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It’s time for a hasbara rethink, says the director of British Muslims for Israel.

By HASAN AFZAL
April 27, 2011 22:49
Burning the Israeli flag in Taksim Square, Turkey.

israeli flag burning in Turkey_311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

 
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In Europe, hasbara is nothing more than a theory that friends of Israel allude to at interfaith events, and the occasional objection to a boycott motion through the student union. Yet among the countless threats with which the Jewish state must deal, it is indisputable that one of them is perpetual delegitimization, to the point where the state’s very existence is now up for debate.

It is not easy to fight this phenomenon when grassroots hasbara in the UK is almost solely a Jewish endeavor. If a non-Jewish student on campus wishes to campaign against Hezbollah, oppose a university’s attempt to twin with a Hamas-controlled university or run an event with a pro-Israeli speaker, who does he turn to? He certainly can’t go to the “human rights” societies that work with Islamist speakers. Nor can he turn to the somewhat exclusive Jewish society which is entrusted as the sole steward of hasbara on campus.

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The pro-Palestinian movements are successful because they are diverse. Islamists, socialists and middle-class white women all wave the Hamas flag quite happily at anti- Israel protests .It is imperative that those of us who are Christian, Muslim or Hindu be given a chance to help.


Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. It guarantees minority rights and political pluralism, holds its politicians to account both in and out of office, and is the only country in the Middle East that provides equality under the law for homosexuals and women. Despite these trophies of liberty, the state is relentlessly demonized by the Western world using the language of human rights.

Sadly, too few people in the United Kingdom are aware of the facts. When well-meaning Europeans are informed of the realities in Israel and the neighboring states, their reaction is often complimentary. With the right kind of advocacy, those who consider themselves pro-Palestinian can be persuaded to rethink their position.

“The only democracy? The only place with legal equality for homosexuals and women?” they query. With the right sort of advocacy from the right sort of person, self-styled Palestinian activists can be encouraged to confront the increasingly extreme “student leaders” and radical Islamists that manage and exploit the Palestinian solidarity movements. Those who become aware that they have been ill-informed are, of course, left wanting answers.

Recently, I was invited to give an interview to Israel’s Channel 10, and I highlighted this exact point. When one moves Israeli advocacy from a reactionary approach to proactively focusing on the human rights situation in the Middle East, it immediately invites people to reconsider their position. Islamists can no longer shroud themselves in the sanitizing perspective that Israel is an “oppressor” - an excuse that legitimizes the Islamists’ real agenda. Rightfully reclaiming the human rights agenda is the type of hasbara we assume is happening, but shockingly, in reality it is rarely practiced in Europe.



No rational observer doubts that Israel has an excellent army, but now the Jewish state must beef up its public diplomacy to defend its image. Israel must hold those to account who, in the Western media, academia and political sphere, attempt to rationalize the terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas by calling them “strikes” – painting them as somehow morally acceptable. We must challenge those who consistently demonize Israel, and expose their visceral hatred and double standards.

Urgent action is required. People in Europe are no longer thinking about how a two-state solution may be implemented, but have begun asking nonsense questions such as, “Should Israel exist?” The faculty and student societies in universities regularly invite speakers who offer a one-sided, anti-Israel point of view. Islamist groups frequently parade openly anti-Semitic speakers, who enjoy the very freedom of expression they seek to destroy. Hasbara cannot be merely reactive – a manifestly failed method still employed by a large majority of British Jewish leadership. It must be proactive. It is all very well to splutter that boycotts are bad, but what use is that when there is no one to say Israel is good?

Wherever Hamas apologists lurk in the media, a carefully chosen story with selective quotes and violent pictures will do their cause wonders. In other words, the other side realizes that though it can never defeat Israel militarily, if it can define the conflict, rewrite its history and put up a convincing story, then although Israel may have won the military battle, it will lose the real war – the war of ideas.

Even more scandalous is the state of affairs in the Palestinian territories. Palestinian nationhood is increasingly being defined by extreme violence and a culture of victimization. Gaza is now a breeding ground for Islamists willing to kill their own people as Gaza descends into a culture of wanton violence far more terrifying than under the Arab nationalism of the PLO. We should be asking the world, how can you stand by and allow the Palestinian people to be represented like this? We must ask how the world, in all seriousness, can attack the way Israel defends its peoples and their democratic values against the tyranny of Islamism, especially while Islamists perpetually and overtly demonstrate that when their ideology is left to reach its logical conclusion, the effects are always violent and fatal.

Israel must empower and equip its friends in Europe to rightfully reclaim the human rights agenda from the anti-Israel mobs.It must ensure that hasbara activists can make the case that Israel is under attack from an enemy that wishes to replace our civilization with a society run by clerical fascists. The conflict is not solely taking place in the Middle East, but in Western television studios, radio stations, blogs and social media. As religious and community institutions, whether intentionally or not, finance the murderous ideals of Palestinian terror groups, we need your support – help us help you.

The writer is director of British Muslims for Israel, a pro-Israeli advocacy group fighting the delegitimization of Israel in the British Muslim community and beyond. British Muslims for Israel is under the umbrella of The Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy.

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