Herbert London: Why Is Israel Losing The PR Battle At American Campuses?

Apr 9, 2014

From the birth of the state of Israel in 1948 to the 1980’s, comments about this Jewish nation were uniformly and reflexively positive. Jews and non-Jews alike took pride in the resourcefulness of a people who could make the desert bloom and who had the backbone and will to defend themselves against Arab invaders.

Somewhere along the way this view changed. It wasn’t a sudden event, albeit the astonishing alacrity of an Israeli victory over its enemies in 1967 seemed to turn the underdog into a dominant force. It was a shift borne of economic, cultural and political factors.

On the economics front, the reliance of the West on Middle Eastern oil to run their industries gave Arab states leverage they did not possess at any time in the past. Israel became a target and a refuge. On the one hand, the argument was made that Israel is an occupying nation that had displaced Palestinian refugees; on the other hand, the Arab states could hide behind the claim of Nakba or “the catastrophe” as they violated human rights in their own nations. Israel became a useful source of hostility even though Arab states did almost nothing to mitigate the plight of the refugees they claimed to represent.

Oil money also allowed for the promotion of these misguided historical interpretations in madrassas around the world. Israel was considered colonial, exploitive and imperialistic. Buttressing these claims, was a book, Orientalism, that captured the spirit of this Arab Zeitgeist. The author, Edward Said, was handsome, charming and persuasive. He was also a fabricator. His contention that he was born in the Palestinian territory and was forcibly displaced by Israeli troops, is a complete fabrication. That, however, didn’t matter. His book became essential reading material for any student interested in Middle East studies. As Chairman Mao noted a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth.

Not only did Said have a well endowed chair at Columbia, he was the architect of the university’s Middle East Studies Program which is notoriously anti-Israel. Of course, Columbia is not alone. Saudi money was given to Georgetown, Yale, UCLA, and others – all with the understanding that the Arab narrative would be given a fair hearing. Without a countervailing argument the “fair” became, in large measure, “the one sided.” The well funded Muslim Student Organization – described in the Holy Land Foundation case as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood – was launched at campuses across the nation with an agenda that demonizes Israel and recruits impressionable teenagers into its ranks.

Many Muslim groups sponsor “interfaith” seminars designed, it is said, to develop an understanding with Islam. What actually occurs is a form of proselytizing since principles of the West and the history of Israel are not conveyed to Arab students. Interfaith is usually a one way street.

The same might be said of the United Nations. Despite the heroic campaign to beat back the “Zionism is racism” proposal of the 57 Muslim states and their allies, Israel is the most vilified nation in General Assembly deliberations. In fact, Israel is cast as a rogue state, notwithstanding the medical assistance Israel provides whenever there is a global natural disaster.

So pervasive is the Arab narrative that even Jewish groups, e.g. “J-Street” and several Hillels, espouse this line or, at least, assume the grievance has legitimacy. As a consequence, Israel is not only opposed by foes, but by so-called friends. This is somewhat akin to the Pogo position: “I have seen the enemy and it is us.”

To suggest that pro-Israeli sentiment needs a boost, is to maintain the obvious. Without it, however, the road ahead is littered with dangerous metaphorical mines each intent on blowing up pro-Israeli attitudes and delegitimizing the home of the Jews.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

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