A legal adviser from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he was feeling “encouraged” by what he encountered halfway through a sophisticated public affairs mission to American universities.
Compared to a similar trip last year, Daniel Taub said, he is finding “much more sympathy” for Israel among the law professors and students he meets.
Last year, Taub said, he was “quite taken aback by how much the situation there was much more like Europe and less like what you would expect in the United States. First of all there were a significant number of demonstrations, and there was fairly loud, simplistic opposition. You know, the positions were very extreme. There was a sense, I think, among some of the Jewish students that they preferred to hunker down — that they did not have the tools or the knowledge necessary to respond.”
Taub spoke with NJJN during a Feb. 9 visit to the Aidekman campus in Whippany before going on to his on-campus meetings.
In New Jersey, he spoke with law students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick as well as with students at Drew University in Madison, where they had participated in a course on grassroots peace initiatives. The students who had taken that class were particularly interested in his experience leading the Israeli side of the negotiations to create a “culture of peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.
“So far, the impression I have is that there is much more sympathy for the situation Israel finds itself in,” Taub said. “There is much more understanding of the complexity of the situation; much more awareness of the balancing required to reach legal decisions, particularly confronting security threats, weighing your responsibility to protect the lives of your civilians with the need to find humane ways of dealing with neighboring populations.”
The Anti-Defamation League sponsored the trip, which also took Taub to schools in Chicago and Connecticut.
‘Result of ignorance’
Taub’s plan was not simply to arrive on campus and offer pro-Israel discussions. Instead, as a lawyer he is engaging primarily his peers — law faculties and students — in a more complex dialogue about Israel and international law.
The enterprise begins with a common interest in international law. His presentations focus on his work — what it’s like advising military commanders in the field, providing legal advice in times of armed conflict, offering legal advice during peace talks, and dealing with Israeli legal issues in the United Nations.
“Our goal is to educate people more than to persuade people,” said Taub. “I think a lot of what is going on, especially on some of the more extreme campuses, is the result of a degree of ignorance — maybe not among the hard core of the campaigners, but among the students who are swept into that corner. They are lacking basic information about the Middle East and about international law. And so I think in a sense, truth and education is one of the best allies we have.”
Taub has represented Israel at many multilateral forums, including the hearings over Israel’s security fence at the International Court of Justice and the negotiations for the entry of Magen David Adom into the Red Cross movement. He has served as legal adviser to Israel’s Mission to the United Nations and regularly acts as a spokesperson for the Israeli government.
“The international legal arena is becoming an arena in which many of our issues are being played out. And we have concerns that many parts of that arena are being politicized in a way that’s very problematic,” said Taub, referring to fact-finding missions and reports like the Goldstone Report, which he said increasingly have legal dimensions.
“More fundamentally, we’re seeing an attempt by certain groups to rewrite or misrepresent key principles of international law in a way that’s going to be very damaging for any states that are confronting security threats,” he said.
His current trip and others like it are attempts to counter these activities.
“We feel it’s very important to reach out, to have dialogue between states, to have dialogue between military legal advisers, to encourage Israeli students to be active on the international plane, to have student exchanges, to increase our organizations in Israel, to have foreign students come and be trained, and so on — and to engage in the debate that takes place on campuses.”
What he hopes people take away from the discussions he has, said Taub, is that the Middle East is “a really complex region in which all sorts of things are going on and to which we are peripheral.”
His goal is not to quash debate over the Mideast; “the Palestinians should have supporters abroad,” he insisted. But he likes to point to a now famous clip of a terrorist in Gaza using a child as a human shield to get across a street safely. “I want to know which of those two Palestinians you are supporting; are you supporting that terrorist or are you supporting that kid?”
He added, “One of the messages I have for people who are pro-Palestinian here in the U.S. is that you have a wonderful opportunity to study in great American institutions and the free society in the West. And one of my great frustrations is, why are you exporting bigotry and narrow-mindedness to our region? You should be exporting tolerance and understanding. Why are the positions adopted by pro-Palestinian students on campuses in the United States so often so much more extreme than the Palestinians who we live with in the Middle East?”