Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Silencing Dissent - A How To Guide by Gal Beckerman

Two weeks ago, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, released a video on YouTube entitled "Israel Palestinian Conflict: The Truth About the West Bank". In the video, Ayalon recounts some of the legal, historical and political facts surrounding Israel's acquisition of Judea and Samaria (along with the Sinai, Gaza and the Golan) from hostile Arab armies which had massed to snuff out the Jewish State in 1967. The video made the usual rounds at EoZ, IsraelMatzav and other pro-Israel blogs. I thought little of it at the time, sure that this small contribution to Israel's public diplomacy, which merely revisited a broadly uncontroversial perspective of historical events, would have little impact outside pro-Israel circles.

Certainly, I thought, Ayalon's emphasis that the legal status of the West Bank is "disputed" and not "occupied", while factually true, would do little to challenge the emotionally charged meme of "Occupation"™©®. So fundamentally ensconced has the Arab narrative been into the vocabulary of the conflict, that even former Israeli Prime Ministers Sharon and Olmert, and former President Bush, albeit for the purposes of political expediency in advancing their own programs of resolving the conflict, which necessitated Israeli territorial concessions, themselves adopted "occupation" as a descriptive term for Israeli policy in the territories. In this context, what chance did Ayalon's blip of dissent have of being widely heard, much less accepted?

However, pro-Palestinian advocates, sensing a challenge to their carefully constructed edifice of Israeli venality, could not leave well enough alone. Former chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat threw a tantrum of indignant accusations, charging Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister with pursuing a "pro-conflict agenda", but not actually rebutting the legal or historical facts in question. Likewise, Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), responded in a live discussion on al Jazeera English (time: 9:50):
We have an adjudicating body in the world called the Security Council of the United Nations, and they have held that these territories are occupied and Israel is the occupying power on dozens and dozens of occasions, unanimously, including the United States. So, as a legal and political fact, Danny Ayalon is wrong.
Really, Mr. Ibish? How many of the Security Council resolutions pertaining to Israel and "occupation" invoked Chapter VII, giving them legally binding status? The answer is zero. How many non-Chapter VII resolutions affirming Israeli "occupation" had US backing? After a cursory examination, the answer appears to be zero, as well, demolishing your statement in its entirety. And what does the American veto of the UN Security Council draft, last February, which sought to condemn Israeli settlements as "illegal" therefore mean for their present legal status? Doesn't it follow from your logic, Mr. Ibish, that if the UN Security Council, which you recognize as the "adjudicating body" for international law, did not conclude that the settlements are illegal, then their legitimacy is assured as "a legal and political fact"?

In so aggressively challenging Ayalon's characterization of the territories as "disputed", and not "occupied", pro-Palestinian advocates have catapulted what has long been a consensus issue into the spotlight of public debate and scrutiny. The resultant mainstream media and blogosphere exposure has led some 180,000 people (and growing) to now be exposed to the Deputy Foreign Minister's views, which happen to also represent the position of Israel's government. The contrast between Ayalon's clear and factual delivery, and the inability of those policing the "Occupation" consensus to offer a factual rebuttal has been startling, and has led to more serious questions.

Driven as it is by political elites and powerful Arab and pro-Arab constituencies, the last thing those who maintain and defend the consensus of "Occupation" desire is an open-minded exploration of its foundations. And so, in an effort to squelch growing dissent, Gal Beckerman, a writer at the Forward, has chosen to challenge not the facts but their messenger. Apparently, the actual legal, historical and political status of the territories in question is irrelevant. We can surmise, from the subject of his ire, that what matters most to Mr. Beckerman is not what was said, but who dared to say it.
Ayalon’s video is identical, image for image and in large part word for word, with one [...] made in May for the YESHA Council, the organization that represents and lobbies for the settlers. [...] Should we not be concerned when the foreign ministry of Israel is using the same propaganda as the settlers? Or should we just assume that their interests are one?
What difference does it make who made or provided the inspiration for the video? Why is it so obscene that an Israeli minister, or ministry, would collaborate with a constituency directly representing at least 10% of Israel's population, referencing ideas which are supported by a plurality of Israel's citizens, not to mention history and law? The concepts introduced by Ayalon in the video are based on coherent and defensible legal, historical and political perspectives. We are all free to disagree, should we choose to do so. However, to refuse actual debate in favor of this anti-settler demagoguery that Gal Beckerman is engaged in is intellectual policing at it's barbaric height.

Beckerman's piece represents a blatant and chilling attempt to end debate and silence dissent. The easy contempt with which he attempts to tarnish the credibility of Ayalon's factual presentation is startling. The Deputy Prime Minister gets his talking points from "the settlers", the Untermenschen, we are led to believe, a sinister people with no right to engage in debate, without opinions or perspectives worth merit, with no legitimacy whatsoever. Forget the facts, Beckerman enjoins us. Instead, let's consider how an elected minister in Israel's government could dare to represent the views of these degenerate lepers, "the settlers".

To quote a friend, "ish don't think so". Intellectual Freedom: 1. Gal Beckerman: 0. True story.

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