Defending the Indefensible Settlements
To counter US opposition to Israel's settlements, Israel's American supporters are adopting a new, defensive strategy
A former insider at Aipac has spilled the beans on a major secret initiative by The Israel Project (TIP) designed to counter opposition in the US to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Douglas Bloomfield, former chief lobbyist for Aipac, writes that TIP, a group dedicated to promoting Israel's positive image among the US media and policymakers, has circulated a 140-page primer designed to prompt supporters in their exchanges with US journalists and key decision-makers when they are arguing in favour of the settlements:
If you can't convince 'em, accuse 'em. That's the advice from The Israel Project (TIP) for pro-Israel activist. ... Rather than try to defend Israeli settlements, change the subject. If that doesn't work, try accusing those who advocate removing Jewish settlements of promoting "a kind of ethnic cleansing to move all Jews" from the West Bank. TIP calls that "the best settlement argument" in its 2009 Global Language Dictionary.
You read the full document posted on Newsweek's site [PDF], and includes a preface by its author, the Republican pollster and spin doctor Frank Luntz. What is especially instructive about the document is that it concedes that Israel is on the defensive here in the US. It conveys a recognition that the new Obama administration policy on Israel has caused a sea change for the pro-Israel community. Instead of being on the offensive, always pressing its case, the lobby, perhaps for the first time, is in crisis mode. Bloomfield continues:
"The single toughest issue" to defend among Americans generally and American Jews in particular is settlements, says the manual, and "hostility towards them and towards Israeli policy that appears to encourage settlement activity. ... Public opinion is hostile to the settlements - even among supporters of Israel."
Groups like TIP are not known for paying very close attention to truth or facts, and they don't disappoint here, according to Bloomfield:
TIP says the "best argument" for settlements is this: Since Arabs citizens of Israel "enjoy equal rights," telling Jews they can't live in the Palestinian state "is a racist idea."
In fact, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad just last week invited settlers to remain in the West Bank after it becomes part of a Palestinian state with full rights. Rabbi Menachem Froman, a founder of Gush Emunim who lives in Tekoa on the West Bank, advocates a similar approach.
What is unique about Froman's stance is his awareness that it is important for him to live in the West Bank as a Jew rather than as an Israeli. He sees what he is doing as a religious rather than political imperative. And his claim is that if you really believe in living on this land you will not care who rules you, since ultimately it is God and not a government that does so. The fact that Froman recently met with a senior US Middle East envoy in Washington indicates how open the Obama administration is to hearing hitherto marginal voices.
To indicate how closely American Jewish groups like TIP coordinate their message with Israel's diplomatic and intelligence agencies, Haaretz reports that Bibi Netanyahu met recently with the German foreign minister and in a masterful bit of guilt and manipulation told him that it was inconceivable to Israel that the West Bank could be "Judenrein".
Similarly, the false argument that dismantling settlements amounts to "ethnic cleansing" is a tried and true settler argument. It too involves grossly abusing the contemporary language of human rights in order to convert a simple political exercise (a territorial compromise with the Palestinians) into an act of racist violence against the people of Israel.
Bloomfield notes another specious argument in the TIP manual: "It falls back on the old and disproven argument that 'the settlements are necessary for the security of Israel.'"
By no measure can anyone claim that the settlements improve Israel's security. In fact, violence perpetrated by extremist settlers against Palestinians is a continuous source of friction, which forces thousands of IDF personnel to be stationed there to protect Jewish residents as they pursue their campaigns. Palestinians see the settlements and the occupation in general as painful reminders of their disenfranchisement. This in turn fuels acts of terrorist violence against settlers, which are often repaid in kind by Jewish extremists. Security? I think not.
Americans for Peace Now's Ori Nir places the issue in a broader context, also contradicting the TIP claim. "American Jews increasingly realise that settlements undermine Israel's ability to survive, long term, as a democratic Jewish state and that they undermine America's national security interest in a stable, peaceful Middle East," he told Bloomfield.
Barack Obama sees the settlements in this light, which is why he has made a full freeze a centrepiece of his policy. Generally, congressional Democrats, even those known to side with the Israel lobby in the past, have adopted the administration's position on the issue. All of which must be a painful reminder to TIP of how low its fortunes have sunk in the current domestic political environment.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2009