[Corrected] Israeli war crimes allegations: Doing our patriotic duty
Original content copyright by the author
Zionism & Israel Center http://zionism-israel.comEvery so often every independent analyst, blogger and pundit needs to remind themselves and their readers that we are volunteers. We write what we write because we believe that it is true. None of us will benefit in any way either from exaggerating non-existent faults or covering up real ones. There is no gain for Israel or for me in covering up the malfeasance, negligence, or imperfections of any Israeli Colonel Blimp or Bomber Harris or any scoundrel who tries to protect his job by taking refuge behind patriotism.
Israel is a country like any other and Jews are a people like any other. We have neither horns nor halos. We have our saints and we also have our Baruch Goldsteins and our Ami Poppers. In a properly run society, there must be mechanisms -= including journalistic criticism and courts and investigations and regulations -- that discover problems and control negligence and malfeasance. Of course, this becomes a real problem in the context of the media war being waged against Israel.
Anything we say and anything we do can and will be held against us. If someone admits that an Israeli Jewish IDF soldier stepped on the toes of a Palestinian Arab, it will create headlines about "Cruelty of the Jew Zionists," "Hardline Jews committing Genocide." and "War Crimes of the Zionists" in The Guardian, the Independent, the Nation and numerous other outlets that have committed themselves irreversibly to supporting the cause of terror and genocide. The consciousness that this chorus of Israel baiters and Jew baiters exists makes it very difficult to discuss issues like IDF respect for human rights in an objective way. There is no way to avoid the issues if we care about Israel, but it must be done carefully. It is quite unfair that the image of Israel in Europe and possible in the US is now worse than the image of former USSR or Mao's China was in the 1970s and possibly worse than that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It is grotesque that "progressives" rant about Israeli war crimes and colonialism and Zionist "neocons" while they support reactionary and genocidal Islamist movements like Hamas.
But every Israeli and every Zionist and every Israel advocate must recognize that we are, and have been, engaged in a media war for several years, that we are losing that war, and that the decline in Israel's image is not a side issue to be handled only by some talking heads. The decline in Israel's image is a strategic threat, perhaps as serious as, or more serious than, the Iranian nuclear threat, the Hamas and the Hezbollah. Those who do not yet understand that this issue is a strategic threat should consider for example, that a single mistake by the IDF or even the rumor of a mistake spread by the enemy, like the UNRWA school shelling that never was, can stop a war much more effectively than an armored division. Or consider that the effect of the constant barrage of demonization, left unanswered and uncorrected, may be to bring to power in the supporters of Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Larouche and Professors Walt and Mearsheimer in the USA, and their even more vicious counterparts in Europe.
The threat is not limited to "war crimes" allegations and distortions of human rights, nor is it confined to the UN or to political media. We are faced with everything from attempts to write the Jews out of history, to expressions of outrage about harmless Israeli tourism advertisements. And if you say anything about it, you are a neocon hardline Jew Zionist member of the Israel lobby. The propaganda appears in travel guides and travel magazines, literary reviews and just about everywhere you can imagine. Israel-Bashing has become embedded in world culture, just as anti-Semitism was once a cultural staple.
The threat has become considerably worse since the foundation of the state because of:
*Our own success - The victory of the Six Day War reversed our underdog status. It is not just the "David and Goliath" image that the Palestinians exploit. It is certainly absurd, but it is a fact, that Iran, a nation of 77 million, can get credence for its ridiculous claim that Israel poses a serious military threat to it.
* and demonification of Jews become ever more acceptable with increasing distance from the Holocaust.
*Technology - Cellphones, mobile cameras and the Internet make virtually every area in a free society open to inspection and dissection. If a Palestinian kid sneezes in Gaza, it can be filmed and reported, and by the time it gets to Time Magazine, the poor kid has become a victim of Zionist poisoning. Squads of bloggers can quickly amplify any bit of news or pseudo-news. The Guardian used this fact effectively by creating a series of propaganda films about alleged Israeli "war crimes" and inviting bloggers to link to them.
*Infotainment - Competition has forced television and other media to create news for the mass market, animated tabloids that thrive on sensation and gore.
None of the above has really had much effect on any part of the Zionist movement, the Israeli government or the IDF. IDF and the government certainly had ample warning from the hoaxes and hysteria that accompanied Operation Defensive Shield (the Jenin Massacre Hoax) and the Second Lebanon War Every branch of the Israeli government, every Zionist institution, and every Israeli journalist and Israel advocate must internalize the threat posed by the degradation of Israel's image. They must devote resources and thought and ingenuity to combating the problem. This requires money, creativity and forthrightness, and it requires a major revision of the "who cares what the world thinks" attitude of Israeli society and the IDF. Here are but a few examples of major IDF failures in this field:
* Foreign reporters were not embedded in IDF forces during Operation Cast Lead. IDF missed an opportunity to tell our side of the story and made journalists needlessly hostile. This is a repeat of the mistake made in Operation Defensive Shield,
* IDF failed to immediately counter the false UNRWA claims about bombing of the UNRWA school.
* More generally, IDF failed to provide an "address" - a person or department accessible to anyone, whose job it is to check reports and to provide credible, timely information regarding allegations of various kinds.
* IDF allowed militaristic and irresponsible political propaganda and incitement, with instructions that are contrary to the IDF Ethical code to be distributed to soldiers as "religious" or "educational" material. Nobody monitored the distribution of this material. Nobody tried to stop it. It served no good purpose and did not help the IDF achieve its mission in any way. The problem was not discovered until after the fact, when journalists and anti-Zionist groups exposed it and used it to damage Israel. The persons responsible were not punished. The rabbis, appointed and paid for by the state, are still getting their salaries. Supposedly, the IDF Chief Rabbi didn't see these materials before they were distributed, but it was his job to see them. If he can't do his job, he should not continue in that role. Somebody did see those materials though, and they were not punished either.
* IDF did not provide a mechanism that ensures confidential and prompt treatment of reports about human rights violations and rumored violations, and soldiers were not exactly "encouraged" to report such problems. Consequently, the "dirt" came out only in a post-war "letting off steam" session, and it was utilized by cynical journalists in the worst way.
* IDF does not take a sufficiently pro-active view to correcting systematic problems of rights violations and bad behavior. Investigations may lead to punishment of some of the guilty parties, but they don't produce systematic revision of policies to prevent recurrences.
* Investigations of rights violations are spotty. They are almost never initiated by the IDF, unlike investigations of operational failures, and they usually result in no punishment or minimal "slaps on the wrist."
* Officers talking out of turn and making bellicose or insensitive statements. The various announcements that Israel would target Lebanese if the Hezbollah started another war were totally unnecessary and extremely harmful. Dan Halutz's often quoted remark that he doesn't feel anything except a little bump in the wing when he releases a bomb did more harm to Israel than half a dozen suicide bombings. Remarks like that can cost lives, because as Israel's image deteriorates, our self defense options become increasingly limited by threats of UN sanctions, US sanctions etc.
Some major errors and omissions of the Israeli government:
* Israel has no official world wide television presence. The closest thing we have are English language journals, which are sometimes helpful and sometimes worse than the Web site of the Izzedin Al Qassam brigades. Israel doesn't even have a domestic Arabic TV station. Admittedly, an Israeli version of Al-Jazeera would be dismissed in part as "Zionist propaganda" but it would be better than nothing. Proposals to start an international TV network were vetoed as too costly, because saving Israel's image is still viewed as a luxury. We can't afford not to do this.
* The government, like the IDF, failed to fully take into account the repercussions that would ensue from Operation Cast Lead, just as it did in the Lebanon War.
* Failure to properly investigate numerous Palestinian Human Rights complaints. This has been documented over and over again. Perpetrators are not found, and even those that are found and convicted often get light sentences or suspended sentences.
* Insufficient civilian supervision over the military.
* Amateurish and lackadaisical Internet information services - Websites that are poorly organized, not optimized for the Web, don't work properly in popular browsers, and have limited information or obviously incorrect information. The English language Website of the President of Israel shows a biography of former president Moshe Katsav under "Biography of the President." They are consistent, as Katsav's wife's biography is given for "The President's Wife."
Organizations and individuals:
* Direct information efforts at other Jews and convinced Zionists instead of trying to inform the world.
* Attack the strong points of adversaries rather than the weak points.
* Overly reactive - Many initiatives for "divestment," "boycotts" etc. are penny-ante operations that would not even be noticed if supporters of Israel would not turn them into major media events. These reactions are almost never helpful in ending the problem.
* Try to shut people up - We usually can't shut people up in democratic countries, and if we do it won't help much. We need to create our own materials and promote them any way we can in the information marketplace.
* Not sufficiently proactive - Where is the pro-Israel campus week?
* Do not support each other.
* Direct more of their efforts at fund raising, partisan political strife, irrelevant local political issues abroad.
* Do not network with non-Jewish and non-Zionist organizations except in rare cases.
* Mostly absent from campuses and street demonstrations.
* Amateurish and sometimes embarrassing Web and Internet efforts:
- Selectively circulate hoaxes and extremist propaganda that alienate "outsiders"
- Web sites generously link to every anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic Web page they can find, to illustrate how bad those sites are. This gives a tremendous boost to those pages. But these organizations and individuals will not link to other Zionist Web sites!
* Try to excuse the inexcusable and explain the unexplainable.
How should we deal with allegations about Israeli war crimes? By doing our patriotic duty and insisting that the the government and the IDF must be proactive in preventing and investigating and punishing rights violations; by promptly discrediting hoaxes and Pallywood operations like the show the Guardian is mounting; by putting these accusations in perspective -- what sort of human rights code does the US army have? How about the Hezbollah and the Hamas?
Those who self-righteously demand "international investigations" of Israel know full well that the kangaroo courts and commissions of the UN will mete out the modern version of "Soviet Justice." They don't want to find out the truth and fix the problem. They want to use the "law" as a weapon. But if we will permit such investigations, we had better be prepared to do our own investigations and to make the findings known and correct the problems.
But the first principle of any action must be "Do no harm." We have seen all of the following, which are well meant, but do immense damage to our credibility:
"Our guys are perfect and would never do such things." A large proportion of the Israeli population has seen demonstrations on TV that "our guys" are not always perfect The obnoxious graffiti that were left in many Gaza houses were shown on television. We have also, in other times seen border guards beating Palestinian workers, and IDF raiders in the West Bank trashing the houses of civilians. Everyone knows this happens and there is no use denying it. It doesn't happen all the time. It is not official Israeli policy, but it does happen.
"The criticisms originate with "leftists." That may impress the home crowd, but it won't impress many liberal Democrats in the USA or Social Democrats or Greens in Europe. They are "leftists" and identify with "leftists." The point is not whether the accuser has the correct political opinions, but rather whether or not he or she really has evidence of improper behavior.
"The materials authored by rabbis were 'religious' materials." The pamphlets in question didn't have much to do with observing the sabbath or Kashrut evidently. They were political incitement that urged solders to disregard international law. In additional to the official rabbinate publications, pamphlets with this message were circulated "As for the population, it is not innocent ... We call on you to ignore any strange [probably intended as "foreign" in the original Hebrew] doctrines and orders that confuse the logical way of fighting the enemy."
Of course, those "orders" are a violation of international law. Nobody was punished for distributing these pamphlets. I am not prepared to excuse or defend any such ideas in the name of religion or Zionism and I don't see any excuse for defending them.
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