Saturday, May 1, 2010

Distorting Israel

One of the many ways our radical left uses to slander their country for the amusement of its enemies is by telling quarter-truths in a way that makes us look outlandish, while refraining from telling the three-quarters of the story (or the 95% of it) that would honestly explain what's going on. In the past I've mentioned their claims that we're passing all sorts of laws meant to shut them down and stifle free speech, end democracy and generally destroy the Zionist dream. The Guardian dutifully and gleefully runs with the story, of course.

Here's what I mean about dishonest lack of context. Yossie Verter, the top political correspondent at Haaretz, pokes serious fun at Netanyahu for blocking a law that's just beginning its meandering through the legislature. The sense of the fun is that everyone - even the legislators trying to push the law through - knows fully well that from here to there, from inception to law, the road is so long and twisted that the current stage is hardly more than grandstanding. Maybe it's a fine law, maybe it's foolish, but in any case, why in the world is the prime minster getting all worked up about it? He wants it stymied? Fine. Pull a string and have it die in committee. Or re-word it so it says the opposite of what it was intended to say. Or use any one of 3002 other tricks, all standard procedure, so that it never becomes law. Why squander political capital on making such a fuss?

That's the fist part of the article. The second says the same, from the opposite side. This time Netanyahu's bugbear isn't a talented lefty-MK, but rather a talented right-wing demagogue with almost no political base, whom Netanyahu just propped up by taking him extremely seriously, with no particular justification.

Now, take Verter's comments about Netanyahu and cut and past them so that it's the radical left, not the prime minister, and the acting out is happening in the foreign press, not in our internal discussion in Hebrew. Is there an occasional act of political grandstanding aimed against them? Yes. Is it likely to transform Israeli democracy into something not-recognizably democratic? Of course not. Do 100% of the participants in the grandstanding, from all sides, recognize this state of the matter? Yes. Is this the message being broadcast to the rest of the world? No. Rather the opposite. Is there any rational justification for spreading stories abroad which are palpably dishonest, in such a way as to besmirch your country? Not that I can see.

26 comments:

NormanF said...

Netanyahu has not been forgiven by Israel's Left for making Israel one of the world's 20 top performing economies when he was Finance Minister. They see no good in him and hate him in a way they never hated any previous Israeli Prime Minister. Even the fact he is seriously trying to reach an agreement with the Palestinians is not enough to make them reassess the situation. In the Israeli media, ideology in this situation does indeed work to the country's detriment.

Victor said...

I have no particular love for Netanyahu, but the abuse that he and Lieberman were subjected to in the US (and, I imagine, in the European media) immediately prior and post Israeli elections last year was incredible. It was so clearly a pre-emptive attack on their reputations, conditioning the US media and political class to regard them as anathema.

To this day, I don't understand why the left doesn't love Lieberman. He holds traditional Israeli left ideas: supporting two states with maximum Jews on one side, maximum Arabs on the other, fighting against the Rabbinate on matters of marriage, etc. The only thing I can think of is that he is not a left-bred intellectual. He didn't rise through some left-wing paper or TAU political department. They resent his simple Jewish nationalism, an artifact of Soviet conditioning that translates very well to Russian-speakers. And on the question of Russians in general, I think there lingers a nativist liberal sabra resentment against the Russian immigrants, their refusal to melt into the culture, or to shut up like the Arab Jews did for 50 years, and their tilt to the political right.

But that's just a theory of mine.

Barry Meislin said...

Is there any rational justification for spreading stories abroad which are palpably dishonest, in such a way as to besmirch your country?

But of course there is. That is, indeed, the whole point of the relentless exercise.

Global anti-semitism was such a terrific idea in the 30s and 40s that, 70 years onward, it must be given another chance to finish the work it not-quite managed to finish the first time around.

And since Israel is not a perfect society, it is a scourge and embarrassment for those who insist it must be perfect. And for those ethical paragons, if it ain't perfect, it has no right to exist.

Barry Meislin said...

The desired results..., leading inevitably to?....

Didi Remez said...

Here's how Maariv, not the "radical left" nor Haaretz, ran the story on Thursday. Are they grandstanding?

MKs Propose Outlawing Adalah
Ma’ariv (p. 12) by Arik Bender -- More than 20 MKs from the coalition and the opposition yesterday introduced a bill that is geared to outlaw non-profit organizations that are involved in activity that is geared to bring about the arrest of IDF officers and senior government officials overseas for war crimes. The bill did not specify the names of the non-profit organizations in question, but the law-makers did cite NPOs such as Adalah, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights and the Coalition of Women for Peace—all of which receive funding from the New Israel Fund.
“It is very saddening that in an era such as this one, when we ought to be united against those very same baseless accusations, we witness Israeli NPOs and organizations operating beneath the surface against Israel,” read the printed explanation to the bill. “Those same organizations help foreign organizations that seek to issue arrest warrants and indictments against senior Israeli officials, either by means of providing information—the preponderance of which is erroneous and even mendacious—to foreign groups, or by publicly agreeing and lending credence to the accusation that Israel is guilty of war crimes. Sometimes they even extend palpable legal assistance in drafting the arguments.”
The bill was submitted yesterday at the end of a tempestuous debate in the plenum about Ma’ariv’s expose about the involvement of the New Israel Fund in lawsuits against the IDF and top state officials. Among the signatories of the new bill are the former director of the GSS, MK Avi Dichter, former deputy GSS director MK Gidon Ezra, Chairman of the State Audit Committee MK Yoel Hasson, MK Ronit Tirosh, MK Otniel Schneller, MK Yaakov Edri, MK Moshe Matlon, MK Ophir Akunis, MK Tzippi Hotovely, MK Uri Orbach, MK Zvulun Orlev and others.
“The bill will put an end to the rampage by NPOs who are trying to subvert the state under the guise of human rights,” said yesterday Ronit Tirosh, one of the sponsors of the bill.
Upon the introduction of the bill, the Im Tirtzu movement announced that it was ending its campaign against the New Israel Fund. Ronen Shoval, the director of Im Tirtzu, said that he was pleased that his movement’s message had been heard in the Knesset. “We congratulate the MKs who picked up the gauntlet and intend to defend the IDF from the NPOs that are supported by the New Israel Fund,” said Shoval.
The forum of directors general of the human rights organizations in Israel, which includes Adalah—the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel— issued the following statement in response: “Instead of defending the values of democracy, the sponsors of the bill opt to trample it to dust. The bill—which seeks in practice to conceal information or suspected crimes—contravenes international conventions and the universal declaration about human rights that were signed after World War II and constitutes an unprecedented moral nadir in the Israeli legislature.

Barry Meislin said...

Just another dreary case of:

"Now gods, stand up for liars (slanderers, besmirchers, etc.).

Yawn.

Since slandering, lying and misrepresenting a country is "good," then attempting to prevent it from occurring is, ergo, "very, very bad" and of course---key word---UNDEMOCRATIC (mouthed, I'm sure, more in sorrow than in anger).

All so predictable.

(Were I from the Left, though, I wouldn't worry overly. Israel, one can be sure, will continue to be bashed unremittingly. You can bet on it.)

peterthehungarian said...

Barry you forgot to mention an other important factor motivating the besmirching of Israel in the foreign media. Take Shlomo Sand, an obscure professor in Tel-Aviv, whose hopes to become professionally known are nil, or look at Seth Freedman a fugitive stockbroker from London who has journalistic/literary ambitions without having the minimal required talent and intellect.
All they have to do is to exploit the European jelaousy and hate of a successful Israel and publish anything negative about the Jewish state - a book about the nonexistence of the Jewish people or a series of articles about Israel's real and imagined wrongdoings in the Guardian - and hocus-pocus - their vallets will be much thicker and their names will be well known in European intellectual circles.
The price...Who gives a broken bedpan?

Anonymous said...

Come on people, we can all agree that outlawing dissent and free speech - regardless of what we think of it - is harmful to democracy. Right? Right...?

Yaacov said...

Didi -

To use Alex's favorite word: you're being disingenuous. I never remotely said there shouldn't be raucous discussions here in Israel. So some MKs do their grandstanding, and Maariv calls them out for it, and your corner of society pretends to be extremely scandalized, and the opposite side kvetches that you're worried only about your own hides but when the shoe is on the opposite foot you're silent.... This is all fine. We love our political arguments and we're much better at them than, say, at sports. No problem.

So long as it's in Hebrew - that's our language - and for internal consumption. If the local reporter for the NYT wishes to write about it in English, well, that what reporters do.

The problem is when the insiders set up elaborate mechanisms to inform the world of a reality which doesn't exist. Say, by setting up a website to translate the parts of the discussion that fits their narrative. Or myriad other ways of disseminating their false stories. And then leveraging the false narrative for cynical purposes. (Or worse).

Didi Remez said...

Yaacov,

Couple of direct points:
1. Actually, Maariv is not calling them out, but grandstanding as the one responsible for giving the campaign the exposure required for the initiation of legislation.
2. Im Tirzu conducted English-language press outreach around its reports and the first ad in the NIF campaign was published in the Jerusalem post.

Two points on "disengenuity":
1. You continually attack groups for using the English language for domestic affairs, yet you write in English and are read by non-Israeli and non-Jews.
2. If grandstanding is the problem, then why are the original grandstanders, without whom their would never have been a story -- Im Tizu and 20 MKs -- criticized as well?

Respectfully,

Didi

Victor said...

This just shows the gulf of perception. Im Tirzu is not the story, certainly not in the Diaspora. Their claims and the inability to refute those claims by NIF is the story. They are the first organization to play by Israeli left rules, publishing their accusations in English, which I think was the point.

Barry Meislin said...

So let me try to understand this particular argument:

Yaacov: Using the English language to slander and smear Israel is objectionable.

Didi: But Yaacov, you also use English.

Have I understood this correctly?

(Note: I happen to agree with Yaacov's general point, assuming I've understood it correctly; though I must admit that Didi's point---once again, as far as I understand it---is a marvel of sheer acuity and sophistication, not to mention a model for communicative brilliance.)

Didi Remez said...

Yaacov,

Barry's point has traction if:
1. If you are referring to to the subjective "slander" rather than the objective "internal Israeli affairs."
2. If you have never written in English on an internal-Israeli affair, which had previously only been reported in Hebrew.

Didi

Yaacov said...

Didi (and Barry, for that matter) -

I first began publishing things back in the 1980s, in Hebrew, English, German Polish and Italian in that order.

To the best of my recollection, I never published anything about Israeli political matters until after the Palestinians launched their 2nd Intifada, in late 2000, and then it was first in German, then in English. Even when I published a book on the topic, in 2003 (English, then German) it touched upon Israel's radical left only in a peripheral manner. This didn't much change even after I began blogging (2007). I only began really focusing on the major damage these folks were causing after their wild accusations in January 2009 forced me to.

So I think almost a generation of publishing on other matters is a reasonable alibi, don't you Didi? The reason I focus on you people these days is because I have been dragged into it. I'm responding, doing my two bits to defend my country form the slander being disseminated with enthusiasm by some of my countrymen, and being adopted and and amplified with alacrity by our enemies.

I think that's pretty clear, and suggest that we now move on to other matters. This particular horse has been beaten beyond death.

Didi Remez said...

Yaacov,

No alibi required. For that matter, I would be much happier to discuss the "what" rather than the "how." One way to do that would be not to add to a point of mutual agreement gratuitous criticism of your partner's "associates." Another would be to discuss the merits of this legislation, for example, rather than where it was reported and how.

Respectfully,

Didi

Jon said...

First of all, I missed something - what agreement?

Second of all, you tried to compare Yaacov, with an audience of at MOST 100, with NIF organizations, which write for the UN. Really? (and I'm waiting for you to argue that it doesn't make a difference how big the audience is)

And finally, if YOU'RE so keen on discussing the "what," what are you waiting for? In fact, I'll start for you - the legislation is bad. If it goes through it would be far worse. But it won't, so who cares? The answer, it seems, is everyone looking to use Israel's somewhat over the top political discussion for political ends detrimental to Israel's interests. That, to me, is far worse.

Anonymous said...

Didi

I have spent the better part of one afternoon trying to find funding information on some of the organisations you list - to no avail - so if you want it to be known I suggest a bit of enhanced transparency

therefore again:

who funds the outfits you list here???????
Silke

http://www.benor.co.il/benor/team_member.asp?ID=2

PS: BTW you can easily stop my vertigo attacks if you start talking a bit less pompously

Didi Remez said...

Jon:

1. I seem to have more respect for Yaacov's influence than you do.
2. If that's Yaacov's position, then here we have a point of mutual agreement and this entire debate could have been avoided if that was the focus of the post.

Silke:

Your search skills are at a level that I can't help you. There are entire outfits devoted to publishing this data ad nauseum. If you can't do the groundwork, perhaps someone else here will be able to help you. I don't have an inclination to, especially since you constantly tell me that my language is too "pompose" for you.

Anonymous said...

thanks Barry for the Mearsheimer link
but do not miss this link below
... a picture says more than a 1000 words ...
- the flag is inspired by a NS-flag and belongs to a racist Boer organisation I am told
When Mearsheimer published the Israel-Lobby he insisted on his being a "good" guy, now he feels Ok being shown in a context like that.
My first asscociation of the flag was btw of a shattered Star of David framed in blood and I actually felt relieved to learn that it was "only" undead NS-stuff.
Silke


http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_0tkTIeDkTAg/S8HQrSQFlGI/AAAAAAAABjI/Hpz-uq2ligw/s1600/mearsheimer+for+websitesmall.jpg

Barry Meislin said...

And don't you, sometimes, wish the Jerusalem Post was printed in Yiddish rather than English....

(Or Swahili, or ASL for that matter....)

Anonymous said...

Didi
OK - here is the first one from bottom up
http://www.yesh-din.org/site/index.php?page=about.us&lang=en


- in a transparent organisation I would expect on the left hand side words like supporters, associates, donors, sponsors whatever under which headings I would find links to them where I then would have easy access to their mission statements
- I am not interested in googling them back and forth on the net using the deplorably minimal skills I have according to you. I am interested in the organisation itself making transparent who funds them the same way, let's say, an art exhibition links to its sponsors.

Let's start lighting things up a bit - tell me which of the organisations you link to on the site about you provides the information in the way really transparent organisations do.

Silke

Didi Remez said...

Silke: How old are you?

Yaacov said...

Silke -

Please don't answer that one, even tho in the past you've told us. He's way out of line.

Anonymous said...

Yaacov
thanks, but I didn't intend to
- don't worry as you also know I am a subaltern by profession and thus am insult-proof.
Silke

Didi Remez said...

Yaacov,

Thank you for underscoring my point. Silke consistently moves the conversation to questions regarding my life (as opposed to the issue I have commented on.)

I ask one ad hominem question and you blow up.

By the way, all of my personal and professional information is, as a matter of principle available online.

Didi

Anonymous said...

Sorry Didi
I didn't realize that a website that looks so business-like was part of your untouchables but to me the question I ask is relevant
- the way I read you hear you seem to me to be the champion of transparency, everything open on the table and so on.
Now recently I had quite a shock when I found out what the mission of the German protestant church is when funding an Israeli NGO. Therefore I considered asking the funding question of somebody with so many links to seemingly similar outfits quite legitimate only to find that you use every means in the book to avoid answering it.
For now I stop but when the next time around you should again demand openness from anybody except you I will ask it again because one of my heroes happens to be:
"... the little prince, who never let go of a question once he had asked it."

Silke