Delegitimization is a genuine threat for Israel (and so is anti-Semitism)

March 05, 2010

* “Shimon Peres has a YouTube channel. Hurrah! Danny Ayalon has a huge Facebook following. Muted hurrah! But the deeper you search on YouTube, the worse things get for Israel, and Israel demonizers are leading the field in Twitter and every other innovative avenue of social networking too.”

* “In the [Israeli government’s new website’s] review of modern Israeli history, the capture of missing airman Ron Arad gets 10 lines but the Oslo Accords get just three. The kidnapping of Gilad Shalit merits eight lines; the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 is only worthy of one-and-a-bit.”

* “The foreign media complain of being offended by Israeli government satire, yet there is a deafening silence on the coercion, threats and violence they face from the Palestinians, especially in Gaza… By contrast Israel has a free press; the government provides services and accreditation – even to those who choose to report in the most biased and slanted manner.”


Today’s dispatch is split into two for space reasons. The other part can be read here: “Israel has its faults, but apartheid isn’t one of them (& Another hit job on Israel by the FT)”.



1. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, increasingly overlapping
2. Paul Martin: Where are the “human rights” groups?
3. “How the media distorts Israel and how Israeli PR could be improved” (By Tom Gross)
4. “Wrong troops, wrong ammunition” (By David Horovitz, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 26, 2010)
5. “The joke’s on Edelstein” (By Jeff Barak, Jerusalem Post, March 1, 2010)
6. “Opposing the digital pogrom” (By Daniel Seaman, Jerusalem Post, March 4, 2010)
7. Statement by Paul Martin’s wife on behalf of his family
8. “Statement by the British Foreign Office on detention of British journalist”


[Note by Tom Gross]

This dispatch concerns Israel’s largely internal debate about what is perceived to be the increasing delegitimization of the Jewish state, a delegtimization which is now frequently crossing the line into full-blown anti-Semitism, as witnessed by some of the statements by those behind “Israel Apartheid Week” which is currently taking place at 40 leading universities around the world. (It is reported that swastikas and Ku Klux Klan symbols have also been spray painted near the dorm rooms of Jewish students in the U.S. during “Apartheid Week”.)

I attach three pieces (all by subscribers to this email list): David Horovitz (the editor of The Jerusalem Post), who sums up the feelings of the Israeli center, Jeff Barak (the former editor of The Jerusalem Post), who presents a more left-wing viewpoint in his article, and Danny Seaman, the director of the Israel Government Press Office.

All three talk about the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy’s new masbirim (“explainers”) webpage. (The site is an effort by the ministry to encourage ordinary Israelis traveling abroad to talk about their personal experiences in order to combat what they consider to be the misleading perceptions of Israel around the world.)

Before that I attach a video of one of my talks last month.


This dispatch also follows up on points made about the detention by Hamas of Paul Martin, which I covered in Monday’s dispatch.

Paul Martin is a British filmmaker and journalist whose reports have been used by BBC’s Panorama, Newsnight, Al Jazeera English, Arte and Channel 4 News – i.e. all media generally sympathetic to the Palestinians.

At the end of the dispatch are two statements put out since my last dispatch: A statement by his wife, and a somewhat lame statement by the British Foreign Office. Paul is a long-time subscriber to this email list.



For those interested, a video of my talk last month to retired Israeli diplomats and others at the JCPA in Jerusalem, one of Israel’s leading think tanks, has been put online.

You can watch or listen to it here:

I was asked to talk on: “How the media distorts Israel and how Israeli PR could be improved. An insider’s view.”



David Frankfurter, a reader, writes to me in response to my last dispatch:

Hi Tom,

Re: Paul Martin.

I realize that your list concentrates on the media, but the question is not just where is the media, but also what does it say about justice in Gaza? Where are the “human rights” groups?

Someone is being tried for collaborating with Israel (a capital crime) A second person (who knows some of the facts) wishes to testify on his behalf (happens to be a British journalist) so the witness is **arrested**.

This is justice in Gaza.


Sure encourages people to testify on behalf of persons on trial in Gaza.

(Hmmm. If the witness wasn’t a foreigner or a journalist he probably would be dead.)

One can only imagine what else goes on in Gaza’s courtrooms (and torture cells).



You can also read more here.

This is the BBC’s low-key report on the matter. (You can compare it to the emotionally-written stories on the BBC links next to the BBC article on Martin.)


Editor’s Notes: Wrong troops, wrong ammunition
By David Horovitz
The Jerusalem Post
February 26, 2010

Delegitimization is a genuine threat. Urging ordinary Israelis to become PR ‘ambassadors’ is no way to meet it. Could we please get serious?

Such a lovely idea: Encourage Israelis to act as ambassadors for our misunderstood and misrepresented little nation.

“Are you going overseas? Hosting people from abroad?,” asks the Ministry of Public Diplomacy’s new masbirim – “explainers” – Web page. Well then, it gushes, you too can become “ambassadors for Israel” and “together, we’ll change the picture.”

The campaign, backed by expensive advertising in the local media, is designed to offset “the vast sums of money available to Arab countries for propaganda,” our esteemed new Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein has declared, by conscripting ordinary Israelis to fight the PR fight, armed with “tools and tips to help them deal with the attacks on Israel.”

Somewhat contradictorily, however, Edelstein is also advising our new massed ranks of citizen-spokespeople to avoid discussing international politics. “Talk about your life, your neighbors, make your life sound normal,” he advises. “Tell people about going to a concert with your wife.”

Easy to imagine that working, isn’t it? Picture the scene. Our well-meaning, patriotic Israeli vacationers in, say, London these past few days, get onto a Tube train packed with tight-lipped commuters absorbing their daily headline diet of “Outrage over Mossad hit in Dubai,” “Scandal of forged British passports” and “War threat as Israel designates Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb national heritage sites.”

“Here’s our chance,” enthuses Moshe to Malka, and sits down with a confident grin between a middle-aged businessman reading The Independent and a young advertising-type flipping through The Guardian.

“Sorry to disturb,” Moshe manages in his halting English, smiling at the gents on either side of him. “But I am from Tel Aviv and I want to tell you that Israel is much nicer than you are reading. Let me tell you about my good neighbors. No? Ok, see my wife Malka over there? Well, we went to a very excellent concert together at the, er, Heichal Hatarbut hall last week. Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Brahms. Excuse me? Sir? Please...?”

The Brits wouldn’t so much as dip their dailies to acknowledge the sabra attempt at conversation. Remember, they don’t even talk to each other.


Of course it’s easy to scoff. And everyone’s a critic. But really, our new ministry and its new minister, created as a function of coalition arithmetic rather than in recognition of a strategic need that does genuinely exist, should stop deluding themselves and the rest of us about the nature of the challenge, and instead start meeting it properly.

For the past two-and-a-half years, an experienced Israel-advocate, not a citizen neophyte, has been doing his best to advance the last such half-hearted effort to improve Israel’s image: the great national rebrand.

And, what a shock, Ido Aharoni recently reached the inevitable conclusion that even Maxim magazine photo shoots of bikini-clad Israeli female soldiers don’t do the job. The way the media works today, Aharoni acknowledged in an interview with this newspaper a couple of weeks ago, “doesn’t allow enough time for presenting the facts.” As he further elaborated to a gathering of tourism professionals, the world’s perception of Israel is completely dominated by the Arab-Israel conflict, and even if people support Israel ideologically, that doesn’t translate into a positive image.

The fact is (and yes, it is possible that I may have mentioned this once or twice in past columns), Israel doesn’t get a fair shake in much of the international media and is being relentlessly bashed in a “lawfare” campaign of delegitimization.

If Operation Cast Lead prompted the last outbreak of local handwringing at the unfairness of all this a year ago, when much of the world bought the Hamas big lie about Gaza coming under unjustifiable Israeli assault, then Dubai provides a more recent case in point. Unlike any other intelligence operatives trying to save innocent lives the world over, Israel’s alleged secret agents are, at best, expected to travel on their own passports under their own names to their dangerous missions, the better to ensure their capture. But ideally, they are not meant to travel at all, because self-confessed murderers, working for a Hamas government avowedly intent on destroying Israel, should be allowed to go freely about their business of importing missiles to fire from Gaza at the civilians of Israel without having to fear for their personal safety.


As confirmed by Western attitudes to the 2006 war with Hizbullah, Cast Lead, the Dubai controversy and uncountable other conflicts everywhere else on the planet, the free world still refuses to internalize the nature of the Islamic extremist enemy, with its death cult imperative to kill and be killed.

But sending good-natured Israelis into the public diplomacy battlefield, to talk about how delicious Jaffa oranges are, how their nephew just went to work for this amazing new hi-tech start-up or how much the Israel Philharmonic has improved of late, is to use entirely the wrong troops with entirely the wrong ammunition for the fight. The end result will be no different from the hapless Aharoni’s doomed attempt to disingenuously rebrand Israel as the ultimate hedonist’s tourist paradise with no troubles, guaranteed sunshine and a unique splash of biblical history. And everybody in positions of authority here knows this full well.

Our enemies failed to destroy Israel through conventional warfare from 1948 to 1973. They failed again through the strategic terrorist onslaught of the second intifada. But they’re doing rather well through “lawfare” – through delegitimization.

Israel will start to make some headway in the long, uphill struggle to reverse the tide and to improve the way it is perceived overseas when, first of all, it starts to take that struggle seriously. When it internalizes that, no, we’re not a “normal” country with which Europe and the West can be expected to easily identify, but rather a lonely, gutsy democracy under relentless attack in a tyrannical region.

Israel will fare better when, before going to war, it prepares the diplomatic and the legal and the media ground as effectively as its prepares its fighting forces. (More than a year after Gaza, rather than thoroughly debunk and outflank the outrageous canards of the Goldstone Report, it is still desperately trying to reassure itself that it has dodged the Goldstone bullet; it hasn’t.) When Israel begins to hit back diplomatically – in the memorable phrase of Canadian human rights activist nonpareil Irwin Cotler, “to delegitimize the delegitimizers.” When Israel begins to reason articulately to people who don’t give a hoot about Israel being demonized that the UN, in its lopsided, indecent obsession with our perceived iniquities, is itself becoming ridiculous and discredited. When Israel begins to make the case, again as Cotler so succinctly puts it, that those guilty of apartheid attitudes in our region are not the Israelis, seeking survival, but those who discriminate against the Jewish state and push for an Israel-free Middle East.

Israel will fare better when it allocates resources to meet the public diplomacy challenge in an orderly, streamlined, strategic fashion: Israel needs a proper hierarchy to unify the disparate ministerial and army mechanisms – today, in addition to the Foreign Ministry’s personnel, the IDF Spokesman’s Office, the Government Press Office and Edelstein’s new fiefdom, we have the apparatus Ehud Olmert established in the Prime Minister’s Office, not to mention a new grouping being overseen by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon – adding up to what one despairing insider terms “a looming bureaucratic train wreck.”

And official Israel also needs an adequately equipped unit to monitor how it is being presented; resources to research and convey the enemy’s manipulations and deceits; funds for satellite television; funds to revive state radio’s dying foreign language broadcasts.

As things stand, Edelstein’s risible masbirim initiative is only the latest in a long line of haphazard outreach efforts that have made little impact in the familiar forums where Israel is judged, and incidentally are making little impact, either, in new media.


Shimon Peres has a YouTube channel. Hurrah! Danny Ayalon has a huge Facebook following. Muted hurrah! But the deeper you search on YouTube, the worse things get for Israel, and Israel demonizers are leading the field in Twitter and every other innovative avenue of social networking too.

As with the old media failures – typified by the refusal to properly inform Israel-based correspondents about what was at stake ahead of the Gaza assault, and then the numb-skulled ban on their very entry which saw the war covered for the world by Palestinian stringers – so, too, in new media there is insufficient engagement with potential supporters, insufficient outreach to social networks, blogs and news sites.

Insistently, pigheadedly, Israel chooses not to allocate the funds to adequately replicate AIPAC’s ongoing program to bring rising American politicians to see the reality of Israel firsthand – our very best public diplomacy tool. Politicians from the world over, along with other opinion-shapers, editors, reporters, bloggers and Twitterers – where’s the money to host them here, and to introduce them to all the passions and contradictions of our country? Where’s the effort, in President Barack Obama’s favored terminology, to engage them?

All of this would be a start. But even then, we should have no illusions. For all our righteous sense that we are so far more sinned against than sinning, Israel is also hobbling itself through incoherence.

While Fatah ostensibly wants peace along the pre-’67 lines and Hamas unequivocally wants us gone, nobody, but nobody, knows quite what it is that we want.

Our prime minister says he has a vision of a Palestinian state, but he is also planting saplings at bombastic ceremonies at West Bank settlements and extending national heritage status to the Cave of the Patriarchs. Even if that makes a certain kind of sense to some of us here, it is plain incomprehensible to most who are not. The Goldstone Report is a strategic threat to Israel but Israel is begging Mahmoud Abbas – who initiated Goldstone by accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza – to please, pretty please, come and talk peace with us. Where’s the clarity?

So, okay, let’s imagine for a moment that those Brits on that train did put down their newspapers and got talking with Moshe and Malka. When they’d finished discussing whose sopranos soar higher, how would our civilian envoys cope with those incoherencies and inconsistencies?

No wonder Edelstein is advising them to stay away from politics.



Opposing the digital pogrom: The foreign media claim they are offended by their negative portrayal in the new campaign, but what do they expect?
By Daniel Seaman
The Jerusalem Post
March 4, 2010

Last week, the Foreign Press Association in Israel circulated an e-mail to its members containing a Reuters article entitled “Foreign reporting depicted as stupid and condescending.” The article related to the Ministry for Public Diplomacy’s campaign calling on Israelis to counter anti-Israel prejudice, and complained that the foreign press was personally offended by the videos on the Web site

Surely not, I hear you say. Those foreign journalists – who daily dish out an unhealthy helping of material critical of Israel, denouncing its democratically elected government’s policies, and some accusing its defense forces of war crimes – should certainly be able to take a bit of criticism directed at them.

In all honesty, the videos were in no way meant to offend the press, who I am quite certain are able to recognize satire when they see it. Yet, when they paint a picture so different from the reality in the eyes of Israelis, and with such little regard for their point of view, what do they expect?

Being depicted as “stupid and condescending” as the Reuters article suggests, is not the nicest of punches, but it certainly beats being portrayed as baby eaters, Nazis and ethnic cleansers, as some in the international media has often inferred. Similarly, what of the “gullible European audiences” the article insists are inherent to the sketch? Is the press really decrying the suggestion that they influence those back home to whom they speak?

It is no coincidence that in countries where the media are most hostile to Israel, there is greater anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in public discourse. Moreover, this becomes even more incongruous when placed in that all-important missing factor – context. The foreign media complain of being offended by Israeli government satire, yet there is a deafening silence on the coercion, threats and violence they face from the Palestinians, especially in Gaza.

It is this lack of context, this blatant disregard for the realities of living in the Middle East, that earns the foreign press the perception of being simplistic and monochromatic.

Why are headlines of war crimes and editorials on UN resolutions run-of the-mill during Israel’s military operations to defend its citizens, yet when other countries’ forces unintentionally kill civilians it is a case of “apology accepted”? The reality of war is brutal anywhere – so why does the media adopt such vastly different approaches?

Sadly, the issue runs much deeper. Israel today faces an onslaught of propaganda aimed at delegitimizing it. This week is bring “celebrated” as Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses worldwide, spreading lies and slander, promoting incitement and hatred. The media is a key tool – if not a willing accomplice – to this strategy. The manipulation of the rhetoric by human rights groups is all too often typeset in the media, and thus chiseled into history. Massacres are proclaimed where there have been none; terrorists hidden behind civilians remain hidden from the public eye.

These myths become widespread on the blogosphere, with groups on Facebook, threads on Twitter and countless videos on YouTube forming the basis of a digital pogrom against the Jewish narrative, whereby social media and on-line networking are employed to make the demonization of Israel part and parcel of mainstream discourse.

Hence the very purpose of the Masbirim campaign – to open up channels of communication. To overcome the mainstream media’s often one-dimensional approach. To answer those who seek to silence Israel’s narrative with boycotts and arrest warrants. To counter the allegations of those who falsely accuse Israel of breaching international law.

The Jerusalem Post’s Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz, when addressing a meeting in Jerusalem last week, noted that two areas where the issue of boycotting has been most prevalent have been journalism and academia – the two most essential channels of communication and understanding.

Even the most senior journalists are now attacked for being part of Israel’s daily existence or even for simply being Jewish; the harassment of New York Times bureau chief in Israel Ethan Bronner being the most notable, yet not the only, such incident.

This isolation and demonization of Israel as a pariah state or an international outlaw reflects a concerted effort to cast it as being beyond the pale. As the echoes of the past color the dark shadows of the future, we see an attempt to cast the Jewish people into a “virtual” ghetto, ethnically cleansing the Jewish narrative from the legitimate international debate on the Middle East.

This process of delegitimization is an affront to freedom of speech and freedom of the press – fundamental rights in a democracy.

Zionism itself was conceived by a journalist who looked at the world around him and saw that without a new reality, Jews would no longer be able to speak out.

Today Israel has a free press; the government provides services and accreditation for the foreign media – even those who choose to report in the most biased and slanted manner. There are, of course, journalists who carry out their duties in a fully professional way. They give due consideration to both the Israeli and the Palestinian argument, and inform their public accordingly.

However if there are those in the media who feel they are perceived as simplistic or inaccurate, then I would urge them to consider that there is another side to the story; perhaps Israel, as well as their own readers, viewers and listeners, deserves a more accurate contextualized picture of reality.

Otherwise, the historically most enlightened of professions risks being party to the reemergence of humankind’s darkest hatred.



Reality Check: The joke’s on Edelstein
By Jeff Barak
The Jerusalem Post
March 1, 2010

When was the last time a foreigner came up to you and said: “Oh, you Israelis. You all ride camels.” According to the Ministry of Public Diplomacy, this is one of the common myths foreigners hold about Israel. And the correct response to such a comment, a special ministry Web site helpfully instructs, is: “This is not correct. Israel has 17,900 kilometers of paved roads, on which there are no less than 2.3 million cars, of which 78 percent are private vehicles. Moreover, Israel Railways has lines running the length and breadth of the country and a light railway for Tel Aviv is in the planning and development stages.”

The Soviet newspaper Pravda couldn’t have phrased it better.

Nobody, it seems, has told Yuli Edelstein that his ministry is a joke office, one of the many dreamed up by Binyamin Netanyahu when he formed the most bloated government in the country’s history, comprising a ridiculous 32 ministers. Most of the ministers appointed to non-ministries have had the good sense not to further waste the public purse on unnecessary initiatives, but not so Edelstein. He’s launched a campaign to turn every Israeli into a potential diplomat.

Given that the thuggish Avigdor Lieberman is foreign minister, one has to accept that anything is possible in Israeli diplomacy, but even still, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy special Web site ( is a new low in the very undistinguished history of hasbara (which can be translated as “public information” but “propaganda” is nearer the mark).

The Hebrew-only Web site (so much for one-fifth of the country’s population also serving as potential ambassadors) is embarrassing in its over-eagerness to state Israel’s case. For example, according to the ministry, another common myth is that all Israeli women cover their hair. This claim should be answered with: “Not only do most Israeli women not cover their hair, but Israel is considered one of the fashion capitals of the world, on the same level as New York, Paris and London.”

Leaving aside the fact that Israel has suddenly turned from a country into a capital – not even the Ministry of Public Diplomacy has the hutzpa to claim that Jerusalem is at the center of world fashion, except of course for sheitels and streimels – I’m hard pushed to remember the last time Naomi Campell or Kate Moss graced the catwalks of Tel Aviv.

The web site’s misperceptions don’t stop at fashion, but this is when it stops being amusing. In its review of modern Israeli history, the capture of missing airman Ron Arad gets 10 lines. The Oslo Accords get three. The kidnapping of Gilad Schalit merits eight lines; the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 is only worthy of one-and-a-bit.

It’s hard to blame non-Israelis for lacking an understanding of the country when a Web site published by a government ministry puts out such a warped view of the country’s history.

And when one looks deeper at the information filling this Web site it becomes clear that its aim is not so much to turn every Israeli into a potential ambassador but simply to propagate Yuli Edelstein’s right-wing political views at the taxpayer’s expense.

The settlements in the West Bank, according to the Web site, are not an obstacle to peace; rather it’s the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the State of Israel. Now this is may be a view that many people hold, but it’s only one viewpoint of the conflict, not an incontrovertible fact. By using a publicly funded Web site to make this and other right-wing arguments, such as “the Golan Heights are a strategic asset for Israel, ensuring the country’s security,” a position that runs contrary to the position of most of the IDF General Staff who want to see a peace agreement with Damascus, even if this means withdrawing from the Golan, Edelstein is abusing his position.

Not only is the Web site an abuse of trust, the whole concept behind it is deeply troubling. There’s something essentially Stalinist in attempting to persuade every citizen to see himself as an ambassador for their country. Couple that with the attempt to then overload the would-be interested “ambassador” with ridiculous, incorrect facts and a heavily biased right-wing view of the conflict and of how the world sees Israel, and one ends up with a propaganda tool that is more fitting for some of the world’s darker, totalitarian regimes, and not the modern, free Israel it ironically wants to promote.

There are no shortage of useful Web sites putting out Israel’s case, among them the Foreign Ministry’s site ( which is an excellent repository of useful information, both on current issues and the country’s history. Ignoring for one moment the Ministry of Public Diplomacy’s scandalous use of a government Web site to push a biased view of the conflict, there is also the question of why Edelstein thought it necessary to create a Web site explaining Israel to the world when the government already has an excellent one doing the job.

If Edelstein is that desperate to make his mark as a minister, perhaps he should do the job he’s been tasked to perform and tackle the crisis at the Israel Broadcasting Authority. As the minister in charge of the IBA, Edelstein has been strangely silent while Israel Television pulls the plug every night at 11 p.m. and Israel Radio is unable to hold interviews over the telephone with would-be guests.

Or is that too much like hard work for someone whose only interest seems to be his own narrow political agenda?



Statement from Paul Martin’s wife on behalf of his family
Monday March 1, 7.30pm

My husband Paul Martin is an experienced and respected foreign correspondent who has been working and reporting on the Middle East for the last 30 years. For the past five years he has been covering events in Gaza and his filmed reports have been broadcast on the BBC’s Panorama, Newsnight, Al Jazeera English, Arte and Channel 4 News.

On February 14th Paul was detained without charge by the authorities in Gaza . He was arrested after travelling to Gaza to testify on behalf a former Fatah fighter whom he had previously interviewed.

For the last seven days Paul has been kept in solitary confinement and interrogated whilst being denied access either to his Gazan lawyer or to official British representatives. We understand that he is now being held without reading and writing materials and without means of communication with the outside world.

Until today we have refrained from commenting in the firm belief that Paul would be released. Today I and my family were shocked to hear that Paul is to be held for a further 15 days. No reason has been given. This is the first time that a foreign press representative has been held by the authorities in Gaza. We are becoming extremely concerned.

Paul has devoted his life to reporting on those fighting for justice in conflict zones. He is well known for his integrity and professionalism, and is well liked amongst colleagues and the local community in Gaza. We are appalled at the way he is being treated and appeal to the Government of Gaza to intervene forthwith to secure Paul’s release.



March 2, 2010

We are extremely concerned that the detention of the British film maker Paul Martin has been extended for a further 15 days.

Our consular staff have been in regular contact with Mr Martin, though we are also concerned that increased restrictions are now being placed on consular access.

We call for Paul Martin’s immediate release. We will continue to follow this case closely and are in touch with Mr Martin’s family. Our thoughts are with them at this time.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.