Macron should avoid Israeli propaganda traps
The US Department of Defence recently published a report warning of the end of US global primacy and the unravelling of the post-second world war international order.
It is a fascinating and depressing insight into US military strategies in which the proposed remedy — mainly more military spending — includes a prescription for greater “strategic manipulation of perceptions.”
Propaganda is an old weapon, of course. In Israel, the effort is known as “hasbara” and is seen as crucial to dominating the narrative around the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. In recent years, that narrative has been fundamentally challenged.
This is partly a reflection of the reality of the situation. Israel’s never-ending settlement-building programme in occupied territory has eloquently countered its attempts to blame Palestinian intransigence for the failure of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The use of massive Israeli military force, particularly over three deadly offensives on Gaza — in 2008-09, 2012 and 2014 — resulting in thousands of fatalities, has showcased Israel’s vast military superiority, significantly undermining its portrayal of itself as the victim of Palestinian aggression.
A global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign — consciously modelled on the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement — has been gaining traction to such an extent that the Israeli government has set up its own department, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, to combat the efforts.
This battle is partly reactive. In the United States, it is being played out in state legislatures across the country with anti-BDS legislation introduced that would blacklist individuals, organisations and companies that boycott Israel.
A more sinister plank of Israeli hasbara efforts is to undermine serious discussion from the outset. To do so, one of the strategies deployed is to suggest that criticism of Israel, including the call to BDS, amounts to anti-Semitism.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent assertion equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a significant victory for these Israeli efforts.
“We will never surrender to the messages of hate,” he said, speaking at the 75th commemoration of the deportation of more than 13,000 French Jews to Nazi concentration camps. “We will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism.”
These are dangerous words, belied by their apparent simplistic appeal. Superficially — and this is how supporters of Israel promote it — Zionism is simply Jewish nationalism. If, as is enshrined in international law, people have a right of self-determination, anti-Zionism denies this right to Jews. Hence the racism charge.
That ignores the evolution of Zionism as it has transpired, however. To want a Jewish state is one thing. To build it on land belonging to another people at their expense is quite another. Thus — and ignoring the people without a land for a land without a people foundational myth of previous hasbara efforts — the argument that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism is not straightforward.
Once the deliberations — long laid bare by the so-called new Israeli historians — underpinning the practices of pre-state Zionist militias in Palestine are considered, the argument falls away. It is clear that a deliberate policy of population transfer, a crime against humanity as defined in the Rome statute that created the International Criminal Court, was discussed and carried out in the years leading up to and including the fighting in 1947-48 and the advent of Israel.
About 750,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948 when they fled or were forced — at gunpoint with buses provided — to flee their homes and lands, the United Nations has said. They were never allowed to return. Instead, legal mechanisms, such as the 1950 Law of Absentee Property, were enacted enabling the nascent state to confiscate their lands and properties.
Today that refugee population totals 5 million and its fate is crucial to any settlement of the conflict. However, if raising the question of refugees’ right of return — a right enshrined in international law — is seen as undermining Israel “as a Jewish state” (in the new favoured definition of Israeli officials) and that is considered anti-Semitism, constructive discussion around this can never be raised.
If Macron, or any political leader, wishes to positively affect Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking, he would be wise to avoid such traps. These only seek to limit room for manoeuvre. Such moves are, transparently, a “strategic manipulation of perceptions.”