Imagining Palestinians as Equal

By George Polley

‘The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.’ — Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963) 

If the question is, are the Israeli government and its supporters serious about addressing the issues that cause them their biggest public relations problems, the answer is no. Instead of changing its behavior, Israel’s response to criticism is a simple one: Deny wrongdoing, play the role of victim, punish those who resist, and attack and destroy the credibility of those who criticize it.

Earlier this year The Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank founded in 2004 by Gidi Grinstein and others, published a 93-page report titled: “Building a Political Firewall against Israel’s Delegitimization”. A primer in designing and carrying out a propaganda campaign (called “public relations” in the report), it is a very revealing document. (For a copy, click here)

Nothing in the report reveals even the slightest interest in seeking out and understanding issues from the Palestinian point of view. Instead the report focuses on identifying Israel’s critics in “the resistance network” (those people and organizations that are critical of Israel’s policies and behavior), and building a political firewall against them. The report presents out a detailed plan for improving Israel’s public relations (propaganda) program and its delivery.

The message is simple: Deny all charges, seek out, disarm and if necessary, silence the opposition through intimidation and shaming. Work with liberal elites around the world to influence NGOs, governments and other influential bodies to delegitimize Israel’s adversaries. Support scholarly seminars and institutes that discuss criticism of Israel as evidence of growing antisemitism, write opinion pieces that insinuate or blatantly charge that criticism of Israel supports antisemitism, support sympathetic politicians, lobby and, when needed, intimidate.

Following are several examples, beginning with:

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA). YIISA bills itself as “dedicated to the scholarly research of the manifestations of antisemitism globally, as well as other forms of prejudice.” Beginning this past August 23rd, it hosted a three-day conference titled "Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity”. The Plenary Session addressed the subject “Radical Islam and Genocidal Antisemitism”. There were five presenters, one of whom was Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Fighel, of The International Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT), Herzliya who spoke on the subject “The Jihad Flotilla to Gaza: Provocative – Antisemitic – Not Humanitarian”. Other presenters were Professor Menachem Milson, Hebrew University and Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) who spoke on “Arab and Islamic Antisemitism Today”; Rifat Bali, Research Associate, Alberto Benveniste Center for Sephardic Studies and Culture, Paris: “Conspiracy Theories, Antisemitism and Jews in Turkey Today”; and Professor Jeffrey Herf of the University of Maryland who spoke on the topic “Nazi Propaganda to the Arab World and Its After-Effects In Postwar Militant Islam”.

There wasn’t a single presentation from an Arab or Palestinian point of view. Incredible? Not if your purpose is propaganda. As Stephen Lendman said in his article on August 31st in The Palestine Chronicle, “What’s needed is debunking the relationship between legitimate Israeli criticism and anti-Semitism and notion of a serious anti-Jewish crisis when none, in fact, exists.”

Articles in well known publications. On Friday, August 20th, an article by Ronald Lauder appeared in The Japan Times. Titled “Hostility Against Jews Increasing in Sweden”, it cites recent incidents of violence against Jews and Jewish property and links them with hatred of Israel. “[A]ttempts to draw a distinction between hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel [are] never particularly convincing. Israel is a specifically Jewish project, and to join the campaign of delegitimization against the Jewish state is to join a campaign of delegitimization against much of world Jewry, the vast majority of which either lives in Israel or regards it as a central component of Jewish identity”. Mr. Lauder, the President of the World Jewish Congress, takes news items and spins it to blur a distinction between ugly neo-Nazi violence and criticism of Israel, which he labels “hatred of Israel”.

Another article, by Daniel Schwammenthal, an editor with The Wall Street Journal, is “The Mufti of Berlin: Arab-Nazi collaboration is a taboo topic in the West”, published in Wall Street Journal on September 24, 2009. Republished in Pamela Geller’s right-wing blog “Atlas Shrugs”, it includes a color photograph of “Hezbollah terrorists” in camouflage uniforms giving Nazi-style salutes. Toward the end of the article, Mr. Schwammenthal writes “Muslim Judeophobia is not – as is commonly claimed — a    reaction to the Mideast conflict, but one of its main ‘root causes’ It has been fueling Arab rejection of a Jewish state long before Israel’s creation.” Another of his articles, published in the online magazine Philocentrism on February 14th 2009, is “Europe Reimports Jew Hatred”, under the heading: “The mythical Arab Street now reaches deep into Paris, London, Berlin and Madrid”.

When Israel and its supporters put out information like this it is called “objective”; when their critics write opinion pieces or report on events, it is called “delegitimization”. The code word for a critic in Israel-speak is “delegitimizer.”

The Reut Institute Report

The Reut Institute’s report advises the Israeli Government to focus on what it calls the resistance network, defined as “A network of countries, organizations, movements, and individuals – which includes … Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and additional Palestinian factions – that reject the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and Israel’s existence, on the basis of Islamic or Arab / Palestinian nationalist ideology.” “These groups,” the report continues, “operate with the political or military logic of ‘resistance’ in order to precipitate Israel’s destruction and replace it with an Arab / Palestinian / Islamic state.” The report then identifies what the Reut Institute calls The Convergence Phenomenon, which it defines as “The coalescence of unaffiliated movements and organizations around an outstanding issue relating to Israel in order to delegitimize Israel.” Delegitimization, a code word for all efforts to question either Israel or Zionism), demonizes Israel, and applies double standards to it relative to other nations who may have even worse human rights records. Demonization refers to any act that presents Israel as being “systematically, purposefully, and extensively cruel and inhumane, thus denying the moral legitimacy of its existence”.

Examples include associating Israeli behavior with Nazism or apartheid “and other accusations of blatant acts of evil.” Even the mention of questionable behavior, to say nothing at all about reprehensible acts, will generate a firestorm of angry denial, sabotage, deflection and attack. Never listen, deny and attack.

A political firewall is another word for denial – blatant, belligerent, well-defended denial. A firewall’s job is to keep out whatever you or I do not want to hear. In everyday language, it’s called “stonewalling”. I dealt with it frequently in my years in the mental health field. Behind denial is fear of being forced to change. When who and what I am is bound up in what I believe, that fear can be terrifying. So I devote my energies to denying, telling people who confront me to back off and attacking them when they don’t.

It is a very unpleasant situation to be in, as anyone who has experienced it well knows. Frequently it works. If I can present myself as fragile and explosive, maybe people will leave me alone. I especially do not want to hear about my behavior hurting others, and will blame it on them whenever the subject comes up. When I read the Reut Institute’s report and read those articles and YIISA’s conference schedule, it is all right there in plain view – blatant denial of the reality as Palestinians and others experience it every day, and have for sixty-two years.

One of the best examples of this denial Irwin Collar’s article, “Identifying the New Anti-Semitism”, published in, and originally published by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in November 2002. “What we are witnessing today”, he begins, “which has been developing incrementally, almost imperceptibly, and sometimes indulgently, for some 30 years now — is a new, virulent, globalizing and even lethal anti-Jewishness reminiscent of the atmospherics of the 1930s, and without parallel or precedent since the end of the Second World War. This new anti-Jewishness overlaps with classical anti-Semitism, but is distinguishable from it. Anchored in the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution, but going beyond it, the new anti-Jewishness almost requires a new vocabulary to define it. It can best be defined as the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon, national particularity and peoplehood anywhere, whenever that national particularity and peoplehood happens to be Jewish. In its more benign form (if it can be called benign), it finds particular expression in the singling out of Israel and the Jewish people for differential and discriminatory treatment in the international arena — where United Nations human rights bodies are used as the mask or protective cover for this anti-Jewishness (e.g. The 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban).” Denial, married to conspiracy theory, the ultimate denial tactic. I saw this over 40 years ago at a Veteran’s hospital in Minnesota where a film was shown of a severely drunk alcoholic veteran during his Intake examination. He mumbled, made no sense, he was a mess. Three weeks later they brought him into the same room and filmed him as he watched the film of his Intake. “Who the Hell is that?” he asked; “My God is he drunk!” “That’s you, Hank.” “Like Hell! That ain’t me! No way!” Then he accused the staff of conspiring against him. In his eyes, he was innocent. Through the lenses of denial, he didn’t even recognize himself.

“I wonder whether pro-Israeli apologists ever sense the sheer hopelessness of their desperate attempts to shield the apartheid regime from legitimate and necessary criticism,” muses South African Iqbal Jassat in an article published in The Palestine Chronicle on August 31st.  The article was listed the same day on the website “Exposing & Fighting Against Global Anti-Semitism & Anti-Jewish Racism”, which describes itself as “a news portal about Global Anti-Semitism, Anti-Semitism, Discrimination News and Anti-Racism and Anti-Semitic news.” Their message? “We believe by exposing Anti-Semitism we can show how pervasive it is.”

The Elephant in the Living Room

“Behind every act in Israel’s identity politics stretches, like a long black shadow, the idea of an eternal people and race,” writes Shlomo Sand in his book The Invention of the Jewish People.  It is “the elephant in the living room”, the subject Israel protects and doesn’t want anyone to talk about. What is it? It is Israel’s founding political philosophy, Zionism. It is impossible to discuss the issue of Israel’s denial response without talking about it, because Israel itself sees them as inseparable: attack the one and you attack the other.

Zionism, a movement that began in the second half of the 19th century, became a nationalist movement that sought the creation of a specifically Jewish nation for Jews from around the world. After two thousand years, the story line goes, Jews would stop suffering as outsiders in countries where they were persecuted and have their own national homeland. Unfortunately, in this homeland, only Jews would have First Class Citizenship; all other citizens would be granted Second Class Citizenship, with diminished privileges. (For more information on this topic read: “The Distinction: Identify Politics in Israel” Chapter 5 of Shlomo Sand’s book. Doctor Sand is a Professor of History at Tel Aviv University.)

The problem with race or people-based nationalism is its inequities. This was true in apartheid South Africa, and it is true in Israel. This is so obvious to me that I’m shocked that anyone missed it, but they did, and do.

What seems lost on the Israeli Government and its supporters is that race-based systems don’t work because “separate but equal” doesn’t work. “Separate but equal” means “separate and inferior.” How Israel’s founders missed this is testimony of the power of a yearned-after dream based on the “specialness” of a people. What Israel’s leaders and their supporters have refused to acknowledge is a simple fact of human life: Systems based on the “specialness” of a people or a group fail because of built-in conflicts that end in resentment, demands for equal treatment, and sometimes violent confrontation. All they have to do is read history and pay attention to what’s happening around them. It’s all right there.

Make the system an inclusive one in which liberty and justice is for all and not just for the “elect”, and the conflict goes away. But this means giving up Israel’s Jewish identity. Israel and its leadership is caught on the horns of a very painful dilemma that will cause Israel to implode if they continue to defend it


Would there be a Palestinian problem if Israel treated Palestinians the way it treats Jews? No, because Palestinians would have been treated as neighbors and as partners in building a homeland for them both. But politics intervened and what we’ve had since 1948 is a divided land seething with resentment and violence. This has particularly been the case since the 1967 war when Israel took the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt respectively and occupied it, promising the Palestinian residents their freedom but never giving it to them. As journalist Robert Scheer wrote shortly after the Marmara incident, "There is no such thing as a morally acceptable occupation, and as the oppressed resist they will become more violent in their desperation. In turn the occupiers will show their true colors as oppressors."

The secret to stopping the violence and improving Israel’s security needs is, as Scheer so eloquently says, to treat Palestinians the same way as Jews are treated, with dignity and respect. There is no other way.

– George Polley is a Japan-based writer. He contributed this article to

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