The Hasbara cover for Israel’s crimes

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According to the ubiquitous Hasbara Brigade, if you criticise Israel, you’re an anti-Semite ― and if you’re Jewish, you become a “self-hater”. Evan Jones looks at how apologists for Israel invoke the spectre of the Holocaust to deflect criticism of its actions in Palestine.

[Image: Mr Fish, Harper's Magazine, 28 July 2006]

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light; that they might travel by day and by night... (Exodus 13:21)

HAVE THE Israelites reached the Promised Land yet?

Long in preparation, Operation Pillar of Cloud has followed Operation Cast Lead as the latest episode of the Israeli pastime of shooting Arab fish in a barrel, or rather in the world’s largest open-air prison. Iran is presently in the too-hard basket. Israel’s military and political ‘strategists’ evidently know their Old Testament, even if their intelligence and humanity is seriously deficient.

But no worries.

The Hasbara Brigade is ready to spring into action 24/7. Pencils are still sharp from the victory after Operation Cast Lead in converting the laboratory experiment with white phosphorous into a triumph of good over evil. On cue, courtesy of a media whose collective masthead is ‘Might is Right’ (with marginal concessions to dissenters from the official script).

For example:
Am I alone in wondering why United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's appeal to both sides to obey international rules on protecting innocent civilians came only after Israel's response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians? He made no comment on the 120 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel since Sunday, or on the more than 13,000 rocket attacks on Israeli towns and farms during the past 13 years, 4000 of which hit the town of Sderot.
~ Alan Slade, Dover Heights (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 November).
Should Israel's attack on a militant leader attract the ire of the international community …? Al-Jabari was responsible for organising a daily barrage of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. Good riddance.
~ Alexandra Shabin, Woodend (The Age, 16 November).

… It must be recognised that Australia regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation, as do most Western nations, and that any similar attack on Australia or other nations would elicit a similar response to that taken by Israel. Turkey's response to incursions by Syria in recent days springs to mind.
~ Michael Hayes, Mount Riverview (SMH, 17 November).
What hope is there for peace for the Palestinians in Gaza with Hamas in charge? Hamas is ideologically committed to the destruction of Israel. Its charter starts with: ''Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it''. It persists in shooting rockets at civilian targets in Israel provoking a response and uses its own citizens as shields against that response by embedding its launch sites in civilian areas - a double ''crime against humanity''.
~ Malcolm Bersten, Lane Cove (SMH, 17 November).
Jepke Goudsmit's claims about Israel are false and need to be challenged (Letters, November 17-18). Despite all its faults, Israel is the closest thing to a liberal democracy in the Middle East. All citizens, regardless of race or religion have equal rights under the law. The same cannot be said about any of the 22 Arab states. The claim that Israel is the ''war monger'' are also wrong, as Israel's actions are simply a response to thousands of rockets being fired at its civilians.
~ Ian Fraser, Cherrybrook (SMH, 19 November).
… It's not just the West Bank that Hamas wants Israel to relinquish for it to stop firing rockets (Letters, 17/11). As Hamas' main supporter, Iran, insists, it wants Israel wiped off the map.
~ Henry Herzog, St Kilda East (The Age, 19 November).
In 2005, Israel left every inch of the Gaza Strip to demonstrate its unwavering commitment towards achieving a true and just two-state solution. What resulted from these overtures to peace? More than 9000 rockets fired at Israel's civilian population.

While Israel has achieved the lowest civilian casualty ratio of any modern army fighting in asymmetrical warfare anywhere in the world, the Palestinian leadership commits the ''double'' war crime of not only consciously targeting Israeli civilians, but even worse, firing these rockets from schools, mosques and built-up urban residences from within their own civilian populations.

~ Evan Guttman, North Bondi (SMH, 20 November).
Bob Carr's comments calling Israel's response to repeated hostilities from Gaza disproportionate shows a lack of understanding of the conflict. … Israel goes to all lengths to protect its citizens, whereas Hamas puts their citizens into direct harm's way. … Israel vacated Gaza some years ago, at great personal loss to an established populace, in a bid for peace. Since then Israel has absorbed more than 12,000 rocket attacks from Gaza alone.
~ Ruth Rosenblum, Elsternwick (The Age, 20 November).
… Israel takes every possible precaution to avoid loss of innocent lives. Civilians living above arms deposits are alerted and told to evacuate. Many do, hence the low numbers of casualties in such a densely populated area. Others choose not to and others are prevented from doing so by Hamas. Children are held captive by Hamas.
~ Ruth Harvey, Dover Heights (SMH, 21 November).

Finally, we have the compleat charlatan, Gerard Henderson (SMH, 20 November) who offers us the pie-in-the-sky pigs-might-fly ‘two-state solution’, a propaganda stance that points ineluctably to the absence of probity in its proponent.

Apart from outright lies and analytical delusions (Israel a democracy?), there is no mention of the Occupation. Israel vacated the Gaza Strip... hello? Imagine an account of the ‘autonomous’ Theresienstadt Ghetto without acknowledgement of the brutal cynicism of its creation and function as a component of the passage to lebensraum.

In August 2006, I wrote a piece for a then blog, Alert and Alarmed, on a comparable propaganda barrage during the Israeli blitzkrieg in Lebanon. This piece (marginally edited) is reproduced below. It could have been written yesterday. Six years down the track, nothing has changed except the number of destroyed lives.

Israel: Jewry's 800-pound albatross

WHY DO significant sections of the divergent Jewish communities around the world support Israel? And not merely support Israel in their bosoms but passionately in the media, with Jewish organisations actively pressing media outlets to inhibit coverage critical of Israel, and actively lobbying national governments to take stances favourable to this foreign power’s interests.

Israel is a Jewish state. One may feel affinity for those of purportedly common ethnicity, but not naturally. They are strangers. There is of course the collective memory, sedulously reinforced, of centuries of subjugation or persecution under Christian polities, culminating in Eastern European pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust.

But Israel does not own the legacy of the pogroms or of the Holocaust in particular. Recent estimates [An Estimate of the Current Distribution of Jewish Victims of Nazi Persecution, October 2003] of the residence of surviving Jewish Victims of Nazi Persecution, put the numbers of Persecution Victims living in Israel at 265,000 out of 688,000 worldwide ― or 38.5% of that population. Moreover, it appears that it was not until 1997 that any estimate was made of the number of Persecution Victims living in Israel. Two-thirds of the current Israeli population were born in Israel.

Israel is a state structured to guarantee a population dominance of those of official Jewish ethnicity. That alone is not sufficient to demand passionate affinity from Jews living elsewhere under myriad nationalities.

But Israel is also a rogue state. It has been presided over by gangsters since its inception, with the brief exception of Moshe Sharett in 1954-5, between periods of David Ben-Gurion’s long reign.

Israel’s self-advertisement regarding its population growth is steeped in racism, with those expelled or displaced and their places of residence missing from the register.

The Jewish Virtual Library describes the Israeli population (as of May 2006) thus:
Of the total population, 5,333,000 are Jews (76 percent) The Arab population numbers 1,387,000 million (20 percent). Another 306,000 (4 percent) classified as “others” are mostly new immigrants and their families who are not registered as Jews in the Interior Ministry.
The site goes on to emphasise the growth of the (Jewish) population through migration and natural birth, and the population density of key towns, listed according to the ‘Year of Jewish Settlement’, whereas the Arab population is listed effectively as resident ‘darkies’, to show how egalitarian the place is.

Conceived, created and nurtured on a racist ethos, it has never recanted from the sins of its birth. On the contrary, it has refused to acknowledge the sins of its birth and to undergo a process of reconciliation.

Israel must thus entrench a lie, and its supporters perpetuate the lie. The lie becomes self-expanding ― to preposterous dimensions. By the standards of what appears in the press in defence of Israel, its supporters live and breathe the lie.

Self-denial on the Occupation is now the bread and butter of the continuing lie.

Witness a letter in the Australian 12 December 2003:
Judt [Tony Judt, proponent of a ‘one-state solution’ in the New York Review of Books, 23 October 2003] might remember that it was Ehud Barak, a Labor prime minister of Israel who, only three years ago, offered Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians, on a silver platter at Camp David in the presence of US president Bill Clinton, a state with contiguous borders occupying 97 per cent of Gaza and the West Bank. That opportunity finished in the same trash can that so many others have in the past.
~ Michael Danby MP, Justice Marcus Einfeld AO QC, Assoc Prof Douglas Kirsner, Rabbi Dr John Levi AM, Mark Dreyfus QC, Stephen Rothman SC.

Such distinguished authors, and yet still a lie. [The monstrous lie regarding the Barak Camp David ‘offer’ is demolished in the late Tanya Reinhart’s 2002 Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948.]

A letter in the Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April 2004:
In the 1967 war, the Arabs lost extensive territories and Israel occupied the West Bank. It is the first time in history that the defeated side is dictating the conditions of peace, and the victor is asked to return territory without a peace treaty or other concessions. The West Bank remains occupied because the Palestinians have rejected all proposals of a settlement, from Israel, the European Union, the US and UN.
~ Charles Feldman, Bondi.

The same lie about the proposals, but complemented by another lie (and overladen by moral bankruptcy) that the Palestinians had waged war on Israel in 1967, is highlighted by a subsequent letter writer to the Herald.

A letter in The Age, 28 April 2005:
If people were to listen to the likes of Gordon Drennan (27/4), they would come away with the impression that those nasty Israelis simply enjoy occupying their neighbours out of sadism. Israel's sins are put on display without even a trace of her enemies' transgressions, which include the long-held goal of annihilating the entire Jewish population and blatant disregard for any UN resolution, let alone the most basic of human rights and freedoms, especially towards their own people - values that liberal societies such as Australia and Israel embrace and fight for.
~ Leon Kofmansky, Melbourne.

Mr Kofmsansky is right about the sadism, but wrong about everything else. Australia and Israel embrace and fight for human rights and freedom for Palestinians?

A letter in The Age, 7 July 2006:
Maher Mughrabi (Opinion, 6/7) complains that Israel regards the West Bank and Gaza as "disputed" rather than "occupied". They are not occupied because they were taken in a defensive war in 1967 from two countries – Egypt and Jordan – that had no rights to them.

Israel has made many attempts to negotiate final borders and give Palestinians land, as required by UN resolutions. However, these resolutions require the Palestinians to recognise Israel's right to exist in peace, and this has not happened in practice – and now with Hamas in charge, not even in theory.
~ Jamie Hyams, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, South Melbourne.

There is the de rigeur lie about Israeli approaches to a Palestinian state. Added to that the claim that the Occupied Territories are not occupied after all!

Such are the Zionist catechisms that debase Jewry’s moral compass on a daily basis.

To compound the debasement, those who question the lie are vilified, including and especially members of Jewish communities (the bulk of critics in the English-language media appear to be Jewish, so the vile epithet ‘self-hating Jew’ is on permanent standby), and the media that publishes the questioning are harassed for prejudice, lack of balance, inaccuracy, etc.

To further compound the debasement, the memory and meaning of the Holocaust and the meaning and attribution of ‘anti-semitism’ are appropriated to camouflage the lie.

Jewish faith schools become a vehicle for socialising the lie. From a sample of six schools – Mt Scopus [Israeli mouthpiece Mark Regev/Freiberg is heralded as a notable alumni], Scholem Alacheim College, The King David School, Moriah College, Mt Sinai College, Emmanuel School – all have in their ‘mission statements’ a desire to inculcate in their charges both a love of moral virtue and a love of the state of Israel. [In 2012, five of the six, excluding Mt Scopus, have retained an uncritical devotion to Israel in their mission statements, albeit generally in less strident language.] For example, from the Scholem Alacheim College site:
… Our purpose is to cultivate in our students a passionate sense of Jewish identity, a sense of belonging to the worldwide Jewish community with special ties to the Australian Jewish community and the State of Israel. … The College aims to build a sense of belonging for its students by promoting cooperation, mutual respect and the ideas of freedom, peace and social justice.
How one reconciles ‘cooperation … and social justice’ with Israel’s modus operandi is not self-evident.

Even members of the Rabbinate transcend ministry to their flock by attaching their status of elevated spirituality to the cause of a secular criminal state. Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, is an outstanding spokesperson for the Israeli cause.

Rather peculiar then that Sacks, already secularised with a knighthood [and elevated to the peerage in 2009] has written (‘Different freedoms, or why religion and politics should never mix, The Times, 10 December 2005):
Religion becomes political at its peril, and ours.
And more peculiar still:
Politics knows what religion sometimes forgets, that the imposition of truth by force and the suppression of dissent by power is the end of freedom and a denial of human dignity. When religion enters the political arena, we should repeat daily Bunyan’s famous words: “Then I saw that there was a way to Hell, even from the gates of Heaven.”

A letter in The Guardian, 22 June 2006:
Jews around the world will continue supporting Israel, not only because it is our spiritual home, but because Israel is seeking peace with the Palestinians, and peace is key among Jewish values.
Rabbi Dr Sidney Brichto, London.

Letter to The Independent, 21 July 2006
Sir: I am the rabbi of a synagogue, encompassing 350 people - including around 50 non-Jewish friends. I am also a member of the UK Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights, which campaigns on behalf of the Palestinians. From this perspective I am writing to protest against Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's inflammatory column (17 July). She claims that "nothing but anti-Arab racism can fully explain the behaviour of the Israelis", and that "Israel espouses the same ideology" as the white Boer colonialists in South Africa. She is wrong. …

Why is Israel targeting the infrastructure of that country? I ask the same question. But my answer is different. No, it's not racism. The President of Iran is a racist and has called for the destruction of Israel and the destruction of the Jews. In the face of the implacable hostility of Hizbollah, Syria and Iran, Israel seems to be sending out a message - Israel is not going to be destroyed; Israel is here to stay.
~ Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah, Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue, Hove, East Sussex

And then, from Rabbi Aron Moss of Sydney who provides an elaborate spin on how to defend the indefensible under the rubric ‘Every Jew is an Ambassador for Israel’ (25 July 2006).[

Meanwhile, California Rabbi Michael Lerner, who sees clearly the moral implications of the Occupation and its implication for Jewry, has been placed on the ‘SHIT’ list of all those Jewish doubters allegedly fostering a ‘second Holocaust’. Lerner is even privileged with extended personalised vilification.

Can the synagogue be a haven for spirituality while doubling up as a de facto embassy for the brutal state of Israel?

There are voices in the wilderness saying: no thank you, you do not speak for me.

A letter to The Age from Sol Salbe, 13 November 2003 (on the occasion of the awarding of a ‘Peace Prize’ to Palestinian Hanan Ashrawi by the Sydney University-based Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies):
Messrs Lipshutz, Morrison and Rubenstein claim (12/11), inaccurately, to represent a vague entity called "mainstream" Jewish opinion. But, in fact, they speak for a much more clearly defined position, which is essentially that of the present Israeli Government.

Not everyone in the Jewish community, here or in Israel, supports a policy of expanding settlements on Arab land, targeted assassinations that usually result in horrific "collateral damage", and building massive walls/fences to keep populations apart. Not everyone in the Jewish community thinks that such policies, which keep Palestinian anger at boiling point, offer anything useful in the long struggle for peace.
A letter to The Age from Mannie Saxe, 16 November 2003:
The hysterical outburst by members of the Jewish community over the visit of Palestinian Dr Hanan Ashrawi to receive the award of the Sydney Peace Foundation has only been matched in recent years by the outbursts against proposed visits by revisionist Holocaust historian David Irving. The pack has been led by the so-called leaders of Jewish organisations in Australia and the media, Jewish and non-Jewish. The Jewish media have set a benchmark in intolerance with selective quotes from Ashrawi's speeches and actions in past years …

No one knows better the reality of the situation in the occupied territories than Dr Ashrawi. She lives there all the time, yet we have Jewish media and leaders telling us what a terrible mistake the awarding of a peace prize is. What is not mentioned is the support people like Ashrawi have from Israelis and Palestinians for her outspoken statements and collaboration with Israeli Jews and Palestinians in their efforts to end the deadlock created by the Israeli and US governments.

Hysterical Jews in Australia should take a look at themselves. If they are so passionate about Israel, they have every right to go and live there and defend what they are screaming their heads off about: the survival of a Zionist Israeli state in a post-Zionist world developing around them.

About a year ago, a group of like-minded Jews in Australia formulated a statement clarifying their position in relation to the conflict in Israel/Palestine. We signed our statement "Jews Against Oppression and Occupation".

A letter to the Age from Linda Waldron, 19 July 2005:
Along with other progressive-minded Australians of Jewish descent, I signed a petition of support for Palestinian self-determination in 2001. Endorsing the petition is one of many endeavours to support any peoples, regardless of race or religion, struggling against occupation, dispossession and oppression.

Such struggles include the Palestinian people against the Israeli state, the Iraqi people against the US and its allies, the Saharawi against Morocco and the East Timorese against Indonesia. These state powers are from different religious traditions but are united in using the politics of hegemony and state terrorism. In 2001 the petition was published in both mainstream and Jewish newspapers.

Only this week, I was told not to attend the funeral of a great-aunt as my "name appeared in the Jewish News supporting Palestine". Now that I have the red star of Marx pinned to my breast, what does this mean? Am I now a non-Jew or simply a self-hater? Or maybe my Jewish heritage makes me more keenly appreciate the tragic consequences of racism and oppression.
And, belatedly, three articles in The Australian from Antony Loewenstein, 18 April, 18 July and 7 August, courtesy of opinion page editor Tom Switzer and the tenacity of the much vilified author himself.

This is the major part of a miniscule oppositional voice, submerged beneath a relentless torrent of clamour from the Israel lobby, reproduced with unrestrained tenacity in the opinion pages and letters pages in the Australian press.

Ditto for the British press. A letter to the The Guardian (U.K.) from Michael Kostow on 21 May 2004:
As Sharon follows the precedent of Putin in Grozny by turning Rafah into rubble and corpses, he must take comfort that God is on his side, at least in this week's pronouncement by Rabbi Dov Lior, head of the council of rabbis in the occupied territories. This spiritual leader, quoted in Ha'aretz, has declared that Israeli lives are more precious than Palestinian ones. "The Jewish faith," he says, "allows killing 'allegedly innocent civilians' in battle. Our Jewish Bible instructs us to protect our soldiers. Let us have no pangs of conscience caused by a foreign morality."

British Jews like me are left to wonder what happened to the truths we were brought up to believe: that Israel is called upon to be "a light unto the nations", and that Jews are a people of justice.

From David Himmelstein, Counterpunch, 2 August 2006:
Whether or not it has reached critical mass, there exists a heterogeneous agglomeration of Jewish people around the world-- e.g., moi--for whom the state of Israel has come to represent an 800-pound albatross that needs to be pried from our necks before it drags us over a cliff. … And there is a paticularized danger which stirs a thick chunk of self-interest into the universalism of enlightened Jewish concern. In terms of the fabled Jewish-interest litmus, it is proving decidedly not "good for the Jews" when Israel gets away with murder. …

The current unease is a spontaneous phenomenon-- rippling across a broad range of independently minded Jews, stoking a visceral need to express (even if only in the privacy of their own minds) emphatic disavowal of the self-proclaimed Jewish State. …

Many Jews have been shaken out of the denial stage by the substantive force of the bad news, but anger, bargaining ("I promise --.") and depression remain seductive lures. Getting to acceptance implies uncomfortable acknowledgements and adjustments. In the most optimistic of images, it will be a bumpy ride. But no alternative exists. And the hour is late. There will be no peace in the Middle East without justice, and no justice without truth.
From Sylvia Tennenbaum in Newsday, 4 August 2006:
As a Jew who escaped the Holocaust by moving with my family to America in 1938, I turn on the BBC at night. And what I see are clouds of black smoke, explosions; the dead and the dying … the peace camp knew that each and every Israeli atrocity nurtured another enemy, a potential terrorist, while every Palestinian home that the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions helped to rebuild, every olive tree it planted tenderly in occupied soil, brought another possible friend, another partner in dialogue.

Meanwhile, back at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, deep in the heart of the Jewish Lobby, the call to action is, as always, a call for solidarity, for good public relations. Denounce terrorism, suicide bombers and anti-Semitism in all its endless variations, which includes the "self-hatred" of the misguided Jew who asks us to give some thought to where we - obsessed with brutal retaliation - may have gone wrong. …The time is long overdue for Jews to return to their role as the world's conscience, who come to the aid of the dispossessed, the wretched of the earth.

Finally, from Andrew Benjamin (“Israel does not act or speak for every Jew”) in the Sydney Morning Herald on 4 August 2006:
I write as a Jew and as a synagogue member. I write as one whose academic work continues to move through questions of Jewish identity and the legacy of the Holocaust. Yet, I write with a growing sense of shame. The source of the feeling is simple: Israel claims that it continues to act in my name.

The Jewish community in Sydney and elsewhere insists on identifying themselves with Israeli actions. These acts are part of a tradition in which the state of Israel has set the measure for being Jewish. …

… what endures for many as an outrage is Israel hijacking the Holocaust for its political ends: the Holocaust is used to sustain a specific geo-political situation. The other night in Sydney at the Great Synagogue a speaker defended the incursion into Lebanon on the grounds that it would prevent a further Holocaust.

Understanding the Holocaust, tracing its impact upon how we think today, is a project that endures. Moreover, it is a project that resists easy summation. The idea that it can figure as an element of state policy is both an intellectual and ethical scandal. This needs to be said.

Until Jews are prepared to articulate the need to sever the identification of Judaism and Israel, anti-Semitism will flourish. Until Jews are prepared to argue that the Holocaust and its legacy is not the province of a nation state, let alone a justification for Zionism, our responsibility in relation to the dead will continue to be betrayed. We should demand better of ourselves.
Benjamin’s piece – considered, refined, powerful and, in the context, courageous – is the quintessence of dissident Jewry’s desire to reclaim the moral high ground. In a tragic display of misplaced judgment, the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies chose to respond to Benjamin with the usual prattle (7 August). The Benjamin piece and the response are all one needs to read to confront where the integrity and the humanity lies and where the depravity resides.
Image courtesy

Virginia Tilley, an American political science academic au fait with the South African apartheid regime, writes (Counterpunch, 5 August 2006):
Diplomacy, threats, pleading, the "peace process," mediation, all will be useless until external pressure brings Israel's entire Jewish population to undertake the very difficult task of rethinking their world. This pressure requires the full range of boycotts, sanctions, and divestment that the world can employ.
'The very difficult task of rethinking their world'. Not merely for the by now racist component of the Israeli population but for its flag bearers globally.

(This latter piece, in a slightly different form, was originally published in 'Alert and Alarmed' on 7 August 2006.)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License  
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