The rage fueling anti-Israel protests abroad is stoked by an unbalanced media coverage of Israel’s campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said on Thursday.
“First of all, let’s look and see what is being portrayed,” Lauder told The Jerusalem Post while driving to Sderot as head of a WJC solidarity mission. “In England, France and the US, what we are seeing on television and in the newspapers is a one-sided view.”
Lauder and the other members of his 78-strong WJC delegation experienced first-hand Color Red sirens as they visited communities near the Gaza border, having to rush for cover as Hamas fired rockets in the area.
According to Lauder, a former US ambassador to Austria and deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO affairs, the international media have not adequately portrayed the “hundreds of rockets” that have been fired into Israel by Hamas as intercepted projectiles make for boring stories.
“They can’t show rockets being blown up in the air by one side. That’s not a story. And the result is that there is this fanning of anti-Semitism.
“There are no pictures to be seen, so they have reporters reporting on what’s happening in Gaza and they hear stories about children being killed and things like that and the result is that the Arab communities all over hear that the Israelis are going after them,” he explained.
“No one is saying ‘Hey, it was Hamas that started it.’” While portraying Israel as a Goliath against the Palestinian David, he continued, the media fan the flames of hate by seeking a “balance” between the sides.
“They are saying, ‘My God, Israel is okay, and they are killing the poor, defenseless people in Gaza,’” and the result is that “it doesn’t take much effort on behalf of organizing various riots.”
The subsequent violence against Jews in the Diaspora at the hands of those angered by the Middle East conflict exemplifies his contention that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments are the same.
“Anti-Israel [hatred] and anti-Semitism all of a sudden become one, particularly in the Diaspora where all of a sudden they go after synagogues and Jewish places,” he said.
During a rally in Antwerp on Saturday, protesters marched chanting “Kill the Jews.”
On Sunday, a mob in Paris surrounded a synagogue, fought with Jewish security guards and police and trapped congregants inside. Pro-Israel activists were physically attacked at rallies in Los Angeles and Boston, and in two incidents, men were beaten in Sweden for flying the Israel flag.
Lauder objected to the caveats appended to protestations of support for Israel’s right to self-defense by many countries, saying that “proportional” is a word used when “you want to accuse one side of doing something against the other.”
“The fact that Israel is able to defend itself with the Iron Dome and the fact that these [Hamas] missiles are less accurate [and that] fewer people are killed [is disproportional] because theoretically under that sort of balance there should have only been one person killed in Gaza,” Lauder said. “It’s always the question of who is the underdog.”
Still, foreign leaders who have visited Israel have begun to understand the realities here, he said.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende’s experience in jumping into a bomb shelter with Avigdor Liberman, his Israeli counterpart, “had a major effect on the Norwegians,” he said.
Lauder said that he watched “the rise of anti-Semitism throughout the world” and that in some ways the situation in Europe is similar to that of the 1930s.
“What’s happened is that once again we see that when there are economic problems, it makes anti-Semitism come alive very strongly,” he said, using as an example Hungary, where the neo-Nazi Jobbik party recently captured a fifth of seats in parliament.
“Hungary has some very serious problems that led to the rise of the Jobbik party and [they are] using again the Jewish person as the scapegoat. It is very much a replay of what we saw in Europe in the 1930s because of the 1929 stock market crash. This lead to the whole rise of fascism and anti-Semitism,” he said.
The same silence that the world exhibited in regard to anti-Jewish actions during the years prior to the Holocaust is being exhibited today in the world’s indifference to Iran’s threats to destroy Israel, he continued.
Lauder criticized the Obama administration for its Iran policy, and said that the idea of “taking another five months” in negotiating with the Islamic Republic “would push it right beyond the mid-term elections so it does not become a Democratic difficulty.”
The leaders of the 22 member- communities of the World Jewish Congress who traveled to Israel with Lauder spent Thursday meeting with top political figures, as well as touring cities and towns under fire and meeting with citizens.
Lauder said that one of the most important things is that Diaspora Jews sought ways to get involved in helping Israel during the conflict.
Jews abroad can and should send ideas to the WJC and look to start initiatives, he said.
“Wherever we go people open up their doors and listen,” he said of the WJC.
Lauder and the other members of his 78-strong WJC delegation experienced first-hand Color Red sirens as they visited communities near the Gaza border. They joined President Shimon Peres at Kibbutz Zikim, where on July 8, the IDF thwarted a terrorist attack on the kibbutz after Hamas commandos tried to land and carry out an attack there.
Lauder told Peres and kibbutz members that he had been “overwhelmed by the response of the heads of Jewish communities in coming on this mission at such short notice” and that “world Jewry is united in its desire to stand side-by-side with Israel during this dangerous period.”
Peres warmly welcomed the WJC delegation.
“Today, coincidentally, we mark the 110th anniversary of Theodor Herzl’s death. We know that his first dream, for the creation of a Jewish state, has been fulfilled,” Peres said. “I hope his second dream will come true as well, and that is to live in peace.”
In Sderot, students regaled the delegation with song, while Mayor Alon Davidi thanked Lauder for his contribution to the city. “Hamas wants to bring death to this area, while we bring life. My seven children pray that the army will do its job and we pray for the safety of our soldiers,” Davidi said.
The mission also traveled to Sha’ar Hanegev, an area that has been one of the worst-hit by the Gazan rockets, and visited an ORT school there. Students have no more than 15 seconds to reach a shelter room in the case of a Color Red siren.
“You are not alone. We believe in you and stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel. When you have difficulties, we stand with you,” Lauder told them.