Over the last 12 months or so, I have become far more involved with hasbarah particularly on social media, and have also been asked to speak at a local high school on the “Jewish” perspective of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What I have noticed, and this may be due to my own increased activity in this area has just opened my eyes, is that the last 12 or so months, the rhetoric against Israel and Zionism has become more ferocious. The narrative, it would seem, is being dictated by the anti-Israel movement, and I believe that we need to make some fundamental changes to the way we talk about what is happening in the Middle East and in Israel in particular. So with this in mind, I have come to the conclusion that we have to, at the very least, change the following four narratives:
- The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is complex
This is a statement I often hear when the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is discussed, particularly, although not exclusively, from the pro-Israel side. And yet I can’t help but think that this it is not the case, and is the wrong message to be giving out.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is quite simple, one side, the Israeli side, is willing to make peace and the other side, the Palestinians aren’t. History has shown the numerous opportunities that the Arab nations first and more lately the Palestinians, have been offered peace with an Arab/ Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. Since Oslo, for example, the Palestinians have been offered comprehensive peace deals under Prime Minister Barak (2000) and Prime Minister Olmert (2008), and each time these offers of peace have been rejected by the Palestinian leadership. Even today with Prime Minister Netanyahu offering to resume unconditional peace talks, we hear nothing back from the President Abbas or his representatives.
The Palestinians have continually rejected all peace offers because simply put they cannot or will not accept a Jewish Nation State in the land of Israel. If they were able to accept this, peace could be achieved very quickly.
So let’s start saying it how it is. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not complex, it is in fact quite simple. The Palestinians need to accept the Jewish State of Israel and be prepared to live with this state next to them. Currently, they are not.
- Palestinian-Israeli conflict or Israeli-Palestinian conflict
This may seem like semantics, but semantics can be important. Accepting that the Palestinians have continually rejected all peace offers by Israel, and not just token peace offers, but genuine ones that dealt with thorny issues such as Jerusalem, the conflict is one that is being continued predominantly by the Palestinians.
Yes Israel could unilaterally withdraw from the disputed territories, but the results of the Gaza experience would, understandably, make many Israelis very nervous of this approach. Yes Israel has made mistakes and is not perfect, but no nation is. However, the primary reason why the conflict lingers on goes back to the previous point, the Palestinians do not want to accept the Jewish State and a ‘two states for two nations’ solution. Therefore the conflict is a Palestinian-Israeli one and not the other way around.
So let’s start referring to the situation in this way: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
- Reclaiming Zionism
We seem to have taken a time warp back to the 1970s where Zionism was equated with racism. The term Zionism has again been hijacked by the anti-Zionist/ anti-Israel movement who are making a very good job at redefining what Zionism means to the wider world. They are making people afraid to identify with being a Zionist due to the reaction they may receive. This is particular the case on university campuses, social media and in politics.
We need to reclaim the term Zionism for what it truly is, the Jewish right for self-determination in our historical land, the land of Israel, and we need to make these specific links to our connection with the land. The current rhetoric around Zionism reminds of how the neo-Facsist groups in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s had hijacked the Union Jack, which came to symbolise xenophobia and white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nationalism. However, over the last 10 or so years, the Union Jack has been reclaimed by the masses, so much so that it is not unusual to see it on high street fashion items.
So let’s do the same with Zionism and change the rhetoric. Let’s begin to make the point that Zionism is the Jewish right for self-determination in our historical land, and that we are the indigenous people of the land of Israel.
- Pro-Israel or Pro-Palestinian
Using the narrative of being either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian gives the illusion that you can only be one or the other. I know many people, including myself, who are staunchly pro-Israel, but we are also in favour of a two state solution for two peoples. Being pro-Israel does not make me anti-Palestinian.
On the other side of the spectrum, we see many activities, and in some case lack of activities when Israel is not involved, by the ‘pro-Palestinian’ groups that really make you question their true intentions. Why, for example, are they not protesting against the treatment of Palestinian women, gays and political opponents of Hamas by Hamas, which often leads to barbaric murder? Why are they not protesting about Hamas using UNRWA schools as weapons storage or using Palestinians as human shields? Why are they not protesting at the millions of dollars that seem to have lined the pockets of the Palestinian leadership and not gone in any way to help build an economic infrastructure in Gaza or the West Bank? Why are they not protesting against the Palestinians being killed by ISIS? I could go on.
So let’s move away from the pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian narrative and call it for what it is:
Pro-Israel vs anti-Israel
Reframing the debate in the above way means we can start to influence the narrative of the debate on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and start having some control on the way discussions and debates are framed. Currently, I believe, we are losing the battle, we need to be the ones that define the discussion on Israel and what Zionism is and not let our distractors, the anti-Israel movement, do so.
Only when we do this, may we start to get those people, the majority of people, who lie somewhere in the middle of the debate, to start hearing what it is we, and not the anti-Israel movement, have to say about Zionism and on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Maybe then, we can start having so proper debate without the current level of intimidation and outright hatred. Maybe then, we can begin to be more effectively heard.