Israel through European Eyes

This essay by Yoram Hazony is a must-read for those who continually strive to understand the relentless ideological assault on Israel in Europe, by opinion leaders, journalists, activists, and intellectuals.  Hazony persuasively argues that to those who view Israel’s very existence as the problem –  who view the Jewish state as some form of scourge – sound arguments, the presentation of irrefutable facts, effective PR, and the best policy decisions by Israeli leaders don’t ultimately matter. Those of us dedicated to exposing the distortions, outright lies, and hateful invectives hurled against Israel – consistently on display at publications like the Guardian – must go beneath the surface, and dig deeper to discover what’s at the root of this dangerous phenomenon. Hazony’s thoughtful and penetrating analysis represents such an effort.

Every few months, Israel is publicly pilloried in the international media and on university campuses around the world for some alleged violation of human rights, real or imagined. Last month it was over an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship trying to run the blockade on Gaza, which left nine dead after the ship resisted seizure. A few months from now it will be over something else: Perhaps it will be over Israeli action against the Islamic terror state in Gaza, or against the Hizballah army in South Lebanon and its ever-growing mountain of missiles. Perhaps it will be over an Israeli strike on the Iranian or Syrian nuclear programs. Perhaps it will be over the destruction of an Iranian weapons ship at sea. Perhaps it will be over the revelation of an Israeli covert operation in an Arab country or in Europe or elsewhere. Perhaps it will be over an incident in an Israeli jail or at a roadblock in the West Bank. Perhaps it will be over the visit of an Israeli public figure to the Temple Mount, or the purchase and occupancy by Jews of a building in East Jerusalem. Perhaps it will be over something else.

But whatever the ostensible subject, and regardless of whether Israel’s political leaders and soldiers and spokesmen do their work as they should, we know for certain that the consequence of this future incident, a few months from now, will be another campaign of vilification in the media and on the campuses and in the corridors of power—a smear campaign of a kind that no other nation on earth is subjected to on a regular basis. We know we will again see our nation treated not as a democracy doing its duty to defend its people and its freedom, but as some kind of a scourge. We’ll again see everything that’s precious to us, and everything we consider just, trampled before our eyes. We’ll again have to experience the shame of having former friends turn their backs on us, and of seeing Jewish students running to dissociate themselves from Israel, even from Judaism, in a vain effort to retain the favor of digusted peers. And we’ll again feel the bite of the rising anti-Semitic tide, returned after its post-World War II hiatus.

All this has happened repeatedly, and we know it will happen again. Indeed, these outbursts have grown more vicious and effective with each passing year for a generation now. And there’s every reason to think this humiliating trend will continue, with next year worse than this one.

As to the reactions of Jews and other friends of Israel to these smear campaigns—as far as I can tell, the reactions haven’t really changed in the last generation either: My friends on the political left always seem to think that a change of Israeli policy could prevent these campaigns of vilification, or at least lessen their reach. My friends on the political right always seem to say that what we need is “better PR”.

No doubt, Israel could always stand to have better policies and better public relations. But my own view is that neither of these otherwise sensible reactions can help improve things, because neither really gets to the heart of what’s been happening to Israel’s legitimacy. Israel’s policies have fluctuated radically over the past 30 or 40 years, being sometimes better, sometimes worse. And the adroitness with which Israel presents its case in the media and through diplomatic channels has, likewise, been sometimes better, sometimes worse. Yet the international efforts to smear Israel, to corner Israel, to delegitimize Israel and drive it from the family of nations, have proceeded and advanced and grown ever more potent despite the many upturns and downturns in Israeli policy and Israeli PR.

Nothing could make this more evident than the Jewish withdrawal from Gaza and the subsequent establishment there of an independent and belligerent Islamic republic 40 miles from downtown Tel Aviv. Israelis and friends of Israel can reasonably be divided on the question of whether this withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, or the parallel withdrawal from the security zone in South Lebanon in 2000, was really in Israel’s interests, and whether the Jewish state is today better off because of them. But one thing about which we can all agree, I think, is that these withdrawals did nothing to stem the tide of hatred and vilification being poured on Israel’s head internationally. Whatever it is that is driving the trend toward the progressive delegitimization of Israel, it is a trend operating more or less without reference to any particular Israeli policy on any given issue.

Go here for the rest of the essay

(Also, here’s an interesting take on Hazony’s analysis by Ben Cohen, writing at The Propagandist)

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7 replies »

  1. Nah. I agree with Ben Cohen that Hazony is barking up the wrong tree. As Cohen says:

    “Indeed, rather than opposing state-building projects, the New Left actively supported them, so long as they were firmly tied to decolonization.”

    As long as its not Israel, Westphalianism is alive and well, and used as a stick to beat away humanitarian interventionism in countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Burma and Sri Lanka. Any interference in these sovereign states is (neo) colonialism.
    Halevy misconceives the European Union.

  2. I disagree with the first sentence, “Every few months, Israel is publicly pilloried in the international media and on university campuses around the world for some alleged violation of human rights, real or imagined.”

    Rather than “every few months”, I’d say every few days.

    Other than that, a fine article.

  3. The essay is thought-provoking, but I don’t wholly agree with the conclusion of the paradigm being the ‘nation state’. Perhaps the paradigm of ‘political correctness’ may be at play, though.

    It seems to me that many of anti-Israel bashers I’ve encountered are either anti-semitic, consumed with a form of political correctness or just unaware of the facts. The latter haven’t internalised their opinion to the extent that it cannot be changed. There’s very little you can do about the former and my personal jury is out on the ‘politically correct’.

    I’ve read Anthony Browne’s view of political correctness which he states is a term redicible to ‘the redistribution of power’. The actual ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ of any given issue is not important. Instead, it becomes a matter of perception in terms of which party is assumed to be the ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’. Regardless of facts, the ‘weak’ must be the party which is ‘right’.

    He writes “The only reason it is more politically correct for religious fundamnetalists to deliberately kill as many innocent civilians as possible (Hamas suicide bombers) than for a liberal democracy (Israel) to selectively kill the terrorist leader responsible for the wave of suicide bombing (Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin) while trying to avoid the loss of innocent life, is because the Israeli government is strong, and the Palestinians weak.” (Iran notwithstanding!)

    Incidentally, Browne mentions the Guardian in reference to the murder of Theo van Gogh: “When the successful, affluent, powerful Dutch film maker, Theo van Gogh was ritually murdered in the streets of Amsterdam for insulting Islam, the politically correct, including the Guardian and the Index of Censorship, automatically sided with the comparively powerless Islamic Dutch-Moroccan killer”

    It’s a ramped-up perception of who is the ‘underdog’ and I think it accounts for some – but not all – of the anti-Israel club.

  4. ‘Every few months Israel is publicly pilloried in the international media’.

    Every few months Israel ALLOWS itself to be publicly pilloried in the international media.

    There are no Israeli spokesmen/women explaining background/context and history. believe it or not, the average man in the street, is not a rabid Jew hater, ordinary people are too busy getting on with their own lives and their own problems, yet they are bombarded with this drip drip of one sided biased news reporting and coverage,again, hardly any coherant outspoken Israeli spokespeople offer an alternative viewpoint, and the person watching the evening news or reading their daily paper, probably isn’t going to be bothered to relentlessly surf the internet for contrasting stories and news reports.
    Israel is not alone in this one sided news coverage, it has been happening for decades, during the Yugoslav war,only one side of the conflict was shown, and during the troubles in Irealand, only one point of view was presented to the public, and unless someone is particuarly interested in finding out the truth, they are just going to believe what they read and see(and that includes staged photo’s)
    Im sure most people watching the recent panarama programme would have a far better idea of what happened on that night,than from all the previous articles and news programmes they’ve seen.
    The point is to reach out to people in the middle, and not to give way to the voices on the extremes, and that includes the voices on the extremes on this site too, who seem fairly content to simply shut down debate and make unessassary and often hurtful comments to people raising an opinion they disagree with, you are doing great harm by taking this attitude, because the market place of ideas requires everyone to participate and to voice an opinion. Israeli’s are not going anywhere and neither are the Palestinians, both people’s have moderates and pragmatists, let the centre voice take control, resolving the I/P conflict is NOT impossible, failure is not an option.
    Israel needs to find a voice, and start using it.

  5. smtx01 – I agree with you, but in terms of Israel putting its side of the story to the world, what has to be factored in is how, when and where they will have the means to do so in today’s media.

    The Panorama program was a rarity – which is probably why so many are still in a state of mild shock! Generally speaking, Israeli spokepeople can’t demand to be heard via TV, nor can they demand to have their side printed in newspapers. The TV and newspapers are, for the most part, the way in which ordinary folk understand current affairs – not everyone has the time, energy or interest to research further.

    Genuine question here – how do you see a way forward, given the fact that Israel doesn’t seem to get much of a ‘right to reply’?

  6. @penny, why does Israel not have a right of reply? you can hear Hamas and other spokesmen/women on Tv news programmes, so why not Israeli?
    Israeli seems overly reliant on diaspora groups stating their case, i think it is high time they stepped up their game and started answering back. Israel is in a highly dangerous position at the moment, there are elequent, outspoken and moderate spokespeople in Israel, why dont they use them?

  7. smtx01

    As I said, I couldn’t agree with you more but again – as I said – you are assuming that Israel can demand that its side is presented on our TV and in our newspapers when it cannot. As an individual I can write to a newspaper but I cannot demand that it prints my letter or article. Israel has to find a willing partner amongst the main TV channels and newspapers. Without that, it cannot present its case.