By Day 28 of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, American media is increasingly focused on who is winning the public relations battle. Despite polls that show a majority of Americans continue to support Israel over Hamas, who could imagine that anyone except the most radical fringe would support a group recognized as terrorists by both America and the European Community?
Many younger Americans, particularly those under 30, show little support for Israel in the fight against Hamas. Findings released last week of a Pew Research Study on support for Israel in the United States should activate sirens throughout the American Jewish community. They foretell approaching storms for which we’ve had far more warning than Israelis sheltering against incoming Hamas rockets.
Americans first faced military assaults from Muslim extremists long before the rebirth of the Jewish State in 1948. More than 200 years ago, in what became the only declared war during the two presidential terms of Thomas Jefferson and our young nation’s first war on foreign soil, President Jefferson sent American ships to bomb Tripoli to stop state-sponsored pirates who’d been attacking U.S. ships, holding Americans hostage, and plundering U.S. cargo off the North African coast. [The action inspired the opening words of the oldest hymn of the U.S. Armed Forces and the official Marines’ Hymn: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli …“] To spare American blood and treasure, the pirates were demanding ransoms they claimed were allowed by the Qur’an.
Almost two centuries later, President Ronald Reagan at first chose to flex American muscle after Muslim extremists murdered five Americans taking part in multinational peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon. Reagan ordered a military response against Lebanese terror bases from American ships off the coast of Lebanon. Iran’s revolutionary leaders promised a response against those who sided with their enemies.
The response came in the early morning hours of October 23, 1983, when Iranian Ismail Ascari drove a truck bomb into the barracks housing the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit in Beirut. Minutes later, another terrorist drove a truck bomb into the nearby headquarters of the French 3rd Company of the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment.
The attacks killed 241 American servicemen and 58 French paratroopers.
Well aware of the consequences of a nation claiming responsibility for such a heinous crime, a previously unknown group, Islamic Jihad, proudly took credit for acts the U.S. categorized as terrorism because they was directed against off-duty servicemen.
Americans under 30 were not yet born when the 241 American Marines, sailors and soldiers were buried.
Over the course of nearly two centuries, both the Barbary pirates and Iranian radicals found that terror worked against America. Despite the American bombing of Tripoli in 1802 and the national commitment of the U.S. in 1982 to help Lebanon regain its sovereignty, President Jefferson continued to pay ransoms to Muslim radicals through the end of his presidency and President Reagan quickly withdrew U.S. peacekeepers from Lebanon.
But Islamic fanatics and their state sponsors knew by the dawning of the 21st century that they could employ an even more powerful weapon to weaken the west. They would go after public opinion in a well financed, multi-decade war designed to win support — or at least sow confusion — among Westerners for those whose values couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to the most basic tenets of societies built on traditions of freedom and the collective right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
It was 30 years ago, as a 22-year-old undergraduate student at Indiana University in America’s midwest heartland that I saw firsthand the confidence of radicals that they could use a tried and true tactic in the U.S. that has worked in societies without access to a free press and basic rights to freedom of speech.
They could lie long enough to enough people that the stories they invented and distorted narratives they wove would take hold among generations of Americans and Europeans who did not personally witness the rebirth of Israel, history of Arab rejectionism and violence, or know the risks and sacrifices America, Israel and others had taken in pursuit of peace with the Arab world.
Their strategy has long been guided by five easy-to-follow steps to get people to believe that a lie may actually be the truth.
- Repeat it constantly;
- Teach it in schools, homes and houses of worship;
- Hire the best public relations firms oil can buy;
- Make generous contributions to people, groups and organizations who will say whatever money wants them to say;
- Murder those of your own people who challenge the lie.
The formula takes time, patience, money and brutality, but it’s proved to be effective to convincing millions that lies may actually be true.
In terms of Israel, the twisted foundation of the lie is that Israel was established through a national strategy of European Jews and western powers to murder and expel the Arabs of Palestine from a land in which they’d lived in peace for generations.
The truth is that the term Palestinian long referred to both Jewish and Arab residents of the area that includes all of Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. In an effort to compromise with the Arabs of Palestine, Jewish leaders whose People had yearned to recreate an independent Jewish State for millennia agreed to forgo 80 percent of the land. The nation of Jordan, where the far majority of the population are people previously known as Palestinian Arabs, was created. It was not Israel’s decision or influence that led to Jordan being created as a monarchy instead of a democracy.
Despite the historic compromise of Jewish leadership, Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence in the negotiated sliver of Palestine was met with an onslaught of Arab armies. Miraculously, the Jews of Israel won their war of independence and reached out in peace to their neighbors.
For 19 years, the Jews of Israel continued to be attacked by terrorists funded, trained and directed from neighboring countries. During those two decades, the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza lived under Arab rule.
In 1967, Israel again faced a war its Arab neighbors thought would permanently erase the Jewish State from the map of the Middle East. In another miraculous victory, Israel won that war in six days, taking control of what had been a divided Jerusalem, defeating Jordan in the West Bank, taking control of the Gaza Strip in the south, which had been ruled by Egypt since 1948, and the Golan Heights in the north, which had been part of Syria. Israel’s primary goals in capturing those areas was to create a buffer to protect Israeli homes, schools and neighborhoods from continued terror attacks and provide strategic safeguards against future wars.
For more than 40 years, Israeli, American and others have struggled to create a lasting peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors. Israel achieved a historic peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994. Despite those treaties, neither Jordan nor Egypt has wanted to accept responsibility for fully incorporating the Arab residents of the West Bank or Gaza into their countries.
The Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza remain pawns who have been deliberately kept as refugees not by Israel, but by the vast Arab world where dictators, monarchs and fanatics prefer to keep the conflict against the Jews alive to distract their peoples from the very real tragedy of lives in which very few enjoy the freedoms, rights, protections and opportunities Israel extends to all its citizens – Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
Older generations of Americans who have lived through the modern history of the Arab-Israeli conflict generally know the truth. They are least likely to be swayed by the best lies oil can buy and terror whose first victims are those who challenge those lies from within. But for younger generations without firsthand knowledge and experience, coupled with their natural yearning to protect human rights, life and dignity, it’s no accident that inconvenient truths have become increasingly abandoned.
Responsibility for fighting that battle rests with Diaspora Jewish leaders who don’t have to imagine the consequences of failure.