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Think Tanks: Hotbeds for anti-Semitism?
By DEBORAH DANAN
02/07/2013
The irresponsible smear campaigns of think tanks impact the media, policymakers and the public. It's time they were more closely monitored.
 
In a seminal report in 2010, the Reut Institute delineated the “new battlefield” in which the Jewish state is subject to a "global systemic and systematic assault" of its policies, and indeed, of the very legitimacy of its existence. Sadly, despite Reut’s ongoing dedication in fighting delegitimization, the phenomenon of defamatory blitzkriegs on Israel only seems to be growing.

The “new battlefield” is the arena in which “new anti-Semitism”—as defined by Natan Sharansky’s “3D” formula of demonization, delegitimization and double standards—is waged. In recent years, however, new soldiers have entered the battlefield and are wielding their own weapon—the dreaded pen—with as much gusto and as little care for the repercussions as a Hamas militant with a rocket launcher. However, these are remote soldiers who sit snugly behind the comfort and security of their desks. They are strategists and security analysts, many of whom are (unsurprisingly) Jews, and are part of the latest monster called think tank terror.

Just over a year ago, a media firestorm was unleashed by employees at the Center for American Progress (CAP), a Washington-based policy organization, who scribbled rabidly anti-Semitic comments that included calling US supporters of Israel as “Israel Firsters;” comparing Israel to Apartheid South Africa; and postulating that “the entire Israeli occupation” of the Gaza Strip is “a moral abomination” comparable to the former Jim Crow South in the US.

The subsequent firings at CAP didn’t do much to curb Judeophobia in other think tanks. Only last month in London—the city that the aforementioned Reut report identified as the “Mecca of delegitimization”—the prestigious Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published an article which was as unfounded as it was defamatory. Authored by the think tank’s director of security Jonathan Eyal, the article, entitled “Netanyahu's Israel: Strategic Fatalism and Disaster,” is a rambling diatribe akin to soapbox advocacy and is packed full of non-sequiturs and factual errors.

Eyal’s heavy-handed critique of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies leads him to conclude that should Israel cease to exist, the blame will fall squarely on Netanyahu’s shoulders and not Israel’s enemies. Eyal “supports” his outlandish claim by quoting an “off-the-record” comment allegedly made by US President Barack Obama: “Iran poses a short-term threat to Israel’s survival; Israel’s own behavior poses a long-term one.” The quote was taken from a column written by Jeffrey Goldberg, the man Eyal attributes as being the White House’s “unofficial spokesman.” But apparently Eyal didn’t read Goldberg’s column too carefully or he would have noticed that the “quote” was Goldberg’s own and not attributed to Mr. Obama.   

Eyal’s sweeping generalizations continue with the assertion that “Netanyahu will re-launch his charm offensive in the US, claiming to be closely aligned to the Administration but at the same time sabotaging every step taken by Washington in the Middle East.” You see, Israel is the sole reason for the impasse in the peace process; PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s intransigence, the Arab Spring, the elusive Fatah-Hamas merger, on the other hand, do not play any role at all. For Eyal, it’s much of the same regarding Israel’s peace treaties with its neighbor, Egypt. The occupied territories, Israel’s “tinderbox,” may provoke a third Intifada which in turn will cause Egypt to sever its ties with Israel. Right. So US threats to cut foreign aid, or for that matter, the phrase “apes and pigs,” would play no role whatsoever should the peace treaty with Egypt disintegrate.

Much of Eyal’s phrasing is unsettling, and not only because it’s either erroneous or unsupported by actual evidence, but also because of its devil-may-care undertones. Sentences like “[Netanyahu] takes pride… in the occasional targeted assassination of people Israel does not like” are outrageously editorialized and should have never been allowed to have been published as part of an analysis piece on a think tank website. How can an institute which purports to be a world expert on security reduce internationally recognized terrorists as being nothing more than “people Israel does not like?” These sentences have no basis in fact and have absolutely no value other than being more fuel for anti-Semites (as if they need it). Consider this gem, for example: “Most Israelis remain supremely uninterested in what they neighbors think or do: they are content to continue their 'villa-in-the-jungle' existence, enjoying life in a land of plenty surrounded by violence and squalor.”

Eyal underscores Netanyahu’s “strategic fatalism” by introducing Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett as the Robin to Netanyahu’s Batman (never mind that Bibi’s erstwhile chief-of-staff isn’t exactly loved by the premier). In a single paragraph, Eyal makes two glaring omissions. The first is with regards to Bennett’s proposal “to annex 60 percent of the occupied Palestinian land without granting citizenship to any of its residents.” Wrong.  In the words of Bennett himself, “The Arab residents will become full-fledged Israeli citizens.” The second omission is at the end of the paragraph, in a sentence that neatly (and mistakenly) summarizes Netanyahu’s political vision: “Indeed, the promise to create a Palestinian state is not even mentioned in Mr Netanyahu's current electoral manifesto.” How convenient of Mr. Eyal not to mention that neither did any of the traditional left-leaning parties like Labor –and to a large extent, even Meretz—make any such promises.

But before drawing to its conclusion, what would a demonizing, delegitimizing and defamatory article about Israel be without making mention of the reliable old friend, the Apartheid claim? Eyal writes that Netanyahu’s “approach is almost identical to the policies which South Africa pursued during the Apartheid regime: seize the lands and huddle their inhabitants into 'Bantustans', postage stamp-size enclaves where they remain powerless. In South Africa's case that resulted in the end of that country's democracy, and a vicious civil war; the same awaits Israel.” Dismantling Eyal’s ridiculous analogy would be an article in and of itself, but suffice it to say that South Africa’s policy had nothing to do with security implications (as Israel’s does) and everything to do with the unadulterated racism of keeping the country’s blacks at bay.  

Eyal’s wanton “analysis” highlights western academia’s scary trend of Israel-bashing under the guise of strategy scrutiny. On some level, this is far more sinister than classical anti-Semitism of the type that is prevalent across the Islamic world, since the latter’s vulgarity often borders on the absurd. One has to ask, what is the substance of policy and what constitutes security interests other than arbitrary whims and outlandish statements? The article decries the mythical powerful Jewish/ Israeli NGOs, yet where is the outcry of such groups? Have they too cowered into submission at the prospect of confronting new anti-Semitism that is prevalent in the British establishment? It’s possible that from a legal perspective this article may well be considered defamatory, but more than that, when an esteemed think tank with considerable influence over foreign policy resorts to the type of yellow journalism that is more suited to tabloids, it’s no wonder that the foreign office is deemed as having an anti-Israel bias.
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