“Next year in Palestine” was the largest headline on the first page of the Swiss Neue Zuericher Zeitung (NZZ), which appeared in the December 29/30 edition of the paper.

The article, written by Martin Woker, an editor of the paper, is not overly friendly to Israel, to say the least. Arguably, the headline itself is a masterpiece of yellow journalism with an anti-Semitic flavor, which has little respect for the feeling of Jews.

For two millennia, the Jewish people have fervently wished for themselves to be “next year in Jerusalem.” The saying expresses the deepest wishes of the Jewish people, who after having been thrown out of the Temple and Jerusalem, prayed and beseeched the Almighty to turn the wheel of history backwards and bring the Jewish people once again into the promised land. Generations of families have instilled in their children the hope that one day they all will be able to return to Jerusalem.

Woker had no regard for these deep feelings, for, after all who cares when a Jew is upset? They misused this saying to express their deep hope that next year there will be Palestinian state whose capital is in Jerusalem.

Woker begins his article with an “objective” description of Israel’s construction program, utilizing the birth of Jesus tale: “Maria and Joseph would not have had to find refuge in a greater Jerusalem pigsty nowadays. There are thousands of apartments under construction or in the planning stages, to the north and east of Bethlehem. The Israeli government is facing harsh criticism from all over the world since these are on occupied Palestinian territory and are limited to Jewish inhabitants only.”

The article goes on to describe the changes taking place in the Middle East and ends with: “Not every struggle for human rights must end in war, as one may learn from the South African example. Accordingly, no one can predict that all the new buildings in Greater Jerusalem will forever be available only to those who today take into consideration only themselves and their ethnically and divinely justified eternal right. It should be clear: God has also lit in the Holy land the spark of unrest of the Orient.”

ISRAEL’S SWISS friends were justifiably upset.

Walter Blum, a Catholic Swiss and the executive secretary of the Swiss Israel society, reacted in a long letter to the NZZ’s Chief Editor Markus Spillmann: “I was surprised by the title of the article, but even more so, in view of the introductory statement using Maria and Joseph. Independent of the fact that the ‘holy couple’ [being Jewish] would not have been able to find themselves in pre-1967 Jordanian Bethlehem, if this is the spirit emanating from an introductory remark to the readership, then I, a long time reader of the NZZ find my soul to be in pain.”

He then continues: “I am sorry that nowhere in your article do you find it necessary to note that apart from the settlement policy, there is also this issue [where he refers earlier to Hamas’s outspoken goal of eliminating the State of Israel] which makes the two-state solution such a long suffering story.”

Blum also relates to Woker’s South African innuendo, noting the deep differences between Israel’s right for existence as a Jewish state and the domination of the black population of South Africa by only a 10 percent minority white population.

But Woker’s article was well appreciated by some of the NZZ’s followers. The editors choose which letters to publicize. So, it was no surprise that one Bruno Lanfraconi, from Lucerne, wrote: “It is additional evidence that Israel purposely does everything possible to prevent a peaceful solution to the Near East conflict... It is already many years that the Israelis are burdened with a terrible guilt.”

Spillmann seemingly does not even realize how anti-Semitic such a letter is in its damnation of the people of Israel.

A few days later, Spillmann finally also published a letter by Liliane Bernet-Bachmann who criticized Woker, noting that “Even according to the Oslo accords, the Jewish- Israeli population has the right to live in the disputed territories. This, as long as there isn’t another agreement which would change the legal situation.”

BUT LET’S leave the Swiss alone. Where is Israel in this outrageous media attack? Where is the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland who should publicly defend Israel and the Jewish people against this onslaught? Could it be that his lack of knowledge of the German language prevents him from doing his job? And if so, why didn’t our former foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, or his deputy, Danny Ayalon, make sure that our representative in Switzerland is capable of carrying out his job? This case is not unique.

A while ago we also reported on the Israeli consul in San Francisco, who was actively backing the controversial J Street organization.

Ayalon was many times petitioned to do something about this, but he didn’t even have the time needed to meet with Nathan Nestel, a worried Israeli, to review the situation.

Instead of complaining about the policies of the Israeli government, our ambassadors abroad should go out there and do something about defending our good name. It is their job to counter such media attacks and prevent them from happening again.

In fact, there are some good “ambassadors,” such as the German (non-Jewish) journalist Ulrich Sahm. In his most recent article, published on the Israelnetz website, Sahm takes on the economic situation in the Palestinian State. He notes that the Palestinian Authority, since its coming into existence in 1994, received more development aid from the world than any other country.

The Palestinians have only themselves to blame for their economic misery, rather than the Israeli occupation. But Sahm does not get his writing published in the NZZ, and certainly not with a headline on the first page entitled “The truth about Palestinian poverty.”

Nor does he get to write a weekly article for the German Spiegel online, which regularly publishes the anti-Israeli diatribes of one Jakob Augstein.

The problem is not Hasbara per se, the real problem is that for too many years our Foreign Ministry has been run by people who are not competent enough, or unwilling to call a spade a spade.

If we are to survive as a nation, then it is high time that our media scrutinizes the Foreign Ministry and forces it to do its job.

The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)

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