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Why Focus on Israel?

Submitted by Robin Messing on Mon, 11/24/2014 - 6:33am

Calling the comments sections of stories involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lively is an understatement. Most participants are far more interested in scoring comments feels more like watching a blood sport than engaging in a debate. Though there is nastiness coming from both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli participants, it seems the level of vituperativeness is greater from the pro-Israeli side. That's just my impression. I could be wrong. What I am certain of though, is that the number of people posting for Israel and against the Palestinians is far greater than the number posting from the Palestinian point of view.

Israel's defenders raise one point over and over and over again--Why is your criticism focused so much on Israel when there are so many worse countries in the world? Why are you so fixated on Israel? The implication--often boldly stated- is that anyone who focuses their criticism on Israel must be an anti-Semite or a "self-hating Jew."

Corey Robin, the chair of the Political Science department at Brooklyn College, is a member of a Conservative Jewish synagogue. He is also one of the most brilliant critics of Israel and a supporter of the BDS movement. His blog is absolutely MUST reading for anyone interested in how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has affected institutions of higher education in the U.S.  Dr. Robin just turned the tables on those who whine incessantly about criticism of Israel.  Dr. Robin writes:

Whenever I post about Israel/Palestine, I get insinuations and complaints about how I’m not posting about other struggles around the world. But when I post about a labor conflict—say, at the University of Oregon—no one asks or speculates about why I’m not also posting about labor conflicts in Tibet. So today I’m starting a new meme: Why are you singling out my posts on Israel/Palestine?

I have a two-part answer for Dr. Robin. The first part isn't really a direct answer to the question he posed. In fact, it is something of an answer to the complement of his question.  It is a PARTIAL, and I do stress partial, explanation of why I am critical of Israel and why I think Israel deserves special criticism. There is far more to be said about this, but I lack the time or patience to write an exhaustive explanation now. The second part directly addresses his question--some of those who defend Israel so passionately and attack Palestinians/Muslims so viciously (or even Jews willing to consider the Palestinian point of view)--may be Israeli operatives who are paid to bend the public debate in Israel's favor.


Israel's Reckless and Defiant Behavior Could Drag the U.S. Into a War Against Our Best Interests


Part of the reason why I focus my attention on Israel is to do my small part to prevent Israel from dragging the U.S. into a war that is not in our best interests.  Israel’s reckless aggression in burying a potential two-state solution by its constant settlement building could, in a worst case scenario, end up dragging the U.S. into an unjust war that we should have nothing to do with.

Fact: Israel’s own lawyer, Theodore Meron, said building civilian settlements in the West Bank would violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. For background information about the Meron opinion, see this article by Gershom Gorenberg, the Israeli historian who discovered this once Top Secret memo.

Fact:, the U.S. has been Israel’s sole protector at the U.N. vetoing 42 security council resolutions against Israel.

Fact, when we have asked Israel to stop building settlements where just about every other country in the world says it is illegal for Israel to build, Israel has in effect, told us to pound sand.

Fact: when we asked Israel to join us in condemning Russia for its land grab in Ukraine, Israel went AWOL. I guess it would be a bit awkward for Israel to condemn an occupation.

Fact: Israel has been doing its best to goad the U.S. into war with Iran for the past two years. The Nuclear Weapon Free  Iran Act was sponsored by 59 Senators. If it had passed it would have turned effective control of when the U.S. went to war with Iran over to Israel.

Fact: Sheldon Adelson spent $150 million trying to get Mitt Romney and several Republican Senate candidates elected in 2012.  Adelson, a close friend of Bibi Netanyahu, has advocated that the U.S. start nuclear negotiations with Iran by dropping a nuke on an Iranian desert and threatening to drop one on Tehran if we didn’t get everything we wanted. He has also proved that his primary allegiance is to Israel, not the U.S., by saying that he wished he had served in the Israeli military instead of the U.S. military and that he hopes his son serves in the IDF. (Watch this video starting at 5:05)  The same Sheldon Adelson also seemed to acknowledge that Israel is becoming less and less of a democracy.

At the conference, which also featured top Democratic funder Haim Saban, Adelson also said Israel would not be able to survive as a democracy: ‘So Israel won’t be a democratic state, so what?’ he asked Saban, adding that democracy, after all, is not mentioned in the Torah…

Fact: Haim Saban was at the same conference that Adelson was at when he pooh-poohed the idea of Israel remaining a democracy. Saban is one of the biggest donors to the Democratic party and said he will donate "as much as needed" to get Hillary Clinton elected president. He and Adelson threatened to buy the New York Times because he didn’t like the way it covered Israel.

Fact: There is a growing movement in Israel to remove or destroy the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque to make way for building the Third Temple. So far those who want to destroy these buildings are still a minority and Bibi Netanyahu has pledged to maintain the status quo. However, at least two members of his ruling coalition agree with this movement–Moshe Feiglin and Uri Ariel. The al-Aqsa Mosque/Dome of the Rock complex is Islam’s third holiest site. Removing or destroying these buildings would likely trigger World War III. If Bibi were serious about maintaining the status quo he should signal it by kicking these two out of his ruling coalition.

In short, Israel’s policies and its influence in Congress has a significant chance of dragging the U.S. into a war that is not in our best interest. Not one American soldier should ever have to die for an Israeli land grab. True, the probability of that happening isn’t high–but it is high enough to make Israel's behavior a special focus of concern.


Some Of The Most Vociferous Defenders of Israel On The Internet Are Probably Paid by Israel To Post Anonymously


At least some of those posting on message boards, Twitter, and Facebook are either paid Israeli agents, or at least volunteers organized by the IDF to post anonymously on blogs to influence public opinion.

The Jerusalem Post revealed that the IDF has organized a virtual army of volunteers to post Israeli talking points to Twitter and Facebook.

A new initiative launched this week by the IDF Spokesman’s Office on its blog provides an online option for those cannot or do not want to physically join the army, but nevertheless want to contribute to the well-being and future of the Jewish state.

“Have you ever wanted to join the military and fight to defend Israel?” reads the introduction to “IDF Ranks,” an online game that allows participants to sign up via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and earn points by disseminating as much positive information about the army and its activities as possible.

As players earn points, they are rewarded and allowed to move up through the ranks of the IDF, starting with the first level of “Green Private” just for signing up, and moving through to “Skilled Private,” “Veteran Private,” “Specialist Private,” “Green Corporal” and onward, until they pass through 48 different levels and accumulate 1 million points.


And this Haaretz article describes a program run by the Israeli Prime Minister's office that would fund students to post Israeli hasbara anonymously on social media  ("Hasbara"  may mean "truth" or "explanation".  Or it may mean "propaganda", depending on your point of view.) :

The Prime Minister's Office is planning to form, in collaboration with the National Union of Israeli Students, "covert units" within Israel's seven universities that will engage in online public diplomacy (hasbara).  The students participating in the project, who would post on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter on Israel’s behalf, will be part of the public diplomacy arm of the PMO, but would not identify themselves as official government representatives. . . .


The PMO is looking to invest close to NIS 3 million to recruit, organize and fund the activities of hundreds of university students, as part of the country’s public diplomacy effort. . . .

Seaman informed the public tender committee that the Prime Minister’s Office was interested in having the student union recruit up to 550 students with knowledge of foreign languages from Israel’s seven universities. The student union is to publicize the project among tens of thousands of students and be responsible for the screening process, which will include submission of resumes, submitting answers to questionnaires, providing translation samples and participating in individual interviews. It is also the student union that is to provide computers and work space for a project headquarters on each campus.

Seaman informed the committee that the diplomacy units at each university would take direction from staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, but its public face would be one of an independent student entity. “The entire idea of the setup is based on activity of students and by students,” Seaman wrote to the committee. “The idea requires that the state’s role not be highlighted and therefore it is necessary to insist on major involvement by the students themselves without any political link [or] affiliation.”. . . .

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said the main subjects that the campus-based units will deal with are diplomatic- and security-related issues, efforts to combat the boycott of Israel and anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel. The students will emphasize Israel’s democratic values, freedom of religion, pluralism and “other subjects that give expression to the Israeli government’s public diplomacy policy.” The Prime Minister’s Office added that similar efforts with students were successful in recent years. “This model significantly advances Israel’s public diplomacy capabilities so that concurrent with messages conveyed by the country’s official spokespeople, content will also be conveyed that has been developed and disseminated by the students that is adapted to social media.”


Now, it takes a LOT of study and skill to become a hasbara master. The really good ones combine a highly polished rhetorical skill with an in-depth knowledge of Iran's nuclear program and of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that can only be obtained through years of study. If they are trying to persuade a U.S. audience then they must also have good knowledge of the U.S. political and legal system as well. Knowledge of U.S. pop culture can aid the very best in scoring rhetorical points. It could take years of work to become a really effective hasbarist. It is hard to believe Israel would train students in hasbara and then not continue to hire the best of their trainees to work full time after they graduate. Some undoubtedly go on to become politicians and some become out-in-the-open PR flacks for the Israeli government. I can't prove this, but it seems likely that some continue their employment to post anonymously after they graduate as well. Israel would be wasting a valuable resource if it did NOT continue the employment of experienced anonymous hasbarists trained in social media. Say what you will about does not have a reputation of being wasteful and inefficient. By no means do I wish to imply that most people trying to bend the debate in Israel's favor are paid by Israel. I have no idea how many are on Israel's payroll. But here are some signs that may indicate a particular poster is a paid Israeli hasbarist:

  1. Frequency and length of posts: Most people who have a job not related to Israeli PR don't have time to post thousands of times, day in and day out, in favor of Israel (or any other country or topic for that matter.) If you see a frequent poster who is capable of whipping out long multi-page essays backing up his points at a drop of a hat, you may be dealing with a hasbarist.
  2. Exclusivity and persistence: If the poster only talks about Israel to the near exclusion of other subjects and if they tenaciously defend Israel, no matter how indefensible Israeli behavior is and no matter how contorted they have to make their arguments to do so, you may be dealing with a hasbarist.
  3. Depth of knowledge: Truly deep knowledge takes months or years of experience to obtain. If you are dealing with someone who has very deep knowledge of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and who knows where to find links quickly that back up his point, you may be dealing with a hasbarist.

I'm not saying that everyone who shows all three traits is on Israel's payroll. A given poster could be either retired or wealthy enough to be able to engage in his or her endeavors full time. But knowing that a specific poster could be on Israel's payroll may be a factor you might want to weigh when evaluating the veracity and balance of his or her posts. And knowing that Israel does indeed pay some people to post anonymously may explain why the debate over Israel on the internet is the most intense debate there is.