Did you know that it’s almost Israel Apartheid Week? It’s happening all around the world on slightly different dates in February and March. Although Fresno will not have an official event, we will be entertained by Historian of the Imagination (I invented the title) Ilan Pappé on February 23, thanks to our local university’s Middle East Studies program.
Here in this conservative, agricultural region, we are treated to anti-Israel events on a regular basis, sometimes almost every week. Last week I attended a showing of the film “Israel vs. Israel,” presented at a local church by the Fresno Center for Nonviolence. The Swedish director, Terje Carlsson, was there to answer questions.
There was nothing exceptional about the film, which was about Israeli Jews who oppose the Jewish presence in the territories. I found one scene instructive, in which Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), one of the film’s heroes, was talking to an Arab who was describing vandalism allegedly committed by “settlers.” To everything the Arab said, in a mixture of Arabic and Hebrew, Ascherman responded “aiwa” (yes). “Aiwa. Aiwa. Aiwa.” Everything he said was simply taken as given, which is the way the foreign-funded anti-state NGOs like RHR respond to all Arab accusations.
What struck me was the way Carlsson (in the film and in person) simply took certain things for granted, and expected his audience to do so also. For example, he said several times “…settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.”
He was clearly impatient when this was questioned, as though nothing could be more obvious. Nevertheless, he was unable to answer when I asked him why the 1929 pogrom and the 1948-67 Jordanian occupation of Hevron somehow rendered the Jewish presence there ‘illegal’. Although he said he had been in Israel for 10 years on and off, making this and other propaganda films — because this is what it was, without even a pretense of ‘balance’ — and was aware that Jews had lived in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem prior to 1948, this question had not occurred to him, nor did he seem to think that the question of international law in this respect was in the slightest bit controversial.
Like many people who share his beliefs, Carlsson was not being dishonest and did not seem cynical. His absorption of the Arab narrative was total, and he considered what he was doing ‘journalism’, not propaganda.
The individuals responsible for the stream of anti-Israel events in town are also not necessarily dishonest or cynical. The folks at the Center for Nonviolence — who would never, ever allow themselves to support terrorism — believe that they are helping one people achieve self-determination, rather than contributing to campaign to put an end to the self-determination of another.
The function of Apartheid Week and similar events is to create the impression that Israel is not only violating “international law” — which often seems to be whatever the speaker wants it to be — but is doing so out of evil intent, viciously exploiting “the natives” as Pappé and others like to say, in every way, stealing their land and murdering them out of sheer colonialist arrogance. In the process, various crimes are simply invented, war crimes, murders, rapes, etc. Once you believe any of this, it’s possible and even satisfying to believe the rest of it.
Which, I think, is what is behind the campaign that goes on week in and week out, and not just during Apartheid Week. It is a process of accretion, and what is being accreted is a layer of hatred and disgust for the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The false propositions about international law, historical fact, etc. that underlie it and provide a handle for ordinary, decent people like the members of the Center for Nonviolence, to join the campaign.
The objective of this campaign is to drive the Jews out of the Middle East, by any means necessary, including (especially) murder. It had been going on, somewhat unsuccessfully, since the beginning of the 20th century, but it received an boost after 1967 when it adopted the strategy of presenting the struggle against the Jews as a national liberation movement of an oppressed people, the ‘Palestinians’.
This struggle received more impetus later, when it was cast in terms of racism, particularly by the 2001 Durban Conference on Racism. So the members of the Center for Nonviolence, for example, can be enlisted in a profoundly racist cause — the removal of the Jews from their homeland — while they believe that they are fighting against racism! This, of course, is the theme of Apartheid Week.
Ideas are one level, emotions are another. Both are part of the campaign. When I attend an event like Carlsson’s film, I always listen carefully to the small talk beforehand. The deeply felt repugnance for Israeli Jews is evident, as anecdotes (invariably false) about Israeli crimes are shared. This may be part of the reason that it’s so hard to refute propaganda by presenting factual arguments.