Edelstein addresses conference on Israel-bashing

Disagreements must be tackled with dialogue and not with violence, says Minister Yuli Edelstein.

Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstei (photo credit: Courtesy)
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstei
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“Friends of Israel are still more numerous than those who hate us,” Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Monday.
Edelstein had come to Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel to talk to conference participants about the best way to combat Israel-bashing, which he said had become a very popular subject.
His advice was to tell the truth. “The more accurate the picture of Israel, the easier it will be for us to deal with those on the Israel-bashing campaign,” he said.
Edelstein observed that there is a tendency to become nostalgic and say how terrible things are today in comparison to a number of years ago. But “if we look at 30- or 40-year-old press clippings, we’ll find it was no picnic,” he said.
Similarly, he noted, in those days it was not pleasant to be a pro-Zionist activist on university campuses outside of Israel.
The difference between now and then, in Edelstein’s perception, is that present-day anti- Israel campaigns are wellthought- out and better organized.
“We have to keep in mind that it’s not new and that our enemies realize that it’s dangerous to attack us on the battlefield,” he said. “A soft war has less casualties, but is no less dangerous for the State of Israel.”
Edelstein said he is frequently asked why Israel is not investing billions of dollars to fight the bashing, but says he responds that even though the country is not currently investing such sums, “we’re on the way.”
The very fact that his ministry was created illustrates the government’s realization that there is a need to address this issue, he said.
Edelstein refrained from pointing the finger at any organization, institution or individual that could be characterized as Israel’s number one enemy. As far as he was concerned, “our main enemy is ignorance. Before we acknowledge that, we won’t get anywhere.”
He said ignorance is rampant in regard to any place of conflict, citing Rwanda as an example, and said that most people – including himself – do not know the details of this conflict.
Likewise, he said, most people do not understand the nuances of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians – and in the innocence of their ignorance are prepared to believe allegations that are untrue.
“For most of the world, what happens here is just another conflict,” he asserted. “People who know the real Israel would never believe that this is an apartheid state.”
Edelstein took issue with those Jews – including Israelis – who give way to despair and adopt a certain attitude, saying “Forget it, ‘they’ are all against us – why bother to fight it.” He asked whether anyone in the audience could imagine a sports team appearing on the field with that kind of attitude.
To illustrate the importance of believing in one’s ability to win, Edelstein referred to the victory last week of Dr. Yehuda David, who had been sued for libel in a French court by Jamal al-Dura, the father of Muhammad.
The younger al-Dura was allegedly killed by the IDF in an exchange of gunfire between Israeli and Palestinian forces during the second intifada in 2000. It was subsequently proven that if the boy had been killed, it was not by Israelis, and serious doubts were raised in several quarters as to whether he was really dead. It was suggested by some investigators that the whole episode had been staged in order to discredit Israel.
To counter this, the boy’s father revealed his own bullet scars, which he claimed to have suffered at the time his son was shot in 2000. This was refuted by David, who said he had operated on the elder al- Dura as a result of these very injuries in 1992, when he was attacked by Hamas forces who suspected him of cooperating with Israel.
Many people had tried to convince David to back off, said Edelstein, who had been in frequent contact with him during the trial. They told him not to bother to rehash the story, that the rest of the world was anti-Semitic and that if he persisted, it would cause yet another uproar.
But David had remained adamant – and in the end he won.
“The Supreme Court of France said loud and clear that Dr. David was telling the truth,” said Edelstein. “We won’t be able to achieve anything if we’re not sure of the facts, and that first and foremost we will win.”
Edelstein admitted that there are Israelis who actually support the bashing campaigns, and it is not easy to understand their motives: “Sometimes we are so open that the brains fall out – but this is Israeli democracy.”
Just as he was critical of these Israelis, he was equally critical of the people he characterized as “jerks,” who wrote vile Internet talkbacks in reaction to the tragic deaths of Palestinian children in a school bus accident last week. These talkbacks advocated that all Palestinian children should be killed.
“We should blush and be ashamed,” Edelstein said. He also noted that the first people who arrived at the scene and tried to save the children were settlers, and that the first ambulances came from settler communities.
He emphasized that there were no politics involved: “It was about being normal. It was about being Jewish. It was about being Israeli.”
Concerned about the ethical complexities between legitimate criticism of the government and Israel-bashing per se, Edelstein said he has been consulting with a group of apolitical professors, with the aim of formulating a code of ethics to clarify what is legitimate criticism and what is not.
The lines which cannot be crossed must be defined, Edelstein said, and this will not be easy because he is reluctant to exclude people from the Israeli consensus. He is similarly loath to exclude American Jews from their community’s consensus.
But he was explicit on one issue: Disagreements must be tackled with dialogue and not with violence.