When you’re an Israeli-Palestinian peace activist, you know you’re really rankling the powers that be when they plant outrageous smears against you in the mass media. Those of us working for Israeli-Palestinian peace already know about the vicious lies, smears and calumnies spread by the likes of David Horowitz, Alan Dershowitz, Mort Klein, and publications like Frontpagemagazine. But did you know that none other than the Israeli foreign ministry with the collusion of Yediot Achronot have joined the game? Yup. And boy, has the hasbara machine really run off the rails on this one!
Yediot reports in both Hebrew (interestingly, Yediot has not published the article online–I wonder why?) and English about an internal memo prepared by the Los Angeles consul general which accuses the current Combatants for Peace tour hosted by Brit Tzedek (see tour schedule) of being fronted by Palestinian groups. The Hebrew version is much juicier and slanderous so we’ll go there first (translation by Amir Tekel and myself):
Foreign ministry on offensive against Israeli refuseniks touring U.S.
PALESTINIAN ORGANIZATIONS IN U.S. BANKROLLING DRAFT REFUSERS
The activity of Israeli draft refusers in the U.S. against Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories is on the rise and is getting backing from Jewish and Palestinian organizations.
By Itamar Eichner
A foreign ministry report recommends acting quickly against Israeli refusnik groups active in the U.S. “Their negative impact on Israel’s image must be stopped” the report states.
The report was presented a few days ago to the foreign ministry in Jerusalem and all its representatives in North America. The Israeli consul general in L.A., Ehud Danoch and the communications and hasbara consul, Gilad Millo prepared it.
In the document, the consuls write that recently they’ve begun to witness a rising trend of Israelis, mostly reservists affiliated with the refusenik movement, who are touring campuses and Jewish communities across the U.S. and Canada and telling their hosts what is happening in the Occupied Territories from their perspective.
According to the report, tours by Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace are funded mainly by Jewish organizations. According the the foreign ministry, “The size of this phenomena requires proper response both in Israel and North America”. The support of American Jews for the refuseniks has become a controversial subject among Jewish organizations.
Among the Jewish groups who sponsored the events are the Union of Zionist Progressives and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom, a Jewish organization that supports removal of settlements and ending the Occupation.
According to the report, Muslim & Palestinian organizations are also among sponsors including the Islamic Council for Public Affairs and the Islamic Center of Southern California, whose leader, Maher Hatout, was quoted this summer calling Hizballah “an organized army fighting for freedom”.
The report notes that also Hillel, a Jewish student organization considered pro-Israel, recently hosted a lecture by representatives of Breaking the Silence. The document states that “for the average American student, these organizations speak in the name of Israel. The willingness by Jewish communities to host these groups and even fund them is painful. This is a phenomenon that must not be ignored. These refuseniks are cynically using their reserve soldier status and causing damage to the state of Israel.”
“It’s possible that these organizations aren’t aware that they have turned, over time, into tools in the hands of North American Muslim campus organizations and that they have crossed the line between their aspiration to be an influential force within Israel to becoming a clearly anti-Israel force causing Israel great damage in the world.”
A little demystification is in order along with a cold shower to wash off all the lies and distortions spewed in this article. First, this tour is not supported financially by “Palestinian organizations.” Just as almost any public event nowadays has multiple sponsoring organizations, so has each Brit Tzedek chapter hosting the tour reached out to local peace groups to co-sponsor their events. There are Arab groups, Jewish groups, universities, peace groups, etc. But sponsors are not hosts. Brit Tzedek is the sole producer and host of this tour. And it hasn’t taken any money from any Arab organization for the purpose of this tour.
Don’t you just love the breathlessness of this ominous warning: “”Their negative impact on Israel’s images must be stopped.” Reminds me of J. Edgar Hoover’s warnings about the Red Menace in the 1950s and 1960s. As if IDF soldiers who’ve laid down their swords and shields pose a mortal peril to the nation. Be real. Which poses a greater danger to the nation: a prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff who waltz into a war they cannot win causing terrible loss of Israeli life while not resolving the problem they went into the war to solve; or a few hundred former soldiers who’ve decided that endless killing won’t pave the way to peace?
The Israeli hasbaraniks claim the speaking tours have become “controversial subjects.” This obscure reference is to a dispute among campus pro-Israel groups when a progressive member of the coalition sponsored a Breaking the Silence tour. Another member, the hardest of hard-right Zionist Organization of America threatened to leave the group unless the Union of Progressive Zionists was ejected. The board of the coalition voted unanimously not to eject UPZ.
The Forward also reports that the Los Angeles director of the American Jewish Congress sent a letter to the coalition resigning from the group. Then the national director rescinded the resignation, sort of. Turns out they’re not resigning now. But they may resign later. Go figure that one out. And while you’re at it figure out whether there could be any connection between L.A.’s consul general penning this bit of trash and a resignation letter sent from AJC’s L.A. office regarding the UPZ incident. That wouldn’t be a bit of collusion on their parts now would it?
But there you have it. That’s the entire “controversy.” Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill.
The Israeli foreign ministry flacks are shocked, I say, SHOCKED that Hillel sponsored individual events for several of the tours. Of course, they neglect to mention that Hillels also sponsor right-wing nationalist events as well. Here at the University of Washington, the Hillel hosted a talk by supposed former PLO terrorist Walid Shoebat, the darling of Christian Zionists and the pro-Israeli wingnutosphere. I try not to hold it against Hillel. ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom’ to quote Reb Mao. But to try to orchestrate a campaign to vilify peace groups and prevent their use of Jewish communal spaces like Hillel for events is dastardly.
Then Danoch and friend lament: “To the average American student these organizations speak in the name of Israel.” What do they take college students for? Idiots? If I went to England and heard Cindy Sheehan speak would the average Brit believe she spoke in the name of the U.S. government? C’mon. What do you take them for? This is just more of the hysterical hasbara machine at work.
Now here’s an interesting accusation: “The willingness by Jewish communities to host these groups and even financially sponsor them is unfortunate.” I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about in claiming that “Jewish communities…financially sponsor” the tours. As far as I know, this is absolutely not so. If there were communities funding these events I’d be delighted. But alas, spurious campaigns like this one make such a possibility extremely remote.
And here’s the real capper: “These organizations [i.e. Brit Tzedek, Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence] don’t know that they have become a tool in the hands of Muslim groups…” That’s right. The report notes that TWO Arab groups, count ’em two, sponsored events on these two national tours. That, ipso facto, makes said Israeli and American Jewish groups out to be a dupes of the anti-Israel Islamofascist crowd. Leaving aside what’s wrong with a legally incorporated Arab organization sponsoring an Israeli peace program, this charge is beyond outrageous. Last I checked both America and Israel were democracies. Dissent was permitted even encouraged. And if I hear one more time that ridiculous canard that Israelis are not entitled to criticize Israel outside of Israeli because of the damage it could do–I’ll scream.
So, what we have here is a campaign to drain support for peace groups within the Jewish community. They’d like to cut off all financial support coming from the organized community or even individual Jewish donors (at least that’s how I read this). Good luck. What do they take our community for? A bunch of frightened conspiracy theorists like they are?
I know if I took this passage to Elik Elhanan or Shimon Katz, the Combatants for Peace leaders speaking on the current Brit Tzedek tour, they’d laugh till their sides ached: “These refuseniks are cynically using their reserve soldier status and causing damage to the state of Israel.” How is it cynical to speak out for peace with your neighbors? What is wrong with saying you were once a soldier and now don’t believe your weapons can solve anything? How do you damage the State of Israel by saying talking is better than shooting, a peace treaty is better than a declaration of war?
Remember the names Ehud Danuch and Gilad Miloa. They should live in infamy. And let’s ask Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni whether this is the standard of service provided by her ministry to the Los Angeles Jewish community. Doesn’t Los Angeles deserve better?
Let me make clear that I don’t expect anyone to accept the views expressed by Combatants for Peace as halacha l’Moshe mi’Sinai (God’s Word). Let us argue over them. But why lie? How does that give your side an edge up in the debate? I can only wonder whether this nadir of Israeli demagoguery marks the desperation of the current Israeli government, and its minions like AIPAC, ZOA and American Jewish Congress, to silence debate. Remember that movie slogan: “Be afraid, be very afraid.” I think they are. Times may be a-changin’.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.