Ayalon launches campaign to tell 'truth about W. Bank'

Deputy foreign minister asks YouTube video’s viewers to stop calling Judea and Samaria "occupied territories."

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July 19, 2011 02:26
Danny Ayalon youtube clip

Danny Ayalon youtube clip_58. (photo credit: Danny Ayalon's YouTube Channel)

 
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Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon stars in a video released by his ministry on Thursday, in which he presents a historical narrative meant to help wage the public diplomacy battle.

The video, titled The Truth About the West Bank, was made in cooperation with the StandWithUs student NGO, by filmmaker Shlomo Blass of Rogatka Ltd, and director Ashley Lazarus.

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In his day job, Blass works as the TV director for the Latma political satire website, which is best known for the We Con the World video that lampooned the Turkish participants in the 2010 Gaza protest flotilla.

Blass also produced an online video called “Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace.” Created for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, it describes strategic arguments to keep the West Bank, and racked up hundreds of thousands of hits following Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s public disagreement with US President Barack Obama over making the June 4, 1967, lines the baseline for a peace deal.

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Blass told The Jerusalem Post last week that the videos are important because these days “people don’t have the time to read long books and essays, and these clips do people a good service. If you can break down the arguments and make them interesting but still true, and put it forth quickly, it’s a real service for people.”

The video bears a striking similarity to a video released by the YESHA council of Jewish settlements in May dealing with the same subject, entitled "The Territories: Who Do They Belong To?" The video has the same graphics and the script is almost exactly the same word for word.

That video was also produced by Shlomo Blass.

"The ministry saw it [the YESHA video] and said they wanted to do something similar to that, so we made some adaptations to it so that I would work for an audience that wasn't familiar with the same things as an Israeli audience," Blass said last week.

South African-born, Jerusalem-based director Ashley Lazarus, who has directed many commercials and documentaries in a career spanning decades, said that The Truth About the West Bank represented an opportunity for him to use his talent to aid Israeli public diplomacy.

“I come from outside Israel and I see the nightmare of publicity that is put against Israel and how very little counter-information is fed to the Jewry of the world... Suddenly the Foreign Ministry said here’s a chance to do something, and we’re open to counter these misperceptions in a contemporary way.

“Whichever angle you’re coming from in journalism, Israel faces enormous prejudice and criticism that is fueled by unbelievable PR and press-manipulation. It’s not a level playing field, and that’s why I got involved and I had to put my money where my mouth is,” Lazarus said.

When asked if the clip could be perceived as propaganda in that it features the deputy foreign minister, Lazarus said, “Stop right there, what is the legal point of view on the issues? The film can of course be perceived as propaganda, it’s still representing an official body of Israel and anyone who is prejudiced will jump all over it. But if you present it honestly and it’s based on fact, you might have some chance and some people might say this [the issue] is worth reconsidering.”

The six-minute video begins with a soundtrack of smooth jazz. Then Ayalon appears in front of an animated backdrop, and begins tackling the “very simple question” of from whom Israel conquered the West Bank.

He mentions how there was never an Arab state in the West Bank known as “Palestine.”

“Actually, was there ever [a state of Palestine]?” he then asks.

Ayalon then breaks down the timeline from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 through Six Day War, along the way discussing UN Security Council Resolution 242 that followed the 1967 war. It talks about how Jordan had “no legal justification” for holding the West Bank following the War of Independence, and how Israel’s giving up its claim to the East Bank of the Jordan River, promised under the Balfour Declaration, shows that “I guess you can’t say the Jewish people haven’t accepted some painful compromises already.”

Ayalon goes on to say there was never an international border on the Green Line and that a new legal definition is needed for the West Bank, arguing it should be considered a disputed area, like Western Sahara, Tunbs Island (controlled by Iran but claimed by the United Emirates) and Kashmir, among others.

“Israel’s presence in the West Bank is the result of a war of self-defense and should not be seen as occupied territory; because there was no sovereign body there before, it should be called disputed,” Ayalon says.

“Please, let’s stop using the terms ‘occupied territories’ and ‘’67 borders,’ they’re simply not politically correct,” Ayalon says.

The Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the “concise, easy to follow video” is meant to explain “where the terms ‘West Bank’ ‘occupied territories’ and ‘’67 borders’ originated and how they are incorrectly used and applied.”

Ayalon’s office said that the video was meant to put forward Israel’s “long-standing but neglected position” ahead of the Palestinians’ attempt to have a unilaterally declared state recognized at the UN in September.

“For too many years, our public diplomacy has been mainly based on a ‘peace narrative,’ where Israeli officials talk about how much we are willing to concede for peace, while the Palestinian public diplomacy is all about supposed rights and international law,” Ayalon said.

“It is time for Israel to return to a ‘rights-based diplomacy’ and talk about the facts, rights, history and international law which are little known but give a dramatically different viewpoint to what is currently accepted.”

His office went for the online video format because “Israel’s case is harder to make in an era where context, background and history are less important than an image or a headline. Social media in general and YouTube in particular are major battlegrounds in the clash of narratives and public diplomacy. It is vital that a strong rights-based Israeli presence is seen and heard, especially for the YouTube demographics who are more interested in easy to digest explanations.”

The video will eventually be translated into a number of languages including Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian and German, and will be shown in “hundreds of schools and educational centers worldwide as part of their curriculum on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Ayalon’s office said.

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