Demonstrators burn an Israeli national flag during an anti-Israel protest.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Out of 400 million adult citizens of the European Union, over 150 million believe Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians. Opinion polls conducted over the past decade back up these figures.
When mentioning this I am often asked if I have ever discussed this issue with Israeli government officials.
In response, I relate the sad experiences I’ve gone through over the past few years. Others had repeatedly told me many years earlier how difficult it was to convince government officials to fight back against the tsunami of verbal attacks which Israel endures. One example, among many, was during a 2005 interview with Johannes Gerster, a former member of the German parliament.
At the time he was the head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Israel. Gerster told me: “At the beginning of the second intifada, I spoke with a number of important Israelis in the government. In all conversations, I said, ‘A war is always fought with soldiers and logistical support troops for supplies. Today the war is being conducted with a third weapon: propaganda.”
To which, Gerster said, his “Israeli counterparts told me literally: ‘We regret that the Europeans cannot see for themselves what is happening.
We cannot help them with additional material.’” “This is a very wrong and arrogant attitude,” he said.
“However one defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is today conducted not only with soldiers but with propaganda, which includes factual information. In the first one-and-a-half years since the intifada, Israeli democracy, including its civil society, failed in this. Today the situation is a bit better.”
My own first major exposure to the government’s ignorance of the nature of anti-Israelism occurred a few years ago. Two Israeli ministries were asked to present a report on anti-Semitism for the government. Three experts in the field, of whom I was one, were invited to make 10-minute presentations to these ministries’ director generals and staff.
The meeting began badly.
One director general said the ministry had not yet come to a conclusion regarding whether or not anti-Israelism was a new form of anti-Semitism.
That statement shocked me – it does not take much time or brains to prove that the two are based on similar hate motifs.
The other director general’s reactions showed even greater ignorance. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a worldwide overview of a millennia- old phenomenon. All he could contribute was some of his personal experiences discussing anti-Semitism on Australian campuses.
Over the past two years, I have had about eight meetings with various high-ranking officials employed at three Israeli government ministries. The meetings concerned the widespread anti-Israelism manifesting itself in Europe. One such meeting was with a deputy minister, two were with director generals and another two were with assistant director generals.
I provided the polling statistics which indicate the large percentage of Europeans who believe that Israel is exterminating the Palestinians, or alternatively, that Israel behaves like the Nazis toward them. The statistics were based on seven studies undertaken by four different organizations in Europe.
None of my government counterparts knew anything about these statistics, even though the oldest one, concerning Germany, dated from 2004. At that time, 68 percent of the supposedly re-educated adult population of Germany thought Israel behaved like the Nazis. This might be called Holocaust inversion.
The worst reaction to my presentation came from a director general who refused to believe the statistics. He apparently thought he could not afford to do otherwise – it would mean he’d have to propose a detailed program to his minister to counteract the threat these figures implied.
Yet, as a trained diplomat, my counterpart did not say so directly.
Most other meetings followed a similar pattern. Reactions often included a proposal by my counterparts to invite me to a meeting with some of their colleagues. It was another way of saying “don’t call us – we’ll call you.”
Those invitations never came.
The few examples given above illustrate how deep the phenomenon of looking away from a shocking reality can run in government circles. As top Israeli officials close their eyes to the widespread demonization of Israel in Europe, our enemies continue to promote the defamation of the Jewish state.
The author’s recently published book, The War of a Million Cuts – analyzes how Israel and Jews are delegitimized, and how one can fight these attempts at delegitimization.