Middle East Monitor
Friday, 06 March 2015 13:55
Israel is losing the debate - in more ways than one
Last night, I participated in a debate at the Cambridge Union on 'This House Believes Israel is a Rogue State.' Speaking alongside Ghada Karmi and Norman Finkelstein for the proposition, the motion was carried by 51 percent to 19 percent - with a 7 percent swing from the pre-debate vote.
To put that in perspective: 30% were undecided and nearly 50% were already decided in the condemnation of Israel. That only 7% swung their vote (although he doesn't actually say which way that 7% swung), indicates that there was not much of a win at all. Most people were unaffected by the debate and most were anti-Israel to begin with.
The debating chamber was packed, and the atmosphere charged. At the end of the debate, cries of 'Free, Free Palestine' rang out. But my main takeaway from the proceedings was the sheer weakness of the opposition's arguments - a microcosm of pro-Israel propaganda that simply no longer works.
In my opening speech, I pointed out that the issue was not about whether Israel is 'perfect', or makes 'mistakes'. To concede that Israel is 'not perfect', as I suggested the opposition may do, is in fact no concession at all, and misses the point. The issue is whether Israel violates international law and human rights, and whether it does so systematically.
I also stressed that the debate was not about the record of other countries or actors, in the region or elsewhere. It was not about Iran or Syria, Hamas or ISIS, North Korea or Russia. The Cambridge debating chamber hosts debates about dozens of topics of international interest but last night, the subject was Israeli policy, and the question was plain - is Israel a rogue state?
White, unfortunately, does not define what exactly a 'rogue' state is. But, 'rogue', as an adjective means 'vicious, solitary, destructive and out of control'.
Yet in the speech directly following mine, Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, opened up for the opposition by stating exactly what I had predicted just minutes before: 'Israel is not perfect.' Such is the reliance of Israel's apologists on predictable talking points.
Does predictability nullify the truth? If Israelis use the same old arguments, maybe it is because they are actually true. To dismiss the truth because it's predictable, is sheer folly.
Similarly, Wineman – like the other two opposition speakers - indulged in the familiar tactic of citing abuses by other states (Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, etc.). The rest of his talk was a regurgitation of tired talking points about the Israeli army's morality and so forth. See above comment.
Joining Wineman in opposing the motion were Hannah Weisfeld, head of liberal Zionist advocacy group Yachad, and Davis Lewin, deputy director of the Henry Jackson Society.
Weisfeld's approach was to immediately state she had no intention of defending the occupation or settlements. The bulk of her speech was an attempt to demonstrate that Israel could not be a rogue state because it has parliamentary democracy, an independent judiciary, a free press, and that critics of the government are not arrested.
She did not clarify if this wonderful list also applies to the millions of Palestinians living for half a century under a military regime.
In fact, it does apply to every Palestinian living in Israel. They vote, can hold public office, have unlimited educational opportunities, have free health care, freedom of movement, and are entitled to a pension when they retire. No Palestinian living in Israel would ever move to the Palestinian territories, nor would they move to an Arab state, life is too good in Israel.
If you think, Mr White, that Palestinians have it bad in Gaza and the West Bank, perhaps you should visit Palestinians in Jordan or Syria or a host of other Arab countries where Palestinians are warehoused with no opportunity to work, get medical attention, education, pensions, and no freedom of movement. People in the Palestinian territories are far better off, yet those countries are never criticized for their inhumane treatment of refugees.
Extraordinarily, Weisfeld claimed that her argument was further confirmed by her ability to visit Israel freely as a critic of the occupation. Meanwhile opposite her, was a speaker excluded from her homeland because she is Palestinian, and an American Jew denied entry for his political activities.
Is there any country in the world that does not keep trouble-makers out?
Wineman's old school hasbara and Weisfeld's new school 'nuance' were followed by an extraordinary contribution from Davis Lewin. His performance was 10 minutes of screaming, finger-jabbing, and insults directed at both speakers and Union members.
Lewin's speech was a combination of Twitter troll and YouTube commenter - and sheds light on the nature of the Henry Jackson Society, a think-tank in the loosest sense of the word.
Of course, when you cannot successfully argue someone's points, it's best to attack the person in order to discredit them.
Together, Wineman, Weisfeld, and Lewin represent the variety of Israeli propaganda strategy in all its limited predictability: historical fantasies, faux-liberal concern, and offensive smears.
Presented with the arguments, the University of Cambridge students voted with their feet, and found Israel to be a rogue state by an overwhelming majority. As mentioned above, the overwhelming majority were anti-Semitics before the debate began. This is not Cambridge University's finest hour. They believe the flat-out lies of pro-Palestinians without question and similarly dismiss the arguments of Israel without question regardless whether they are true or not. Research kids! Research and don't just read the opinions with which you agree, else you have no interest in the truth.
Ethnic cleansing, colonisation, war crimes; behind these repeated Israeli policy decisions is a disregard for and defiance of a global order shaped by international law and treaties. It is an attitude that stretches from the founding of Israel through to its politicians and leaders of today.
This is just stupid! Beyond belief stupid! As stated above, Palestinians in Israel are treated as well as Israelis - how is that ethnic cleansing? Every war between Israel and the Arab states was started by the Arab states and ended by Israel, how is that ethnic cleansing? Israel has never threatened the complete annihilation of Palestinians as Palestinians (Hamas in particular) frequently do to Israel, who is practicing ethnic cleansing? Who relentlessly shoots rockets into civilian areas of Israel, then cries 'ethnic cleansing' when Israel fights back?
The tiny country of Israel, surrounded by about a billion Arabs, lives in constant fear of ethnic cleansing, and many of those countries have stated outright that they would like to see it if not that it was their intention to see it. There are some common-sense things that Israel has to do to insure it's survival, occupying some disputed lands is one of them.
In 1955, Israel's first prime minister Ben-Gurion stated that: "Our future does not depend on what the nations [the international community] say, but what the Jews do." Jump forward to 2007, and Tzipi Livni - former minister and so-called 'moderate' - revealed: "I am a lawyer...But I am against law - international law in particular. Law in general."
Israel commits grave, systematic violations of international law; expands beyond its borders; and seriously abuses the human rights of Palestinians terrorised by settlers acting with impunity. The evidence is irrefutable - and the theatrics of apartheid apologists can no longer hide it.
Israel does what it has to do to defend itself from relentless attacks. It has expanded its borders several times after being attacked and has almost always retreated from those lands. West Bank settlers have no impunity they are held accountable for acts of terror, just as Palestinians are held to account by Israel, while Gaza and West Bank celebrate acts of terror against Israel.
All Palestinians can have access to the privileges afforded to those living in Israel. All they have to do is stop trying to annihilate Israel. Stop the Satanic obsession!
Mr White, if you can't be fair and reasonable, at least try to be honest.