibbutzim, killing and maiming Israeli citizens, and resulted in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, who has been in captivity for over four-and-a-half years, and has been denied visits from the International Red Cross or any other contact with the outside world. Why should Israel be expected to do that again with the West Bank?
I could go on, but instead I’ll just alert you to an article by David Harris, Executive Director of the AJC, entitled “How Can You Defend Israel?” and post the following video, which is an amusing primer on confronting progressive thinkers who target Israel.
My point in this post is that there are no secrets to Israel advocacy, beyond knowing something and being able to ask questions back. Perhaps the job of hasbara (explanation) should rest less on the shoulders of Israel’s defenders, and more on those of the people who attack it.