JTA published today a mini-story on the Los Angeles Israeli consul general’s report savagely criticizing Israeli refusenik groups for speaking in the U.S. against the Israeli Occupation. Unfortunately, the impetus for their story came from a rambling press release by Mort Klein of the ZOA full of scurrilous propaganda against the Union of Progressive Zionists and Israeli refuseniks groups. To be fair, the JTA story did also paraphrase Brit Tzedek’s reply to the Israeli consul general in which the group defended the refuseniks’ rights to criticize the Occupation.
In my honest opinion, the story only began to scratch the surface. As my readers will know from my own reporting, the original Hebrew language version of the story (appearing only in print and not on the Yediot Achronot website) accused the refuseniks and their American Jewish partners, Brit Tzedek and Union of Progressive Zionists, of allowing U.S. Muslim groups to “bankroll” the tour. The English language article appeared at Ynetnews in a seriously toned down version. And now comes the JTA story in an even more attenuated version:
An Israeli diplomat said it was “unfortunate” that Jewish groups sponsored a campus tour of Israeli soldiers who accuse the army of human-rights abuses.
“The willingness of Jewish communities to host these organizations and even sponsor them is unfortunate,” said a report by Los Angeles Consul General Ehud Danoch sent to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and all Israeli envoys in North America. “This is a phenomenon that must not be ignored.” At least one Jewish group has called for the Union of Progressive Zionists, a co-sponsor of the “Breaking the Silence” tour, to be removed from the Israel on Campus Coalition, whose goal is to improve Israel’s image on college campuses.
“These harsh attacks by Jews against Israel have much greater credibility than harsh attacks against Israel by Arabs, and are therefore more dangerous,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who accuses the soldiers of spreading lies about Israel.
But Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, another tour co-sponsor, wrote to Danoch that the program shows the robustness of Israeli democracy and stimulates “discussion in Jewish communities across our nation of the many ways to connect to and work on behalf of Israel.” Danoch did not respond to requests for comment.
To place this article in proper context, it quotes Mort Klein prominently. Klein and his organization are among the most stridently rightist in the American Jewish community. This is clearly evident in the vitriolic tone of the release:
…These hateful anti-Israel programs sponsored by UPZ must not be ignored and must be stopped…An Israeli official told me that these are Israelis against Israel funded by Jews, and that the Arab/Muslim groups are using them to blacken Israel’s image.
One only wonders whether the “Israeli official” might be none other than Ehud Danoch himself.
There is much more to report on this story. I’ve called Rob Eshman of the L.A. Jewish Journal in hopes they might cover the local angle of the story. And I’ve spoken with Rebecca Spence of The Forward since she broke the story of the AJCongress’ resignation from the Israel campus coalition over the Union of Progressive Zionist’s sponsorship of Breaking the Silence’s U.S. tour. I heard interest, but no published stories so far as I know. My hope is that JTA’s story will open a crack for other media to open up this story.
In a political struggle like this one, there are times when an adversary overreaches in pursuing their objectives. Usually, this happens out of a sense of vulnerability or weakness and he strikes out at you in order to protect that perceived weak spot. This, in my opinion, is largely what happened regarding Israel’s war against Lebanon and what motivated Israel’s extreme response. And the current incident is another one of those times. They key is to let the world know about it so they can see the ideologues and propagandists (like Danoch and Klein) for what they are and can see their objectives–of smearing dissenting Israelis and American Jews–for what they are. Rather than the refuseniks besmirching Israel’s reputation, it is Danoch and Klein who harm Israel’s cause.