How to Lie to College Students About Israel, Part One

The five top lies of the month, brought to you by StandWithUs and other Israel advocacy groups that target Jewish college students in North America.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
A donkey checks the weapon of an Israeli border guard during clashes with Palestinian stone throwers following a weekly demonstration against settlement expansion. Nebi Salah, April 18, 2014.
A donkey checks the weapon of an Israeli border guard during clashes with Palestinian stone throwers following a weekly demonstration against settlement expansion. Nebi Salah, April 18, 2014.Credit: AFP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

What is it about Israel and Palestine, that the more extreme we are about one of them, the more we seem to lie about both?

In recent years in North America and elsewhere, as Israel's image has staggered from trough to abyss, damage control has turned into a growth industry of Israel advocacy organizations. Though avowedly non-partisan, most have a definite if unacknowledged rightist orientation. For many of the groups, Jewish college students have become a primary target audience.

"There may be nothing more important to the future of the U.S.–Israel relationship than young American Jews," wrote Israel advocate Eric R. Mandel in a recent guide to listening and speaking to Jews on campus.

Dr. Mandel is correct. But there may be one thing even more important to the future of the relationship: Not lying to young American Jews. Not lying to them about Israel, nor about these organizations' broadly right-wing agendas, which include unflagging if well-veiled support for settlements, opposition to all territorial compromise, and, in many cases, antipathy to Barack Obama (A few weeks before writing his guide, Dr. Mandel wrote that, in response to Obama, "Israel needs to buy time and hope that the next American president doesn’t see Israel as a strategic liability").

Here, then, is a guide to lying on campus to American Jews, courtesy of the hard right. (In future installments, a guide to lying about Israel from the hard left):

Top 5 Lies of the Month:

Lie No. 1 [Mandel:] "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential conflict, not a territorial one."

TRANSLATION: All that the Muslims really want, wherever and whoever they may be, is to eliminate Israel. Nothing less. Nothing else. Therefore, relatively speaking, settlement construction is no problem. Two-state solutions, a West Bank Palestine, and peace talks are worth supporting in theory – they buy time - but are, in fact, also irrelevant. Compromise and concessions of any kind by Israel are pointless. The way things are, are the way they'll stay. Get used to it.

SAMPLE FOLLOW-UP QUESTION, from puzzled student: "If this is not about territory, how come pro-settlement government officials loudly announce new construction to torpedo the slightest glimmer of any progress in peace talks? If territory is not what this is about, how come settlers are constantly pushing into new areas, many of them Palestinian-owned? If territory is not what this is about, how come settlers threaten to bring down the government every time a settlement freeze is proposed?

"And if this is not about territory, and Israel stays where it is, what does Israel propose doing with the millions of Palestinians of the West Bank?"

Lie No. 2: [To the question, "Why has Israel been building illegal settlements in the West Bank?" StandWithUs answers:]

Many scholars consider the settlements to be entirely legal. In addition, Israel has strong legal, historic and security claims to the West Bank, which is disputed, not occupied territory. Settlement building does not violate UN Resolution 242 or the Oslo Accords.

SAMPLE FOLLOW UP QUESTION, from puzzled student: "I don't understand. Israel itself says that many of the settlements are illegal. And nine years ago, the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, said this about occupation and the West Bank:

"Controlling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on forever… You want to remain in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem?"

"The idea that it is possible to continue keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation - yes, it is occupation, you might not like the word, but what is happening is occupation - is bad for Israel, and bad for the Palestinians, and bad for the Israeli economy."

Lie No. 3 [Mandel:] Boycotting goods from the territories is wrong. Its goal is to destroy all of Israel.

SAMPLE FOLLOW UP QUESTION: "Why is it, then, that most advocates of boycotting goods from the settlements also strongly advocate buying products from Israel proper (areas of Israel not captured in the 1967 war), and clearly and vocally oppose BDS campaigns targeting Israel as a whole?"

Lie No. 4: [To the question "Why doesn't Israel divide Jerusalem and allow the Palestinians to have their capital in eastern Jerusalem?" StandWithUs answers:]

Jerusalem has been Judaism's capital and holiest site for 3,000 years. From 1948 to 1967, Jordan occupied Jerusalem, destroyed the ancient Jewish Quarter and its synagogues, and barred Jews from their holiest sites. Throughout history, only Israel has ensured freedom of worship for followers of all religions in Jerusalem.

SAMPLE FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: "I don't understand. I asked a question about the Palestinians having some land in east Jerusalem for a capital. By the way, the last sentence has at least two lies in it."

Lie No. 5: [Mandel] "Self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace groups that only criticize Israel are not pro-Israel."

SAMPLE FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: "I love Israel. The people in the groups you're describing, do also. None of the groups you're describing 'only criticize Israel.' They all support democracy in Israel. Why do you find it so necessary to spend so much of your time and energy attacking them, lying about them? Could it be because you need a monopoly on this? Do their questions make you uncomfortable? Doesn't Israel need all the friends it can get?"

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