hasbara group 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Israeli Apartheid Week nears, the government on Monday unveiled its latest
initiative aimed at debunking the analogy made by Palestinian supporters between
the Jewish state and minority rule in South Africa.
RELATED:The apartheid analogy: Lessons for Israel
At a reception at the
Knesset, the Public Diplomacy Ministry presented a diverse group of about 20
volunteer speakers consisting of Arabs, gay rights activists, Ethiopian Jews and
a former MTV presenter who will tour campuses in North America later this month
highlighting Israeli society’s pluralism.
Yuli Edelstein (Likud), the
minister of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs, said the aim was not to
defend the government’s policies per se, but rather to demonstrate the country’s
democratic and egalitarian values.
“If it turns into political debate
don’t feel obliged to represent the government,” Edelstein told the group. “The
people who organize Apartheid Week aren’t pro- Likud or pro-Labor. Their problem
is the existence of Israel. If there is this or that discussion and someone asks
about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, feel free to express your opinion even
if you voted Meretz. If it comes from your kishkes [gut] you’ll show a lot more
Israeli Apartheid Week is an annual series of lectures and
rallies held in late February or early March in which Israel’s treatment of
Palestinians and its Arab citizens is equated with South Africa’s treatment of
non-whites under Apartheid. Since it began in 2005, the movement has grown
significantly and now takes places in dozens of campuses around the
The government hopes that during their talks set to take place in
Washington, New York, Boston, Toronto and Vancouver, the participants will help
counter claims that Israel is inherently discriminatory, by talking about their
Adam Asad, a Druse from the Galilee, acknowledged
that inequality between Jews and Arabs in Israel exists but said he believed
such disparities can be overcome within the framework of Israeli
“In any case, there are no laws that stipulate
[discrimination],” said the 19-year-old, who is the youngest members of the
delegation. “I feel I can address the issues at hand and correct injustices that
Rinan Khoury, a Christian from Nazareth, said she wasn’t afraid
of confronting Arabs during the tour who might call her a traitor.
to be expected,” she said. “I have relatives who left, but we decided to stay
here and work for our rights. We want to solve this issue, and that’s why I took
part in national service.”
Khoury added: “Inequality is everywhere, but
Becky Griffin is a former MTV presenter and by far
the most recognizable member of the group. The daughter of an Israeli mother of
Yemenite descent and a Catholic American father who converted to Judaism, she
said she volunteered to dispel the notion that Israelis were intolerant of
“Israel has its problems like anywhere else, but it’s a place
where communication does exist,” Griffin said.
Critics have said out that
the initiative ignores the divides along ethnic and religious lines within
Israel between Jews and non-Jews, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and the religiously
observant and secular.
Comedians Shay and Dror on their daily radio talk
show, for instance, poked fun at the initiative by comparing it to an Israeli
entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual music competition whose
participants are notorious for pulling PR stunts aimed at winning over the
“We should send a gay, an Arab and Becky Griffin to the
Eurovision to represent us,” they said in jest.
Griffin shrugged off the
criticism on Monday, saying the speakers represented a genuine effort to shine a
light on the heterogeneous nature of Israeli society.
they’ll look for the yellow journalism angle,” she said of the media.
representative of the Public Diplomacy Ministry said the group wasn’t supposed
to represent a perfect cross-section of society, but rather give voice to
aspects of it that aren’t usually seen or head abroad.
Edelstein said the
group’s aim was to promote sophisticated thinking. “If people emerge from the
talks thinking that the situation here is much more complicated than they
thought, then that would be a success,” he said.