Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's directive this week to circulate a 1941 picture of Hitler sitting with Jerusalem mufti Amin al-Husseini represents an effort to put international reports about the Shepherd Hotel controversy into perspective, after plans to build apartments at the site were portrayed by some abroad as another Israeli attempt to usurp what belonged historically to the Palestinians, government officials said Thursday.
The idea is to show who the original owner was, a spokesman for Lieberman said, to put the issue into some kind of context. "We thought the world should have all the facts," he said.
The building was built in the 1930s for Husseini, an extremist Arab leader in Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s, and one of the heads of the three waves of violent Arab riots during this period.
After he was deported by the British, the building became a British military outpost and later, under the Jordanians, became the Shepherd's Hotel. It became an Israeli district courthouse after the Six Day War, and was purchased by US businessman Irwin Moskowitz in 1985.
Some inside the Foreign Ministry objected to Lieberman's directive to circulate the picture, saying the photo was irrelevant to the issue at hand.
"This is counterproductive," a ministry source said. "If we want to argue that we have the right to build anywhere in the city because we are the sovereign there, that is one thing. But bringing in the mufti's connection with Hitler just diverts the argument.
"This doesn't win points, but will merely cause people to say that when the Jews can't win an argument, they invoke Hitler."
Another source deeply involved in hasbara work said that putting the focus on the mufti's connection to Hitler when arguing for the legitimacy of the Shepherd's Hotel project was simply ludicrous.
"This is providing a history lesson," the source said. "But people don't care about what happened in 1941, they want to know why we are taking certain actions now. They want to know what Israel is doing in the Shepherd's Hotel in 2009.
But some experts saw value to the move.
Yariv Ben-Eliezer, a professor at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said that there was something to be said for taking an offensive public diplomacy position, rather then a defensive one.
"Jerusalem was never the capital of any Arab entity," said Ben-Eliezer, who categorizes himself as center-left.
"It was always the capital of Israel, but the world doesn't recognize it as such. It is our right to say to them, 'Guys, look who are the friends of those who claim right to Jerusalem. This is called guilt by association'."
Ben-Eliezer said that the Foreign Ministry is peopled by diplomats who "are used to talking in a politically correct manner and in cocktail party conversations. That is good, and maybe it helps develop person-to-person relationships.
"But if you are talking about propaganda it has to be for the masses, and not only politically correct. I want the whole world to know that they cooperated with the Nazis to kill Jews, and we need to defend ourselves not only in Jerusalem but everywhere else."
Whether this approach is effective, he said, will depend on the results.
So far, however, the results seem underwhelming. Following condemnations from a number of European countries earlier this week calling on Israel to cease all construction in east Jerusalem, the French Foreign Ministry summoned Israel's Ambassador to France Danny Shek in for a meeting to discuss the matter.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said the ministry's political director told Shek that France opposes any construction in the settlements.
According to Chevallier, "An immediate freeze in settlements, including in east Jerusalem, is indispensable for preserving the two-state solution and allowing the resumption of negotiations."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor responded by saying "a solution to the question of the settlements can only be solved through the achievement of a permanent peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The French know that very well, and that if they want to make a contribution to peace they should convince the Palestinians to resume peace talks with Israel immediately, rather than automatically repeating slogans."
Government officials said that the French, in an effort to increase their visibility in the region, were jumping on the anti-settlement bandwagon triggered by US President Barack Obama's position on the settlement issue.
The Shepherd's Hotel controversy made the news on Sunday a few days after the State Department discussed the matter with Michael Oren, Israel's new ambassador in Washington.
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