Those who discredit StandWithUs and other Israel education organizations often seem to forget Jewish history and ignore current realities. Blinded by their own political lens, they wish away inconvenient truths to blame Israel alone for the conflict, and fault Israel’s advocates for even raising critical issues. Bradley Burston’s recent article (“How to lie to college students about Israel, Part One”) is a case in point.
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Consider the five “lies” Burston claims are being peddled to college students.
He writes that calling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict existential, not territorial, is false. He ignores the long history of Palestinian leaders rejecting territorial compromises and peace, from 1937 to 2008, and their refusal to continue direct negotiations unless Israel makes concessions on the very issues that are to be negotiated. Even Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 didn’t jumpstart peace. Clearly, territory is not the central issue.
On campuses, anti-Israel groups who claim to stand for “justice” and “human rights” regularly chant, “From the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea, Palestine will be free”—that is, Israel should be replaced by Palestine. An astute student might ask: Why does this slogan echo the Hamas charter that calls for the murder of Jews and “obliteration” of Israel? Recall that Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group, won parliamentary elections in 2006 and now governs Gaza. Additionally, one of the central demands often made by the notorious boycott, divestment and sanctions movement [BDS] is the alleged Palestinian refugee right of return to Israel. The result: Jews would become a minority in their own state. Since 1949, Arab and Palestinian leaders have used the phrase as a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish state. These are existential, not territorial, issues.
A territorial conflict would be unlikely to produce the kind of incitement to violence and hate that permeates Palestinian society. For example, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas continues to support the Palestinian Prisoners Club that pays high salaries to convicted terrorists in Israeli jails. The more heinous their crimes, the higher their salary. A smart college student would ask why Israel’s peace partner encourages death and destruction rather than peace. Or the student might ask how Abbas, now entering the 9th year of his four-year term, really supports peace when he lionizes suicide bombers and names public squares and streets after them. This promotion of violence doesn’t seem to be motivated solely by a quest for more territory than Israel has already offered.
Burston deems it a “lie” that many scholars consider the settlements to be legal and the West Bank to be disputed territory. In fact, these scholars make the argument based on Jewish history and international law. Judea and Samaria were the cradle of Jewish civilization and Jews have lived in Hebron and eastern Jerusalem almost continuously for 3,000 years. This territory was also part of the League of Nations Palestine Mandate which called for Jewish immigration and settlement. Jordan illegally invaded and occupied the area between 1948 and 1967, renaming it the West Bank, and it fell to Israel during Israel’s defensive 1967 War. The only extant formal international agreement about the West Bank is the Mandate that recognizes the Jewish people’s right to settle the land. That is why Israel ceding parts of this territory for a future Palestinian state requires serious negotiations.
Burston denies that the goal of boycotting the settlements is to destroy Israel. Yet, BDS explicitly acknowledges that settlement boycotts are a stepping-stone to full boycotts which will not end until the “Zionist project” is dissolved. Those who believe they are only boycotting settlements are misguided. They add fuel to BDS and, unless they have a crystal ball, they don’t know which settlements will remain part of Israel. Yet they are collectively punishing all West Bank Israeli citizens and ignoring fundamental obstacles to peace such as Palestinian intransigence and incitement.
Burston writes that a fourth "lie" occurs when Israel's reluctance to divide Jerusalem is explained by facts about the Jewish tie to Jerusalem. But this is crucial. Negotiations over Jerusalem will be difficult precisely because it is Judaism's holiest site and has been the center of Jewish yearning and prayers for millennia. Nonetheless, Israel offered to cede parts of Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Palestinian leaders still said no.
Finally, Burston alleges that groups that only blame Israel for the lack of peace can still be considered pro-Israel. We disagree. Groups that profess love for Israel but only blame Israel for the lack of peace and refuse to seriously address the anti-peace behavior of Palestinian leaders are, at the very least, disingenuous.
The fact that many like Burston label these realities “lies” perpetuates misinformation and makes the work of educational organizations like StandWithUs all the more crucial.
Roz Rothstein is the CEO of StandWithUs, and Roberta Seid,PhD is the education director of StandWithUs.