According to an article early this year in Israel National News, 327,000 Israeli Jews reside in "Judea and Samaria." 230,000 reside in East Jerusalem. So why, asked the outlet, aren't any of them included among the "Faces of Israel" traveling to North American colleges this year?
"Faces of Israel" is run by Yuli Edelstein (Likud), the Hasbara and Diaspora Minister in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project, begun in 2008, asserts that it brings representative groups of Israeli citizens to engage U.S. and Canadian college students.
The initiative's supporters assert that these meetings are necessary to confront anti-Israel critics seeking to "delegitimize" and "defame" Israel by supporting BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and denouncing the Occupation as a form of apartheid (at Columbia University in NYC, the group reportedly gave a presentation titled "Separating Fact from Apartheid" in response to Israeli Apartheid Week events held there). Faces of Israel wears its inclusivity on its shoulders, priding itself on the fact that its members include "Ethiopian-Israelis, Israeli Arabs, Druze, Bedouins, and representatives of the homosexual community."
But not members of the "Bloc of the Faithful," some of whose supporters must feel like this is an effort to lock a misbehaving child in the bedroom while the adults party downstairs (on the child's own birthday, no less, since when critics say "apartheid," they aren't referencing the Druze).
Not that I'm siding with the settlers, but it's a fair point. Why don't hundreds of thousands of settlers merit a delegate? Israel is a parliamentary democracy, after all.
It is possible that the settlers, for all their service to Greater Israel, aren't the face that Israel wants to present to the world - even though at home the government embraces the settlers at a high moral and material cost.
Take our money and votes, but please don't open your mouths when we're in polite company, okay? Rather than bring over people who would make a scene over the apartheid label, the Israeli Foreign Ministry brings over a different crowd that can skirt the issue. Sadly, it includes members of an ethnic group (the Bedouin) that the settlers are, in fact, displacing alongside Palestinians.
But the settlers' critique is not entirely fair. For one thing, they get plenty of face time with Americans whose ideologies are more to their conservative liking.
And another: Edelstein, Mr. Faces of Israel, is a settler. He resides in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and argues that the West Bank "is Jewish land and that we are here by right and not just because we were looking for a place to build a couple of houses." He has further asserted that unilateral annexation of parts of "Judea and Samaria" should not be taken off the table in response to the Palestinian Authority's recognition bid at the UN.
Edelstein tried to deflect criticism from himself and the project by playing his literal ties to the land up. Since he would be traveling with the delegation, he argued, the lands of "Judea and Samaria" are in fact being represented among the "Faces of Israel." As he has retained his position (he was in New York this fall to promote Israel's image around the time of the UN vote on Palestine), it seems his argument was successful (though by no means the final word on the subject).
It's hard to argue with his logic. The right should be comforted by the fact that Netanyahu and Lieberman have entrusted a settler (Edelstein took the job in 2009) to serve as the face of Hasbara to the North American Diaspora.
Trust your feelings. The settlements will be with you, always.
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