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Decade of Demonisation

March 2, 2010 – 8:23 pm20 Comments

Photo taken at an 'anti-war' rally in San Franscisco in 2003*

By Philip Mendes

The outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 has lead to an almost unprecedented outpouring of international hostility to Israel. To be sure, the situation is not as bad as that of the mid-to-late 1970s. To date, there has been no United Nations motion declaring Zionism to be racism. Nor have UK or Australian student unions widely called for the banning of Jewish student groups on the grounds that they support Israel and are allegedly racist. And many mainstream conservatives and social democrats in Australia and elsewhere strongly defend Israel on the obvious grounds that Israel is the canary in the Islamist mine.

Nevertheless, the situation is bad enough. There is a shrill and aggressive pro-Palestinian lobby everywhere that paints a binary view of the conflict based on good and bad nations, demands that Israel and all Israelis (and implicitly any Jewish supporters of Israel) be exposed as evil oppressors, and uses under-handed tactics to attack anyone who opposes their emotive message. Many reasonable people who aren’t ideological extremists are naively convinced by their one-sided arguments.

The contrast with the earlier period of the Oslo Peace Accord from September 1993 to September 2000 is almost incredible. Then virtually nobody other than radical Arab or Islamic groups contested Israel’s existence. Many Arab states formed ties with Israel, and many longstanding pro-Palestinian lobbyists abandoned their earlier anti-Zionist fundamentalism, and accepted a two-state solution. So how do we account for this radical change in public opinion?

I believe there are roughly four factors that have contributed to this swing in international attitudes.

One is an extreme disappointment that the intractable Middle East conflict has not been resolved, and an associated tendency to look for someone to blame. This search for scapegoats has always been a tendency of partisans on both sides. But what has happened in the last nine years is that many previously neutral or dispassionate people have abandoned a balanced approach based on urging mutual compromise from both sides, and have instead suggested that if only Israel concedes all Palestinian demands then this will fix the problem.

A second factor was undoubtedly the election of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister of Israel. Sharon was a classic hate figure for supporters of the Palestinians as the initiator of the horrible 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and terrible for Israel’s international image. I say this even though in my opinion, his actual actions (notwithstanding the massacre that wasn’t at Jenin) and policies (the welcome withdrawal from Gaza) as Prime Minister were pretty moderate. Sharon didn’t need to prove he was tough. In contrast, I suspect a Labor Prime Minister would have responded far more roughly to the brutal suicide bombings of the Second Intifada.

A third factor is that there is a genuine international fear of Arab hatred, violence and terrorism. Nobody wants to experience another September 11 or July 2005 or Bali. There is consequently a willingness on the part of many scared people to sacrifice Israel if necessary to pacify Arab anger and save their lives just as Chamberlain sacrificed Czechoslovakia in 1938 to ostensibly prevent a world war. And there is the associated dangerous belief based on rational western political culture which has almost nil influence in the Middle East that much of this Arab anger and violence against Israel – the so-called “root causes” theory – must be a justified response to Israeli behaviour and actions. For those who are interested, I previously refuted this theory in my paper “Suicide Bombings: Oppression is no Justification” in Jewish Currents, September-October 2003, pp.6-7.

A final factor is that many Jews don’t realize the nature of the debate has irrevocably changed. One group on the rational Left genuinely support Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation via a two-state solution, but naively make unilateral concessions, and try to find common ground with pro-Palestinian lobbyists whose only aim is to obliterate Israel from the earth. This group need to chant to themselves over and over again “zero tolerance for those who brand Israel an apartheid or Nazi-like state”.

And then there are the Jewish conservatives who never accepted the Oslo Accord in the first place, and keep preaching in favour of a Greater Israel with no national rights for Palestinians good or bad. This group need to realize that they are wasting their time and energy, and get a grip on reality.

The international debate today is solely about whether there will eventually be a Palestinian State co-existing peacefully alongside Israel, or a Palestinian State instead of Israel.

* Image source: zombietime.com

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  • frosh says:

    Hi Philip,


    Looking at the course of Jewish history, over the last century or two, one must wonder if demonisation from the wider world is the norm, and the periods of relatively good will shown (e.g..1950s and 1960s) were the aberration in the regular pattern.

  • Reality Check says:

    Hi frosh, you may indeed be right; but why?  Maybe we should run a competition to find the answer, if one exists.

  • philip mendes says:

    Anthony: its a good question, and there is no black and white answer in empirical terms. Anti-Zionism is not the same as traditional anti-Semitism, although there is some obvious overlap particularly in recent years as the far Left has jumped into an unholy alliance with the Islamists.

    Some changes in Israel’s standing have clearly been linked to Israeli actions. For example, the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the large-scale building of settlements by Likud-led Governments from 1977-1992 clearly dented Israel’s international status. In contrast, the signing of the Oslo Accord had the opposite effect.

    But other historical events do not necessarily correlate.

    Israel was relatively popular even in the Third World from 1948-1967, yet for most of that period maintained military rule over all Arab villages.

    The largest fall in Israel’s standing has occurred in two periods: from 1967-77 when a relatively moderate Labour government ruled Israel that built few settlements, and was willing to return most of the West Bank to Jordan via the Allon Plan, and in the first few months of the second intifada when Barak was still trying his best to negotiate a two-state solution despite the increasing Palestinian violence.

    In my opinion, international attitudes to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict basically resemble a football match in that groups of people choose their team, and will continue to support that team and boo the opposition whatever the actual merits or not of specific actions.


  • Morry says:

    Up until 1967, Israel demonstrated a strength of purpose and rectitude to which the world responded.  Up until that time the conflict was defined as the “Israel-Arab” conflict, in which Israel was clearly seen as the underdog.  After the 67 war Saudi Arabia poured millions into Saatchi & Saatchi  to change of face of the conflict, and the ensuing PR, coupled with the view of Israeli occupation successfully redefined it as the “Israel-Palestinian” conflict, especially after the first Intefada.  This change didn’t become noticeable till the mid-1970s, and helped fuel and encourage a swift rise in violence.

    I don’t find myself fitting into any of Philip’s groupings.  I supported Oslo at the time as promoting a solution to the conflict.  In retrospect, I realise that Oslo was Israel’s single greatest disaster.  We need to understand that the simplistic view of a two way conflict is unsupported.  The reality is three camps.  There are the Israelis, there are average Palestinians, hardworking, industrious and only interested in feeding and promoting their families, and there is now a terrorist overlay, allowed in by the Oslo stipulation of a “Palestinian Authority”, whose rule is absolute, and seeks only to destroy Israel as an imperative of a powerful ideology.

    This is the group driving the conflict for which the other two groups are suffering badly, Palestinians even more than Israelis, with their children being brainwashed into martyring themselves for the sake of Israeli/Jewish destruction (the terms are interchangable, and world Jewry, for Hamas, is as much a target as Israelis).

    I wish I could give this subject the space it deserves, but this is already a too big comment.

  • Lyn says:

    I think you identify some of the reasons in your piece. As Morry said, 1967 was a turning point in how the West began to perceive the conflict: the Israeli Goliath versus the Palestinian David, without any regard for the context, the massively rich and populous Arab and Muslim world standing right behind the Palestinians.
    You fail to mention the rise of Islamism. Most Palestinians now identify as Muslims first. They would not be satisfied with a Palestinian state. Instead they want to reclaim Palestine for the umma. Israel has failed to make the connection in people’s minds in the West between Hamas and Hezbollah’s jihad against the Jews, and Al-Qaeda’s worldwide jihad against the infidels.
    Another reason needs unpacking: the failure of Israel to explain itself after Oslo. Shimon Peres it was who shut down Israel’s ‘hasbara’ efforts. He thought Israel’s Oslo peacemaking spoke for itself. Israel cut back on radio and TV broadcasts and did not need to explain the background or history.  The biggest lie concerns the occupation: no Israeli spokesman has ever explained that 99 percent of all Palestinians living in the West Bank are actually living under Palestinian jurisdiction.
    This Israeli abdication of the battle of hearts and minds left the field open to myths and lies. Israelis abandoned rights-based diplomacy. They only ever talked of the compromises and concessions they were willing to make, never the fact that that they actually had rights to Jerusalem, rights to the land, that Jewish refugees from Arab lands were entitled to justice.  This led to the widespread impression that the Jews were interlopers, western invaders who had stolen the land from its rightful Arab owners.
    Another factor has been the rise of human rights law and ‘lawfare’ with the complicity of scores of EU-supported anti-Israel NGOs, which is being used as a weapon against Israel. Israel’s opponents cloak their arguments in the language of human rights. Israel has failed  to counterattack, to talk about human rights violations in the Arab world, to make the argument that more Palestinians have been murdered by other Palestinians in Gaza, that Islamism is the biggest enemy of women and gays and minorities.

  • Shimon Chaim says:

    Should we use the term ‘pro-Palestinian’? It seems that the common denominator for these groups is a hatred of Israel and a desire for (or, at the very least, implicit acceptance of) the dismantling/destruction of the Jewish State. As such the term ‘anti-Israel’ is more accurate to describe them. After all, if they were genuinely ‘pro-Palestinian’ would they really seek to perpetuate the demoralising victimhood of new generations of Arabs? Would they really want these young Arabs to grow up without work, without the prospect of a future characterised by self-reliance and dignity? Instead, they blame all these people’s problems on ‘the Jews’, ‘the Zionists’ and/or Israel. ‘Pro-Palestinian’ suggests something constructive and positive when, in fact, these groups focus on the negative and defend the destructive. Compare the way the Palestinian Arabs have been made dependent on international aid and left to languish in ‘refugee camps’ with the way Holocaust Survivors learned trades in the Displaced Persons camps and sought every opportunity to move on with their lives whether in Eretz Israel, America, Europe, Australia… Let’s not kid ourselves – or allow these hostile groups to kid others. They are anti-Israel activists. Nothing more. 

  • philip mendes says:

    I always get suspicious (e.g. Morry) when people claim to have some special insight or knowledge regarding alleged political differences between the views of ordinary Palestinians (or other peoples) and their leadership.

    If we go back to the 1980s, the Likud-led governments refused to talk to the PLO on the grounds that it was too radical. They implied that ordinary Palestinians were more moderate. But this was a convenient smokescreen. The problem was that these governments led by Begin, Shamir et al were not willing to recognize Palestinian national rights and consider a two-state solution anyway, so even the most moderate Palestinians would not have found any common ground with them. Ironically, the PLO was probably ahead of (that is more moderate than) majority Palestinian opinion when it signed the Oslo deal with Israel in 1993.

    Today, a range of Jews and Israelis claim the same for their own purposes. The idealistic Left suggest that if only Israel was nicer to the Palestinians, they would all emerge as equivalents of the wonderful Palestinian Professor Sari  Nusseibeh (see his delightful discussion with Amos Oz in the new documentary showing at Cinema Nova), and overwhelmingly support peace and reconciliation.

    The cynical Right head by a different route to the same platform, suggesting that if only Hamas and/or Fatah didn’t intimidate ordinary Palestinians, they would sign off on whatever less than generous deal Netanyahu is willing to offer.

    The stark reality to me is that the Palestinian leadership is reflective of ordinary Palestinian political culture, and wider Arab and Middle Eastern political culture. The rise of Hamas and other radical and violent groups is not primarily due to Fatah corruption or Israeli actions good or bad, but rather reflects the overwhelming fundamentalist trends in the region. I see little evidence to the contrary.

    I should add that ordinary Israelis also have to take responsibility for their leadership given that they enjoy far greater freedoms and security, and a much more sophisticated political culture than the Palestinians. If they wanted a government headed by more moderate and sensible politicians than the hardline Netanyahu and the detestable Lieberman, they would have voted for such.


  • philip mendes says:

    I notice that this site has a link to Michael Brull’s blog including critical comments by him on this article. This is fine as Michael sometimes has interesting things to say, and at worst his comments are often bizarrely humorous. But he does have a habit of misrepresenting people’s views on a regular basis. This is okay on a blog. Nobody takes his statements seriously, and it is easy to conclude that it is a lot of nonsense. However, I am now informed that Michael has a forthcoming article in a reputable university-published journal called “Debating Zionism in Australia”. I am raising this because the expected standards of argument (both in terms of quality and legal guidelines) for a serious journal are very different to a blog. I hope that Michael and his editor have taken this into account.


  • Morry says:

    I think you make some excellent points Lyn.  To Philip’s suspicions I can only respond that much of what I say is experiential.  I lived in Israel for 15 years when you could travel the West Bank (and Gaza) and get to know people.  I experienced wonderful hopitable hardworking people who were largely apolitical.  But if I’m wrong Philip, and if there is no difference  ” between the views of ordinary Palestinians  and their leadership” , then we are in deep shtuch, because the current leadership is wholly committed to Israel’s total destruction as a Jewish state, whether you are speaking of Fatah or Hamas, or any of the other 7 terrorist groups that make up the PA (Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP etc).

    As a very active terrorist group murdering Israelis, the PLO was indeed “too radical” in the 1970s, just as the Israeli government claimed.  It’s only purpose was to have Israel gone.  At the time their most prominent “victory” was the killing of two babies in the baby house at Kibbutz Misgav Am.  Israel tried to open a dialogue with the more moderate elected mayors of the West Bank, but they backed off under PLO threats and violence.  What was being offered to them was, not statehood, but autonomy. But we have seen post-Oslo how quickly autonomy could become statehood. 

    The PLO itself (as opposed to the role of “President”), though ensconsed as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people” in perpetuity, is not elected representation.  It was imposed from the outset, and remains so forever.  It is the only body constitutionally allowed to make international agreements on behalf of the Palestinians.

    As to the issues of “peace negotiations”, it seems to have escaped many that the only things this Palestinian leadership demands are the very things that are non-negotiables for Israel …. Jerusalem, right of return, 1967 borders.   The issue is clearest with the demand of “right of return”.  Forget that no such right exists in the world, if you were intent on setting up your own state you would want your people to flock to it to help build.  Can you imagine Israel demanding the right of Jews to return to Europe in 1948?  The very idea of anyone planning a state contemplating sending their people elsewhere is obscenely irrational, and a very clear flag that there is no interest in nation building … only in the obvious destruction of the Jewish state if you could flood it with millions of Muslims.

    In 1948, Israel, which was interested in nation building, settled for 20% of what was promised.  For anyone interested in a free Palestinian entity, Barak’s offer, or the later one via Clinton should have been snapped up as an unprecedented bargain.  The only rational way to view its rejection lies in the desire to continue the conflict till Israel is destroyed.  The only reason to ask that which you know your “peace-partner” can’t give, is to scuttle the talks and make it look like it is Israel that is intransigent.

  • Chaim says:

    I actually am not concerned with international hatred or “demonisation” of Jews and Israel. We seemed to have a few good years after the holocaust (guilt) and 6 day way (fear) but the fact remains Jews remain isolated, different and hated despite emancipation and our endeavors to assimilate. This  -to me – is expected and the norm whether it is right or not.
    More worrisome to me is the quasi pro-Israel groups eg NIF and J street which are funded and becoming fronts for anti Israel organizations while claiming to be pro Israel. When it seems Jews are proposing these solutions, the wider non Jewish public accept them as truth and  total representation of the Jewish world, particularly when they are put on a pedestal by the US left and Obama.
    For instance J street refuse to condemn the current apartheid week and NIF have sponsored speakers.
    I am also one of the “Jewish conservatives” you mention above although I do believe Palestinians need human rights e.g health,  education,  infrastructure (and Israel should be responsible for all this)but not necessarily national nor voting rights. Any land concession as history has shown inevitably leads to further conflict (including the Sinai) or simply a false peace and ticking time bomb a little bit closer to residential areas.
    There can sure be some form of local autonomous and democratic areas responsible for local social infrastructure and regional but not legal representation e.g Spain with its administrative division. They should also be free to live and work anywhere. No separate police. No separate military nor border control.
    Obviously Israel needs to totally wipe out all terrorist organizations and stop any form of support for them from any individual, group or country for this to work. And this generally means a war..  Unless you have some nice mind controlling substances we can put into the water.
    I do have faith that the average Palestinian wants a normal life – health, education and   job security etc and would sacrifice any Palestinian nation state for this.

  • Morry says:

    Chaim, we seem to have strayed a little from Philip’s excellent article, to suggesting solutions.  The “solution” that you are proposing is actually Apartheid, and, for a whole bunch of reasons, wholly unacceptable to me.  At the simplest level is the basic right of self-determination, which is the legal premise on which Israel’s establishement is based.  It simply cannot be denied to others, and you would damn Israel to endless rounds of violence if you tried.  Do you honestly believe that the Arabs wouldn’t notice that they are the only ones denied the vote and citizenship that their bretheren in Israel are getting ?  It is a sure road to a (to me unacceptable) one-state solution.

    Yes the land is (largely) legally Jewish/Israeli, but the people residing on it are not, and the days of enforced population shifts are long gone.   It’s a time of compromise.  At this point the only solution I can see to the problem is dividing the West Bank approximately along the fence line (because of the geography, 98% of the Arab population currently lives on one side of the fence).  Whatever Jewish titled land can also be incorporated should be, whether from Gaza or from the West Bank.  A tunnel should be built under the Negev joining the two, and the Arab populated areas should revert to Jordan, who should be encouraged (monetarily and with the promise of a major port on the Mediterranean … something very desirable) to accept it.  Jordan will face the problem of getting rid of the terrorist overlay with help from the rest of the world, but ultimately, peace would be the result, with a Palestinian population actively pursuing their own destiny amongst their own.  In all the years, even prior to 1967, Jordan has ensured that no terrorists operate across its border with Israel.  I think it can be trusted to keep the peace.  Possibly not everyone’s ideal solution, but the best compromise I can come up with to resolve the impasse.  This is based on the sustainable argument that outside of a handful of academics, nobody in the Palestinian camp is really looking for an independent state.  It is a concept that was adopted only because it appealed to the West (Hamas, for example,  has made it quite clear that should a Palestinian state be achieved, they would dismantle it along with all the other states of the Middle East in favour of an amorphous super state, the Umma, run by a Caliphate).

  • Chaim says:

    Actually Morry – it was a direct comment to Phillip’s previous response.
    I am an Australian citizen currently residing in the USA and have no voting rights. I have no problem with that.  I would be happy if Israel was an International country provided Jews have full freedom of religion and their beliefs and connections to the land is respected but that is unlikely. I would not even mind if the Arabs ruled the land if they could guarantee the same but we have seen and continue to see that they can not.
    Only Israel under Jewish rule can guarantee this freed om not only to Jews but to other religions as they do now – state sponsored Islamic schools. An existence of a  Jewish nation state is not my ultimate goal here.
    If I understand your thoughts – the only difference between you and me is that you do really want an apartheid with complete separation of Jews and Arabs while I allow freedom to live and work anywhere.
    You want to just transfer the west bank to Jordanian rule even though the Palestinians are repressed and have unequal rights with no self rule currently in Jordan even though it was Palestine originally.

  • ariel says:

    I think the most frightening problem – which I believe is the root-cause of all this deligetimisation – is that most ordinary people have been taken in by the Arab/Iranian argument that, unlike every other People in on Earth, Jews have no right to self determination and ergo no right to a state.

    It is this denial of Jewish rights which snowballs on to everything else. You are not going to convince Joe Bloggs on the right of Israel to exist  based on its status as a Western country which contributes immensely to the world, etc., if Joe doesn’t believe Jews have the right to a state in the first place. People have bought the lie that Jews are colonialists from Europe  who came and conquered Palestine in the 20th centurty from its indigenous population, whom Arafat claimed were decendents of the Caananites.

    We must make it clear – no matter one’s political viewpoints on how to solve the conflict – that Israel is the Jewish homeland and we are entiled to it as much as the Chinese People are entitled to China and the Japanese to Japan. We must encourage people to read history books and not newspapers to get the facts. I know this is tough in the modern world of immediate gratification and acquirement of knowledge (the man who went to Shammai and Hillel and asked to be taught Torah “on one leg”), but it must be done.

  • Chaim says:

    Ariel:  just as the Palestinians are entitled to Palestine despite there history being more recent than Jews?
    G-d gave the land of Israel to the Jews. He took it away for some time and gave it back. The first rashi on the first pasuk of the Torah is clear and this commentary was from 1000 years ago. While we have it we can not give it away. But we have to have a land of justice, kindness and  humility (read the prophets!).  Voting and a western type democracy for all is not necessary and not a right. People do have a right to pick up move out if they do not like it.

  • Morry says:

    Ariel, I couldn’t agree more.  Jews are the indigenous people of the area, and if you read the Mandate documents it couldn’t be clearer that the world’s intent was to restore this native people to its homeland.  We don’t need to go back any further than that for the legal autority for Jews to be there, and the basic inherent right of every people to self-determination.  Sadly we face a mish-mash of ideologies, where people adher to principles like “separation of church and state”, and to them, in their total ignorance of Israel, a Jewish state means a theocracy.  Strangely, to them a Muslim theocracy in Iran is acceptable, a Jewish one not … a clear indicator of how insiduous and cancerlike antisemism can be.  The double standards just come so naturally.

    Chaim, I have indicated no desire to separate Arabs and Jews.  The Arab population of Israel in my books is there to stay … though there is a separation in that Arabs and Jews do live very separate lives in Israel.

    My major problem with your position is its denial of that very basic right of self-determination.  It gives Israel the right to retain its Jewish character, without having to take other cultures on board.  The issue isn’t one of the practicality of simply being Jewish in another Arab country, which you would find acceptable, but the basic right to forge your own destiny, advance your own culture as a national entity that is guaranteed as an integral right in this world … well, as Ariel points out, to everybody but Jews.  Umpteen Christian and Mulim nations in the world, but the sticking point seems to be one Jewish nation.

    The idea of people in Israel with no citizenship at all being denied Israeli citizenship is a non-starter for a whole bunch of reasons including Israeli ethics and the Declaration of Independence.  It is so clearly different to your situation.  As you say, you are an Australian living in America.  A parallel to what you are suggesting would be somebody born in America but denied American citizenship, perhaps because their grandparents happen to be Mexican, or Black. As a concept, it is racist in the extreme.

    “Voting and a western type democracy for all” is necessary and is a right, because the people of the democracy known as Israel want it so, and would have it no other way.

  • Chaim says:

    Right because those Palestinians in the territories who will become Jordanian according to your solution will have  self determination…

  • Morry says:


    before 1967 they were very happily Jordanian with full citizenship and representation in Jordan’s parliament.  There were absolutely no demonstrations or Intefada’s against it.  Why would you think this has changed?  You do realise that the majority of the Jordanian population is Palestinian?  Compared to the uncertainty and the oppressive nature of rule by terror, the relative democracy of returning to Jordanian rule, not to mention work opportunities and social benefits,  would have to be a blessing.

  • Chaim says:

    Are you kidding me.
    Many Palestinians are still in refugee camps in Jordan. Jordan intermittently slaughters them and  oppresses them. Despite the fact Jordan is just as much Palestine as Israel is.
    Last July Jordan revoked the citizenship of thousands of Palestinians to keep them from remaining permanently in the country.
    Jordan’s Interior Minister Nayef al-Kadi said “Our goal is to prevent Israel from emptying the Palestinian territories of their original inhabitants,” the minister explained, confirming that the kingdom had begun revoking the citizenship of Palestinians. “We should be thanked for taking this measure,” he said. “We are fulfilling our national duty because Israel wants to expel the Palestinians from their homeland.”

  • Morry says:

    Chaim, in my opinion everything you say would be eliminated with the end of the conflict.  You’re free to disagree, but we clearly aren’t about to convince each other.  I see Jordan as the only rational solution, you see abandoning Jewish self-determination in Israel as a solution.  We won’t agree.   The one thing I can say is that Israel is now four generations old, with three of those generations knowing no other home than what has been created there.  Their abandoning all that is far, far less of a likelihood, than is Jordan coming on board a workable peace plan.

  • Chaim says:

    “abandoning Jewish self-determination in Israel” – Chas V’Shalom!
    You misunderstood me. I say only Jewish self determination with its known tolerance to other religions is the solution but that includes the territories with all it inhabitants. They deserve to be permanent residents and all the rights that go with it but should be unable to change the Jewish character of Israel as a “nation state” but can have small socially autonomous weaponless areas.
    You are right though – I have yet to see anyone in this forum ever truly change their opinion.

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