Monday, January 24, 2011

The challenge of public diplomacy vis-a-vis the delegitimisation of Israel

Address to Ariel Conference on Law and Mass Media, 30 December 2010

(Below is a part of the address given at the conference referred to above. If you want to read the complete address, please click on the link above)

We are living through a global campaign of demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel in which the western media are playing a key role.

The British media are the global leaders of this campaign in their frenzied and obsessional attacks on Israel. In the BBC in particular, such virulence attains unparalleled power and influence since it is stamped with the BBC’s global kitemark of objectivity and trustworthiness.

Israel is dwelt upon obsessively, held to standards of behaviour expected of no other country and, with its own victimisation glossed over or ignored altogether, falsely accused of imposing wanton suffering.

Time after time, otherwise cynical, reality-hardened journalists have published or broadcast claims of Israeli ‘atrocities’ which are clearly theatrically staged fabrications or allegations. The false narrative of Arab propaganda is now so deeply embedded in the consciousness of journalists that they cannot see that what they are saying is untrue even when it is utterly egregious and indeed absurd.

This is because Israel’s crime is to defend itself militarily. To much of the media, Israel’s self-defence is regarded as intrinsically illegitimate. It is routinely described as ‘vengeance’ or ‘punishment’. Thus Sir Max Hastings wrote in the Guardian in 2004: ‘Israel does itself relentless harm by venting its spleen for suicide bombings upon the Palestinian people.’

In short, Israel is presented as some kind of cosmic demonic force, standing outside of humanity.

In Britain, the established church, the universities, the Foreign Office, the theatrical and publishing worlds, the voluntary sector, members of Parliament across the political spectrum, as well as the media — have signed up to the demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel.

It’s the home of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. It’s where human rights lawyers threaten to arrest Israelis for war crimes as soon as they step off the plane at Heathrow.

Britain has effectively become a kind of global laundry for the lies about Israel and bigotry towards the Jews churning out of the Arab and Muslim world, sanitising them for further consumption throughout English-speaking, American and European society and turning what was hitherto confined to the extreme fringes of both left and right into the mainstream. Where Britain has led, the rest of the west has followed.

What is striking is the extent to which a patently false and in many cases demonstrably absurd account has been absorbed uncritically and assumed to be true.

History is turned on its head; facts and falsehoods, victims and victimisers have their roles inverted; logic is suspended, and an entirely false narrative of the conflict is now widely accepted as unchallengeable fact, from which fundamental error has been spun a global web of potentially catastrophic false conclusions.
The western intelligentsia has itself turned evidence and logic upside down. Moral and cultural relativism – the belief that subjective experience trumps moral authority and any notion of objectivity or truth – has turned right and wrong on their heads.

Because of the dominant belief in victim culture and minority rights, self-designated victim groups — those without power — can never do wrong while majority groups can never do right. And Jews are not considered a minority because – in the hateful discourse of today – Jews are held to be all-powerful as they ‘control’ the media, Wall Street and America.

So the Muslim world cannot be held responsible for blowing people up as they are the third world victims of the west; so any atrocities they commit must be the fault of their victims; and so the US had it coming to it on 9/11. And in similar fashion, Israel can never be the victim of the Arab world; the murder of Israelis by the Arab world must be Israel’s own fault.

This inversion of reality and morality echoes the Islamic narrative. This holds that, because Islam is considered perfect, its adherents can never do wrong. All their aggression is therefore represented as self-defence, while western/Israeli self-defence is said to be aggression. So justice and injustice, oppression and freedom, truth and lies are reversed.

Instead of attacking Arabs and Muslims for such irrationality and falsehoods, it’s the defenders of Israel whom the western intelligentsia accuse of lies and even insanity. Instead of backing Israel against genocidal violence, the British took to the streets, while Hezbollah rockets were raining down on Israel’s northern towns in 2006, with placards declaring ‘We are all Hezbollah now’.

Israel’s perceived ‘oppression’ of the Palestinians, its ‘disproportionate’ attacks on them and its supposed violations of international law are actually the very opposite of the truth. This is behaviour of which it is the victim, not the perpetrator.

Strikingly, it is the intelligentsia, the people of reason, who are the main problem. Bigotry is now correlated with education and class.

The lower down the social and educational scale, the more people are sane and realistic and decent about the Middle East and the threat to the free world from radical Islam. But as soon as you get people who’ve been through higher education, you find that so often they’re the ones who are bigoted and irrational about such matters.

They make truly ridiculous claims about Israel, such as its perpetration of apartheid or ethnic cleansing – claims which, to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the situation, are demonstrably ridiculous.

So how can it be that the most educated are now the most irrational?

The short answer is that among the progressive intelligentsia, evidence and truth have been supplanted by ideology – or the dogma of a particular idea. Ideologies such as moral and cultural relativism, multiculturalism, feminism, environmentalism, anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism.
Across a wide range of such issues, it’s no longer possible to have a rational discussion with the progressive intelligentsia, as on each issue there’s only one story for them which brooks no dissent.

This is because, rather than arriving at a conclusion from the evidence, ideology inescapably wrenches the evidence to fit a prior idea. So ideology of any kind is fundamentally anti-reason and truth. And if there’s no truth, there can be no lies either; truth and lies are merely ‘alternative narratives’.

So the way has been opened for mass credulity towards propaganda and fabrication. The custodians of reason have thus turned into destroyers of reason – centred in the crucible of reason, the university.

So is this all hopeless? After all, irrationality cannot be fought with reason.
But no, it is not hopeless. First, many who spout this irrational discourse are not themselves irrational, merely profoundly ignorant. They are ignorant because no-one is telling them what it is they don’t know and are getting so very wrong about Israel, the Middle East or Jewish history.

But for those who are indeed irrational, we have to change our approach. We have to stop trying to argue with bigots. We must instead set out to defeat them.

To do that, we must first realise many of us are fighting on the wrong battleground. We are on the battleground selected by our enemies as the most conducive to victory.

The Arabs successfully redefined the Middle East conflict from a story about Arab aggression towards the Jews to a story about Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Jews.

They reversed victim and victimiser by recasting an existential conflict as a battle between two peoples with rival claims to the land. Inevitably this casts Israel, which is reluctant to go along with the implications of this false analysis, as the villain of the piece.

After all, forcing a country which has endured six decades of existential siege with no end to give any ground to its attackers amounts to forcing a victim to surrender. This is expected by the civilised world of no other country.
Both Israel and diaspora Jews have to stop playing defence and go onto the offence.

We should be demanding of the world why it expects Israel alone to make compromises with people who have tried for nine decades to wipe out the Jewish presence in the land and are still firing rockets at it.

We should be demanding why America, Britain and the EU single Israel out for pressure which they apply to no other victims of genocidal aggression. For in any other such conflict, their cause of the aggressors would be deemed totally forfeit by their behaviour.

We should be asking so-called ‘progressives’ – including Jewish ‘progressives’ — why they support the racist ethnic cleansing of every Jew from a future state of Palestine.

We should be asking ‘progressives’ why they are not marching against Hamas on account of its tyrannical oppression of Palestinians in Gaza.

Why they are not mounting a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority on account of his Holocaust denial and the PA’s continued incitement of Arab children to Jew-hatred, murder and genocide.

Why they are ignoring Arab and Muslim persecution of women and homosexuals.
And we should be telling the Jews’ own story of refugees and ethnic cleansing – the 800,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands after 1948, and who now make up more than half of Israel’s population. It’s good to see that at last Israel is beginning to bring this to the world’s attention. In Britain virtually no-one knows about it. At a stroke it takes the ground from under the feet of those demanding the ‘right of return’ for Arabs.

We will never convince bigots that facts are as they are, or that the evidence of history tells a different story from the one they believe. We cannot fight prejudice with reason.

But we have a duty to bear witness to the truth. And we have a duty to fight in our defence.

We can best do this by getting off our back foot and putting western fifth columnists on theirs. We should accuse them, not of Jew-hating motives we cannot prove but of absurdities and contradictions and untruths they cannot deny.

We should ridicule them, humiliate them, destroy their reputations; boycott them, not invite them to our houses, show them our disapproval and contempt. Treat them as pariahs. Turn their own weapons against them.
In short, we must get up off our collective knees and fight. Justice, human rights and truth are on our side, not theirs. We must reclaim them as our own.

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