Defending Israel? Anger works

By Geoffrey Alderman, April 18, 2008

Advice recently given by PR experts on how to promote Israel in the media was wrong

How does one best put Israel’s case in public? This was the theme of the recent conference hosted by Bicom. Unfortunately, I was unable to accept my invitation to attend because of pressing family commitments. However, had I done so I suspect I would have summoned up the courage to disagree with the advice apparently given by some of the presenters, and reported in last week’s JC.

What are my credentials for having the chutzpah to disagree? Well, I have written widely on Zionism, the history of the Palestine Mandate, anti-Jewish prejudice, and Islamic and Christian attitudes towards Jews and Judaism, and although not a historian of the state of Israel, I have read widely around this subject and have indeed negotiated the mind-blowing bureaucracy of that state to dip into some of its major archival collections. I have a slight media profile in Israel and — to judge by the demands made on my time by domestic print, radio, TV and internet media — a somewhat higher profile here in the UK. Whether I do a good job is for others to say, but from the feedback I receive I venture to suggest that I make an impact and have scored some telling points.

My first piece of advice for anyone contemplating writing a letter to the press, or appearing on a panel discussion, is: be very certain of your facts. The past two decades have witnessed a concerted effort by the enemies of the Jewish state to re-write history. Prominent within this rewrite are a number of complete fictions.

It is not true that most rabbis in 19th and 20th century Europe opposed Zionism. It is not true that, following the First World War, the British permitted Jews to reside anywhere in “Palestine” (the area east of the Jordan was — and still is — prohibited to Jews as far as permanent residence is concerned). It is not true that the land on which Jews resettled west of the Jordan was “stolen” — it was bought, paid for and receipts obtained. It is not true that the Arabs played no part in the Holocaust. It is not true that Israel is in “breach” of UN resolutions; Israel has violated no UN resolution that it is required to obey. It is not true that the Jewish so-called “settlements” in Judea and Samaria are “illegal”, since the right of Jews to dwell anywhere in those areas was confirmed by the League of Nations and reaffirmed by its successor body, the UN. (Certain of these settlements may not have been authorised by the government of Israel, but that is a different issue.) It is not true that UN resolution 242 (November 22, 1967) requires Israel to withdraw from all territories “occupied” in the Six-Day War — as a matter of fact the resolution only speaks of Israel’s “armed forces” (as opposed to civilians) withdrawing from some of these territories.

It is true, however, that resolution 242 expects all parties to the conflict (and not just sovereign states) to terminate “all claims or states of belligerency”, and that to date only three such parties have done so — Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

My second piece of advice to anyone making any sort of public appearance is to go on the attack at the earliest opportunity. Attack was, is and always will be the best means of defence. One speaker at the Bicom conference reportedly told his audience to be “nice” and to “never show your anger”. I do not agree. Sometimes it helps to show a measured anger, especially in relation to anti-Jewish prejudice. Most opponents of the re-establishment of the state of Israel refuse to concede that the Jews, too, have a right to national self-determination and (hence) a nation state. They have — in other words — a problem with Jews, and the sooner this can be brought out, and aired, angrily, the better for you. Do not accuse your opponents of being “antisemites”. Accuse them, rather of having a problem relating to Jews and the Jewish world, and even (when you have calmed down) offer to help them overcome this personal difficulty.

I used this approach to excellent effect last October ago when I debated live, on TV, with a leading British Muslim. The programme’s presenter subsequently emailed me to confide that my Muslim colleague had left the studio “rather broken”.

Serves him right.

Last updated: 4:54pm, May 13 2008