Trouble in Hasbara Paradise

Disagreement among pro-Israel groups take a public turn.

The basic error is to treat all the settlements alike (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
The basic error is to treat all the settlements alike
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Two high-profile United States-based pro-Israel organizations and several prominent individuals have been publicly bickering in recent weeks, sowing dissent in the Israel advocacy scene.
In early August, after the departing Colombian government recognized  Palestine as a state, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) criticized StandWithUs (SWU) for mentioning in a related letter that Israel would support the eventual establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
While both the ZOA and SWU promote Israel advocacy, the former is overtly political while SWU says it prefers to remain neutral.
SWU’s letter, shared with The Jerusalem Post by email, told recipients to ask the Colombian consulate in New York “to reconsider” the decision to recognize Palestine.
In the letter’s talking points, SWU argued why “recognizing a Palestinian state unilaterally actually de-incentivizes peace.” One of the talking points included, “Israel does not oppose the notion of an independent Palestinian state, and officially supports the two-state solution.”
In an “Action Alert” on August 12, ZOA criticized SWU, alleging that, “In fact, Israel OPPOSES a Palestinian state. Such a state would be an Iranian proxy terror state.” The e-mail cited statements from Israeli politicians and polls of the Israeli public that showed opposition to an independent Palestinian state.
StandWithUs indirectly responded on its website, citing other statements by Israeli politicians and a different poll showing support for a Palestinian state.
“We recognize that this is an issue of controversy and debate in Israeli society, and as a non-partisan education organization, StandWithUs does not take a position on it,” the group said.
ZOA released another statement on August 13 that decried SWU for “doubling down… [and] repeating this erroneous claim.”
In a third statement posted August 20, ZOA again criticized SWU but added, “ZOA did NOT attack StandWithUs as an organization, or any of SWU’s leaders or personnel.  ZOA did not attack our fellow Jews at SWU, many of whom are our personal friends.”
SWU CEO Roz Rothstein wrote to the Post, “StandWithUs has been informed by Israeli officials that Israeli policy has not changed” and so SWU stands by what it said. “As a non-partisan education organization, we will continue to state the facts without taking a position or advocating for any particular policy,” she said.
ZOA president Morton Klein told the Post that ZOA has worked with SWU before and will continue to do so.
“Organizations are not identical in all of their beliefs… [on] many of the most important issues, StandWithUs and ZOA agree,” he said, but added: “We are absolutely perplexed as to why StandWithUs would make the statement that they [Israeli officials] do support a state. This is harmful to Israel because… it encourages people to push for a dangerous Palestinian state, which would quickly become… a Palestinian Arab terror state.”
Klein also criticized the poll that SWU used, saying that it did not include the option of supporting the current status quo.
 An unrelated, high-profile disagreement between pro-Israel individuals erupted soon after ZOA’s third statement.
On August 20, Hen Mazzig, a pro-Israel activist and speaker with a large social media following, published an article in The Forward entitled “What the Left – and the Right – get wrong about the settlements.” In the piece, Mazzig criticized left-wing activists for claiming Israeli settlements in the West Bank are the largest obstacle to peace in the region, and right-wing activists for using settlements to deny Palestinians the right to self-determination.
In a passage that led to accusations of racism, Mazzig wrote: “There’s a deep irony to settlers bringing up their indigeneity to the land; the vast majority of settlers I have ever encountered… are of exclusively Ashkenazi descent, often having immigrated from North America.”
Mazzig served in the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit for five years, and is currently a freelance consultant.
Some online commentators praised Mazzig for his opinions; others admonished him for writing a piece they saw as anti-Israel. Some ad hominem attacks called him a “Jew hater” and “kapo”.
Among those who publicly criticized Mazzig’s piece were leaders in the settler movement, including right-wing activist David Ha’ivri, who lives in the settlement of Kfar Tapuach, provides support to the Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council as an independent strategist, and is also an active figure on social media.
Ha’ivri wrote on Facebook, “I like Hen Mazzig as a person, but I am annoyed by some of his recent posts that I find disingenuous and obnoxious.”
He mentioned how Mazzig referenced “screening procedures” used by West Bank settlements, and said, “he neglects to mention that this is standard procedure in all kibbutzim and moshavim [cooperative communities]… [this is] common across the board in this area.”
Ha’ivri then accused Mazzig of “manipulating the facts… with intention to defame the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.”
Mazzig responded to the general criticism on Facebook, asking if his critics truly care about racism in Israel, and accusing them of only accepting him when they agree with him.
“I never expected to receive the type of reaction [that I received],” Mazzig told the Post. “It was more than disturbing to see some people that I considered my friends turning against me completely.”
This whole episode has “definitely changed my outlook on Israel activism,” he said. While he opposes groups focused squarely on “bashing Israel,” he said that “in the past… I also was critical of [these] activists. And sometimes, too critical. After this attack [on myself] I found myself thinking about things that I said before, about activists and individuals that are critical of Israel. I feel like I need to apologize to all of them, because it’s definitely wrong to go after people with different opinions.”
The pro-Israel sphere is facing a “lack of debate, and [the] shutting down of different opinions… this approach is so far from what Israel is,” Mazzig said.
In a phone call with the Post,  Ha’ivri claimed Mazzig used language similar to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“He’s repeating a lot of the things that they’re saying about Israel’s occupation in the West Bank, the Palestinian right of self-determination and establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank… with the same goal as BDS,”  Ha’ivri said.
In response to the BDS claim, Mazzig said, “I don’t even want to entertain the idea that I am, in any way, anti-Israel or supporting BDS,” citing his upbringing in Petah Tikva; surviving a terror attack; his visits to campuses to defend Israel; and that many in Israel share his views.