Monday, September 5, 2016

Backhanded advocacy

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein, "Backhanded advocacy,"

Image from, with comment: West Bank: Israeli settlements - Since 1967, Israel has pursued a policy of building settlements on the West Bank. These cover about 2% of the area of the West Bank and are linked by Israeli-controlled roads. There are also large tracts of Israeli-controlled land designated as military areas or nature reserves.

Last week, a pro-Israel rally was held in Stockholm, organized by the World Zionist Organization and featuring speakers including Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, spokespeople for StandWithUs and the Jewish Congress, and members of the Swedish parliament.

Such an event is particularly interesting in Sweden, considering the problematic relationship the country has with Israel, and as such it received a lot of media attention in both countries, albeit in varying tones.

I took the time to read not only the speeches given, but also the comments posted on the event's website by those who were planning to attend. Several of the speeches, as well as many of the comments, offered support for Israel -- meaning that the speakers, predominantly those representing the Swedish government, started by offering caveats in which they condemned the settlements, before giving the rest of their speeches.

I find this constant need to reassure the world odd and slightly disturbing. It's like a tic that acts up whenever support for Israel is to be expressed. There is something disconcerting, if not pathetic, about showing support for a country by first listing its flaws, and starting a sentence with "I don't agree with ..." greatly diminishes whatever words of praise may come after.

I don't really care what someone feels about the so-called settlements. The political persuasions of an individual are far from the main factor. The main factor is this compulsion Israel's supporters feel to mention the settlements in every other sentence and disown them, as if they were the main point.

The thing is, they are not, and unfortunately pro-Israel activists keep steering the conversation into the hands of their opponents by choosing to focus on them. It would be incomprehensible if, for the sake of argument, we were to imagine a speaker at a pro-Swedish rally starting off by saying, "Although I vehemently disown Sweden's choice to allow its indigenous population grazing rights on private property, I still defend its right to exist as an independent state."

No one would ever say that. No one would ever feel the need to emphasize that Sweden actually shouldn't be annihilated, nor would they feel the need to justify its regional political decisions. It's absurd. But when it comes to Israel, we keep feeding the behavior, ever so grateful for any show of backhanded support.

As long as we incorporate or even accept the anti-settlement rhetoric in our pro-Israel work and our rallies, we are condoning and empowering the idea that the settlements are the main issue and that were it not for them there would be peace and harmony in the region. What is being offered on those podiums is not so much support as an excuse, and excuses are by their very nature an admission of guilt.

So what is it we are apologizing for? Where does the guilt lie, exactly? Children are not being murdered in their beds because of a kitchen extension in Samaria, nor are Jews being chased through the streets of Paris due to land disputes. But that is what our enemies would have us believe, and unfortunately we tend to play right into that narrative.

It would be preferable that we understood that we have a right to celebrate Israel and its achievements unreservedly, to simply show support, without the caveats and the amendments and the if's and but's and just-so-you-know's. But we don't seem to understand this, and that presents a problem for the core of the pro-Israel movement and the soul of what we do.

As a group and as a people, we suffer from low self-esteem, and this is no more evident than when we are trying to stand up for ourselves. As far as public diplomacy is concerned, we can't really expect anyone to be convinced of Israel's greatness when we seem to have a hard time believing it ourselves. We won't be able to sell anyone on our positive aspects as long as we continue to try to do so using negatives.

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