How Israel views its public relations problem

Sep 19, 2010

Adam Horowitz 


This ad is currently running on Haaretz for a new website set up by the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs. Here is the site’s introduction:

Going abroad? Meeting foreigners on a visit? Be ambassadors for Israel!

Many of us, whether we’re traveling or living abroad for an extended period of time, get involved in discussions with locals during which they bring up misconceptions and false information regarding Israel, without our having the tools and the correct information for coping with the questions or the barbs of criticism put to us. At such moments, we’re seized with an urge to make the other person open their mind and especially their heart, and see us—see Israel—differently.

This website, established by the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, will make it possible for each one of us to arm ourselves with information and pride in Israel’s global contributions and history and to present a more realistic image of Israel to the world.

Surfing this site will help you amass a wealth of tips and suggestions for good advocacy when you converse with people overseas, because in every encounter outside the State of Israel, we are our country’s ambassadors!

Together, let’s show the world our beautiful Israel!

If there are any amateur Israeli ambassadors who would like the address the cooking issue, you can do it in the comments.

Harvard students: Peretz invitation ‘lends legitimacy and respectability to views that can only be described as abhorrent and racist’

Sep 19, 2010

Adam Horowitz

The following letter was recently delivered to the organizers of the Social Studies 50th Anniversary Celebration:

Dear Professor Tuck and Dr. Bernstein,

We are writing on behalf of the Harvard Islamic Society, Harvard-Radcliffe RAZA, Society of Arab Students and Latinas Unidas. In a recent blog post for The New Republic Martin Peretz, wrote:

“But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imaam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

He had the following to say about Mexicans in another TNR piece:

“Well, I am extremely pessimistic about Mexican-American relations, not because the U.S. had done anything specifically wrong to our southern neighbor but because a (now not quite so) wealthy country has as its abutter a Latin society with all of its characteristic deficiencies: congenital corruption, authoritarian government, anarchic politics, near-tropical work habits, stifling social mores, Catholic dogma with the usual unacknowledged compromises, an anarchic counter-culture and increasingly violent modes of conflict.”

And the Washington Post reported the following remarks Mr. Peretz made about African Americans:

Citing statistics on out-of-wedlock births among blacks, Martin Peretz, editor in chief of The New Republic, said, “So many in the black population  are afflicted by cultural deficiencies.” Asked what he meant, Peretz responded, “I would guess that in the ghetto a lot of mothers don’t appreciate the importance of schooling.” Mfume challenged Peretz, saying, “You can’t really believe that. Every mother wants the best for their children.” Peretz agreed, then added, “But a mother who is on crack is in no position to help her children get through school.” Some in the audience of 2,600 young Jewish leaders hissed at Peretz’s remarks.

We acknowledge Mr. Peretz’s right to hold and express these views, but we are disturbed that he is honored at Harvard University by being invited to speak at the Social Studies Anniversary Celebration on September 25. Such an invitation lends legitimacy and respectability to views that can only be described as abhorrent and racist in their implication that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. constitution should be withheld from certain citizens based on their religious affiliation.

While the organizers of the Celebration cannot be held accountable for every statement made by its guests, we the undersigned take great exception to Harvard giving such ideas a platform, and we worry that in so doing the University, and the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies in particular, will be alienating a large segment of its student body. In light of these concerns, we respectfully ask that you reconsider having Mr. Peretz as one of the Celebration’s speakers, or at least that he be publicly challenged to defend views that are, in our opinion, indefensible.


Abdelnasser Rashid, Harvard Islamic Society
Maricruz Rodriguez, Harvard-Radcliffe RAZA
Annissa Alusi, Harvard Society of Arab Students
Beverly Pozuelos, Latinas Unidas.

Murder by way of national insanity

Sep 19, 2010

Hatim Kanaaneh

I arrived at the Haifa District Court with a deep sense of foreboding. On my way there, as I drove through Arrabeh’s sleepy streets (It is Ramadan and most fellow Moslem villagers go back to sleep after their dawn meal and prayer.) I saw clear signs of trouble: Two police cars with their lights flashing entered the village just I was on my way out. Stopped in my tracks by the daily traffic jam on the outskirts of Haifa, I turned the radio dial from my usual BBC morning news to the local Arabic FM station and heard the name of my village on the news: A seven-month pregnant young woman whose name I recognized had been slain by her mentally-ill husband in full view of her four children. She bled to death in the bathroom from her seven stab wounds before the husband escaped.

“The man is mentally ill,” I imagined the mayor explaining away our collective shame.
“We all are to blame; it is a symptom of an ailing society in the throes of disintegration,” I could hear Toufiq, my village friend since childhood, arguing back.

At the entrance to the new and imposing courthouse complex, built over the cleared area of an entire neighborhood of old Haifa, I greeted the few members I recognized among the group of mostly Jewish ‘peace junkies’ holding signs of solidarity with Rachel Corrie’s family and cause. Rachel’s rather spry-looking parents seemed duly impressed, thanking people for their good sentiments and expressing their hope to a couple of journalists that finally here was their chance to show the formal investigation of the IDF of their daughter’s death for the hasty slipshod cover-up that it actually was.

The small crowd of demonstrators and media people were cordoned off against the wall to the side of the spacious entryway to the courts complex so as not to affect the security processing of arrivals. Except that the parking area elevators emptied out on the cordoned-off side of the yard. My wife recorded visually and communicated to me a ratio of ten to one who crawled under the red plastic tape rather than bothering to take the extra dozen steps required to get into the queue at the entrance. Two women dressed in lawyery black and white clothes belonging to the latter variety, the minority of upright and obedient citizens, shouted insults at the demonstrators.

My wife and I introduced ourselves to the Corries and exchanged visiting cards with them. Rachel’s mother wore an appropriate brooch on the lapel of her light summer coat, a mother-of-pearl peace dove. I used to give the same dove, handmade in Bethlehem, to foreign visitors at the Galilee Society when I headed it. We thought it only proper to extend an open invitation to the Corries to honor us with a visit to our home should they get bored with Haifa, another port city, and wish to spend a day in a rural setting and pick their fill of figs, passion fruit, pomegranate, and carob right from the tree. We felt this was the least a Palestinian family could offer to reciprocate Rachel’s own gesture of solidarity and ultimate sacrifice.

As we lined up to go through security, the young officer asked the usual “Do you carry any weapons?” and I shot back a comical “Nooo!” She explained in a rather plaintive tone of voice: “A knife is a weapon, you know!” She caught me off guard. Was she referring to the murder in my village, I wondered? How did she know I was from Arrabeh?

We cleared security, stopped at the cafeteria for a quick cup of coffee, chatted with a couple of other Palestinians of similar convictions and made it to the sun-drenched courtroom on the sixth floor.

In the court I sat next to the American consul who used the waiting time to study Hebrew from a phrasebook he must have downloaded to his iPhone. He looked so Semitic I had to resist the urge to give him a hug: We Semites have to stick together in the face of the alien hordes. The Corries sat in the front row and a translator leaned forward from the second row to whisper the translated proceedings to them. They were so obviously Nordic-looking that a touch of hostility almost snuck into my heart. Awaiting the judge, another fellow Israelite, to commence the proceedings, I busied my head with assessing the relative inequality of the resultant triangular configuration of relationships: the consul, the judge and the Corries.

I fantasized a world of peace and stability in which a level of international solidarity and cooperation is attained in which the diplomatic corps representing one state, say France, to another, say Saudi Arabia, would be drawn almost entirely from citizens of the host country. That is the level of trust and understanding that has been reached between the USA and Israel. But how well would such chummy relationship serve the interests of the Corries, I wondered? Quickly, I reached the conclusion that it all depended on the individual diplomat and his allegiance to his country of origin vis a vis his country of assigned diplomatic mission. The double jeopardy of belonging to both is a bind that only the most committed of nationalists in one or the other can maneuver through.

Soon the start of the Corries vs, the State of Israel case was announced and I prepared for the full engagement of my senses and intellect in absorbing the details of all that was going on around me. I was aware of the tremendous potential the Corrie’s case had in blowing Israel’s cover in its well-rehearsed claim to the high moral standards of its armed forces. Admittedly, I am a physician. But I am not a neurologist and I had no intention of focusing on medical issues. I had missed the chance for that back in March when Dr. Hiss, Israel’s organ-snatching chief forensic pathologist who had done the postmortem on Rachel’s body had taken the stand in this same courtroom.

Still, unexpectedly, my attention was drawn to all sort of neurological phenomena. Suddenly and against my conscious attempt to follow the details of the question and answer exchange between the lawyers and the witnesses, the whole court instead became the scene for my innovative observation of certain behavioral peculiarities of the human species: I had noted that the judge had a mild form of tic where he would seem to prepare to rise up by leaning forward slightly and stretching out his neck with a slight turn of the head to the left, as if he were straining to butt an oncoming football in midair, but would then stop in mid motion, stick the index finger of his right hand under his shirt collar as if to loosen it and then, with a shake of his head, would return to his master-of-the-court upright posture. My attention was now fully engaged in the scrutiny of this seemingly insignificant involuntary motion. It shifted my attention from the proceedings I had fought the morning traffic for an hour and a half to follow.

I started making mental notes of the shape and frequency of the odd motion: I studied its different permutations to such a degree that I thought I could observe its initial onset even when my patient, (for in my own mind this was how I had started to relate to the man,) could suppress it to a mere blink of his right eye.

I knew this was a sign of psychological stress, though a certain suspicion started to surface from my subconscious about my own need to escape from the stress of the reality that was unfolding around me: Here was a most capable pair of Palestinian lawyers bearing down with full force on a series of witnesses representing the best Israel could produce in its defense, formerly in the face of the intruding ISM and now to counter the petty claims of a sad family set on discrediting ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ and its valiant soldiers, members of the ‘most moral army in the world.’ I had seen and heard of innumerable cases where again and again the Israeli judicial system squeezes Palestinian defendants literally lifeless. But here I was witnessing the reverse process: Palestinians pressing proud Israelis, former and current members of Israel’s proud and mighty field units, into a state of denial, meekness, confusion and regression.

The novelty of the unusual situation I was observing for the first time made me distinctly uncomfortable. I knew something was grossly amiss when I suddenly realized that I was concentrating so intensely on the body language of all the actors around me that I lost tract of what they were saying. I made a quick mental note of the fact that my interest was so piqued by the psychodrama unfolding around me that I had totally lost the ever disturbing chronic tinnitus in my ears.

I shifted back to observing the judge. I had been warned in advance that his record is most lean on rulings in favor of human rights defenders. Is that why he gave such clear signs of so much mental anguish? I returned to my observations of his neuromuscular oddity. Readers may think this a crude comment on a judge of justice. Yet we all do this all the time. All drivers rely on observing the lights in the back of the car in front of them to pick up the indications of its driver’s intentions. That is how a physician relates to the physical signs of those ‘cruising around’ in his vicinity. So, please, excuse this casual attitude to what you may consider to be a sensitive issue. Overall, the tic was quite frequent, perhaps once every one and a half minutes on average. But it was not regular. First I noticed that it did not occur during the rare occasions when the defense team of lawyers from the State Prosecutor Office spoke.

It also occurred very rarely when the witnesses spoke. One witness made a clearly outrageous statement he should never have made: “In war there are no civilians,” he declared. The good judge strained his neck so vigorously and stuck his head out so far he nearly swept the computer screen in front of him off the table. At another juncture, the judge had a cascade of successive neck-stretching exercises as he admonished the Corrie’s lawyer, Hussein Abu-Hussein, to abandon the line of questioning he was pursuing with the witness.

It was irrelevant, the judge decided. I felt the lawyer was treading very close to the red line sequestering the truth behind it. Obviously, the witness was being bamboozled.
Suddenly, the judge cut my intense inner hilarity short: He had to leave the court early for a physician’s appointment. Was he seeing a neurologist? I could certainly assist the physician with my professional observations, I thought. Or perhaps he had something more serious, a terribly bad heart or a nasty brain aneurism? Don’t rush to conclusions about possible wishful thinking on my part, please!

At Harvard Medical School they taught us always to start by ruling out the worst case scenario. That is also the reason I figured that at least two out of the three witnesses who appeared before us were probably examples of a rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease. Not only that they had forgotten nearly all the relevant facts, detailed or general, of incidents in which they had taken active part some six years earlier, but also that, by the time they left the witness stand, they appeared to have been pitifully reduced physically to mere shadows of the imposing macho figures that had strode into court earlier in the day. I am not a bad shot when it comes to diagnosing medical entities, believe me. I assure you that in my active clinical career I was an astute diagnostician able on occasion to figure out what brought a patient to see me from the way he or she walked into my office.

I swear to you that on occasion I would start writing my hospital referral letter while a case of Appendicitis or Maltese Fever was still changing into the examining gown behind the examining curtain, not to mention the occasional term pregnancy of a teenager brought by her anxious parents because of excruciating abdominal colic. So it was no major challenge for me to pick up the clear signs of Alzheimer’s, though, going by the rapid physical deterioration they evidenced, these probably were some of the fastest developing such cases ever reported in the medical literature.

In a ten-minute break in the court proceedings, I strode to the back of the spacious hallway to feast my eyes on what I could see of Haifa’s wonderful views. Lo and behold, the view was one of extensive ruination and well-guarded abandonment of the whole base of the Carmel Mountain as it slopes down toward the port area. The entire neighborhood, once the thriving residential area for the well-off and nouveau-riche Haifan Arab families, seems to have been cordoned off from the outside world, with its majestic multi-arched façades’ dignity still preserved thanks to its stone structure.

One could imagine the pleasure and the pride of the former residents of such homes on a breezy late afternoon, sitting in their luxurious living rooms or northern balconies with Haifa’s port and the many ships taking refuge in it in full view as the sun tipped behind the soaring Carmel Mount. Now the Custodian of Absentee Property and his colluding housing agency, Amidar, seem to have decided to deny such imagined pleasures by continuing to deny the area the option of residential use. One can only hope that the former residents of such majestic homes, still awaiting return in their shacks in Lebanese refugee camps, will never see the intolerable neglect to which their palaces have been subjected.

I looked at Rachel’s parents and they seemed tired, worn out, no doubt, by the rigors of the intense delving into details of their late daughter’s death. I felt like offering them my sympathy and physical support as they ambulated out of the court. Till I went to the bathroom and took a good look at myself in the mirror: I should have asked the Corries to help me to my car, I decided.

Heading home I was elated by the prospect of my impending rise to fame in medical circles by virtue of my forthcoming first-ever report of two consecutive cases of the instantaneous onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. To rest my mind and gain some emotional respite from the excitement of it all, I turned my car radio on: The dial had been left on the local FM station. Arrabeh’s stabbing murder case was still dominating the free-for-all call-in program. Callers were speculating about what could have irked the presumably insane husband to act in the murderous way he did. For a moment I entertained the thought of calling in and alerting the program’s host, whom I knew personally, and his audience to the Corries versus the State of Israel case. I wanted to let everyone know that here was another case of murder by way of insanity. Except that here, a whole nation had gone insane.

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. This post originally appeared on his blog A Doctor in Galilee.

Le Moyne students hear Finkelstein despite calls to cancel lecture

Sep 19, 2010

Ira Glunts

A small group of faculty members convinced Le Moyne College officials to permit Norman Finkelstein to lecture at their school, despite an organized campaign to persuade Le Moyne to cancel the event. The week before Finkelstein was scheduled to appear, a number of local Rabbis, a high ranking member of the New York State Catholic hierarchy, and other prominent community members contacted the school to request that the event be called off.

In a carefully written statement composed by a faculty committee and issued by the Provost, Linda LeMura, the school said, “[Finkelstein’s] appearance is not an endorsement of his work or views, but rather a recognition that a variety of perspectives, some difficult and controversial, need to be considered. Le Moyne is committed to freedom of speech, including points of view that are intellectually serious even if not generally accepted by all segments of the community.”

An overflow audience of over 250 people attended the Finkelstein lecture, which began at 5 PM on September 16. Finkelstein gave a talk which focused on the 2008 Gaza War and the assault on the Mavi Marmara flotilla. The crowd appeared to be overwhelmingly sympathetic to Finkelstein’s point of view. He got two standing ovations during his talk and only one expression of disagreement during the Q and A segment.

I met Norman Finkelstein a day after his Le Moyne appearance at an event in a private home where I was to introduce him. He seemed completely unaware and unbothered when I mentioned that his lecture had been in danger of a last-minute cancellation. He responded that “it was no big deal” and that he would never have even been invited a couple of years ago. Now, he says, he is getting more invitations to speak at colleges and to appear in the media. He credits this to a recent opening up of the debate over Israel/Palestine.

Opening up or not, it is noteworthy that on September 28, Le Moyne will host a panel discussion in response to the Finkelstein lecture. A suggestion to have a response to Finkelstein as part of the event on September 16 was considered and then rejected. Apparently, Le Moyne feels that presenting Finkelstein without a consumer warning label would be irresponsible.

It is true that Finkelstein is getting more invitations to speak at colleges and appear in the media. However, I doubt we will be seeing him on NBC or in the New York Times any time soon. It is also encouraging to learn of this group of courageous faculty who fought off some very powerful community voices in order to allow the Finkelstein lecture to be held.

It’s not about cultural merit

Sep 19, 2010

Anees of Jerusalem

In yesterday’s Ha’aretz, Gideon Levy argues for the abandonment/removal of Israel’s illegal settlements from an uncommon standpoint: He lambasts the settlements, as civic/economic/aesthetic entities, for their lack of contribution to the betterment of Israeli society, and says that this ‘uselessness’ is why we need to stop the settlement project.

They haven’t managed to produce anything of their own. No theater, no museum, no music and no dance, very little literature and no meaningful creative work. … These are comatose cities in which no advanced or meaningful industry has ever grown except one bagel factory and a few workshops, most of them imported from central Israel, despite all the benefits and discounts lavished on the settlements. … Crowded but empty, this should have been the ultimate proof of their uselessness.

While I agree with much of what it says, I really don’t like this Gideon Levy piece—even though I get that he could just be trying to persuade Israeli society to oppose settlements using a new rationale. But to argue merit through cultural achievement is a rotten game. As a Palestinian, this makes me easily recall how Israelis often use the supposed cultural/industrial inferiority of “the Arabs”—How many Arab Nobel laureates are there compared to Jewish, they propose—to soothe their guilt for what Israel has done to Palestinians. (By the way I sense, through his writings, that even the leftist Israeli Uri Avnery is guilty of this.)

Anyhow Levy’s point is easy to debunk: Let’s say the settlements produced great artists and advanced industry that greatly enriched Israeli lives; would this grant them immunity from condemnation? They’d still be the same racist colonial projects.

American public opinion and the special relationship with Israel

Sep 19, 2010

John Mearsheimer

There is no question that the United States has a relationship with Israel that has no parallel in modern history. Washington gives Israel consistent, almost unconditional diplomatic backing and more foreign aid than any other country. In other words, Israel gets this aid even when it does things that the United States opposes, like building settlements. Furthermore, Israel is rarely criticized by American officials and certainly not by anyone who aspires to high office. Recall what happened last year to Charles Freeman, who was forced to withdraw as head of the National Intelligence Council because he had criticized certain Israeli policies and questioned the merits of the special relationship.

Steve Walt and I argue that there is no good strategic or moral rationale for this special relationship, and that it is largely due to the enormous influence of the Israel lobby. Critics of our claim maintain that the extremely tight bond between the two countries is the result of the fact that most Americans feel a special attachment to Israel. The American people, so the argument goes, are so deeply committed to supporting Israel generously and unreservedly that politicians of all persuasions have no choice but to support the special relationship. 

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has just released a major study of how the American public thinks about foreign policy. It is based on a survey of 2500 Americans, who were asked a wide variety of questions, some of which have bearing on Israel. Their answers make clear that most Americans are not deeply committed to Israel in any meaningful way. There is no love affair between the American people and Israel.

This is not to say that they are hostile to Israel, because they are not. But there is no evidence to support the claim that Americans feel a bond with Israel that is so strong that it leaves their leaders with little choice but to forge a special relationship with Israel. If anything the evidence indicates that if the American people had their way, the United States would treat Israel like a normal country, much the way it treats other democracies like Britain, Germany, India, and Japan.

Consider some of the study’s main findings:

“Contrary to the long-standing, official U.S. position, fewer than half of Americans show a readiness to defend Israel even against an unprovoked attack by a neighbor. Asked whether they would favor using U.S. troops in the event that Israel were attacked by a neighbor, only 47 percent say they would favor doing so, while 50 percent say they would oppose it …This question was also asked with a slightly different wording in surveys from 1990 to 2004 (if Arab forces invaded Israel). In none of these surveys was there majority support for an implicitly unilateral use of U.S. troops.”

Americans “also appear to be very wary of being dragged into a conflict prompted by an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In this survey, conducted in June 2010, a clear majority of Americans (56%) say that if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, the United States should not bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel and against Iran”

“While Americans have strongly negative feelings toward the Palestinian Authority … a strong majority of Americans (66%) prefer to ‘not take either side’ in the conflict.”

“There is some tangible worry regarding the direction of relations with Israel. Although 44 per-cent say that relations with Israel are “staying about the same,” a very high 38 percent think relations are ‘worsening,’ and only 12 percent think they are ‘improving’.”

“Americans are not in favor of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a major sticking point in the conflict, with 62 percent saying Israel ‘should not build’ these settlements.”

Finally, only 33 percent of those surveyed feel that Israel is “very important” to the United States, while 41 percent said it was “somewhat important.” It is also worth noting that on the list of countries that were said to be “very important” to the United States, Israel ranked fifth behind China, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. Of course, all of those countries have a normal relationship with the United States, not a special relationship like the one Israel has with Washington. 

The data in the Chicago Council’s study is consistent with the data that Steve and I presented in our book and in countless public talks. The story remains the same.

The bottom line is that the lobby is largely responsible for America’s special relationship with Israel, which is harmful to both countries. Alan Dershowitz was spot on when he said, “My generation of Jews … became part of what is perhaps the most effective lobbying and fund-raising effort in the history of democracy.” 

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