Israel through a New Frame

Famous picture frame around peephole from Friends TV show.I’ve recently written about the issue of conceptual framing and how Israel finds itself trapped inside a frame in which its neighbors’ actions never matter – only the Jewish state’s actions count. It is therefore always the Jews who stand accused.

Given the practical nature of this blog I’d now like to address what can be done to get out of this bind. When an audience is presented with pro- and anti-Israel frames, how do we make sure it will be the truthful one that they accept?

Why is one frame accepted and another rejected?

Whether the subject is Israel or anything else, the public are often presented with competing conceptual frames. Conceptual frames are the parameters of a discussion – what is included and what is excluded; what is considered relevant and what is considered irrelevant. What makes one conceptual frame win out over another? What makes one “stick” in the public consciousness and the other not?

Let’s consider two competing conceptual frames.

  1. Apartheid wall: Israel has built a reincarnation of the Berlin Wall through the middle of illegally
    occupied Palestine, separating Palestinians from their fields, work and families. Within it, Israel has created a ghetto like the one that Jews were confined within in Warsaw.
  2. Security barrier: In a reluctant response to a campaign of suicide bombings (148 over eleven years resulting in 1,565 deaths) Israel adopted a non-violent approach to protecting her citizens by creating a barrier (mainly of chain link fence) to keep the terrorists at bay.

At first glance, which of the two is more likely to draw in an audience? For someone who knows little or nothing of the facts, it is the first one that appeals.

Even though it is short on information, it is long on emotion and values. Furthermore, it assumes important parts of the argument as givens: there is a country called Palestine, it is occupied by Israel, and the occupation is illegal Also, note how it positions itself as part of a wider narrative that the reader already agrees with. Who isn’t against Nazism and the oppression of the former Eastern Bloc regimes? Who could possibly support apartheid?

In contrast, the second frame appears anemic, despite enumerating a horrifying number of murders. Its language lacks emotion, and it is light on values. Apart from a passing reference to non-violence, it does not connect to any wider narrative; neither does it assume much as a given.

Immediately we begin to see why one of the two frames is more likely to “stick” than the other. Each of them plays the part of a building block in its own larger narrative about Israel and the Middle East. The first one, however, plays a part in an even larger, overarching narrative about human rights and justice. Although the second one could be improved by doing more to engage the audience’s emotions, that wouldn’t alter the fact that it is almost totally cut off from any overarching narrative.

Let’s try to understand this key issue; the significance of narrative.

Story time

When individual conceptual frames fit into a larger structure, they create a “narrative.” This is a way of making sense of a complex myriad of facts by attempting to establish a story that they tell. Events in North America and Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century were so numerous as to defy categorization, but we group some of them into a structure called The American Revolution. This story has a beginning, middle and end, as well as clearly recognizable characters with motivations. It may even have a moral (the Triumph of Freedom over Despotism). It is made up of a number of interlocking conceptual frames (“No Taxation without Representation,” “The Boston Tea Party,” “Crispus Attucks,” “The Shot Heard Around the World,” etc.). And we can link this story with other ones (The French Revolution, The Special Relationship between the US and Britain) and even categorize it as one of the original genres of literature (comedy, tragedy, epic, etc.).

On one level we know that reality is more complex than a story, but on another level we are sure that history is not “just one damn thing after another.” The narrative is a meta-truth above and beyond the mere list of facts of which it consists.

True stories and fiction

The critical thinker will always be willing to test the story against facts. The narrative of the American Revolution is widely accepted as true (even by the British!). In contrast, there was a widely shared narrative in interwar Germany that the German army had not been defeated on the battlefield in World War I, but had only lost because it had been betrayed at home by capitalists, communists and Jews. It was called the “Stab in the Back”. It can be demonstrated to be counter factual by (among other key events) the entry of the United States into the war. It’s an example of a clearly false narrative. Yet huge numbers of Germans continued to believe it, contributing to the rise of Nazism
and World War II.

Between these two extremes are narratives that are harder to verify or falsify. Was the British Empire a vast conspiracy of colonial exploitation, or a mission to bring the blessings of civilization (including cricket) to the less fortunate? Perhaps both, perhaps neither, but rather something else entirely.

What’s the story of Israel?

Anti-Israel advocates have a story to tell about Israel. It’s a story of racism, expulsion and apartheid. It is a dramatic story, not least because it contains a striking dramatic element: “the persecuted turned persecutor.” Of course, it is a demonstrably malicious fiction. The fact that it is self-evidently a false narrative, however, hasn’t stopped it from becoming the dominant narrative about Israel in some surprising parts of the world.[1] The biggest triumph of anti-Israel advocates has been the acceptance of their narrative even by those who oppose it; that is, refuting the anti-Israel narrative has become the major content of the discourse of advocates for Israel.

Of course, the anti-Israel narrative needs to be demolished,[2] but even more importantly, it needs to be replaced with something better.

Since a narrative is made up of a series of interlocking frames, simply changing an individual frame alone won’t destroy the narrative as a whole. And it’s not enough to develop individual, accurate pro-Israel frames because unless can be placed into a larger narrative, they will be left as free-floating and unappealing.

Let’s learn a lesson from Israel’s enemies; the first step to achieving dominance for our narrative is to enunciate it clearly and repeat it incessantly. We especially need to present it when there is no counter-narrative in place. We have become so used to having to respond that we sometimes forget that it’s preferable to initiate. So, to use a modern idiom that tells us a lot about how people think: What’s the story about Israel? Here are some elements of the pro-Israel narrative.

Israel is a triumph of justice

Unjustly exiled from their homeland, the Jews struggled without cease to return. It took 2,000 years for the world to see the justice of their cause and let them go home.

Israel is a beacon of hope

The rest of the Middle East is an almost complete desert of freedom. The Jewish state is not only proof of the determination of the Jewish people to live as free citizens of a democracy, but is the one place in the region where over a million Arabs can live freely as well.

Israel shares the values of free nations

Just as _____ (fill in the name of your country) has a free judiciary, so does Israel. Free elections? Israel too. Governments criticized by the citizens? Israeli national sport!

The world must not abandon the Jews again

Within living memory the Jews came close to annihilation. Anti-Israel advocates say that the Jews should learn from that experience and stop “persecuting” others. Run that by me again? Surely the lesson from the Holocaust is one the non-Jewish world should learn: don’t stand idly by while the Jews’ existence is threatened.

The Jews are the canary in the mine shaft

And even if you haven’t learned the lesson of the Holocaust regarding your responsibility to the Jews, learn the lesson of your responsibility to yourselves. The evil forces in history might start on the Jews, but they never finish with them. What threatens the Jews today will threaten you tomorrow.

Internalizing the false narrative

My last blog post generated more discussion than any previous one (largely thanks to Elder of Ziyon). I chose not to approve one critical response because I thought it was too important to be relegated to the comments section. It reads (in part):

With regard to the conceptual frame: David, I have
news for you – in the eyes of the world we are the thief who has to
give back what it took from the others. There is no room for nuance in
today’s public diplomacy. Is that frame untruthful? Not exactly, not
enough in any case to take us off the hook. Because our hands are not
clean, as a matter of fact they are really very dirty. We are in a
homeland that is a homeland to other people as well, like it or not,
and we have to share it, which we don’t particularly want to. And as
long as we don’t we’ll be challenged, rightly so. Glad you try dealing
with it but as long as our hands are as dirty as they are, it’s a
losing proposition. And you know it.

The writer is a veteran immigrant with a distinguished record of public service, both military and civilian, and a prominent position in public life. It’s impossible to dismiss such a person as a “self-hating Jew.” Yet even such a person, with the gifts of a good intellect and an advanced education, has internalized the false narrative to a frightening degree. Although accepting that the anti-Israel narrative is “not exactly” truthful, he is left with the position that it is essentially true. The story is that Israel is a country whose “hands…are really very dirty.” As long as we (Israel) don’t share our homeland with another people, we will remain “in the eyes of the world…the thief who has to give back what it took from the others”; it’s right that we should be viewed that way and trying and oppose it is “a losing proposition.”

For a man of undoubted courage, who has done so much to serve his people and country, to so completely surrender to the false narrative, is evidence of how pernicious this narrative is and how vital it is to destroy it and replace it with the truth.

1 One hundred fifty million citizens of EU countries agreed with the assertion that “the Israeli state is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians,”

2 In a future blog post, I will show how to destroy a false narrative by exposing its internal flaws.

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Israel in the Frame

Supporters of Israel are often puzzled why facts that seem so significant to them are ignored or dismissed by others. We can understand how an ideological opponent of Israel can ignore inconvenient truths, but how can otherwise neutral people be so (apparently) blind? Must we believe that they are guilty of the same malice and mendacity so often displayed by opponents of Jewish rights? Is the new antisemitism really so prevalent?

The answer to these questions lies in the persuasion technique of conceptual framing. If you can understand it then you will possess the key to being persuasive about Israel.

Israel compared to the Arab world

Yes, but what’s that got to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The conceptual frame

A key principle of persuasion is known as the conceptual frame. What is it? To answer that question, let’s ask another one: Do you have a brother? If so, let’s ask a question about him – don’t worry, it’s a simple question, and you can (in fact you must) answer it yes or no. Here is the question: Is your brother out of prison yet?

Did you answer yes or no? If you responded either way, you fell for what logicians call the Fallacy of the Complex Question. Answering the question according to the “rules” means that you accepted the assumption that the question is based on–in this case, that your brother is a criminal. Of course, you could decline to answer yes or no and instead address the assumption. With such a transparent example it’s easy to see that you should shout out, “My brother is not, and never has been, a criminal!” But if you don’t do that, then you’ve let the questioner define the parameters of the discussion; you’ve let the questioner define a frame that includes only what he claims is relevant and excludes everything else.

Manipulation can go beyond the Fallacy of the Complex Question. Sometimes it’s hard even to identify the assumption that should be addressed.


Are you “pro-choice”? It’s hard not to be if the alternative is being “anti-choice” or “pro-coercion.” Maybe you are “pro-life”? Of course you are – if you weren’t you would have to be “anti-life” or “pro-death.” Here it’s the words used that define the parameters of the moral issue and predetermine the outcome of the discussion.

Posing a question

Sometimes a conceptual frame is created simply by raising an issue. E.g., Is candidate X really faithful to his wife? Ignoring such an issue may make candidate X appear evasive, even if the question of his fidelity was never relevant in the first place. If the issue isn’t initially accepted as being a significant one, then repeating it over and over again will endow it with significance.

Using images

General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes Viet Cong death squad member. Photo by Eddie Adams .

A shot heard around the world (but understood by almost no one).

Even a striking image can be enough to create a frame. When in 1968 a member of a Viet Cong death squad was brought before Republic of Vietnam’s Chief of National Police, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, he executed him on the spot, in conformity with the rules of war. American photojournalist Eddie Adams snapped the exact instant of death and won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo. Adams later commented, “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two, or three American soldiers?’”

Whether you use words or images, once you define the parameters of the discussion you have created a conceptual frame. At that point the outcome of the discussion is almost preordained.


The most extreme detractors of the Jewish state assert that the key to understanding the region (and perhaps the whole world) is to understand that “Israel is the problem.” Like the classical antisemite, the ideological enemy of Israel sees Jews and Israel behind everything that is wrong in the world (from 9/11[1] to shark attacks[2]!). Most reasonable people who are generally supportive of Israel’s rights can’t easily be seduced by the conceptual frame that defines a world where “Israel is the problem.” However, they can fall prey to its less extreme form of the frame, which can be summed up as “Israel is the issue.”

Those who have fallen for this scam often betray themselves unconsciously in language. The “Middle-East conflict” (as if there were only one) always seems to have Israel at its center. More thoughtful interlocutors, when challenged on this simple point, will usually admit that of course there are many other conflicts “but that’s what people call it and don’t get hung up on semantics.” (Tell them that they shouldn’t be anti-semantic.)

If Israel is the issue, then all problems can ultimately be resolved only by actions on Israel’s part . So factors such as widespread dictatorship and abuse of human rights in Arab states are ignored because they are outside the conceptual frame. Even when other factors demand attention, such as the carnage (and even cannibalism)[3] in Syria or upheaval in Egypt, they remain outside the overarching frame that Israel is the “root cause” of the conflict.

So who is right?

How can we judge which of the competing conceptual frames is right? Is it even possible to ask if one is right or wrong, or are there only “competing narratives,” as the post-modernists would have it? To make a judgment, ask yourself three questions:

Is the frame accurate?

To claim that the cause of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is Israel’s “occupation of Palestinian land” that began in 1967 is clearly untrue, since the Arab-Israel conflict was going on a long time before the Six-Day War.

Does the frame explain the past and present?

A subcategory of the “Israel is the problem” frame is the assumption that it was Israel’s “occupation” of the disputed territories that caused the conflict and that if that “crime” is ended, hostility to the Jewish state will end with it. Yet throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and particularly in the PA, official media consistently refers to “occupied Tel Aviv.” Even Israel within her pre-1967 boundaries is seen as the problem.

Are there any key facts outside the frame that invalidate it?

If someone claims that it is Israel’s “occupation of the Palestinian lands” that is the chief cause of instability in the Middle East (and perhaps even further afield), then the existence of a whole gamut of unconnected conflicts (inter-ethnic, inter-religious and between pro-democracy forces and despotic regimes) would give the lie to such a myopic frame.

Question the assumption: Israel is the issue

To successfully impose the“Israel is the issue” frame we have to stay inside a narrow focus that excludes anything beyond the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Within that narrow focus, Israel is a hulking Goliath facing a pitiful Palestinian Arab David. If Israel is powerful and Palestinian Arabs are weak (and within this frame they are the only Arabs that matter), then it makes sense that it is Israel that must act. The unspoken assumption is that Palestinian Arabs are inherently passive and can therefore only be acted upon. This has been the paradigm through which the world has viewed the conflict since before the Oslo Accords of 1993. But let’s question the assumption, and shout out: “Israel is not the issue!”

Denial of rights

Let’s reframe. The problem is not Israel, but the governments of the Arab world. The key to understanding the conflict is their despotism and denial of human rights. The rights of Jewish people to national self-determination in their ancient homeland are rejected by almost the whole of the Arab world. Now it makes sense to pull the camera back and Israel becomes almost invisible in the vastness of the Middle East.[4] Hence, the key to peace between Israel and her neighbors becomes securing the recognition of Jewish rights[5].

As I write this blog post, Israel is in the process of releasing convicted terrorist killers as the price to bring the negotiators of the Palestinian Authority back to the table. This is only the latest of a long series of concessions Israel has made to try to secure peace. Supporters of Israel sometimes become frustrated that it is only Israel that is ever called upon to make concessions and compromises. It’s even more galling when the constant pressure to concede comes from the nations that see themselves as friends and allies of Israel. This pressure will continue until the frame is changed.

If a different conceptual frame, that of denial of Jewish rights, were anchored firmly in public consciousness, the absurdity of Israel being forced to pay for the privilege of making concessions would be apparent to all. Why isn’t this conceptual frame accepted and well known? Well, don’t expect the PLO, Hamas or the Iranian government to propagate it for us. That’s a job no one will do except ourselves.

It is important for the advocate for Israel to refute lies about the Jewish state. It is even more important to constantly and imaginatively promote a new way of thinking about the entire region.

4 Ephraim Kishon once quipped that Israel is one of the few countries that is actually smaller than its own name.

5 The Israelis who negotiated the Oslo Accords sought to address this very issue by insisting that the PLO sign an explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist. This undertaking was secured but turned out to be as flexible as the other commitment, made at the same time, to renounce “terrorism and other acts of violence.”


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The EU’s inExcUsable ignorance

The Arch of Titus that celebrates the destruction of the Temple in 70CE by Rome

The Arch of Titus that celebrates the destruction of the Temple in 70CE by Rome

On July 17, 2013 the European Union announced new rules for dealing with Israeli NGOs. Henceforth, no NGO based over the Green Line (beyond what were Israel’s boundaries before 1967) could receive any funding from the EU. Furthermore, all future agreements between Israel and the EU are to include a clause stating that Israel accepts the European Union’s position that all territory over the Green Line does not belong to Israel.

The announcement met with widespread opposition in Israel, ranging across the political spectrum. The EU bureaucrats who had drafted these new regulations seemed shocked at the strong Israeli response to what was, after all, merely the formalization of existing European policy. They seemed unaware that the required clause, in effect forcing Israel to state that it has no claim on the Old City of Jerusalem and the holiest sites of the Jewish people, might upset anyone.

July 17 was, on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of Av, Tisha b’Av, the solemn fast that commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples and the conquest of the Land of Israel by first Babylon then Rome.

Israelis feel viscerally that Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, are their eternal capital. Most Israelis feel as well that the land that came under Israeli rule in 1967 is part of their homeland. The division within Israel is whether it’s right or worthwhile to trade some of that homeland for a peace deal with its neighbors. It turns out that what most Israelis feel to be right in their bones is supported by the law of nations. The problem is, not enough people know the facts.

The summer of love (and week of war)

In the summer of 1967, 100,000 hippies converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. They proclaimed their allegiance to love and peace (and several other things not suitable to mention in a G-rated article). Meanwhile, that same summer, over 7,000 miles away, four Arab armies poised to wage a war of annihilation against the Jewish state. Providentially, their plans were thwarted, and the war ended with Israel in control of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

These pieces of land have become known as the “occupied territories,” and Israel has come under a lot of criticism because of them.

But what are the occupied territories? Who do they really belong to?


The basic definition of “occupation” is when territory of one country is controlled by a different country’s army.[1] The words “occupied territory” have very negative connotations. The Nazi and Soviet occupations of huge stretches of Europe and the oppression that they imposed there were enough to give this neutral legal term a massive image problem. But occupation, per se, isn’t illegal. If Israel were occupying territory, that would not, in and of itself, be a crime. In fact, like the Allied occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II (which lasted until 1972!), it might be entirely legitimate.

What are the occupied territories?

At the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949, there were a few areas that were at that point controlled by Arabs. These are the pieces of land that would become known as the occupied territories: the Gaza strip (controlled by Egypt) and Judea and Samaria (controlled by Jordan). Gaza was never annexed to, Egypt. Judea and Samaria (now called the West Bank) were annexed to Jordan, but the international community never accepted the legitimacy of the annexation.[2]

Not really occupied

Remember, the definition of occupation is when territory of one country is controlled by a different country’s army. A key point is that it has to be the territory of a country for it to be occupied. Before that summer of love and war in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza did not legitimately belong to any other country. So when these areas came under Israeli control, they did not gain the status of “occupied territories.” This is not a matter of dispute in Israel. Every Israeli government, regardless of which parties were in power, since June 1967, has maintained the same position on the issue of alleged “occupation” – there isn’t one.

So, what are they if they aren’t occupied?

In 1922 the League of Nations recognized the Jewish people’s right to their ancient homeland.[3] They said that the Jews could exercise that right in the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.[4] From that day to this, no other nation has established recognized legal rights to any of that area.

The pieces of land that are referred to as the “occupied territories” came under Israel’s control in 1967, and Israel has a strong claim to them in international law.

Israel exercised its rights to these territories when, in 1967, it annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem (previously controlled by Jordan) into the Jewish state. But no other part of these territories has been annexed.

A short step

Occupation can be legitimate, but in most people’s mind it’s a short step (usually no step at all) from “occupation” to “illegal occupation.” If Israelis are illegally in control of someone else’s land, then the only issue to discuss is how quickly they can be forced to give up their ill-gotten gains. If they haven’t given them up yet, then they are unrepentant criminals who should be punished.

This theme – Israel the outlaw country – is one of the main planks of the campaign to delegitimatize the Jewish state.

  • But what if these pieces of land are not illegally occupied?
  • What if they are not occupied at all?
  • What if they are areas that Israel has a strong claim to?
  • What if, despite that strong claim, Israel has refrained from exercising its claim over the territories to keep open the possibility of trading land for peace?

Why this matters so much

Failing to understand Israel’s claims to the disputed territories can make you blind and tone deaf at the same time. The EU’s bland assertion that not only doesn’t the Western Wall belong to Israel but that Israel must be required to state as much, repeatedly and explicitly, shows that the Europeans either don’t understand how Jews feel about their ancient homeland or don’t care. Israel is not some shameless criminal brazenly holding onto its booty. It is rather a brave peace seeker. Against enormous provocation, Israel is still offering the possibility of giving up part of its patrimony in exchange for the greater boon of peace. No Israeli government is going to sign a piece of paper stating in effect that Israelis are criminals when the law says otherwise. The lie of “illegal occupation” has wrought terrible damage on Israel’s standing in the world. Those who promote this claim are deceitful, and those who fall for it are often simply ignorant. It must be refuted at every opportunity.

Leaders of European states sign the treaty that established the European Union in Rome in 1957

Leaders of European states sign the treaty that established the European Union. Rome, 1957

On the ninth of Av, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and exiled the Jewish people from their land. Let us hope that the European Union’s announcement on that same date almost two thousand years later is only a fading echo. One would think that nearly two thousand years would be long enough for the world to realize that Jerusalem does indeed belong to the Jews.

1 The law relating to military occupation is the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949). Part 1: General Provisions. Article 2 states that the Convention shall “apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party [a state].” This language echoes the title of section III of the Hague Convention (1907) that states that it applies to “military authority over the territory of the hostile state.” International law has always assumed that occupation is something that can only happen in the territory of a sovereign state.

2 In fact only two countries accepted Jordanian rule over Judea and Samaria; Britain and Pakistan. Not a single Arab government accepted it.

3 The Council of the League of Nations voted on July 24, 1922, confirming a decision reached at the San Remo Conference on April 25, 1920.

4 The original territory of the Mandate was much larger and included present-day Jordan as well, but Britain reserved the right to exclude the area east of the Jordon River from the Jewish National Home provision and the League of Nations confirmed Britain’s decision to do so in 1922.

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The silence of (and about) Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar

"Suspected collaborator" dragged through streets of Gaza behind motercycle.

Hamas Justice System at Work

I was in the UK recently and spoke for Jewish students at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Within days of me being there, a charity ball they had planned was forced into hiding by threats to the hotel that was hosting it. The “crime” of the students? Raising money for the JNF and the UK branch of Friends of the IDF.

In the controversy that followed, I posted a comment that described the protestors against Israeli charities as “anti-Israel”. Someone else asserted that such groups are not “anti-Israel” but “pro-Palestinian”.

Are they? Is there a difference between these concepts, or are they the same thing? And does it matter?

Positive vs. negative

As a student activist in the UK more than three decades ago, I (like all my peers) was up against a group called BAZO (the British Anti-Zionist Organization). This fringe group would be worthy of no more than a nasty little footnote in history[1] except for one amusing recollection; the group had such a negative image that its acronym briefly became a synonym for being unhinged. (“What’s wrong with him? He’s acting all BAZO!”)

BAZO exemplified an era in which enemies of Israel were at least frank about what they wanted: the denial of the national rights of the Jewish people that had been championed by the Zionist political movement and concretized in the rebirth of the Jewish State of Israel.

The very name of this group proclaimed the negativity that it embodied. It was extreme, antisemitic and not for anything. It stood in favor of obliterating the Jewish state, and it was unpopular.

Times change and people learn from their mistakes.

By 1981 BAZO had changed its name to BAZO-PS (British Anti-Zionist Organization – Palestine Solidarity). It was too late for that particular fringe group to change its image and salvage any relevance. Perhaps it was the unfortunate choice of the initials “PS” that conveyed the reality that their purported solidarity with Palestinian Arabs was only an afterthought. Nonetheless, you would be hard pressed to find any organization in the Western world today that is so naive as to title itself “anti-Zionist” or “anti-Israel”. It’s bad PR, and it’s bad for your image to be viewed as negative.

Today, in the UK, a much more dangerous (because it is more persuasive) group is active. They are called the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), and proclaims that they campaign “for peace & justice for Palestinians, in support of international law and human rights & against all racism”. Naturally, they support the international BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel, which calls for punitive measures against Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights”.

Around the world you will find groups that operate under similar titles. PSC has Irish and Scottish incarnations. The Canadian group Canada Palestine Support Network seems to have taken over from Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, a university-based group that once shut down the Concordia campus in Montreal because Binyamin Netanyahu was about to speak there. Australians for Palestine is obviously the antipodal manifestation. In the US the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights (AAPER) operates as a lobby on Capitol Hill while ubiquitous Students for Justice in Palestine groups operate on campuses around America.

All these organizations have learned the lesson that presenting oneself as a merely anti-Israel group limits one’s appeal to the hard core of Israel haters.

Better to be for something than against something.

Hiding the truth?

But is the description of the protestors being “pro-Palestinian” justified? I think there’s a simple litmus test to apply: Does the organization in question express sympathy for Palestinian Arabs who face difficulties that can’t be attributed (rightly or wrongly) to Israel?

One that does fit that description is the Independent Commission for Human Rights. Although harshly (and often unjustifiably) critical of Israel, it doesn’t stint in reporting on the mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs by the Palestinian Authority, in either its Hamas or Fatah versions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t access their reports directly via their own website, but here is some media coverage of their latest report on PA abuse of power:

A search on the name of the organization via Google News threw up only five citations, four of which were from Israeli news media. The exception was Palestine News Network, which caries a number of stories on PA abuse of power.

The first article cited above carries the shocking account of Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar of Hebron. He was detained and tortured by the PA’s Preventive Security Service to the point where he lost the power of speech. If you do a Google search on his name, however, the total number of results is unlikely to crash your computer. I found only the original Jerusalem Post report and a quotation of it in a conservative web magazine.

Check out the websites of the “pro-Palestinian” groups I listed above. Not one of them carries any information about Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar, nor the eleven Palestinian Arabs who died under PA detention. Haroun Abu Arrah and Omar Arqoub, two Palestinian Arab journalists who have been repeatedly harassed by the PA, won’t be found on any of them either.

We understand why Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar is silent; he was beaten into it by the torturers of the PA. But why are all the organizations that claim to be on his side also silent?

It’s nothing new. During the Battle of Gaza, when Fatah and Hamas forces were killing each other as well as uninvolved civilians, the whole panoply of “pro-Palestinian” organizations couldn’t even muster a Rodney King style, “Can we all just get along?”

Why does it matter?

Let’s return to my original question: Is there a difference between being “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Israel, and if so, does it matter?

As we have seen, there is a disadvantage in being perceived as anti-Israel if you are trying to appeal to an uncommitted audience. If someone seeks an advantage, it’s fair to check that they are entitled to it. If you want to buy liquor you need to be prepared to be carded, if you want a senior discount you have to be willing to reveal your age. Obtaining a privilege that you are not entitled to is cheating. The vast majority of “pro-Palestinian” groups are cheats, plain and simple.

This deception also matters because of the overall conceptual frame of the discourse. Is it between two partisans of competing sides, each seeking their own rights (pro-Israel versus pro-Palestinian)? Or is it a dispute between those seeking legitimate rights (pro-Israel) and those seeking to deny those rights (anti-Israel)?

Add to that the fact that those who seek peace between Jews and Arabs are arguably the most “pro-Palestinian” groups that can exist, and we reach the counter-intuitive conclusion that the State of Israel is likely the most pro-Palestinian entity in the Middle East.

As is so often the case, presenting Israel’s position effectively starts with telling the truth. Those who oppose the Jewish state are seldom honest.


BAZO has (thankfully) almost completely vanished. For a flavor of what it was like, see this article about one of its founders:

1 Some high points of their activities included: photographing Jewish students with threats that the pictures would be sent to the PLO in Beirut, forging links with the National Union of Iraqi Students while it was persecuting pro-democracy Iraqis in the UK, and succeeding in having BAZO’s literature distributed by the neo-Nazi British Movement.


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Let’s get this settled! (Part 3)

Lets’ Get This Settled

Settlements: A Good Idea or a Bad One?

We’ve spent two installments of this blog[1] looking at Israel’s legal claims to the disputed territories[2] . We reached the conclusion that Israel’s settlements are not illegal under international law and that the legal status of “belligerent occupation” doesn’t apply to the disputed territories [3]. If the conclusions we have reached are right, what is there left to talk about?

In the face of such evidence, can anyone argue that Israel should cede territory? The answer is, of course, yes. Just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean it would be wise or just to insist on your right. In Israel an entirely legitimate debate goes on regarding the wisdom and/or morality of the settlement enterprise that has nothing to do with the legal status of the settlements or Israel’s territorial claims.

The proponents of settlements:

  • Point to the historical claims of the Jewish people (Jews come from Judea).
  • Assert the need to retain at least parts of the territories for security reasons.
  • Argue that, without Jews inhabiting the areas, it would be much harder to retain them in the face of international pressure.

The opponents of settlements:

  • Assert that at some point Israel will have to withdraw from the territories, since incorporating them into Israel poses a danger to Israel’s Jewish majority due to the higher Arab birthrate.[3]
  • Maintain that the disparity between the liberal democratic legal system prevalent in Israel and the modified system of martial law in effect in areas of Judea and Samaria under Israeli control are unsustainable in the long run.
  • Agree with proponents of settlement that the very presence of Jews in the territories make it more difficult for an Israeli government to withdraw from Judea and Samaria; however they see that presence as an obstacle to trading land for a peace agreement.

The fact that Israel has already actually uprooted settlements can be interpreted at least two ways. It could be viewed as proof that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are no more of an obstacle to withdrawal than those in Gaza were. On the other hand it can be argued that, if the uprooting of 8,500 Jews from Gaza was a national trauma, then the evacuation of 300,000 or more from Judea and Samaria is an impossibility.

What Are We Arguing About?

Despite the very real controversy within Israel regarding the settlement enterprise, it should be clear by now that it is not the “root cause of the conflict” as it is so often presented. The “1967 borders” were not borders at all but only ceasefire lines and were never recognized as borders by Israel, the Arab states, the PLO or anyone else[4]. When the PLO signed the Oslo accords with Israel in 1993, there was no mention of Israel’s settlement as being “illegal” and no requirement for any restriction on building new settlements, much less dismantling the existing ones.

If the debate on territorial concession and the related issue of settlement was only about the wisdom and/or morality of these policies, it would be a legitimate one. But the assertion that Israel has no claim on the territories and that settlement activity is inherently illegal strikes at the heart of Jewish claims (religious, historical and legal) to any part of the Land of Israel since there is no firm basis to differentiate Jewish rights on either side of the “green line.”

Since the debate over settlement almost always assumes that Israel has no rights in the territories, it forms the thin end of the wedge of the delegitimatization movement… unless it is firmly couched in terms of whether it is wise and/or just for Israel to insist on her full rights.

There are advocacy consequences to the way in which the debate is framed. If the assumption is that Israel is a thief who has taken what belongs to others, then the Jewish State can expect little, if any, credit for reluctantly giving up what she stole. International reaction to the withdrawal from Gaza (a traumatic and divisive episode for Israeli society) seems to bear out this conclusion.

Advocates for Israel, regardless of where they stand on the issue of territorial concession, have a duty to insist that this distinction (between the false allegation of illegitimacy on the one hand and the legitimate issues of wisdom and/or morality on the other) is always clearly made. There are precedents for insisting on this sort of clarity of public discourse.

Other areas of public discourse infected with bigotry

Take the issue of illegal immigration, for example. This has been a legitimate matter of debate in many Western countries over the years (and has recently become one in Israel). Reasonable people may differ over the relative weight to be attached to the problems caused by illegal immigration and the benefits the immigrants have brought to their host societies. Equally one can argue over the duty of compassion to the immigrant versus that owed to the native. The conclusions one draws from such analyses will lead to policies that are more or less welcoming to the illegal immigrants. However, the issue of immigration has been so widely used as a cover for racism that it is reasonable to insist that those who argue (say) for the repatriation of immigrants first clearly reject the racist attitudes that have come to infect the debate. The price one must pay to make an argument that calls for such policy is the explicit rejection of bigoted assumptions about Africans or Latinos or whoever the local ethnic communities of illegals are.

Similarly, we must insist that those asserting that Israel must cede territory clearly reject the assumptions of delegitimatization that underlie so much discourse about settlement policy. It may be unfair to the conservative opponent of illegal immigration to make them prove that they are not racists, but it’s necessary and justified. It may be unfair to the liberal opponent of settlements to insist that they prove that they are not a delegitimatizer, but to do so is equally fair and necessary.

1 Let’s get this settled! (Part 1), Reclaiming the frame and Let’s get this settled! (Part 2) What’s the law?.

2 While we were doing so an official Israeli government commission of enquiry headed by retired Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy reached the same conclusions we have. Not surprising, since these positions have been the official stance of every Israeli government – regardless of political color – since 1967.

3 The facts relating to birthrate and population figures are disputed. A 2006 study by the BESA center of Bar Ilan University suggested that Palestinian Arab population figures in Judea and Samaria were overestimated by one million and that figures for population growth rates were significantly exaggerated (


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Let’s get this settled! (Part 2)

What’s the law?

Almost no subject in contemporary Israel generates as much controversy (at home and abroad) as the issue of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Let’s try and take as objective a view of the matter as we can. At this stage, let’s ask ourselves only one question; are Israel’s actions legal or not?

Legal status of the Territories: Occupied or Disputed?

Between it’s reestablishment in 1948 (after a hiatus of about 2,000 years) and the Six Day War of 1967, the Jewish State was a tiny thing. At its narrowest point only nine miles of Israel lay between the Mediterranean Sea and the boundary with Jordanian controlled territory. Jerusalem was divided.

On June 5, 1967 Israel went to war to lift the illegal blockade on Israeli ships traversing the Suez Canal[1]. In less than a week, Israel extended its control over Gaza[2], the Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights.[3]

Israel distinguishes between greater Jerusalem, which has been annexed to Israel by Act of the Knesset, and the rest of the Territories that have not. Arab residents of Jerusalem are entitled to certain rights (they can vote in municipal elections, receive National Insurance payments etc.) and can obtain other rights by requesting Israeli citizenship. The rest of the world makes no such distinction, and when they speak of “occupied territory” they are including the Old City, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount as well as Jerusalem suburbs such as Ramat Eshkol and Gilo.

The Western Wall at night

Occupied Palestinian territory?

It has been the position of every Israeli government since 1967 that the Territories are undistributed areas of the Mandate of Palestine to which the Jewish National Home provision still applies. As such, Jews have no more, or less rights to them than to Tel Aviv. The 1948 ceasefire lines were never recognized by anyone as permanent borders and represented only the places where Arab armies were halted in their attempt to destroy the nascent Jewish state. The Territories are areas of disputed sovereignty to which Israel has a strong claim under International Law.

If the Territories are areas without a prior, legitimate sovereign, then they cannot be “occupied territory” under the definition of customary international law.[4] Hence Israel’s assertion that she is not bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Geneva IV) when dealing with the Territories and their residents. Nonetheless, Israel has committed to apply the humanitarian provisions of Geneva IV, without prejudice to its claim on the Territories[5].

Others point to the sweeping nature of Geneva IV[6] as justification for its application to the Territories. Israel retorts that the very same clause cited limits the application to conflicts between states.[7]

Settlements: legal or illegal?

The legal status of the Territories is not the end of the matter. If they are not occupied, then Israel may have a strong claim to settle its citizens there. After all, the Mandate called for the “close settlement” of Jews on the Land.

But what if the Territories are, contrary to Israel’s position, occupied? And what of Israel’s unilateral decision to apply the humanitarian provisions of Geneva IV?

Article 49

The main accusation leveled against Israel (aside from incoherent rants about “stealing land”) is that the movement of Israeli citizens to the Territories constitutes a breach of Article 49 of Geneva IV. The relevant section of the text reads:

The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

It’s this clause that is the basis for the accusation that the settlements are illegal. Its unequivocal and broad language seems to support such a position. Yet Israel’s High Court ruled that Article 49 clearly could not be taken as forbidding any population movement at all. It ruled that, since Geneva IV was drafted immediately following WWII, it should be understood in that context. The Nazis engaged in mass, forced population transfers in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary before and during the war in order to displace the local populations and even endanger their separate existences as races. Indeed, the International Red Cross’ authoritative commentary to the Convention confirms that interpretation. Regardless of ones views on the wisdom or morality of settlement activity, it hasn’t displaced a single Arab from their homes in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

1 The fact that Arab armies were massing at Israel’s borders with the express purpose of annihilating the Jewish state was not, technically, the legal basis for the war.

2 Most Western Governments are now non-committal on the issue of Gaza’s status. Campus radicals may use terms like “Gaza Ghetto” and “the world’s largest open air prison”, but even the UN’s official (“Palmer”) report of September 2011 recognized that “The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law”.

3 The Sinai was ceded to Egypt under the 1978 peace treaty with that State. Israel unilaterally withdrew its civilian population and troops from Gaza in 2005. Since then Israel has accepted no responsibility for the residents of Gaza, although she has not abandoned her theoretical claims on the area. The issue of the Golan Heights is a complex one and seldom comes up in debate. For all practical purposes the discussion on settlement is now limited to Judea and Samaria.

4 The Hague Conventions (1907) and the Geneva Conventions (1949) address issues of occupation of the territory of one state by the armed forces of another state (the “high contracting parties” mentioned in the conventions are sovereign states).

5 Despite many claims to the contrary, Israel’s own High Court of Justice has never ruled on the applicability of Geneva IV to the Territories. Although the court has invalidated certain orders and actions of the IDF on the grounds that they contradict Geneva IV, they have done so on the logical grounds that the orders were issued under the assumption that they comply with the convention. If they are found to not comply, they are void on what might be called a “can’t have your cake and eat it to” principle.

6 “the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict…”

7 “…which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties” Both citations from Article 2.

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Let’s get this settled! (Part 1)

Reclaiming the frame

One of the major achievements of anti-Israel advocates has been to focus attention on Israel’s presence and actions in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) and Gaza. It has become widely accepted, even amongst Israel’s friends, that Israel simply being in the Territories is the cause of the conflict and Jewish communities are a positive crime. The obvious anachronism of this view (the conflict existed before Israel entered the Territories, so her presence there can hardly be the cause of the conflict) does little to weaken a force drawn from repetition.

Ceasfire lines, not borders.

These were ceasefire lines and were never recognized as borders by any of Israel’s neighbors.

Recently the BDS[1] movement has sought to use the Territories as a beach head to a full-fledged campaign to boycott Israeli products and services. Produce and products from the Territories are forbidden by some European governments from bearing the “Made in Israel” label. At the time of writing, the South African government is proposing to have such products labeled as being from the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Attacks on Israel’s presence in the Territories provides the perfect cover for attempts to delegitimatize Israel in general. It’s a short step from defining Israel as being a criminal state (for the “illegal occupation”) to being an illegitimate state (due to it being “born in sin”). It’s also a tactic with enormous potential to divide supporters of Israel; continued debate on the future of these areas is a real issue in Israeli politics and it’s therefore neither desirable nor possible to forbid Diaspora Jews from taking sides on the issue.

The way to draw the poison from the debate is to change the way in which it is framed. The discourse is currently framed as:

  • Israel is illegally occupying an area that belongs to someone else.
  • Israel must immediately withdraw, because every moment she remains there is another crime.
  • When Israel eventually, reluctantly, repents of her crime of occupation and does withdraw, she can expect neither goodwill nor concessions as a result.

We have to reframe the discourse so that:

  • Israel has a strong legal and historical claim to the Territories.
  • Israel is in control of the heartland of the Jewish people and the cradle of our civilization. This is an area that we claim as ours.
  • Notwithstanding her strong legal and historical claim to the Territories as part of the homeland, Israel has already compromised on their status and is willing to discuss further concessions if it will promote the even greater value of peace.

In short, we need to transform the discussion from one about whether settlements are legal or not, to one about whether they are a good idea or not.

(I’m breaking with my usual format to write much more than usual post on this topic. Since I’m suggesting a rather radical shift in the way we discuss the issue I think we need to look at the issue in more depth than can fit into one post. I’ll post two more installments of this over the next couple of weeks. If you’ve grasped the essential idea, you can stop here. If you want more detail, please read on.)

1 Boycott, divestment and sanctions.


Filed under Advocacy strategy