“If Israel is such an “oppressive, racist, apartheid state,” then it would be logical to assume that the Arabs should be eagerly lining up to emigrate to any of the 21 nations of the Arab League where they would presumably have more freedoms and civil liberties. But they are not.”
As I sit and write this, I am nearing the completion of a six week visit to Jerusalem, Israel. I come here with my wife twice per year because two of our children and all of our grandchildren live here. When we come, we don’t live in hotels or ride tourist buses. We rent an apartment in a residential area, buy food at the local markets, and travel with public buses, vans, or taxis that may have either Israeli or Arab drivers. Because we travel on a tight budget and we’re environmentally conscious, we don’t buy newspapers but get all of our news and information from the Internet. I have become especially fond of Google News because it enables me to get news selected by region from a variety of sources and I can search for topics of interest. When I enter search terms such as “war, ethnic conflict, liberation movements, refugees,” this is what I discover.
- There are about 5000 different ethnic groups living in 190 countries, some of which number in the millions and make up a large percentage of the host country. Many of these groups are suffering from oppression and denial of civil rights.
- There are a number of wars going on right now in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Most of these involve Muslims. The wars and conflicts are causing large numbers of deaths and injuries among civilian populations. Everyday innocent civilians are killed in conflicts, usually by Muslims. Children are dying from disease and starvation.
- There are scores of active liberation movements struggling for self-determination
- There are millions of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world living in deplorable conditions.
- However, if I search Google News for the terms “war crimes, war atrocities, humanitarian crisis, and violation of human rights,” I get thousands of articles related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is what I read:
- Israel is an oppressive, racist, apartheid state that consistently violates Arab rights
- Israel is responsible for 60 years of suffering of the Palestinian people
- The Palestinians are struggling for liberation from the brutal, illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands
- Israel violates international law by establishing settlements on “occupied Palestinian lands.” The established Jewish communities are “obstacles to peace.”
- Israel is guilty of vicious war crimes and atrocities against the Palestinian people
- Israel is committing ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Palestinian people
- Israeli military forces continuously commit brutal aggression against the suffering Palestinian people
- Israel is responsible for the horrid humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank
- Israelis grab precious natural resources for themselves while denying them to the Palestinians
- Israeli military occupation is responsible for the economic hardships in Gaza and the West Bank
- Israel is a gross violator of human rights
- Israel deserves to be boycotted commercially, militarily, culturally, and academically for its violations of human rights and international law.
- Israel’s illegal occupation of Arab lands is responsible for most of the strife in the Middle East
As I read this, I can’t help but wonder, “Are they talking about the same country that I’m living in now?” It’s hard to believe because as I travel around Jerusalem and its environs, I see a multicultural mix of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, of all colors, going about their business of making a living, shopping, riding public transportation, attending school, and enjoying recreational areas. It’s tough living in Israel with the high costs and inconveniences related to security regulations and requirements. Most Israelis are busy with their daily lives, struggling to make a living, raising their children, and enjoying some moments of recreation. They have no interest whatsoever in tormenting, persecuting, oppressing, brutalizing, or humiliating the Arab population. They just want to be left alone. Similarly, I get the impression that this is what the Arab population wants as well. All my interactions with Arabs have been personable and amicable. They are also struggling to make a living, and don’t seem to care which flag is flying above. One Arab taxi driver from eastern Jerusalem told me that there are few tourist hotels in eastern Jerusalem so he works mostly in the tourist areas of Jerusalem, travels all over the city, and knows the streets well. He assured me that he knows all the best routes to any destination. While he seemed to be satisfied with living in Jerusalem, the secular Israelis who are not attached to a Jewish homeland, are leaving to Jerusalem, eager to emigrate to Europe or America where they might enjoy a more comfortable standard of living regardless of which flag is flying above. Both Israelis and Arabs are struggling with the daily challenges of life and would welcome an end to the conflict. While both groups are facing challenges, neither is being persecuted.
So it should seem readily apparent to anyone who spends some time living and traveling around Israel that all of these condemnations against Israel are not based on fact but are mendacious, malicious fabrications, most likely stemming from stubborn ignorance, hatred, bias, or self-serving interests. While it may true that there have been a handful of incidents in which young Israeli soldiers and their commanders may have violated rules of engagement, these incidents are atypical, are universally condemned by Israelis, and are prosecuted in the courts. In contrast, when Muslims kill Muslims in various conflicts, there is hardly a word of protest, it has become a daily occurrence that attracts little attention. Yet tiny Israel is scrutinized under a microscope with distorted lenses so that the slightest incidents can be magnified out of proportion and distributed around the world in thousands of articles in the anti-Israel media.
Responding to condemnations
So how should a frustrated advocate for Israel respond to all of these vile and vitriolic condemnations? The conventional wisdom is to refute and discredit them by presenting factual evidence. So everyday there are a handful of pro-Israel sites such as dailyalert.org, published by the prestigious Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which present historical, legal, and statistical evidence that refutes the mendacious claims in the Arab press. Yet the condemnations continue unabated, mostly from sources outside of Israel, who have little or no personal experience with what is actually going on in the country. The pro-Israel websites are few and underfunded in comparison to the numerous, sophisticated sites with deceptive names that are funded by the oil-rich states of the Arab League. As one active advocate for Israel told me, “It’s like pissing into a hurricane.”
The strategy by reputable organizations such as JCPA, ADL, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to refute the condemnations with historical and legal evidence may actually be detrimental to Israel’s cause. It makes Israel defensive, adds legitimacy to the accusations, and prolongs the discussion in the media. The press loves to publish articles that invite comments, discussion, and controversy. In contrast, the atrocities committed by Muslims against other Muslims are soon forgotten because there are so few comments about them. We see few condemnations about the wars in Africa or Asia because the countries involved don’t care and won’t respond to them. Israel, on the other hand, is sensitive to international criticism and responds to most of the accusations. This encourages even more accusations, instead of reducing them. So this strategy is actually increasing condemnations against Israel instead of reducing them.
Prior to my recent retirement, I worked as a school psychologist for about 17 years. One of the basic rules that a school psychologist learns is that if an intervention isn’t working, then it needs to be modified or replaced by a new intervention. So if responding to accusations only seems to invite more of them, then a different strategy is in order. Again we can take a clue from school psychology. A common intervention that is used for inappropriate attention-seeking behavior is “tactical ignoring.” This strategy is used when a child displays inappropriate behavior to gain a reaction, even if the response is a negative one, like causing the teacher to get angry. The child’s behavior may be rewarded by the extra attention that he is getting from the teacher or he may get satisfaction from seeing the teacher being annoyed. Similarly, the media will publish articles accusing Israel of unethical behaviors, precisely because they know that advocates for Israel are sensitive to these accusations and will respond to them, thereby prolonging the discussion and increasing the controversy. That suggests that a lack of response will reduce the incentive for publishing the vitriolic accusations.
Tactical ignoring is not a quiescent response. It makes a strong statement to the accusers. It says, “Your accusations are based on ignorance, bias, or self-serving needs. They are malicious lies that don’t deserve my time and effort to respond.” This is a much stronger, more contemptuous response than a defensive response that cites contrary evidence. If the accusations “fall on deaf ears” then the incentive for repeated accusations is removed.
I’m sure that many readers are skeptical about utilizing this strategy. They may ask, “How can we not refute the charges, won’t that just be an invitation to more fallacious condemnations against Israel? Wouldn’t it invite more calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel.” Let’s examine that argument. Everyday, advocates of Israel are publishing articles with historical and legal evidence asserting Jewish rights to settle in Judea and Samaria, noting that Arab intransigence and intolerance are the real obstacles to peace. Yet, if you read any of the “moderate” Arab English news sites, you will see daily articles claiming that Israel is stealing Palestinian lands and oppressing the people. Furthermore, the Arab press and its influence greatly surpasses the pro-Israel press. So what is being accomplished? The lies are only increasing in their vehemence. Jerusalem has suddenly become a city central to Arab culture.
Boycotts and sanctions
As for boycotts, we have to be mindful that countries that are buying Israeli goods and services are not doing that because they love us and want to help us. They’re buying Israeli products only because we offer them a good product at a good price, otherwise they would go elsewhere. As long as we continue to offer high quality, unique products, they will buy. Similarly, they are selling us products because they want to tap into an Israeli market that wants high-quality goods and is willing to pay for it. If the European Jew-haters want to boycott Israel, let them, it will be their loss. There are still many untapped markets for Israel to reach in Africa and Asia. As for the UN and EU imposing sanctions on Israel, that can’t be done without proceedings where Israeli representatives can present their legal and statistical evidence. The UN would probably stymie all the evidence presented, and the video clips will display the biased animosity against Israel. The proceedings could actually become a comical humiliation for the UN and a public relations triumph for Israel. It’s unlikely that any meaningful sanctions against Israel could be imposed.
So perhaps it’s time to make a “tactical withdrawal” from responding to all fallacious condemnations against Israel. We can experiment with a six-month “freeze” just to see the results. There’s nothing to lose because you can’t win against an argument that’s based on stubborn ignorance, hatred, bias, or self-serving interests. Sometimes it’s best to just walk away.
So what can advocates for Israel do instead? We can work at making the Jewish State of Israel into “A Light Unto the Nations” that will be inviting and desirable for residents, tourists, and visitors. We can turn it into the country described in last week’s Torah reading (Devarim 8:9), “ a land where you will eat bread without poverty, you will lack nothing there.” Then the truth will get out, despite what the Arab and anti-Semitic press says about us.
There is one indisputable fact that belies the vile condemnations against Israel. If Israel is such an “oppressive, racist, apartheid state,” then it would be logical to assume that the Arabs should be eagerly lining up to emigrate to any of the 21 nations of the Arab League where they would presumably have more freedoms and civil liberties. But they are not. The Arab populations in the Galil and Jerusalem are actually increasing. Their communities are expanding and it is necessary to offer them substantial economic incentives to get them to leave. Perhaps that is where advocates for Israel should be concentrating their efforts.