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Counterattacking Israel’s Detractors

  • Deligit12
The fledgling State of Israel faced a physical threat when Arab countries wanted to wipe it off the map. Today’s threats are in cyberspace, on university campuses, and in the media.
by STEVEN GRUZD | Jun 14, 2018

It’s a war that is systematically undermining the Jewish state’s right to exist. And South Africa is in the eye of the storm.

This was the picture that emerged at a panel discussion on “The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Debunking Defamations, Defending Israel” co-hosted by the South African Zionist Federation and Maccabi South Africa in Johannesburg last Thursday.

Rabbi Carlos Tapiero, the Deputy Director General of Maccabi World Union, argued that peace with Palestinians is elusive because their leadership will not accept Jewish existence in Israel. To them, Zionism has no legitimacy, it is merely a European colonisation project that will eventually fail. This notion is “perfect to sell in South Africa, and they have done it efficiently”.

Tapiero displayed the logos of Palestinian organisations. None of their maps acknowledged Israel’s presence. All depicted so-called Palestine extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

“Not a single Palestinian intellectual has ever mentioned a Jewish State for the Jewish people,” Tapiero said, “because they don’t consider Jews as a nation with rights to the land.”

Tapiero emphasised the importance of building alliances with Christian communities and encouraging them to make it a religious imperative to fight the deligitimisation of Israel.

Yair Fraiman, the Director of Public Diplomacy at the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, asserted that Israel was fighting a new kind of warfare, one that “didn’t start yesterday”. While the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban put South Africa at the epicentre of anti-Zionist activism, the roots of the delegitimisation campaign stem from the 1975 United Nations General Assembly Resolution that Zionism is Racism (repealed in 1991).

Though BDS was ignored or shrugged off for years, Israel is now putting money into combatting its deligimitisation. Fraiman said Israel recognised that it needed a new organisation to face this rival “on the cognitive battlefield”, in academic, legal and media terrains, hence the creation of his ministry two years ago.

His unit seeks to create synergy in the pro-Israel community. Fraiman spoke of posting effective infographics on social media showing the recent rocket attacks by Hamas from Gaza, with the hashtag #IsraelUnderFire.

But, he admitted, “We are losing the battle of ideas. Their message and story is better.” Israel is portrayed as a powerful Goliath against the underdog Palestinian David. “Let’s face it, who supports Goliath? Everyone supports David.”

South Africa is a key theatre in this (dis)information war. Fraiman said he hoped to work more closely with the South African Jewish and Christian communities.

Ben-Dror Yemini, an Israeli journalist, erstwhile peace activist, and author of the book Industry of Lies: Media, Academia and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, is committed to exposing and refuting untruths about Israel.

Yemini asserted that not every criticism of Israel was unwarranted, a case of demonisation or antisemitic, and it was “counter-productive” to claim otherwise.

He said, “I am proud to come from a democratic country where everything, including lies, can be published.”

He gave some choice examples of blatant lies, such as baseless and ludicrous claims that no Arabs or Muslims live in Tel Aviv, or that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called at the UN for the expulsion of 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel.

He also put into context the 1948-49 Israeli War of Independence, in which between 20% and 40% of Arabs living in the land of Israel were “forced out”, saying that reciprocal emigration and massive population transfers were the norm in the first half of the 20th century. When empires collapsed, millions migrated in conflicts in the Balkans, between Turkey and Greece, and in India and Pakistan. While much is made of Palestinian refugees, there is little acknowledgement of the 850 000 Jews expelled from Arab States in the 1940s and 1950s.

Students with little knowledge imbibe too many lies from their professors. “Francis Bacon said, ‘Knowledge is power’,” Yemini said. “The whole of BDS is based on ‘Ignorance is power’.”

The battle against BDS will continue.

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