Defending the indefensible — badly

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The following is a piece from the Jerusalem Post (JPost), which is usually a pretty right-wing Israeli paper, but it has one amazing column called Rattling the Cage by Larry Derfner.

Let me back up a minute. Last night I went to a debate about the Goldstone Report featuring former Congressman Dr. Brian Baird (D-WA) (you can pretty much guess he’s no longer a Congressman based on the fact that he tells the unvarnished truth about the situation in Israel/Palestine — that kinda thing gives you a very short shelf life in Washington) and Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who defines the concept of Progressive Except for Palestine. The moderator was a columnist at the New York Times, Roger Cohen, who frequently covers the Middle East and usually knows what he’s talking about.

Dr. Baird, who actually visited Gaza and saw the results of Operation Cast Lead for himself, and also visited Sderot and talking with several Israeli officials, argued that the Goldstone Report is a fair document with respect to both the reality of what happened during Operation Cast Lead and the international laws that were violated by both sides, and it should be taken seriously and acted upon.

When Weiner wasn’t fabricating demonstrable falsehoods out of whole cloth (There are no Israeli soldiers in the West Bank? Goldstone didn’t criticize Hamas?), he countered by talking really loudly about how Israel is…

Well, here’s the thing. I don’t need to tell you what Anthony Weiner said because Larry Derfner, in the following article, explains most of his points. It’s amazing. Almost as if Weiner were reading from some pre-fabricated set of talking points. Guess that’s what you gotta do when you don’t have any actual arguments — when you’re called upon to defend the indefensible. [My comments are in brackets.]

After you read this, watching Israel apologists at work becomes kind of entertaining. I bet we could make a good drinking game out of it.

Rattling the Cage: Tips for information warriors

Larry Derfner
Jerusalem Post
March 2, 2011

As you well know, Israel has never been in such peril as it is today. Anti-Semitism has risen to historic levels. Israel’s enemies are arming themselves with weapons that endanger not only its existence, but its very existence. And now, added to these grave existential threats comes the upheaval we’ve seen spreading throughout the Middle East.

In these days of uncertainty, a volunteer army of steady, sure, confident voices in Israel’s defense is more critical than ever. Here is a set of talking points for you to use when fighting the information war for Israel’s survival. B’hatzlaha — good luck.

1. “Our hearts are with the protesters in the square, but…” This lets your audience know at the start that you, as a supporter of Israel, are in favor of democracy, even for Arabs. Then you get to the “but,” and after the “but,” you only mention the bad, terrible things that could happen.

For example: “But Islamic fundamentalists could take over, just like they did in Iran.” “But the new leaders could tear up the peace treaty with Israel.” “But they could support terrorists like al-Qaida.” “But they could destabilize the whole region and start World War III.”

You start off paying lip service to the good — democracy — but keep it brief and vague, and then when you get down to specifics, hit them with one doomsday scenario after another. By the time you’re through, your audience will be more scared of Arabs than ever.

2. “Stability.” This was the point to bring up during the Egyptian uprising — not that we were against democracy and in favor of tyranny, God forbid, but that we were for “stability,” i.e. Mubarak. Today, of course, it’s a little late for that argument. But while it’s become dicey to use the stability gambit against Arabs protesting against dictators, it can be adapted to shore up the case for Israel — and, indirectly, still make the case against the Arab protesters.

It goes like this: Instead of saying, “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,” which may not be the case for long and which sounds like you want to keep it that way, you say: “Israel is the only stable democracy in the Middle East.”

This reminds your audience of all the terrible things that could happen with these uprisings, and, again, leaves them more scared of Arabs than ever.

Now that your listeners are in a black mood, now that they’re booing the Arabs again, it’s time to lift their spirits and get them cheering for Israel. Time to switch from negative to positive.

3. “Vibrant democracy.” This is the oldest of old chestnuts in the Israel advocate’s basket of goodies — that Israel is a “vibrant democracy.”

The funny thing is that it used to be true — the Right would fight it out with the Left, they went back and forth from the government to the opposition, there would be huge rallies by the settlers and huge rallies by the peaceniks. Today there’s no Left, there’s no fight, there are no huge rallies. Today the only debate is between the hard-liners who want to jail all the Arabs and leftists today and the moderates who counsel patience. The settlers keep building, the army keeps slugging away and barely a peep is heard in protest. But you can still sell people on Israel’s “vibrant democracy” — show them clips from the shouting matches in Knesset. Remember: It’s not the steak, it’s the sizzle.

[And don’t forget — Israelis want peace. Netanyahu’s just sitting there at his lonely little table waiting for the Palestinians to come to him and negotiate peace. If only the Palestinians would come to him and make peace! (Palestine Papers? What Palestine Papers?)]

4. “Israel is not perfect.” This is indispensable. It shows the audience that you’re not a propagandist, not a shill, not trying to sell them a bill of goods — and that criticism of Israel is welcome, so long, of course, as it’s fair. What is fair criticism of Israel? To say that Israel is not perfect — that’s fair. Israel makes mistakes — that’s fair. And if anybody asks you for an example of a mistake Israel has made, you can say, “Well, we thought the Palestinians wanted peace, but…”

Or, “Well, we thought the world would support us when we tried to make peace, but…”

In other words, Israel’s mistake, Israel’s imperfection, is that it’s too good. That’s criticism, and audiences will be impressed with your candor.

[Israel’s so awesome, in fact, that whenever it does anything wrong, it investigates itself thoroughly and punishes the wrongdoers to exactly the extent they deserve — and I know because Israel tells me so. Let’s see ’em do that in Saudi Arabia!]

5. “Delegitimization.” A really cool word that you can use against anybody who says anything about Israel that you don’t like. Israel’s oppressing somebody? Delegitimization! Israel’s violating somebody’s rights? Delegitimization! It shuts people up. When you say they’re “delegitimizing” Israel, it’s like you’re saying they’re denying Israel’s right to exist, like they’re calling for the destruction of Israel, like they’re calling for the Jews of Israel to be wiped out! It puts people on the defensive beautifully. It’s like calling them anti-Semites without actually using the word, which was getting pretty stale, kind of embarrassing. Delegitimization sounds a lot more sophisticated, and it does the job more effectively.

[See also: The UN is biased against Israel, so we can safely ignore anything it says, any resolution it passes, and any report it commissions. (And hope nobody mentions the fact that Israel was founded by a UN resolution.)]

6. “Denying Israel’s right to self-defense.” This can be used against anyone who questions the divine justice behind anything the IDF does. Anybody who suggested that maybe Israel should not have banned pasta, for example, from entering Gaza was denying Israel’s right to self-defense. Anybody who wonders whether the army should take more precautions before shooting at Gazan fishermen, farmers and metal scavengers is denying Israel’s right to self-defense. Even Israeli combat soldiers who describe killing, brutalizing and humiliating Palestinian civilians are denying Israel’s right to self-defense.

Again, that’s like denying Israel’s right to life itself, which is a pretty serious charge. And an intimidating one. Use it liberally.

[Weiner hit this one particularly hard.]

7. “Context” or “contextualization.” This is a fancy way of saying “the background to a story that makes Israel look good and/or the Arabs bad.” If, on the other hand, the background to the story makes Israel look bad and/or the Arabs good, then this is not “context” or “contextualization,” it’s “propaganda.” For instance, if Israel blockades Gaza’s coast and airspace and attacks it with jets, helicopters, tanks and snipers, and you point out that Gazans fire Kassams at Israel, that’s putting the story in context. But if Gazans fire Kassams at Israel and someone else points out that Israel blockades Gaza’s coast and airspace and attacks it with jets, helicopters, tanks and snipers, that’s propaganda.

[And if Gazans were killed at a ratio of 100:1, and their entire civilian infrastructure was decimated for no militarily justifiable reason (and several Israeli officials admitted as much), and their economy and freedom are strangled by an illegal siege that collectively punishes a million and a half people, including six-year-olds seeking cancer treatments… Just say with a blank expression on your face, “Yeah, I know, war is bad, nobody likes war, but that’s what happens when law and reason break down,” and move right along.]

8. “Lawfare.” Sounds like “warfare,” doesn’t it? That’s the point — to turn lawsuits against the occupation, whether in foreign courts or in Israel’s own courts, into the equivalent of war. In other words, the equivalent of killing people. In other words, the equivalent of terrorism.

Going to court against the occupation is terrorism.

But you don’t want to use the word “terrorism” for a lawsuit, just like you don’t want to use the word “anti-Semitism” for some CNN story. So you call the CNN story “delegitimization” and the lawsuit “lawfare.” You gotta be subtle.

[See also: No one has the right to tell Israel where it can and can’t build on its own land. Not even if they’re giving Israel $10 million in aid every day. Not even if Israel is actually building illegally on someone else’s land. If Israel is building it, it is legal by definition, and it is in Israel by definition. And if prisoners are in Israeli prisons, they are guilty by definition. And if someone is killed by Israel, they deserved it by definition. And if a hospital or factory or school was destroyed by Israel with no military justification… um, well, by definition, the building had it coming, because… 12,000 rockets! Sderot! And if Hamas was holding to the ceasefire and Israel was actually the one who violated the ceasefire… er… 12,000 rockets! Sderot! Hamas! Democracy! Self-defense! The louder the better. (Weiner got audibly louder as the night wore on.)]

9. “Incitement.” This is the one to bang away at when there’s no, or nearly no, Palestinian terror to speak of, like there hasn’t been for years. When there was terror, you could say, “When the Palestinians stop terror, they will be amazed at how generous we are.” But now we’re in a bit of bind because the Palestinians have basically stopped terror, and, well, what does that leave us to work with? It leaves us incitement! When a Palestinian preacher quotes something gruesome from the Koran, when a Palestinian newspaper accuses Israel of war crimes, when a Palestinian textbook accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, that’s incitement, and they have stop it or there will never be peace.

All right, we’ve got our rabbis, and they’re saying all sorts of crazy things about killing gentiles and how Arabs are animals and God knows what, and we’ve got this foreign minister who says he wants to execute Arab Knesset members who meet with Hamas and bomb Egypt, and the polls say half of Israelis want the Arabs gone, period.

But that’s not incitement, that’s… that’s… Israel’s vibrant democracy! Yeah, say that. If that doesn’t work, then try, “Israel is not perfect.”

And if they still complain, accuse them of “delegitimization.”

Remember, Israel is at war, the information war. All is fair.

[If all else fails — just make stuff up! Americans don’t know what’s going on, and Washington doesn’t care.]

[[end article]]

And that, my friends, is what it’s like to listen to Representative Anthony Weiner defend war crimes. What was funny, though, was that in this case, the moderator, the opponent, and about half the audience actually knew what was going on and called Weiner out on his more egregious counterfactuals (All the settlements are in Israel? Lentils were never forbidden from entering Gaza by Israel? Gaza is a sovereign nation?), which I think was something of a surprise to Weiner, who’s used to the echo chamber of Washington. But Weiner didn’t care. He just talked more quickly and loudly and said “vibrant democracy” and “self-defense” a few more times. And soon he’ll be comfortably back in Washington, where everyone agrees with him — or at least has to fervently pretend they do.

Afterwards I sought out Dr. Baird to thank him for everything he’s doing. I said, “I lived in the West Bank for two and a half years, and it’s really strange to hear a Congressman talk about the Middle East and not feel a complete sense of cognitive dissonance.” He laughed, and we talked for a minute about the utter lack of regard for truth or logic in Washington when it came to this conflict. I spent less than two years working in the Beltway trying to tell people who were not interested what’s going on over there before I gave up and decided to write a book instead. I have no idea how he kept his sanity doing it year after year.

He reminded me of the USS Liberty veterans I met when they memorialized the fortieth anniversary of the massacre in the summer of 2007 at Arlington National Cemetery. They all had the most astonished, pained looks on their faces when they talked about the way the government ignored their demands for any kind of inquiry into the incident. They know the truth is on their side — they were there. But the government, by brushing them off for forty years, essentially calls these good servicemen liars or crazy people.

But still they press on, every year renewing their demand. And Dr. Baird presses on, telling it like it is to a country that’s slowly, ever so slowly, one person at a time, coming to realize that something’s a little off. And judging from Weiner’s frequent deer-in-headlights look mixed with peevish smugness and outrageous gaffes, some part of his mind probably knows he’s living in the kind of deep denial that doesn’t allow one anywhere near the facts.

And that kind of thing has a short shelf life in reality.

Pamela Olson’s book, Fast Times in Palestine, will be published next month.

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