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Two-front battle
As Israel gears up for battle with the Palestinians, U.S. Jews must fight for public opinion

The Atlanta Jewish Times
December 7, 2000

ATLANTA—As images of Israeli soldiers firing on Palestinian stone throwers flashed across the video screen, the audience grimaced and grumbled. When scenes of funeral processions of teen-age "martyrs" shot by, shouts of "Allah akhbar" ricocheted around the room, like gunfire.

Then a hearty cheer went up. The screen showed a little boy, maybe 10, confronting an Israeli soldier- one-on-one-with no one else in sight. At arms distance, the boy threw stone after stone at the soldier's head and chest. The soldier pointed his rifle at the boy and took aim. The boy persisted. The soldier, not wanting to kill a child who posed no immediate danger to his life, turned and jogged away.

These images were just part of a 90-minute "Palestine Teach-In" held in the Student Center at Georgia Tech on Sunday. About 125 people, mostly of Arab descent, came to the program to hear the "facts" about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The event, sponsored by the Muslim Students Association at Georgia Tech, Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, Palestine Right to Return Coalition, Women International League for Peace and Freedom, and Christian Peacemakers Team, was a sophisticated propaganda-fest, well disguised as an educational program.

Knowledgeable speakers and determined activists took the stage and presented sets of facts that sounded reasonable, fair and logical. Out of context? Yes. Stretching the truth? Big time. Expertly designed to make the unsophisticated listener believe Israel is a criminal state set on murdering Palestinians? Absolutely.

For me, the program was nothing new. Been there. Done that a hundred times. Still, after the breakdown of the peace process, it was important for me to witness first-hand exactly what the Arab-American community here was preaching to itself and to the public. And the forum did not disappoint: it provided a useful glimpse into the hearts and minds of moderate (sounding) Arabs in our community, whose mission and message mirrors those of the Palestinians in the territories.

As one of numerous Palestine Teach-Ins presented last week on campuses across the nation, it also should provide a clarion call for the Atlanta and other American Jewish communities to begin retooling our PR machines- and limit the damage bound to be caused in the coming years to Israel's image by the media and a well-oiled Palestinian/American-Arab propaganda machine.

Because we're in for a prolonged battle-one which will include more deaths, more TV images, more misguided international pressure on Israel. And informational "Middle East forums" designed for super-involved Jews just won't do. We need an effective, aggressive plan and system for educating more Jews, the media, and other communities.

Make no mistake, the Palestinians and their supporters are gearing up for a campaign of violence (and propaganda) against Israel because, in the words of the Teach-In's speakers -- who wrongly believe Palestinians can apply the lesson of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon -- "violence is the only thing Israel understands."

In their view, Israelis are imperialist, incapable of reason, and bent on Palestinian destruction. And while they accuse the Jewish state of "dehumanizing" them, they continue to deny Israel's basic right to exist. They continue to believe that, since Israel "stole" their land in 1947 and 1967, all Israelis are criminals, all Israelis are fair game-and legitimate targets of violence. And when Israelis shoot back at rioters, they are using "illegal force" because the Jewish people have no right to be anywhere in their vicinity in the first place.

Sure, the Palestinians are willing to "compromise." Here are the terms, as laid out by the Palestinian leadership and echoed by the sponsors of the Teach-In:

1. A new peace process must be developed, mediated by the international community ("America is too biased"), and an international peacekeeping force must be deployed to "protect" Palestinians before negotiations can commence.

2. Israel, for absolute starters , must agree to return to its 1967 borders, including dismantling of all "settlements," withdrawing from East Jerusalem and relinquishing sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

3. Israel must grant the "right of return" to the "millions" of

Palestinians refugees, including repatriating them in Israel proper and compensating them for their losses.

As we all know, these are codes for the demise of the State of Israel. Unfriendly, ineffective foreign troops on our soil, going back to ridiculous borders, having to dislodge 200,000 people from cities like Ramot, Gush Etzion, East Talpiot, saying bye-bye to security at the Kotel, and letting "millions" of Palestinians into Israel so they can democratically vote the Jewish state out of existence (if not physically destroy it from within) -- are just not going to happen. Indeed, the only reason Israel went down the Oslo road was its belief the Palestinians were willing to compromise on these positions.

Peace cannot be made with a leadership and a population that refuse to take their heads out of the sand and realize that Israel is here to stay; that this is the 21st century, not the time of the Ottoman Empire, not the time of the British Mandate, not even 1967. Unless Palestinian positions change, Israel will opt to fight (see Syria). And it will kill, when it has to, rather than be killed-television and the international community be damned.

Israelis will be the ones fighting on the front. American Jewry must help our brethren-and ourselves-by implementing judicious, well-planned PR and lobbying efforts to bolster Israel in Washington and to counteract Palestinian propaganda in the media.

Let's get to it.

Jacob Schreiber is the editor of the Atrlanta Jewis Times. A former staff writer for the Jerusalem Post, he holds and M.A. in Arab-Israeli affairs from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

© The Atlanta Jewish Times, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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