On Valentine’s Day, Saving Children’s Hearts

February 24, 2017

On Valentine’s Day, a number of CAMERA-supported groups ran events raising awareness about Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), SACH is an incredible Israeli charity that offers free heart surgeries to children from the Middle East and around the world, providing operations to children from poor regions of the world who otherwise would have no access to advanced medical treatment. To date, Save A Child’s Heart has saved more than 4000 children’s lives.

At Boston University, CAMERA-supported group BU Students for Israel set up a table on campus, where they gave out food and spread the word about SACH, telling the story of the incredible charity.

Saving hearts on Valentine’s Day with CAMERA-supported group BU Students for Israel.

At New York University, CAMERA-supported group Realize Israel also held an event called “Spread The Love” to raise awareness about Save A Child’s Heart. In the middle of the cold New York winter, they gave out free hot chocolate, as they told students about the incredible impact SACH has had on so many lives.

Spreading the love in New York with CAMERA-supported group Realize Israel NYU.

Other campuses also held Israel-themed events on Valentines Day. At York University, CAMERA-supported group Israeli Students Association (ISA) tabled throughout the day, giving out roses and chocolates and engaging students, informing them about Israel and the events run by ISA on campus. Generally on Valentine’s Day, people show their love for the significant people in their lives. But these CAMERA-supported groups also showed their love for the significant country in their lives – Israel!

Spreading the love at York University with CAMERA-supported group Israeli Students Association – Israeli style!

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern.

Seth Siegel and the Global Water Crisis

February 23, 2017

Seth Siegel lectures at Cornell University Photo: Cameron Pollack / Cornell Daily Sun Photography Editor

The world may be close to experiencing a global water crisis. More than seven billion gallons of water are wasted a day in the United States alone. This month, Cornell hosted a lecture featuring Seth Siegel, entitled “A Global Water Crisis Is Coming: What Can We Do To Avoid It?” Seth is an alumnus of both ILR ‘74 and the Law School ‘78, and is the author of New York Times bestseller Let There Be Water. The event was sponsored by CAMERA-supported group Cornellians For Israel, CAMERA, ZOA, Cornell’s Near Eastern Studies Department, Hillel and Chabad. 200 people came out to hear Siegel address the global water crisis.

In his book, Siegel writes about Israel’s enormous success in the water conservation industry, and how countries from around the world can adapt techniques to restructure their water maintenance infrastructure. For example, Israel has been successful in treating ninety-five percent of its sewage and redirecting it towards agricultural purposes such as watering crops and increasing the water volume of rivers. Desalination plants throughout Israel purify millions of gallons a day. The world’s largest desalination plant is located in Israel, and produces 165 millions of gallons of fresh water per day. In contrast, the U.S. reuses less than ten percent of its overall wastewater. These techniques can have a substantial effect in developing countries without great water supply, to help sustain life in those countries.

A MASHAV specialist teaches irrigation techniques in Nigeria. Source: MASHAV

Another useful way Israel is assisting with the global water crisis is through one of its state departments, MASHAV. This department sends Israeli agricultural specialists into over one hundred developing countries, of which twenty-nine are in Africa. These professionals train locals on the ground to utilize techniques such as irrigation and water management. Places like China, Jordan, and even California have learned from Israeli water professionals on how to implement these innovative desalination techniques.

These water relationships have extended to India. In the years following India’s establishment, the country refused to have any sort of diplomatic ties with Israel and was a leader in the anti-Western Non-Aligned Movement, a movement which historically has been at odds with Israel. However, in 1992, diplomatic relations were established, and in 1994, India partnered with TAHAL, an Israeli water company, to redesign its water and sewage systems. Among other things, a water desalination plant was built, producing 106 million gallons a day. Although their interests within the UN do not always line up, Israel and India continue to work together to improve Indian water systems. In 2013, along with other water companies, TAHAL entered an agreement to help build additional water infrastructure in two neighborhoods Delhi. There is hope that in the future, if this project is a success, it will extend to other parts of Delhi, and perhaps other cities in India.

In his lecture, Seth Siegel referred to Israel being a world leader in water conservation. The facts in “Let There Be Water” not only illustrate this truth, but also reflect Israel’s dedication to conserving water globally. Through the newly created relationship between Cornell and the Technion Institute, as well as our internationally recognized agricultural school, there is a tremendous opportunity for both entrepreneurial and agricultural students to be at the forefront of innovation in the Agri-Tech industry. Even within the local community of Ithaca, which just experienced a drought, techniques for water conservation can be adopted.

Perhaps, as Seth Siegel remarked to one student in the audience, we really can change the world.

Contributed by Cornell University CAMERA Fellow Josh Elkouby, treasurer of CAMERA-supported group Cornellians for Israel (CFI).

The Guardian Whitewashes Charges of Antisemitism Against Malia Bouattia

February 22, 2017

An article in the Guardian, written by their education correspondent , focused on recent reports of hate crimes targeting Jews at Exeter, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sussex and University College London.  Among the people interviewed in the article (UK universities urged to a tackle rising tide of antisemitism, Feb. 18th) was NUS President Malia Bouattia.

Here are the paragraphs pertaining to Bouattia:

The National Union of Students has just completed a national survey of Jewish students’ experience of university life, details of which will be released later in the spring. Commenting on the incident at Exeter this week, the union’s president, Malia Bouattia, said it was another example of the spike in hate crime students had witnessed in the wake of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election.

“This kind of blatant antisemitism should not be tolerated in our universities and colleges, and institutions need to do more to combat it. Students must be at the forefront of tackling racism and fascism in all its forms which is why NUS’s current programme of work exploring hate crime could not be more timely.”

Remarkably, the Guardian reporter completely ignored the ongoing scandal involving accusations of antisemitism against Bouattia herself – information that had previously been reported by the Guardian and elsewhere in the British media.

National Union of Students (NUS) President Malia Bouattia.

In fact, just a day before the Guardian article which quoted Bouattia, The Telegraph published an article titled ‘NUS in turmoil after internal report rules its President should not be punished despite making anti-Semitic remarks’. The article noted that, despite the NUS’s determination that Bouattia should not be punished, their report found that she did make comments that “could be reasonably capable of being interpreted as anti-Semitic”.

Here are some of the comments in question:

  • Bouattia ‘accused’ the University of Birmingham of being “a Zionist outpost in British higher education”, citing her concerns about their “large Jewish Society”.
  • Bouattia condemned “Zionist-led media outlets”.
  • Bouattia (beginning at 1:10 of this video) seemed to characterize Zionism as a form of “white supremacy”.
  • Bouattia expressed support for Palestinian terrorism and was critical of those who support ‘merely’ non-violent forms of resistance to occupation.
  • Bouattia claimed that the Government’s anti-terror programme was fuelled by “Zionist and neo-con lobbies”.

The journalist’s decision to quote Bouattia expressing her view that “blatant antisemitism should not be tolerated in our universities” without even mentioning the current row over her own use of antisemitic tropes is a classic example of how the Guardian can whitewash antisemitism even when putatively taking such hatred seriously.

Contributed by Managing Editor of CAMERA’s UK Media Watch, Adam Levick.

This article was originally published at UKMediaWatch.org.

Jerusalem’s Student Ambassadors for Israel

February 21, 2017

It is important to speak up for Israel around the world. We want the true story of our land to be known worldwide and to ensure that there is a response when falsehoods about Israel are spread. International opinion can influence government policy, sometimes even in wartime decisions, and therefore it is crucial for Israel to be engaging people with its story, around the world.

CAMERA is an international media watchdog active in confronting biased media coverage of Israel, and prompting corrections when falsehoods or inaccuracies are presented as news. The organization is 35 years old, and it prompts tens of corrections a month. CAMERA on Campus is a subsidiary of the organization, and it is active on 70 campuses around the world – last year, CAMERA organized more than 600 Israel-themed events on campus. About a year ago, together with a group of motivated and visionary students, CAMERA founded FOCUS at HUJI, the first Israeli student group of its kind, dedicated exclusively to telling Israel’s story both within and outside Israel. The group is different than other Israeli student groups (which are often political in nature) because it is heterogeneous, with students with various political views, but who all share a commitment to sharing the truth about Israel. “We felt that there is a vacuum here – how can it be that we Israelis are not doing more to help Diaspora Jewish communities, and supporters of Israel around the world, to fight delegitimization of Israel?” said CAMERA Fellow Lee-El Hayun, Director of External Relations for FOCUS.

Introducing the first CAMERA-sponsored group in Israel

FOCUS, now in its second year of existence, contains fifty students, who receive professional training on how to represent Israel, engage students groups from around the world through joint events, and are also active in telling Israel’s story on social media.

On January 5th, FOCUS hosted a talk by Member of Knesset Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the US, on the topic of the Security Council Resolution 2334. The talk was for students from Hebrew University, as well as a delegation from the University of Kansas, allowing students from the USA and Israel to meet one another. “The build we can bridge between us allows for a flow of new ideas and activities to make real change,” said CAMERA Fellow Eden Adler, President of FOCUS.

MK Michael Oren speaking at the packed FOCUS event

On the educational front, FOCUS hosted a lecture by Dr. David Gurevitch, a researcher and lecturer in the field of Media and Communications, who explained how Israeli history is perceived by anti-Israel groups, deepening students’ understanding of those who seek to harm Israel’s image around the world.

Dr. Gurevitch speaking to Hebrew University students

On International Holocaust Memorial Day (which often is not marked in Israel, as Israel has its own Holocaust Memorial Day) FOCUS members took part in a lecture hosted by The Israel Project. Dr. Ephraim Zuroff gave a unique and important lecture on his life’s work as a Nazi hunter.

The group uses social media, particularly Facebook, to expose students to blatant errors that are made in the international media about Israel, something which is not covered too often in the Israeli media. Recently, a Danish journalist made false claims about Elor Azaria, and FOCUS students responded online, and their response was also shared on social media.

FOCUS provides students the opportunities to receive practical training in the field of Israel activism, hear engaging lectures about Israel, interact with students and campuses around the world, take part in delegations to campuses around the world, and most importantly, to engage international students in direct, face to face conversation.

Contributed by Bar Sheleg, member of CAMERA-supported group FOCUS at HUJI.

Jewish Voice for Peace To Host Convicted Palestinian Terrorist

February 20, 2017

Editor’s note: Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in an organization that plays a significant role in stirring up anti-Israel rhetoric. JVP supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel, supports Students for Justice in Palestine events including Israel Apartheid Week, and calls for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace, the misnamed anti-Israel organization, will be hosting a convicted Palestinian terrorist at its upcoming conference in Chicago on March 31 to April 2, 2017.

Rasmea Odeh, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.-designated terrorist group will be a featured speaker at the event, according to an Algemeiner report by Lea Spyer (“Jewish Voice for Peace to Host Convicted Palestinian Terrorist at Upcoming National Conference,” Feb. 6, 2017).

Convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh.

Odeh will be speaking, along with three other speakers, during a workshop titled “All In!” In addition to Odeh, another panelist at the JVP conference is Linda Sarsour, an anti-Israel speaker who, among other things, has called to remove the vaginas of her female critics (“#WomensMarch Co-Chair Linda Sarour’s Twitter attack on victim of female genital mutilation,” Legal Insurrection, Jan. 27, 2016).

Odeh was convicted for her role in two terrorist attacks: In 1969, she set up explosives in a grocery store, murdering two Hebrew University students and wounding nine others. Four days later, she set up explosives targeting the British consulate. In 1970 she was sentenced to life in an Israeli prison for her crimes, only to be freed in a prisoner swap ten years later.

The Anti-Defamation League has described JVP as the “most influential anti-Zionist group in the United States.” ADL has asserted that JVP’s role in the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) effort is to provide the movement with a “veneer of legitimacy” and camouflage against identification as antisemitic.

Despite ADL’s apt characterization, JVP is often misleadingly described as a “left-leaning” or “progressive” Jewish group by many major U.S. news outlets. As CAMERA has noted, JVP has often been given Op-Ed space by The Washington Post, The Hill, and others (“Jewish Voice for Peace Repeats anti-Israel Clichés; Post Provides a Platform,” June 29, 2016).

Members of JVP support a boycott of Israel.

Similarly, Sarsour, a co-organizer of the Jan. 21, 2017 “Women’s March on Washington D.C.,” has been feted by journalists who often fail to disclose her history of inflammatory statements, including accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing and dismissing reports of al-Qaeda terror attacks as conspiracy theories (see, for example “CAMERA Rebuts Zogby Op-Ed in The Hill,” Aug. 27, 2015).

A Jan. 23, 2017 article in Elle Magazine, for instance, claimed that “conservative news sites” and “Islamophobes” were attacking Sarsour for her role in organizing the women’s march. However, the article by Mattie Kahn failed to note Sarsour’s decidedly anti-feminist, anti-human rights exhortations.

It remains to be seen if future news reports treating JVP as a credible source will inform readers of the group’s associations and advocates.

Originally published at CAMERA.org

Owls for Israel Get Artistic for Israel

February 17, 2017

Students are always coming up with creative ways to run pro-Israel events, and for the second year running, Owls for Israel, CAMERA-supported group at Florida Atlantic University, held an Artists 4 Israel event on campus.

FAU students posing with T shirts made by Artists 4 Israel

Artists 4 Israel describe their mission as using art to bring social change, and use their events to tell Israel’s story. At the FAU event, the artists made customized T-shirts for the students, as Owls for Israel members engaged students in discussion about Israel, telling students more about the country. They handed out materials containing facts about Israel, as well as flyers containing information about Owls for Israel. In particular, Owls for Israel students focused on telling the story of Israeli innovation.

This is not the first time that CAMERA-supported groups have held events with Artists 4 Israel. In the past, CAMERA-supported group 49ers for Israel brought Artists 4 Israel’s Peace Wall to California State University Long Beach (CSULB), and CAMERA-supported group Great Danes for Israel ran an event at SUNY Albany, where the artists set up a giant Israel-themed graffiti mural.

Artists 4 Israel hard at work designing T shirts!

The Artists 4 Israel event was the opening event in an exciting series at FAU – February at FAU is Israel Awareness Month! Events this month include an Israeli style Shabbat dinner, a lunch and learn with Israeli medical students, and a karaoke evening to raise money for the incredible Israeli humanitarian group, Save a Child’s Heart. Through all these events, students at FAU can continue to educate more people about Israel’s story, and show their support for the amazing projects going on within the country.

Israel Awareness Month is full of exciting events

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern

The Media Only Cares About Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza

February 16, 2017

The media often reports on what it would describe as “the Palestinian cause,” “the suffering of the Palestinian people” and “the breach of Palestinian rights.” Yet often stories come to light, which challenge this categorization. In reality, media attention is not focused on the suffering of the Palestinians, but on the supposed evil of the Israelis.

Last week it was announced that fifty Palestinian houses were going to be demolished in order to construct a road connecting two cities, so they evicted the fifty Palestinian families living in their homes.

The media however, did not report on this story, and few if any human rights organizations protested. The reason? Because these Palestinians live in Lebanon, not the West Bank, and it was the Lebanese government and not the Israeli government evicting them. Radio silence.

Al Qasamiyah refugee camp, where residents face eviction by Lebanese authorities

Why is there no comment when Palestinians are mistreated by the Lebanese government? Were Israel to announce the demolition of Palestinian homes, a smorgasbord of condemnations from international bodies, human rights groups, and world leaders would be heard, making international headlines.

There are also crucial differences between Lebanese and Israeli evictions which make the recent Lebanese announcement far more serious. Home demolitions by the Israeli government occur for one of two reasons: Firstly, homes, both Jewish and Palestinian, that are built without planning permission in Area C and East Jerusalem are often demolished, although sometimes, both Jewish and Palestinian homes are retroactively legalized.

Secondly, homes are often destroyed for security related reasons. For example, if a Palestinian home is being used for terrorist activity, or belongs to a terrorist (in which case it is destroyed as a deterrent not to commit attacks). Israel’s deterrent policy has been debated domestically and around the world, but without a doubt, demolitions in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem for security purposes have a more reasonable basis than the desire to build a road. Yet when the Lebanese government destroys Palestinian homes for no reason other than ease of transportation, it barely causes a ripple of media or NGO attention.

Egypt destroyed over 1,000 homes near the Gazan border

Again and again, the phenomenon of ignoring Palestinian grievances when Israel is not involved is evident.  A few months ago, the Lebanese government announced it was building a security wall around a Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon (This is one of the Palestinian refugee camps outside of Israel; there are camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon). Yet there was no international outcry. When Israel built a security barrier (that included sections of wall) in parts of the West Bank, the world was sure to publicly condemn Israel. Egypt has also evicted Palestinians to build a security wall along its border with Gaza; but once again, did not face an international barrage of criticism. Beyond these instances, there are far more serious issues of double standards when it comes to media attention on Palestinians living in the West Bank versus elsewhere – Palestinian refugees in Lebanon face genuine apartheid. They are banned from working in twenty professions and are forbidden from attending public schools or owning property.

If the media genuinely wants to bring light to the condition of the Palestinian people, then it should focus on perceived wrongs perpetrated against Palestinians, regardless of who the perpetrator is. If, on the other hand, the media only reports what it perceives to be Israeli crimes against the Palestinians – then it can be said to have ceased being pro-Palestinian, and has become simply anti-Israeli.

Contributed by CAMERA staff.

PBS Hosts Extremist Miko Peled on Talk Show

February 15, 2017

On February 2, PBS’s Tavis Smiley hosted Miko Peled on his talk show. Peled is a radical anti-Israel activist who has, in the past, falsely described Israel as an apartheid state, referred to Israeli airport security officers as the “Smiling Gestapo,” and defended terrorists.

On Smiley’s program, Peled:

  • called Jewish history a myth,
  • called Israel an illegitimate state, saying Jews have no right to self-determination there,
  • called the Haganah a terrorist group, but justified terrorism against Israelis, and
  • perpetuated falsehoods about Israel, including the ubiquitous water libel.

Yet, his host failed to aggressively challenge his assertions.

Miko Peled (left) during his interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS.

When Smiley asked Peled how he responds to allegations that he is antisemitic, Peled responded, in essence, that he can’t be antisemitic, first, because he is Jewish, and second, because he is not racist against African Americans or other racial minorities. Peled then claims that opposing the State of Israel – not its policies, but the State itself – is not antisemitic. In fact, the Obama State Department declared that it is. This, too, is ignored by his host.

Neither Smiley nor a second guest, apparently brought on in an attempt at “balance,” unraveled the falsehoods promoted by Peled. Real journalism requires real facts, not narratives spun by advocates. PBS should do better.

If Tavis Smiley had researched his subject prior to the interview, he would have found that Peled has falsely described Israel as an apartheid state, and called Israeli airport security officers the “Smiling Gestapo.” In the anti-Israel website Electronic Intifada, Peled wrote that “Israel is an illegitimate creation brought about by a union between racism and colonialism,” and that “criticizing Palestinian resistance [i.e., terrorism] is unconscionable.” He has described terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons – some for murder – as “political prisoners.”

The Obama State Department defined antisemitism to include “justifying the killing or harming of Jews (often in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion),” as well as “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.” Prior to appearing on Smiley’s show, Peled had engaged in all three of these behaviors. Yet, during the program, Smiley failed to aggressively challenge Peled when he continued his open delegitimization of the State of Israel, when he dismissed historical fact as a “mythical narrative,” or when he promoted a narrative that is not based in fact at all.

Peled began the discussion by calling “the return of the Jewish people, the building of a Jewish state after 2,000 years” a mythical narrative. He continued,

Legitimizing the idea that Jews have a right to come from Europe, take over a land that is inhabited by other people, kick those people away and establish their own state there, I don’t see how you legitimize that. But these were different times.

These were times where Europeans thought they could come to the countries of people who are not white and do whatever they wanted, and that’s what really Zionism was about. The idea was for white European Jews to go to go to Palestine that was inhabited by Arabs, which means they’re probably just Bedouins and poor people and who cares, and establish a state for the Jewish people.

There are numerous problems with this statement. First, Peled ignores the ample historical evidence that Jews are in fact indigenous to the land of present-day Israel, and ignores that Jews have maintained a continuous presence in Jerusalem since 1004 BCE. Second, referring to Jews simply as “white Europeans” ignores the history of Jewish oppression in Europe, as well as the fact that many Jewish Israelis arrived in the country as refugees from Arab lands. And, as CAMERA has shown before, “many of those who today identify as Palestinians descend from relatively recent migrations from surrounding territories.”

It’s also inaccurate to generally describe the Arabs living in Mandatory Palestine as having been “kicked away.” While there were some instances in which the Arabs of Palestine were forced from their homes during the 1948 War of Independence, in most cases, those who became refugees fled from actual or anticipated fighting.

In one of his more disturbing comments, Peled refers to the Haganah as a terrorist group. In fact, the Haganah was formed for the defense of the Jewish communities of Mandatory Palestine, after British forces failed to protect those communities from attack. A few minutes later in the interview, however, Peled justifies terrorism when it is committed against Israelis, saying “if they’re Palestinians and they live there and you come and declare that it’s a Jewish state, what are they supposed to do, you know? They’re going to resist. They’re going to fight. You’re going to put them in prison, you’re going to call them terrorists.” Again, Smiley fails to challenge either the inaccurate characterization of the Haganah, or the defense of the murder of civilians.

Smiley gives Peled an opening for the delegitimization of Israel when he asks, “tell me why you no longer believe that a two-state solution is even viable.” Peled responds at some length, but never mentions that Palestinians have turned down Israeli offers to withdraw, allowing them to create their own state, three times since 2000. Instead, he absurdly claims that the fact that people refer to the region as “Judea and Samaria” somehow prevents the establishment of a Palestinian state. In discussing the close proximity in which Jews and Palestinians live in the West Bank, he also relies on the assumption that Jews won’t be able to live in a future Palestinian state, without questioning whether or why, this is so –namely, that they would likely be targeted with violence. Finally, he cites the descendants of Palestinian refugees, without questioning why they are the only refugee group that passes down refugee status from one generation to the next, rather than being resettled in their host countries.

During the interview, Peled says explicitly, “I don’t accept that there’s a need for a Jewish state…. You cannot have a Jewish state in an Arab country unless you are going to infringe upon the rights of the local people. You have to kick them out because they won’t have rights.” Peled – and Smiley – both ignore the fact that two million Arabs live in Israel with full and equal rights. Here, however, Peled does get a little bit of push-back from his host, when Smiley asks, “why are Jews not entitled to their own homeland, to their own state, to their own borders? Why are they not entitled to that?” Peled’s response is telling: “Because Jews have their states. They have American Jews in America. They’ve got French Jews in Germany. You’ve got, you know, Australian Jews in Australia.”

Peled’s claim that Israel is unnecessary because they’ve “got French Jews in Germany,” ignores the fact that for most of the history of European Jewry, Jews were persecuted, culminating in the Holocaust. It ignores that in the Middle East, Jews lived in second-class, or dhimmi, status. It ignores the current flight of French Jews into Israel, to escape anti-Jewish violence there.

Smiley misses those points in his response, in which he asserts “that’s like saying Americans, we shouldn’t have a US of A because there are Americans all around the globe.” His comparison to America is specious. European colonists who came to the US were not indigenous to this land, as Jews are to Israel, and there was no American nation living in exile for 2,000 years.

Finally, Peled repeats the thoroughly-debunked water libel, saying, Palestinians “get 12 hours of water per week,” and implying that this is Israel’s fault. As CAMERA has noted before, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) has dispelled this canard:

Water shortages in the Palestinian Authority are the result of Palestinian policies that deliberately waste water and destroy the regional water ecology. The Palestinians refuse to develop their own significant underground water resources, build a seawater desalination plant, fix massive leakage from their municipal water pipes, build sewage treatment plants, irrigate land with treated sewage effluents or modern water-saving devices, or bill their own citizens for consumer water usage, leading to enormous waste.

At the same time, they drill illegally into Israel’s water resources, and send their sewage flowing into the valleys and streams of central Israel. In short, the Palestinian Authority is using water as a weapon against the State of Israel. It is not interested in practical solutions to solve the Palestinian people’s water shortages, but rather perpetuation of the shortages and the besmirching of Israel.

CAMERA’s Tricia Miller has written:

Israel supplies Palestinian communities with water from Israeli wells and has laid hundreds of kilometers of new water mains and connected hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns to the newly built water system. Villages and towns not hooked up to the new system have refused the service for political reasons, believing that acceptance of Israel’s offer of a new water supply would legitimize the “occupation.”

The guest that followed Peled on the program, Rabbi Steve Leder, was presumably intended to give an appearance of balance. Rabbi Leder did disagree with Peled about the need for a two-state solution and for Jewish self-determination, and did note that, according to former US envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has “checked out.” Rabbi Leder did not, however, debunk any of Peled’s falsehoods and he did not note that the Palestinians have rejected three Israeli peace offers. Thus, many of Peled’s claims went unchallenged.

 

Happy Birthday to The Knesset – and The Untold Story of Israeli Democracy

February 14, 2017

February 14th is Valentine’s Day, but for Israel it is a special anniversary, as the Knesset marks its 68th birthday. On February 14th 1949, the First Israeli Knesset convened, lead by the elected Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, marking a pivotal event in one of the most exceptional and underappreciated elements of Israel’s story – the story of Israeli democracy.

The Israeli Knesset – an underestimated Israeli achievement.

Most people take for granted that Israel is a democracy, but in fact, there are at least three features that make Israeli democracy a significant accomplishment worth celebrating:

1. The non-democratic culture from which it sprung

One unique feature of Israeli democracy is that it seems to have come out of nowhere. Israel did not inherit a democratic system – at the turn of the 20th century, when the Zionist dream was beginning to take shape, the land that would become the state of Israel was ruled by the Ottomans, who ruled through an autocratic monarch. The first Zionist leaders, such as Ben Gurion and Weizmann, themselves grew up in the Russian Empire; a Tsarist, not a democratic, regime. And in the first three years of Israel’s existence, its population doubled (itself a unique feat) due to immigration – and the majority of these immigrants came from Eastern Europe and the Arab nations in the Middle East, thus once again, not bringing with them any experience of living under democratic rule. The location, founders and citizens of Israel had no experience of democracy – so where did Israeli democracy come from?

One of the most convincing answers is that the roots of Israeli democracy lie in the history of Jewish communities through the Diaspora. In much of the Jewish Diaspora, Jews had some degree of autonomy, and elected officials to lead their communities; this idea goes all the way back to the Talmud, which states “We do not appoint a leader over the community, without first consulting with the community” (Tractate Brachot 55a). The Bible, whilst supporting a monarchical system, places limits on the use of his power, as well dividing power between the priests, the king and the prophets. The long experience of Jewish suffering in the Diaspora at the hands of tyrannical leaders ,may also have lead the early Zionists to embrace democracy as the best form of government. Whether this is the explanation, or there is some other reason, Israeli democracy was by no means a foregone conclusion given the circumstances of Israel’s founding.

New immigrants to Israel in school in the early 1950’s – it was here that they were taught the Jewish state’s democratic ethos

2. Civil war?

We also now take for granted that Israel managed to maintain a consensus about the legitimacy of the Knesset, and that everyone would agree to play by the rules of democracy – but given the circumstances, once again this was not a foregone conclusion. In the 20th century, many states achieved independence, and in many of them, tensions between different groups or ideologies lead some to challenge the legitimacy of the rules, sometimes leading to separatist movements, insurgencies or even civil war. On the day of its founding, Israel also had major ideological rifts between its leaders. In the struggle for the foundation of Israel, Israel had two defense organizations; the mainstream Haganah defense organization, which by 1948 was led by David Ben Gurion, and the Irgun defense organization, led in 1948 by Menachem Begin. These two paramilitary groups had both defended Jewish villages from Arab attack, but had different ideological outlooks, the Haganah being broadly in the Labor Zionist camp, and the Irgun being in the Revisionist Zionist camp. They held different opinions on how to achieve independence, and how to respond to Arab attacks on the nascent Yishuv, amongst other issues. When the State of Israel was declared, David Ben Gurion announced that his organization, the Haganah, would become the Israel Defense Forces, and that the Irgun, Menachem Begin’s group, must be disbanded as an independent group, and come under Ben Gurion’s control. In fact, when Ben Gurion was informed that a shipment of weapons was arriving for the Irgun in June 1948, with Menachem Begin aboard, Ben Gurion ordered that the IDF capture the ship, (the Altalena) to ensure that the Irgun does not continue to function as an independent military. The IDF followed his orders, and when the Irgun ship reached Tel Aviv, began firing mortars at it.

Stop the picture there – two military groups exist in a newly independent country, with the IDF demanding the Irgun accept its authority, and they have fired mortars at an Irgun ship, with its leader on board. Any student of 20th century history would tell you that such fighting, between two groups at the beginning of statehood, spells the beginning of an insurgency or a civil war; this is what happened in Angola  in 1975, and is not dissimilar from what happened in Eritrea in 1972, to give some examples. Yet despite the fact that the IDF had fired mortars at him, Begin told his men to hold their fire. He accepted the sovereignty of Ben Gurion and the IDF, and disbanded the Irgun as an independent force. He continued to accept the sovereignty of Ben Gurion and the Knesset, and proceeded to sit in opposition for twenty nine years, one of the longest periods any person has ever sat in opposition for – until he was elected Prime Minister in 1977. The leader of a paramilitary group had held his fire, and accepted the authority of the democratically elected ruler, sitting in opposition for three decades without ever turning to political violence – an exceptional phenomenon, and one that saved the nascent Israeli democracy. The democratic institutions of the State of Israel were accepted as legitimate, and became accepted by the vast majority of Israeli society – a rare achievement in a newly independent country.

Menachem Begin confronted Ben Gurion from within the Knesset, not through violence.

3. The range of challenges the democracy has faced

So Israel’s democratic start was unlikely, and consensus as to its political legitimacy was also not to be taken for granted. But the fact Israel has maintained its democracy over the past 68 years is also remarkable, given the range of challenges that the country has faced. The country has existed in a constant state of war; it has faced three wars of annihilation (plus six other wars), two intifadas, thousands of rockets, countless plane hijackings, suicide bombings and stabbings, and the constant threats of war and destruction from its neighbors. Internally, Israel has a twenty percent national minority, many of whom are hostile to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, and some of whom have taken up arms against Israel. The Jewish population of Israel is itself is divided along countless social fault lines – Ashkenazi/Sephardi, religious/secular, right wing/left wing, and by country of origin. Israel has always had coalition governments, with no single party ever winning an absolute majority. And vigorous debate continues in Israel – Michael Oren points out that 5% of Israel’s population came out on the streets in the social protests of 2011, the equivalent of 15 million protestors in America. But despite all these challenges, Israel has remained democratic and united, without ever resorting to authoritarian rule.

There are very few countries in the world that have remained democratic between 1948 and 2017 without interruption.  In 2016, the Economist Intelligence Unit gave Israel a Democracy rating of 7.85, close to the rating of the USA (7.98), and France (7.92). On the Knesset’s 68th birthday, it is clear that Israeli democracy, remarkable as it is, is as strong as ever.

A soldier votes in an Israeli election.

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern

 

 

The Choices Palestinians Make

February 13, 2017

After returning from an awful weekend trip with a Christian youth group, I told my mother I wanted to stop going to church in the next town over and worship where we lived. “Nobody likes me over there,” I said. Her response was direct and brutal: “Maybe they are not the problem. Maybe it is you.”

It was a shock. Mothers are not supposed to talk that way to their 11-year-old sons (so I thought). In the years since, I have tried, with varying degrees of success, when in a difficult position, to look at the role I played in creating the circumstances I find myself in.

Maybe I have behaved in unlikable ways and need to stop. Life together with other people — with any measure of peace — requires a willingness to dispense with a false belief in one’s innocence. We all tend to believe that nothing is ever our fault; more likely, we realize that many things are.

There are times when I wish my mother could remonstrate with the Palestinians intellectuals, many of them Christians, whom I meet in the course of my work. Listening to them talk, it often seems as if the difficulties they describe are solely the result of other people’s acts. Most unsettling of all, however, is the willingness of Western peace and human rights activists to affirm this crippling narrative of innocence.

Instead of patting Palestinians on the head and telling them that everything is Israel’s fault, perhaps it is time to bring them up short and tell them, “Maybe it is you!” — and insist that Palestinians look closely at the injustices and mistakes perpetrated by Arabs over the past few decades. Perhaps it is time to confront Palestinians with the choice they face: They can keep trying to deny the Jewish people their right to a sovereign state, or they can make peace and get a state of their own; they cannot do both. If Palestinians are interested in making peace, perhaps they need to start earning the trust of the Israelis, bring an end to incitement, educate their children for peace instead of murder, and begin building a future for themselves and their children without blaming Israel for every setback they endure.

Palestinian glorification of terrorists: Mahmoud Abbas stands with a boy, who holds a photo of Dalal Mughrabi. Mughrabi killed 37 Israelis in a terrorist attack in 1978, yet is revered as a hero by the PA.

Here, the ability of the Palestinians to romance and recruit sympathetic, empathetic and condescending peace activists actually works against them. It hinders their development as a people because it prevents them from developing the human capacity for agency, or ability to, in the words of psychologist Albert Bandura, “influence intentionally one’s functioning and life circumstances… [People] are not simply onlookers of their behavior. They are contributors to their life circumstances, not just products of them.”

All too often, outsiders to the Israel-Palestinian conflict encourage the Palestinians to view themselves as onlookers to their own suffering, without encouraging them to think what their leaders did to cause this suffering. Over the long haul, such condescension does not help, and can be lethal.

You can see this condescension in the blurbs promoting The Drone Eats With Me: A Gaza Diary, (Beacon, 2016) by Palestinian writer Atef Abu Saif.

“This is what war is like in the twenty-first century—the voice of a civilian in the onslaught of drone warfare, a voice we have never heard before,” writes Michael Ondaatje, author of the acclaimed text, The English Patient. Molly Crabbapple, the radical author of Drawing Blood, declares that Saif’s book “deserves to become a modern classic of war literature.” It would seem that Saif has written a text of towering importance.

Alas, he has not. Saif does provide a powerful first-person narrative of the suffering endured by the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. The stories Saif tells in his diary, portions of which were previously published in Western newspapers, are harrowing, tragic and well written, particularly when he recounts the suffering endured by parents whose children were killed by Israeli missiles and gunfire. The entry for July 15, 2014, is emblematic:

On the TV, the father of one of the children killed in an attack on the Shuja’iyya quarter on July 9 wails at the corpse of his son: “Forgive me, son, I could not protect you!” It is very hard to watch, knowing deep down that this might be me in a week’s time. Being a father brings with it a deep-seated instinct to protect, but also an assumption that you can protect. You are your children’s hero, their superman. You tell yourself you can outwit the planes, the tanks and the warships, to protect them. You can do anything for their sake. But this father on the TV could not have done anything differently to protect his son. Only the pilot had any choice in the matter.

The problem in Saif’s thinking becomes evident in the last sentence: “only the pilot had any choice in the matter.”

The notion that the Israeli pilot is the only one who has any responsibility for the child’s death is simply false. A lot of bad choices were made — by Palestinians — prior to the death of the young child and Saif knows it; he just can’t — or will not — address these choices, at least not in this text.

By placing all the blame on the Israelis for the death of the child, he is encouraging his readers to believe that the Palestinians are powerless to change the circumstances under which they live. According to him, only the international community, which Saif laments as ineffectual and indifferent, can do that.

The reality that Saif will not confront in his book is that Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, bears a huge measure of responsibility for the suffering he documents. Hamas has repeatedly started wars that it cannot win against a country that cannot afford to lose. During these conflicts, it has launched rockets from schoolyards and has used hospitals as command centers for its leaders, putting civilians on both sides of the conflict at risk. When children are killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza, Hamas puts their bodies on display to demonize Israel, and writers such as Saif assist in this tactic.

Saif ignores the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas in 2014, which caused the Israeli response. An IDF graphic shows how rockets were fired from all over Gaza, including from within residential areas.

Hamas has summoned civilians to the rooftops of buildings to serve as human shields after Israel warned that these buildings would soon be under attack. During the war in 2008–2009, Hamas diverted food and fuel from their intended recipients as part of its policy of increasing the suffering in the Gaza Strip in order to make Israel look bad. It has used cement and other building materials allowed into the Gaza Strip — ostensibly for the benefit of Palestinian civilians — in order to construct tunnels that can penetrate Israel and serve as a means to kidnap Israeli soldiers and civilians.

A Hamas official recounts on Palestinian TV how Israeli forces gave advance warning to him, to evacuate his home before bombing it. He goes on to describe how after the warning, he rushed to gather friends, family and neighbors on the roof of the building to use as human shields, which caused Israeli forces to abort the strike.

The attempted attack on Israel’s nuclear installation in Dimona during the 2014 war is in line with countless declarations from Hamas that it seeks the destruction of the Jewish people. Apart from both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas Charters, a few months before the summer war, for instance, a show broadcast on a Hamas-run television station encouraged Palestinian children to kill all the Jews.In the months prior to the 2014 war, Hamas leaders openly declared that they were going to invade Israel and cross all sorts of red lines in the upcoming conflict. Hamas made good on this promise by attempting to hit nuclear facilities in Dimona with long-range missiles. The missiles hit the city, but missed the city’s nuclear facilities.

During its 2012 fight with Israel, Hamas leaders declared that killing Jews is a religious obligation. Hamas promotes a genocidal organization that seeks Israel’s destruction and yet Saif does not speak a word about this lethal ideology or actions before or during the 2014 war.

Insisting that Saif confront Hamas’s misdeeds in a book that recounts — page after page — the tragic deaths of Palestinian children as a result of Israeli airstrikes might, to some readers, seem like a merciless and heartless thing to do. But if the goal is to bring these deaths to an end, that is exactly what Saif and other Palestinian intellectuals need to do.

All too often, the Palestinian deaths are used to shut down the conversation about what Palestinian leaders have done wrong and about the underlying causes of the conflict. Honesty requires that the deaths of these Palestinian children serve to drive — not obstruct — the conversation toward Palestinian agency and responsibility. As long as average Palestinians view themselves as ineffectual and helpless, their leaders will continue to rob them blind and put their children in harm’s way.

To be sure, Saif has, condemned Hamas for its totalitarian behavior after the organization prevented him from leaving the Gaza Strip to attend a literary awards ceremony in 2015 where he was to receive acclaim for his book, The Suspended Life. This text, which was short listed for the International Prize for Arabic Literature in 2015, does reportedly hint at Hamas’s oppressive agenda and style of governance. Saif is quite articulate and forceful declaring that “Freedoms retreated gradually under Hamas rule in Gaza.”

Another Palestinian writer from Gaza, Asmaa al-Ghoul, has also been critical of Hamas on this score. Speaking in Oslo in May, 2013, she declared, “Journalists in Gaza also have to face a lot because of the Islamist government of Hamas. It is a dictatorship pure and simple.” This may help to explain criticism of Hamas, however, is nowhere to be found in Saif’s book.

Predictably, Saif is quite forceful in his condemnations of Israel. In his entry for July 20, 2014, written in response to an Israeli drone strike that tragically killed Palestinian children, He writes:

Who will convince this generation of Israelis that what they’ve done this summer is a crime? Who will convince the pilot that this is not a mission for his people, but a mission against it? Who will teach him that life cannot be built on the ruins of other lives? Who will convince the drone operator that the people of Gaza are not characters in a video game? Who will convince him that the buildings he sees on his screen are not graphics, but homes containing living rooms, and kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms, that there are kids inside, fast asleep; that mobiles hang over their beds; that teddy bears and toy dinosaurs lie on the floor; that posters line the walls? Who will convince him that the orchards his craft flies over in the dark aren’t just clusters of pixels? Someone planted those trees, watered them, watched them as they grew. Some of those trees are ancient, in fact, maybe older than the Torah itself, older than the legends and fantasies he read about as a boy.

On and on he goes in an emotionally powerful but intellectually dishonest lament. Saif simply cannot come to grips with the responsibility Palestinian leaders have for the suffering in the areas they govern. Nor can he come to grips with the humanity or the hopes and dreams of the people on the other side of the conflict. The reference to the Torah is a gratuitous slap — as is his use of the words “legends and fantasies” to describe what goes on in the drone operator’s head.

Sadly, the book is not a “classic of war literature,” but instead, just another text in the overpopulated genre of anti-Zionist polemics, otherwise known as “resistance literature.” In the world Saif describes, the Palestinians are innocent victims without any capabilities or responsibility for the circumstances they are in; the Israelis, to him, are the all-powerful monsters who have nothing but contempt for the international community that fails to hold them accountable.

Israeli children shelter from rocket fire. For Saif, the Israelis are monsters, distorting the real picture, whereby the IDF acts in self defence.

This is exactly what Saif’s condescending patrons and boosters in the West are looking for — narratives that allow them to embrace and broadcast baseless hatred for the Jewish state in the name of human rights.

Westerners who feast on this narrative do not help the Palestinians, but hurt them, by responding to the misdeeds of Palestinian elites with condescending pats on the head instead of the rebukes they warrant.

This article was originally published on the Gatestone Institute website.

Contributed by Dexter Van Zile, Christian Media Analyst for CAMERA.