Thursday, June 23, 2005

Israel's failure at hasbara

The Christian West has a marked, and growing, prejudice against the state of Israel that the government of that country ignores at its peril. The latest instance will be laid before the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham tomorrow, in the form of a recommendation that the 38 provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion should consider divesting themselves of holdings in companies that support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The recommendation stems from a report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict issued last September by the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN).

The report is a piece of sanctimonious claptrap whose authors didn't even bother to talk to Ariel Sharon's government. It takes scant account of the trauma to which the second intifada has subjected Israeli civilians and endorses policies, such as the right of return of Palestinian refugees since 1948, that would spell the death of the Jewish state. It has rightly been condemned by, among others, the International Council of Christians and Jews, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sir Jonathan Sachs, the Chief Rabbi.

If the APJN recommendation is accepted by the consultative council tomorrow, it will be passed to the individual provinces for a decision on implementation. In most cases, they will do nothing. But the American Episcopal Church, which is a member of the Anglican Communion, is considering disinvestment, while the Presbyterian Church (USA) has already embarked on that course. Even where it is shelved, it will serve as a powerful symbol of hostility to Israel.

Mr Sharon is a "power and stockade Zionist" who believes in accomplishing "facts on the ground". His government is not doing nearly enough to advance the moral case for Israel to those Christians who believe that the present-day population has nothing to do with the Jewish aboriginals and therefore has no right to Palestinian land. The further the Holocaust recedes into history, the less Mr Sharon can count on natural sympathy for the Zionist cause. The fact that two Churches in the United States, a country whose support Israel tends to take for granted, are at the forefront of the moves to disinvest is a salutary warning: moral force is just as important as acquiring the latest military gismos from Washington.

This fact cannot be overstated: Israel's "hasbara" has been criminally incompetent. The moral case for Israel is crystal clear and it is botched daily by the people who supposedly "own the media."

There are a number of reasons for this that are not Israel's fault - endemic anti-semitism; the West's guilt over colonialism; the Left's knee-jerk support for the seemingly weaker party in any conflict regardless of the facts, Islam's manipulation of the West's inability to distinguish between the religion of Islam and the fascist political ideology that it also represents, and the media's desire to frame a conflict as "balanced" where a Sharon who gives land for nothing is considered a "hawk" and an Abbas who denies the Holocaust and whose government has yet to show Israel on any map of the Middle East is a "moderate."

Even so, the job of Israel to show its side to the West has failed miserably. Israel already lost the semantic war ("illegal occupation", "settlements", "Palestinian") and it has so far not managed to make much of a dent in presenting its moral case. There are of course some shining exceptions, examples of individual organizations like MEMRI and Honest Reporting who manage to point ou the truth among the deceptions. But from an Israeli government level the incompetence has been stunning, not the least because of self-loathing Israelis who are more than happy to go in front of foreign cameras and tell reporters what they already want to hear.

The number of Israeli government representatives who forcefully and accurately can make Israel's case have been few. Netanyahu was very good when he was Israel's ambassador to the US, and Moshe Arens used to be excellent, as was Sharansky when he was in the government. But it is not enough, and it hurts Israel immensely.

And when it gets to the point that churches, institutions that supposedly are meant to be the leaders in morality, openly support the terrorists and oppose those who want peace and freedom for all, it is clear that Israel has failed at getting her message out.