Why did the media collaborate with Hamas?

Hamas press conference?

Hamas press conference?

With the latest round of fighting in Gaza over, it’s time to take stock of what can be learned from the conflict. In Israel the military and diplomatic lessons will be examined. Abroad, where most people get their information about the conflict,  there is one key aspect of the information war that we need to confront: How did Hamas largely succeed in managing the media output from Gaza?

Hamas’s agendas

The Palestinian Arab branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (for that is what Hamas is) had two clear propaganda objectives in relation to the Western world:

  1. To portray itself as the righteous victim.
  2. To portray Israel as the powerful and merciless aggressor.

Why did the Western media collaborate with Hamas’s goals? To answer this question we have to know a little about how the media operates in Gaza.

The parachute brigade

Israel has a high number of resident correspondents, certainly more than any other nation in the region (the surrounding countries are not exactly havens of free press). But the number of resident reporters is dwarfed by the numbers who are “parachuted” in for brief periods to cover hot news like the recent fighting in Gaza. These journalists are usually ill informed on the regions they are covering, live and hunt in packs, and are consequently disproportionately dependent on local Arab “fixers” to provide access to the scene of news events. In Gaza the press corps were hosted by Hamas and their agents and funneled toward the scenes that the Islamists wanted covered.

Experienced journalists are used to this sort of manipulation. It is par for the course for reporters to be shown only what their hosts want them to see. They would, however, normally take such tableaux as the jumping off point for a more independent investigation. This almost never happened in Gaza, and it begs the question why hard-boiled reporters were not willing to strike out on their own to find the stories that were not being spoon-fed to them.

Brave journalists?

Widlake and  Mandela meet in secret in 1961

Widlake and Mandela meet in secret in 1961

In 1961, a reporter for the UK’s Independant Television News (ITN) in Johannesburg, Brian Widlake, risked his freedom and perhaps more by arranging a clandestine interview with Nelson Mandela. The man who would go on to become the first black president of South Africa was at that time a wanted fugitive. If caught, Widlake would have been imprisoned under the apartheid regime’s tough censorship laws for giving a platform to the African nationalist leader. Nonetheless, he braved the threat to get the story out.

One of the more dramatic pieces of news footage of the recent conflict in Gaza featured an Indian reporter speaking in hushed tones from the balcony of his hotel room while his cameraman cowered inside. The pair were daring to cover the erection of an Hamas rocket launcher right outside their hotel in the middle of a civilian residential area (a war crime in and of itself). They were among the very few foreign pressmen who risked the wrath of Hamas by showing such scenes. Isra Al-Mudallal, head of foreign relations in Hamas’s Information Ministry, admitted that those who recorded such scenes were expelled from Gaza. In words that would suit a Mafiosi, he stated, “The [Hamas] security agencies would go and have a chat with these people. They would give them some time to change their message, one way or another.”

The code of silence

Journalists often have to work under conditions of censorship. The BBC was forced to cover Zimbabwe from 2001–2009 from neighboring South Africa. Having been excluded from the country by the authoritarian regime of Robert Mugabe, the journalists’ abilities to report fully and accurately was severely curtailed. To their credit they covered what they could and concluded almost every report with a statement to the effect that the BBC was banned from Zimbabwe. At least the audience was then in a position to know that they were being denied information.

In contrast, Western journalists in Gaza overwhelmingly did not report the fact that they were being constrained and threatened by Hamas. The few who did report on it did so only after they were safely outside the Strip. On August 11th, the umbrella body for visiting journalists, the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel, took the unusual step of publicly condemning the “blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities and their representatives against visiting international journalists in Gaza.” Even when, having taken advantage of the anonymity offered by the FPA, the journalists protested Hamas’s strong-arm tactics, they still didn’t report it!

The bottom line is that the news from Gaza was inadequate and inaccurate because it was usually being reported by journalists who were ignorant of the context, and always by ones dependent on Hamas for access. All were subject to harassment and censorship.

And all of that, apparently, wasn’t newsworthy.



Filed under Background, Media

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 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.


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?


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.


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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Filed under Background, Information you need, Uncategorized

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,” http://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-life-in-europe-dying-a-slow-death/

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

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Filed under Advocacy strategy, Advocacy techniques, Uncategorized

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: http://www.paulbogdanor.com/antisemitism/greenstein/questions.html

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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