Monthly Archives: August 2014

Who’s winning the PR war in the UK?

(This article is based on an earlier version that was published in the 7 August edition of the UK weekly paper Jewish Tribune)

 

One London branch of the major supermarket chain Sainsbury's briefly removed part of its kosher foods selection due to fear of vandalism by anti-Israel demonstrators

One London branch of the major supermarket chain Sainsbury’s briefly removed part of its kosher foods selection due to fear of vandalism by anti-Israel demonstrators

Supporters of Israel are always bemoaning the terrible PR that Israel seems to produce. Supporters of Israel in the UK in particular are feeling hard pressed with this latest round of fighting again unleashing images of Palestinian Arab suffering into the media that pull on the audiences’ heart strings. None of the statistics that Israel’s diplomats can produce can match such emotive pictures. Huge crowds chanting anti-Israel and (increasingly) anti-Semitic slogans seem to be mobilized onto the streets at a moment’s notice. Celebrities (those people my father called, “famous for being well-known”) pontificate as to why Jews, amongst all peoples, have no effective right of self-defense. You would, indeed, be forgiven for thinking that support for Israel amongst the British public is being outstripped by support for the Palestinian Arabs.

The truth is more complicated.

UK versus USA

Let’s start with the bad news. In comparison to the United States, support for Israel in the UK is weak. Over the last twenty-five years, when Americans have been asked with whom they sympathize more in the Middle East, between 38 and 64 percent have favored Israel over the Palestinian Arabs. In the last decade, the highest numbers for support of Israel in Britain have peaked at a mere 20 percent. If the UK public had reached the lowest point of support for Israel seen in the US it would have been counted as a major triumph by supporters of the Jewish state!

There are a number of factors that create this distinct difference. One of the most striking is the fact that many Americans are believing Christians who are predisposed to see the Jews as protagonists in an ongoing biblical narrative in which the Children of Israel are the “good guys.” In contrast, the UK is largely a post-Christian society where religion (particularly Christianity) is treated with suspicion, especially by the elite. (This contrast can sometimes be vivid. When traveling in the US my beard, kippah and black hat make me a fairly obvious Jew. I can’t count how many times I’ve been accosted in public places [especially away from the large East and West Coast cities] by gentiles who loudly exclaim, “G-d bless you and your people, sir!” I’ve yet to have anything remotely like that experience in Britain.)

Is the UK simply more hostile to Jews than the US?

What’s the problem in Britain?

If you look at the polling figures for the last ten years, the answers show a more complex reality than simple hostility to Israel.

UK Yougov graph

Two major facts stand out. First, the levels of support for Israel and the Palestinian Arabs have remained fairly stable over the last decade. Events in the Middle East do temporarily affect attitudes, but don’t seem to make much of a long-term difference.

SAJID-JAVID_2880378b

Sajid Javid is a prominent UK Muslim politician who has been vocal in his support for Israel

Second, there’s not a large gap between support for Israel and the Palestinian Arabs (around 10 percentage points or less). Given that a little more than 4 percent of the UK population is Muslim, if that proportion is subtracted from the whole, the lead of support for Palestinian Arabs over Israel in the general public becomes even narrower. (Not all British Muslims are antipathetic to Israel – Economic Secretary to the Treasury Sajid Javid is a noticeable example of an outspokenly pro-Israel Muslim – but identification with Palestinian Muslims is high amongst their coreligionists in the UK.)

But the most significant point emerging from the polling is that the combined support for both sides is far less than the numbers of those don’t take sides. More than half of the UK public do not engage enough to take a side.

gray-quotation-marks-hi

More than half of the UK public do
not engage enough to take a side.

Half full or half empty?

Is the fact that half or more of the UK’s population isn’t particularly interested in Israel a good thing or a bad thing?

One might argue that, given the BBC’s biased coverage, it’s a blessing that things aren’t even worse. On the other hand, perhaps indifference to significant moral issues is itself a “soft” kind of evil.

Better, perhaps, to see the situation as an opportunity and a challenge. When our clear and simple messages are heard, they definitely make an impact. The current round of fighting in Gaza has been marked by a noticeable reluctance by some senior figures in the British government to condemn Israel. The Prime Minister made a forthright statement endorsing Israel’s right to self-defense on July 21. Sounding as if he was taking his words from the IDF’s list of talking points, he stated, “Those criticizing Israel’s response must ask themselves how they would expect their own Government to react if hundreds of rockets were raining down on British cities today.” The new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, was grilled on the BBC radio’s flagship news show “Today” on July 30. Despite presenter Sarah Montague’s efforts to make him say so, he stubbornly refused to characterize Israel’s actions in Gaza as “disproportionate”. Of course, he wouldn’t state that they were “proportionate” either, but then you can’t expect too much. No matter what statements spokespeople might feel constrained to make in the wake of hysterical news reports in the days ahead, they will be made against a background of acceptance of the most basic point of all: Israel is defending herself as she has every right to do.

The latest pictures on people’s TV screens as well as the day to day pressures of politics will cause spikes and troughs in the British public’s view of Israel and these variations are not insignificant but what is of overriding importance are the overall trends.

For a country with such a terrible image in Britain, Israel has demonstrated that it can make its case effectively. The real measure of success in PR for Israel in the UK will be gauged by what inroads we can make on the mass of the indifferent. That’s the challenge we must meet.

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by | August 22, 2014 · 2:06 pm

Who is the real criminal?

IDF_Military_Advocate_General_Hat_Badge

Cap badge of the IDF’s Military Advocate General’s department.

“Truth,” it has been said, “is the first casualty of war.”

Philip, 1st Viscount Snowden (1864–1937)

 

As I write this post it isn’t clear if the current round of fighting between Hamas and Israel is winding down or not. What is clear is that the Islamist terror group is waging  war as much by telling lies as by launching missiles and digging attack tunnels. Some of the lies are obvious (“Israel shot down the Malaysian airliner over the Ukraine to divert attention from its war on Gaza”!); others are less so.

One of the most significant and unrelenting lies, intended to brand Israel as an outlaw state, is that of accusing the Jewish state of “war crimes.” So common are the allegations of such crimes against Israel that many Jews are, in their ignorance of the facts, reduced almost to desperation, pleading, “We don’t care if they are crimes or not, we need to act this way for our own protection.” However, these particular lies are the ones with the least foundation, and the easiest to dismiss.

Laws of War

The great American Civil War general William Sherman famously said, “War is hell,” but for centuries civilized nations have striven to make sure that it is not unmitigated hell. There is a difference between the Mongol Hordes of Genghis Khan destroying all before them and the armies of Britain and France in the Napoleonic wars. The former used violence on all and sundry; the latter tried to limit the fighting to the soldiers and leave the civilians alone. Efforts to limit the inescapable brutality of war became known as the “Laws of War” by soldiers and as “International Humanitarian Law” (IHL) by human rights advocates. It’s important to realize these laws were developed not only by starry-eyed philosophers, but by soldiers. They are not intended to make it impossible to fight, but rather to limit the damage done by waging war. Once you understand what the laws actually state, you will realize that Israel does not infringe them at all.

Principle of Distinction

The most basic principle of IHL is that there should always be a clear distinction between the military and civilians. The military have the right to fight and must be treated as a prisoner-of-war if captured.

Civilians have no right to fight and cannot be targeted. The Hamas missiles that have been launched in their hundreds at civilian population centers are illegal, and every single one of them is an individual war crime.

Each side in a war has a duty to keep the military physically separate from the civilians.

Legitimate targets

It is not, however, just enemy combatants that can be legitimately targeted. Arms caches, supply routes and anything that supports the military can be destroyed. What of institutions and resources that are used by both the military and civilians? An example might be a railway line that is used to carry both civilian traffic and troop trains. In such instances the principle of proportionality comes into play.

Proportionality

Those in the media and the world of politics who point to the disparate number of Israelis and Palestinian Arabs killed and shout “Disproportionate” are demonstrating either their ignorance or their mendacity. There is no rule that states that you are allowed to kill only as few or as many of the enemy as they have been able to kill of your people. The concept of “proportionality” has to do with the degree of military advantage you can gain from destroying a military target despite the fact that nearby civilians will inevitably die.

Human shields

A very bald statement leaps out of the dry, legalistic text of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 28 states, “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” When the residents of a building are warned by the IDF that it is about to be bombed, and Hamas calls on civilians to bring their children to stand on the roof of the building, the IAF is within its rights to bomb the building and kill all of the “innocent” civilians on the roof! The responsibility for their deaths would be on their own heads and the heads of the Hamas officials who encouraged them to put themselves in harm’s way. Whether the IDF, would actually carry out such an attack is another matter.

The bottom line

The entire Hamas military strategy is based on war crimes. They illegally target Israel’s civilians while illegally hiding behind their own. On July 9, Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian Arab representative to the UN Human Rights Council, made an astonishing admission during an interview on Palestinian Authority TV.[1] Asked if the PA should accuse Israel of war crimes before the International Criminal Court, he responded, “The missiles that are now being launched against Israel, each and every missile constitutes a crime against humanity, whether it hits or misses, because it is directed at civilian targets… Many of our people in Gaza appeared on TV and said that the Israelis warned them to evacuate their homes before the bombardment. In such a case, if someone is killed, the law considers it a mistake rather than an intentional killing because [the Israelis] followed the legal procedures.”

It would be hard to get a clearer declaration of who is right and who is wrong in this matter from a more authoritative (if surprising) source!


(A slightly different version of this article appeared in the UK weekly Jewish Tribune on July 24, 2014)

1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjzS27ylCZ8

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