Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Ethan Bronner and השמיניסטים - Demonstrating the Difference
October 6 was an interesting day in Connecticut. I went to two different programs related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, one a typical anti-Israel program at Central Connecticut State University and the other hosted by the Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford. The contrast illuminated the differences between those who are pro-Israel and those who are anti-Israel and the reasons why anti-Israel is a far more accurate description than pro-Palestinian.
The day after these two programs, my wife and I had some friends over to look at the Alan Dershowitz "The Case for Israel" video. One of the questions a friend asked brought the contrast further into focus and led to some thinking about encouraging people to recognize the need to treat the assertions of the Israel-haters with a healthy degree of skepticism.
The program at CCSU was organized by Jewish defamers of Israel and featured Israeli defamers of Israel. The speakers were Maya Wind and Netta Mishly, shown in the photo, two "Shministim" on an anti-Israel tour of the United States.
They showed an incredible naivete and eagerness to accept and spread the lies and distortions about Israel which are the mainstay of those trying to destroy the only free and democratic state in the MIddle East.
The Shministim are a small group of disenchanted high school seniors who wrote a disgraceful letter in 2008 declaring their unwillingness to serve in the Israeli army and defend their fellow Israelis, including their own families, from brutal Arab terror attacks.
Wind and Mishly are now touring America and promoting anti-Israel activity. In a way, they are poster children for why Israel deserves our support: they are effectively traitors, promoting the war against Israel. Most countries would probably throw them in jail, but Israel is so liberal they are free to work against their own country during a war and suffer nothing more than the well deserved disdain of their saner countrymen. They found a willing audience at CCSU, where many naive students have already been misled by a group of irresponsible faculty.
Their presentation was a combination of distortions, baseless accusations and outright falsehoods. In this, they were abetted by the anti-Israel moderator, who also did his best to stifle any expressions of skepticism.
One example: After the presentation, there was time for questions and answers along with statements from those in the audience. The moderator explained the questions/comments would be restricted to a minute per person, a restriction that was ignored as the first few people he called on did their best to reinforce the misrepresentations in the presentations.
I was actually surprised when he recognized me. I briefly talked about one forcefully stated but clearly false assertion: One of the presenters had talked about the Green Line being an "internationally recognized border" that was recognized by every country in the world but two, the United States and Israel. I pointed out the Green Line clearly was no such "border," noting the armistice agreements clearly stated they were not borders and United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 called for the negotiation of borders, something that obviously would be unnecessary if borders already existed.
I then referred to the way Israel had completely left Gaza to the Palestinian Authority only to have the Arabs there launch thousands of missiles at Israeli citizens, a situation no country can accept.
When one of the presenters responded by insisting there was an occupation of Gaza even if there were no soldiers in Gaza and that Israel blockaded Gaza, I tried to point out that Gaza also shared a border with Egypt and that arrangements had been made with the European Union to assure supplies reaching Gaza, but the moderator suddenly decided there could be no back-and-forth discussion -- after he had permitted such discussion as long as it was confined to Israel-bashing.
Later, another person in the audience who was not anti-Israel pointed out some important facts that had been ignored, was asked a question by one of the presenters, and the moderator actually tried to prevent the participant from answering the question!
If one was naive, one might expect the program put on by a Center for Judaic Studies to be a mirror-image, with the pro-Israel positions supported by lies and distortions and the anti-Israel positions stifled. But, contrary to the mantra of Jimmy Carter and his ilk, supporters of Israel are not afraid of the truth and don't feel the need to censor opposing viewpoints.
The program featured a single speaker, Ethan Bronner, the Jerusalem Bureau Chief for The New York Times.
Bronner has been criticized by some as being biased against Israel. My impression, based on his speech rather than his articles, is that if he did not feel bound by journalistic ethics he would be accepted as a moderately dovish supporter of Israel.
A major theme of his speech was that partisans of the Arab-Israeli conflict tried to paint things in black-and-white but reality is mostly grey. He would take an assertion or position from one side and balance it with one from the other side, invariably giving each both equal weight and treating each as if they were equally valid or invalid.
There were some items he mentioned which a knowledgeable listener would recognize showed the asymmetry of the conflict, showing the unwillingness of the Arabs to accept the existence of Israel no matter how forthcoming Israel was, but that required inferences derived by the listener.
One example was the way the Palestinian Arabs, even the so-called moderates, insist there has never been any Jewish connection to Jerusalem!
An intelligent, impartial observer who listened to Bronner's speech out of context, without an introduction pointing out its connection to the Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies and without understanding the asymmetry between the reasonableness of the pro-Israel community and the unreasonableness of the anti-Israel community would probably have thought it was hosted by an organization with no emotional tie to the conflict.
Unfortunately, this asymmetry does a disservice both to Israel, to the pursuit of truth and to the pursuit of peace.
Giving equal weight to truth and false distorts the truth. Always trying to find a middle ground between the outrageous, uncompromising demands of the Arabs and the already moderate proposals of Israel encourages the Arabs in their intransigence. (This was one of the fatal flaws leading to the disastrous failure of the Oslo Experiment .)
In "The Case for Israel," Dershowitz describes himself as pro-Israel, but also pro-Palestine and pointed out that if one divided a population into supporters of Israel and supporters of the Palestinian Arabs, most of the supporters of Israel would also be pro-Palestine but almost all the supporters of the Palestinian Arabs would be anti-Israel.
In other words, the conflict is between one side (Israel) which wants to live in peace with its neighbor and another side (the Palestinian Arabs) that wants to live without its neighbor. Choosing a middle ground between such adversaries is inherently unfair to the reasonable side.
There is a similar asymmetry between the ways the advocates of the two sides present their positions. The contrast between the programs at CCSU and the University of Hartford illustrates that contrast.
The supporters of Israel strive for balance and try to make their case based on the truth while recognizing the concerns and needs of the Palestinian Arabs. The anti-Israel activists, perhaps out of necessity, ride roughshod over the truth and do their best to stifle any efforts to inject reality balance.
The question a friend asked after viewing "The Case for Israel" was how could she get her friends to recognize those in that video were telling the truth.
Supporters of Israel generally try to stick to a positive message, pointing out the shared values of America and Israel, the democratic nature of Israel and the sacrifices and compromises it has made in pursuit of peace. They generally try to trust in the intelligence of people leading them to recognize the justice in the case for Israel and the lies and distortions of the Israel-haters.
This may be a little too naive. Perhaps supporters of Israel have to be more active in pointing out the lies and distortions of the Israel-haters.
There is the general tendency of people who listen to two views to believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. That's generally the case, but not when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.