Demonizing Israel has become an almost daily occurrence. Opponents repeatedly accuse the country of being an occupier and an apartheid state and of disenfranchising the Arabs. That these are clear falsehoods doesn’t seem to matter. They are repeated so often that they become part of the culture and sometimes affect the way even governments decide policy.
This was confirmed for me when Michael Shermer and I wrote Denying History, an analysis of Holocaust denial. It was confirmed again when I wrote Nations United (Balfour, 2006), an analysis of the UN’s Zionism is Racism resolution. And it was further substantiated as I wrote The Palestinian Right to Israel (Balfour 2010), which, despite its ironic title, proves the opposite by focusing on the lies, myths, and distortions used by the Arabs to delegitimize Israel.
I am currently researching how The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is used to undercut Israel’s right to exist and to accuse American Jews of controlling American foreign policy. In the Middle East, Hamas and other Arab groups quote the Protocols to “prove” that the Jews are determined to control the entire region.
The Hamas Covenant, for example, states: “Today it is Palestine, tomorrow it will be one country or another. The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”
The late Professor Ehud Sprinzak of The Hebrew University was prescient when he suggested that this deliberate delegitimization would lead to the gradual erosion of Israel’s stature and ultimately its right to exist. I would add that it endangers individual Jews and their right to exist.
After Israel was branded as racist, it became easier to portray it as a country that harms civilian populations, oppresses minorities, and establishes restrictive immigration laws and religious statutes as part of an ideological and racist raison d’être; its wars, its military response to terror, and the laws passed by the Knesset are cast as racist.
A significant danger to Israel is that if this charge becomes a new stereotype in popular culture, the media, literature, and daily speech, it will taint the Jewish state and become a part of the West’s legacy.
One cannot reason with the prejudiced. No logical argument has ever succeeded in disputing the blood libels or any other spurious allegations leveled against the Jews, so why bother refuting these attacks on the Jewish state?
The Talmud tells us “Shtika k’hoda’a dami” — silence amounts to assent. Failure to react to lies allows people to think the fabrications must be true. As individuals and as a community, we must protest these distortions and lies.
The first step is to become informed — to know, as the Talmud commands, “how to respond to your enemy.”
For years I have been mentoring college students on how to answer these charges as historians, not as Israel advocates. Teaching them to use their critical thinking skills in analyzing the Arab-Israeli conflict enables them to reach their own conclusions.
The issues addressed in The Palestinian Right to Israel are those raised on their campuses, including Israel’s historic right to the Land of Israel.
None of these students knew that when the Muslims invaded Palestine in 634, they found direct descendants of Jews who had lived there since the time of Joshua bin Nun, who led the Israelites into the Land of Canaan. And they did not know that for 2,000 years, Jews and Christians constituted the majority of the indigenous population of Palestine, or that Jews had an uninterrupted presence in the land.
But one also needs to know how to respond to the myth that Palestine is a “twice-promised land.”
Examining the way Arabs refute the Jewish connection to the land reveals that this is authorized by the Palestinian Authority and promoted in their media and textbooks. Systematic destruction of Temple Mount artifacts to eliminate all evidence of a Jewish past is another tactic. Another is the claim that the Jews are not a people, and thus not entitled to a country of their own.
One should understand why Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, believed: “The real opponents of Zionism can never be placated by any diplomatic formula; their objection to the Jews is that the Jews exist, and in this particular case, they exist in Palestine.”
For many years, there was no necessity to defend Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Today even “our friends and family” raise questions and make accusations.
It is our responsibility to respond cogently and factually.