The Upside Down World

This is a guest post by AKUS

There are times when not only do I detest the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” website, I wonder about the intelligence of those who run it. Presumably they (Brian Whittaker and Matt Seaton, primarily) do not simply post the rubbish that so frequently appears there, but actually read it first and approve it. Yet, especially with regard to articles about Israel, there seems to be clear evidence of a total inability or unwillingness to try to separate fact from fiction, or to keep articles off their website that are far removed from reality.

Surely it is time that the Guardian realized that its attempt to legitimize its incessant criticism of Israel by employing contributors simply because they are Jewish, or, in Antony Lerman’s case, having once had some affiliation with Israel (via the Habonim youth movement), does not hide their obvious bias?

Thus it is with Lerman’s latest article, Im Tirtzu: delegitimising the ‘delegitimisers’ , April 22nd, which is an attempt to turn the very real issue of the campaign to delegitimize Israel on its head – and blame Israelis for the sort of articles that he himself writes and the Guardian loves to print. It is, in fact, a rewrite of a similar article that appeared on April 19th on Jnews – Incitement against human rights groups on Israeli Remembrance Day – a blog dedicated to thrusting every negative article it can find or write about Israel in front of British readers, where Lerman is listed as a “Trustee”. The Jnews article lists its sources as NIF (New Israel Fund), Ha’aretz, Im Tirtzu, Adalah, PHR (Physicians for Human Rights) -Israel . With the exception of Im Tirtzu, of course, these are organizations that consistently attack Israel in the foreign press. Then, like a snake swallowing its own tail, Jnews lists Lerman’s Guardian article under its “Commentary” section.

What caught my attention in the comments to Lerman’s thread in the Guardian was how many actually took issue with his one-sided attempt to protect one of “his” favored groups, the New Israel Fund (NIF) by refusing to accept the truth behind the complaint that there is, in fact, a broad attempt to attack the legitimacy of Israel’s existence, and its role as a Jewish state – an accusation of racism never directed at the many countries that are proud to claim that they are Islamic states.

Lerman first takes issue with the term “delegitimization” of Israel (I’ve just added it to the dictionary on my computer, by the way). He opens fire with the statement:

“The word “delegitimisation” has become the most significant weapon in the rhetorical arsenal of those defending Israel against external and internal enemies.”.

Lerman’s intention is clear – he regards this as a sort of “dirty trick” used by Israelis and their supporters, even though he offers no alternative way for them to defend Israel’s positions:

“Outside Israel, pro-Israel groups and Jewish defence organisations use it to attack those who protest when Israeli officials speak in public, promote boycott campaigns and accuse Israel of apartheid policies”.

The definition of “delegitimization” given in the Merriam Dictionary, dating back to usage from 1968, is:

: to diminish or destroy the legitimacy, prestige, or authority of

In fact, the purpose of Lerman’s articles on CiF has been precisely to “diminish or destroy the legitimacy, prestige, or authority of the Israeli government”. In fact, he frequently attempts to diminish or destroy the legitimacy and prestige of Israel as a country. This is well recognized by the below-the-line commenters. Within 7 minutes of Lerman’s article appearing on CiF, the negative comments start to appear – the first making a claim that the Israeli government behaves on the “low end of the human scale” – an astonishing claim when one thinks of what is going on in, say, Zimbabwe, or Burma, or, for that matter, the behavior of Lerman’s own country in Iraq and Afghanistan:

However, Lerman cannot get away with this attempt to claim that “delegitimization” is a tactic of the right to discredit organizations with which he feels more comfortable. For example, a commenter, “HenryW” has the following to say. Remarkably, it has not been deleted. To make it more readable, I have fixed up a peculiarity of CiF that turns some grammatical marks in question marks, and added what was presumably a missing word:


22 Apr 2010, 12:34PM

Anthony, your article is entirely one-eyed.

It fails to acknowledge the obvious: that whilst some criticism of Israel is certainly not “delegitimisation” (all but the most extreme minority of Israel’s supporters will openly acknowledge that it has serious faults), this does not mean that some, is [not].

This is a simple message that you and your co-travellers cannot accept.

Lerman takes particular aim at the Reut Institute for its use of the term. As usual, it pays to dig below the surface of articles on CiF and start checking the sources. If you follow the link, it turns out that the Reut Institute has the not particularly ignoble aim of promoting “The ISRAEL 15 Vision”. This is the sort of strategic vision not unknown in other countries or even corporations, but one that Lerman, apparently wishes to deny to Israel – in fact, to delegitimize the idea that Reut is promoting:

The ISRAEL 15 Vision focuses on placing Israel among the fifteen leading countries in terms of Quality of Life within fifteen years. This vision requires a social and economic leapfrog that would close the gap in Quality of Life between Israel and developed countries. This vision is the organizing idea of the Reut Institute in the context of its work toward Israel’s social and economic development.

Reut has published a well-thought out article which addresses the undeniable attempt to delegitimize Israel in the world media – Building a Political Firewall Against Israel’s Delegimization. On Page 5, there is a list of people with whom Reut met in order to draw up this document. As well as many who clearly support Israel’s positions even though they may be critical of Israel at times the list includes some of whom it could well be said that they are at the forefront of the efforts to delegitimize Israel, including by their efforts on the Guardian’s website. A few will be known to readers, some as contributors to CiF, though Lerman did not take the trouble to mention them. One of them was none other than himself:

* Aluf Benn, Editor-at-large, Ha’aretz
* Antony Lerman, former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and a member of the Steering Group of Independent Jewish Voices, UK
* Arthur Goodman, Member of the Executive, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, UK
* Jeremy Bowen , BBC Middle East Editor, UK
* Jonathan Freedland, Editorial Page Columnist for The Guardian and The Jewish Chronicle, UK

Lerman attacks the use of the word “delegitimization” by Reut and turns it on its head, claiming now that it has two uses – one, for Israelis and supporters of Israel to (illegitimately) use it to describe “the motive[s] of Israel’s critics” and the other, far worse, “as a means of undermining Israel’s human rights organizations”.

But it’s starting to become more difficult for Lerman (and, on other threads, Shabi, Freedman etc.) to get away with the spin they employ to – well, delegitimize Israel, or, in this case the Reut report:

Commenter Geoff01, “originally from London, currently living and working in Tel Aviv … in the most recent election I voted for Hadash, as they were the only party that opposed the war in Gaza” doesn’t approve of Im Tirtzu, but is another who objects to Lerman’s characterization of Reut:

Commenter “Bukharin” agrees with Geoff’s opinion about Reut:

Lerman follows the party line of a cause he favors – the New Israel Fund (NIF) – in claiming that it is under attack from a new Israeli group, Im Tirtzu (“If you will it” – taken from the old Zionist motto – “If you will it, it will not be a dream”). Im Tirtzu, Lerman writes, is responsible for “[taking] an insidious turn in January” when it “attacked the New Israel Fund for supporting the Israeli human rights groups, which, Im Tirtzu claimed, provided more than 90% of the data for the war crimes accusations against Israel in the Goldstone Report.” It is typical that “human rights groups” are regarded as “protesting”, but those opposed to them are regarded as “attacking” them.

Many and probably most Israelis regard the Goldstone report as one of the major efforts in the campaign of delegitimization, orchestrated by the automatic anti-Israeli bloc at the UNHRC and those who assisted it with faked and/or unsubstantiated reports about the Cast Lead campaign as being little more than fellow travelers. That, by the way, includes Ha’aretz, which rushed to publish and support every such allegation, with no retractions when they were disproved. But in the world that Lerman and the Guardian inhabit, there is only one truth, and that is their truth, no matter how baseless.

Lerman describes “Im Tirtzu” as “clearly a radical rightwing movement”. That’s not how they see themselves. Faced with dozens of NGOs opposed to just about everything Israel says or does, Im Tirtzu describes its mission thus:

Im Tirtzu is a centrist extra-parliamentary movement that strives to strengthen the values of Zionism in Israel and to renew and reinstate Zionist discourse, thinking and ideology in order to secure the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel and strengthen Israeli society in the challenges it faces. Im Tirtzu is committed to leading and advancing a second Zionist revolution on all levels of the Israeli public discourse: intellectual, cultural, media and political.

Im Tirtzu is the only movement that engages in public advocacy on behalf of the State of Israel and of Zionism on Israeli campuses, based on the recognition and understanding that the student population must necessarily constitute the major vehicle of Zionist renewal.

Israel is a democracy with a fervent attachment – an almost insane attachment – to freedom of expression, and Im Tirtzu is doing what Lerman and organizations he is associated with like IJV and JNews and dozens of other anti-Israeli organizations have being doing for years – going to the campuses and making its case. In this instance, doing it in Israel, in opposition to Israelis trying to blacken Israel’s name across the world. While Lerman expects freedom of expression to be observed for those he favors, he demonstrates the dichotomy we often see between the attitude CiF contributors when they protest noisily against the same freedom for those who oppose their opinions.

A partial list cited on Jnews on April 17th provided by Im Tirtzu, while far from exhaustive, makes a mockery of the attempt to claim that this sole organization is somehow suppressing dissent in Israel, and gives a sense of how easy it is to be a dissenter in Israel – there’s something for everyone:

The report mentions a plethora of Israeli organizations, including Gisha, Bimkom, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, HaMoked, B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Yesh Din, MachsomWatch, Social TV, Zochrot, Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), Adalah and Rabbis for Human Rights, but the accusations directed at them are rather broad.

The Im Tirtzu report, according to JNews, also references “Gaza-based rights group the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) as the prime mover in legal action against Israeli officials overseas in recent years” and indicates that PHCR is funded by NIF and the Ford Foundation. Lerman noted in his Guardian article that Im Tirtzu is funded by, among others, “Christian evangelical John Hagee Ministries and the New York Central Fund, both of which fund settler groups.” “SantaMoniker” posted a copy of a comment of mine on Lozowick’s blog, with the long list of foreign donors to Moked, to which Lerman made this incredible reply:

@SantaMoniker: How you can compare the list of funders of Moked with the pentacostal, apocalyptic, right-wing, and antisemitism-linked Hagee Ministries is beyond comprehension.

Lerman gets very excited by support for Im Tirtzu by Hagee but sees nothing strange about the Ford Foundation, founded by arch-antisemite Henry Ford, supporting groups opposed to Israel’s polices, at the least, and its very existence (Adalah), at worst.

Lerman even links to an Israeli song referenced on JNews, which probably picked it up from Ha’aretz or NIF, which describes the dismay many serving in the IDF feel about those “activists” who enjoy their rights and freedom of expression while others do the hard work in the army. This is scarcely an “illegitimate” concern. Lerman initially claimed the song was commissioned by Im Tirtzu – an allegation which is impossible to prove and was denied by the group. Lerman later commented on the thread that he based his view on an earlier article he read – possibly in the blog for which he is in part responsible, JNews – and made a half-hearted retraction blaming his misunderstanding on a PR campaign by Im Tirtzu::

Haaretz’s “City Mouse” listings publication says that claims about Benayun having written the song “on the spur of the moment” and “because of anger at NIF” were made by the PR company, presumably to generate publicity for the album. In any event, it looks like Im Tirzu and Benayun both had something to gain from either encouraging and/or allowing the original story to run.

Curiously enough, Yaacov Lozowick referred to the same song on his blog the day before Lerman’s article appeared, and even provided a link to YouTube, which also appeared in Lerman’s article. Does Lerman read Lozowick’s blog? I don’t know, of course, but the coincidence is remarkable. Perhaps it was this comment by Lozowick, who is by no means an extreme right-wing commentator but like so many of us fed up with the campaign to delegitimize Israel, that got under Lerman’s skin:

One of the most peculiar things about our loony left is how extraordinarily thin their skin is. They dish out barrels of filth, much of it either dishonest, downright false or at best tendentious, and they do so ever more often in foreign languages for the gleeful consumption of our enemies; yet whenever anyone calls them out for doing so, they shriek to the high heavens that democracy is being tortured to extinction. Just yesterday we had yet another example….

… Having read the lyrics over and over, and watched the video repeatedly, it seems to me a song of anguish, not hatred. In no scenario is it a threat to democracy.

Unless you read Ha’aretz. They put their story about it on the front page of the Hebrew paper edition (alas, not on their English-language website). The item uses all the tricks of the trade, telling of “enormous anger” but without any quantification and citing two excitable sources as if they’re vox populi in classic Guardian agitprop style. Since these are quotations you can’t quite attribute them to Ha’aretz itself, which is merely reporting. Of course, no quotations of supporters are forthcoming.

Rather a neat summary of much of what appears on CiF’s I/P threads and Lerman’s article.

Lerman ends with the following statement:

The continued denial of the Palestinians’ human and political rights is the most effective way of delegitimising Israel.

But on the other hand, we have three articles with Lerman’s fingerprints all over them now accusing Im Tirtzu of “incitement against human rights groups”, “renewed attacks on human rights groups”, and “delegitimizing the delegitimizers”.

It seems to me that there is a concerted attack under way to delegitimize dissent in Israel when it is aimed at those who would condemn Israel.

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