By Barry Rubin
The first, most important thing to understand about the Western and especially American debate on Israel is this:
Never before in history has there been such a concerted, systematic, and vicious campaign to discredit and demonize Israel, especially seeking to undermine its support in the Jewish community.
Without comprehending this fact, the massive attacks from academia, mass media, groups, and even in mainstream political and intellectual debate cannot be understood. We aren’t dealing with lots of mistakes but with the mass production of hate speech.
Who would you vote for if the elections were held today?
Obviously, one should always judge based on the specific people and places involved. Yet a good point to keep in mind is this:
Don’t believe that they may have gotten it right this particular time. Many of them aren’t trying to get it right; most of them are incapable of getting it right.
These assaults cannot be taken in isolation and with naivete as if this time a wild accusation is accurate. Some are obviously outrageous—the British politician accusing Israel of genocide; a cartoon showing Ariel Sharon eating Palestinian children; Egypt’s president calling Jews sub-humans; the Swedish newspaper claiming Israel murders Palestinians to steal their organs—but even better-constructed items are equally fallacious.
The craziest stuff is just the most incautious end of far more apparently credible lies and distortions. And the key “mistake” made is to use the word “Jews,” unacceptable, rather “Israel,” “Israelis,” or “Zionists.”
In other words, “The Jews want to take over the world.” No. “Israel wants to take over the Middle East.” Okay. “The Jews use children’s blood in Passover matzoh.” No. “Israel deliberately murders Palestinian children.” Okay.
Not all are aware, of course, of what they are doing, especially those originating or spreading the more “moderate” hate speech. There are dupes as well as demonizers, though dupes often seem all too credulous to be wholly innocent.
Here are two more aspects:
Once having been defined as the “bad guy,” Israel can be accused of anything, as in a film narrative in which the villain is, well, always villainous.
Second, Israel is one of the few categories that can be attacked with unbridled vituperation, though some limits still apply in American political life at least. You cannot say the slightest thing against other nations or nationalities, as well as races, religions, or genders. One wrong word, even if uttered carelessly, and the person’s career is finished. With Israel, the bile can flow unbridled.
Equally, there are so many lies—new ones appear each day–and so many facts to counter them with that it is partly a waste of time to counter each offensive in itself. What’s necessary is to understand that this is all based on lies, ignorance, and conscious bad faith.
The categories include, but are not limited to, falsification of photographs and fabrication of events; distortion of history; making up of quotes; publishing disproportionate numbers of anti-Israel books and articles; indoctrination in schools; refusal to mainstream Israeli views and overwhelming emphasis of radical, critical ones; excessive credibility to hostile sources for outlandish tales (a worldwide story on an alleged, since proven false massacre in Jenin based on a single mysterious informant is just one example).
There is also the creation of new categories of sin designed specifically as part of the anti-Israel campaign and applied only to Israel, i.e., “pinkwashing” (talking about the good treatment of gays as a cover for other crimes!) or the idea of “disproportionate force” in wartime or the idea that causing any civilian casualties at all is a war crime (in sharp contrast to the previous and current wars of every other country in the world).
Aside from obsessions and double standards is the eagerness, uncontrollable hatred, self-righteousness, unconcern for fairness or balance, and passion that shows the hidden agenda of those involved. They are indifferent to real war crimes, intolerance, and oppression by others in the world. Their behavior should have destroyed their credibility but they are protected instead.
Some details of interest:
- This campaign’s intensity and one-sidedness has relatively little effect on the actual Middle East situation or on Western government policies.
- The main single issue is to try to portray Israel as responsible for the lack of peace, just as Jews were historically blamed by those hostile to them for antisemitism. Since the experience of the 1993-2000 “peace process” era, the fact that the conflict continues because of the intransigence of Israel’s enemies should have been obvious. Yet this history has been forgotten and its impact on Israeli thinking buried or censored.
- Much of the new antagonism stems from Western intelligentsias’ sharp turn to the left. The question, of course, is why Israel is such a prominent issue among the many causes available to them.
- What is important is not so much to define specific things as “antisemitic”—which generates distracting debates—but to explicate the creation of a situation equivalent in effect to pre-1945 antisemitism. Since about 40 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel and most of the rest support Israel, the resulting slander and demonization is also a slur and hatred against the vast majority of Jews. The irrationality, obsession, intimidation, and slander is quite equivalent to what Jews suffered under historic antisemitism.
- Israel, Israelis, and their supporters are portrayed—as in classical antisemitism–as irrational creatures involved in incomprehensible behavior. Removing from public consciousness their experiences, attitudes, and sufferings leaves the conclusion that their behavior is evil, racist, bloodthirsty and seeking total power.
For example, as a country under assault, Israel has to act militarily at times. The army and government have no interest in wasting credibility and resources by injuring Palestinians for fun or out of pure meanness. Yet this is how Israeli behavior is often portrayed.
Similarly, Israel has lots to gain from peace since, if secure and lasting, it would provide such benefits as fewer deaths, less time and money spent in the military, beneficial trade with neighbors and higher living standards, etc. To believe Israel doesn’t want peace is to believe it is aggressive and has devious ends.
And again, if Israel really doesn’t face an existential threat—or only an easily defused one—then its acting otherwise is psychotic behavior.
A major and new theme of this campaign is to convince American Jews that either Israel has become illegitimate or must be bashed for its own good. Undeniably, this campaign has enjoyed success on that front. Others are temporarily taken in by nonsense like the Western expert/media spin on the last Israeli elections as headed toward fascism or some individual event.
What exists here on the surface as disproportional insanity is actually ideologically determined and politically intentional. The result is an environment in which the virulently antisemitic, genocidal, anti-Christian, anti-American, and pro-terrorist Muslim Brotherhood is the beneficiary of apologetics while Israel is “bad.”
A nut from an extremist cult spit on a teenaged Jewish girl in a small town in Israel and the next thing you know there is a serious Western debate over Israel losing its soul. A few fans from Israel’s most nationalist football team don’t want Muslim players—Arabs already play for all the other teams and are never harassed—and the next thing you know the New York Times compares Israel to Nazi Germany.
Or the Israeli election was widely presented as the impending triumph of neo-fascist forces even though the far-right party received less than 10 percent of the vote, what that category usually receives. The New Yorker gave us a hitherto unknown professor at a university in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as its expert on Israeli politics. Or the New York Times article claiming that many Israelis were complaining that the Iron Dome system shot down Hamas missiles because it would be better–the reporter lied–if more Israelis were killed or wounded since that would impel the country to change its evil, hard-line ways and seek peace.
One thing comforting about this campaign is that its activists so often have to resort to lies and exaggerations, showing how little genuine material they possess.
How much effect is this all having in the real world? Ironically, it is less damaging to Israel itself (attempts at economic boycotts, for example, have yielded no real damage) but on Western Jews who live in the societies so affected. The growing pressure will result in some running for cover—or even joining the assailants—but far more will ultimately wake up.
Yet again this situation can no longer be dealt with as an ordinary, though rather spirited and emotional, debate. It is a massive, often conscious and deliberate, campaign of defamation. No longer on the margins, this campaign has penetrated into using the commanding heights of the Western mass media, intellectual, and academic institutions.
The reason for pointing this all out is that there are millions of well-intentioned, honest people who would be shocked if they had the paradigm shift between taking a good portion of this material as honest and well-intentioned and understood that they are being subjected to a concerted propaganda campaign of lies. If they comprehend that, they are far more likely to reject these lies as well as having their eyes opened to wider disinformation campaigns going on today.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.