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Settlers are excluded (sort of) from hasbara campaign on college campuses

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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 Apartheidin 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.

Paul Mutter

Paul Mutter is a contributor to Mondoweiss, Foreign Policy in Focus and the Arabist.

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2 Responses

  1. Potsherd2 on December 3, 2011, 12:25 pm

    I wish Americans COULD see the real faces of Israel.

    Look at that Yuli Edelstein. No big kippa. No yard-long payot. No long scraggly beard. It seems like the Lobby is ashamed of the settlers who look “too Jewish.” Kind of antisemitic of them.

  2. Avi_G. on December 4, 2011, 1:35 am

    The manipulation of language to airbrush the inconvenient ugly parts is rather predominant in the PR/propaganda world.

    For example:

    Tonight, I watched a movie about photojournalists in 1990 Apartheid South Africa. The movie centers around a group of journalists, two of whom won Pulitzer prizes for their work. Entitled The Bang Bang Club, the movie takes the viewer on a journey based on real events. Toward the end of the movie, a few paragraphs inform the viewer that photojournalists Greg Marinovich and João Silva went on to document events in Bosnia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Israel.

    That struck me as odd. Why did the movie makers write “Israel”? After all, it stands to reason that a photographer who covered the ugly reality of the Apartheid system wouldn’t go to Tel-Aviv, sit by the beach and sip iced tea. He would go to The Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza, not to “Israel”.

    So I did some research and found out that both photojournalists had indeed worked in the occupied territories, not in “Israel” as the producers or studio would have audiences believe.

    Ergo, what is the problem? Is it a cardinal sin to acknowledge the existing Israeli occupation of Palestinians in a mainstream movie, so much so that the movie makers found it essential to pretend as though there is NO occupation?

    And what kind of message does that brand of hypocrisy send when a movie maker produces a movie about the atrocities of South Africa and refuses to acknowledge the reality in the holy land? Is this another case of Progressive Except Palestine?

    More research led me to find out that one of the production companies was the Harold Greenberg Fund.

    The Fund’s website provides some information about the Greenberg Fund’s Vice President.

    It reads:

    [Sidney Greenberg] is also a member of the Canada Israel Committee and involved in pro-Israel advocacy on campus. He is currently the Chairman of the Israel Ice Hockey Federation.

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