'Israel will not apologize for the building of life'

The case for the settlements: Assertive booklets for pro-Israel students

Foreign Ministry advocacy material for too long focused on culture and hi-tech, failing to explain Israel’s just case, Tzipi Hotovely says. Four new guidebooks aim to change that

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

From a vantage point near the Temple Mount, Tzipi Hotovely, now Israel's deputy foreign minister, waves the Israeli flag, with the Dome of the Rock in the background, May, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
From a vantage point near the Temple Mount, Tzipi Hotovely, now Israel's deputy foreign minister, waves the Israeli flag, with the Dome of the Rock in the background, May, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s settlements are entirely legal, since Jerusalem and the West Bank were never under Palestinian Arab sovereignty. The Palestinian Authority actively encourages children to hate Jews and glorifies terrorists as role models. The Israeli government, however, opposes violence and hate speech against everyone, including Palestinians.

These are some of the main talking points in a new series of pamphlets published this week by the Foreign Ministry. Commissioned by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, the four booklets — entitled “The Jewish Settlements,” “A Century of Terror,” “The Quest for Peace” and “The Wonder of Israel” — aim to give ammunition to pro-Israel activists on American campuses.

“Israel will not apologize for the building of life for 3,000 years since the Jewish people began their historic path in Judea and Samaria,” Hotovely said this week, as she headed to the US to speak at three top universities.

“I come with a strong message that peace has not yet been achieved because of incitement and a generation of young Palestinians who were not educated for hope,” she said.

Hotovely, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, is scheduled to speak at Princeton, Columbia and New York University.

“I’m going out to talk to the younger generation in the US who grew up hearing lies about Israel. It is important for me to share with them the common challenges that radical Islam poses to democratic countries and to tell them the successes story of the State of Israel, which thrives in the face of all challenges.”

Previous hasbara efforts tried to turn Israel into another nice European country. But that’s not the Jewish story

Speaking to The Times of Israel this week in her Jerusalem office, Hotovely said that since she took up her current position in May 2015, she realized that the pro-Israel advocacy (so-called hasbara) material put out by Foreign Ministry focused exclusively on soft diplomacy.

Brochures celebrated Israeli culture and gastronomy, but steered clear of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she lamented.

“In my eyes, that tries to turn Israel into another nice European country. But that’s not the Jewish story. The Jewish story really is one of the greatest miracles of the 20th century, the Zionist story,” Hotovely, 38, said.

For many years, she went on, the Foreign Ministry’s public diplomacy division focused on promoting Israel as start-up nation and decided to neglect discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because diplomats felt they didn’t have good enough answers to questions about Israel’s policies.

“I am arguing the opposite: the more we hide from the conflict, from the core issues, the more we leave the playing field to all our enemies.”

As a remedy to what she described as a sore lack of good hasbara material, she commissioned the Information and Visual Media Department at the ministry’s Public Diplomacy Division to print four pamphlets to be distributed to advocates across American campuses.

The small booklets do not provide deep insights into the current government’s policies, nor do they contain any concrete proposals to solve the conflict with the Palestinians. Rather, they seek to explain the Israeli point of view in broad terms.

The pamphlet on settlements, for instance, argues that Jews have lived in Judea and Samaria — the West Bank — for “thousands of years” and been legitimized by international treaties long before Israel captured the territory in 1967.

“The attempt to portray Jewish communities in the West Bank as a new form of ‘colonial’ settlement in the land of a foreign sovereign is as disingenuous as it is politically motivated. At no point in history were Jerusalem and the West Bank subject to Palestinian Arab sovereignty,” it reads.

Workmen operate heavy machinery at a construction site in the West Bank settlement of Ariel on Jan. 25, 2017. (AP/Ariel Schalit, File)

International consensus says that settlements violate the Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Conventions and are illegal under international law. The Foreign Ministry’s new booklet disputes these claims, arguing that the Geneva Conventions, written in the aftermath of World War II, were intended to protect civilians from forced displacement.

“Quite apart from the question of whether the Fourth Geneva Convention applies de jure to territory such as the West Bank, over which there was no previous legitimate sovereign, the case of Jews voluntarily establishing (or re-establishing their pre-1948) homes and communities in their ancient homeland, and alongside Palestinian communities, does not compare to the kind of forced population transfers contemplated by Article 49(6),” the booklet reads.

However, the Foreign Ministry argues, Israelis “voluntary” moving to the the West Bank was not forbidden by international law. “Nor does it prohibit the movement of individuals to land which was not under the legitimate sovereignty of any state and which is not subject to private ownership.”

In another of the booklets, the Foreign Ministry makes the point that Palestinian rejection of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land dates back 100 years, long before Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“Institutional incitement by Arab authorities in Mandatory Palestine in 1920, 1929 and 1936 is a matter of record and includes intentionally-initiated blood riots,” the document states.

Decades later, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party continue show “affinity to Nazi propaganda” and engage in the “old medieval libel of well-poisoning.”

Palestinian society is pervaded by a “climate of hate” that encourages terrorist attacks, the booklet goes on. “Much of the blame can be laid at the door of the PA itself. The PA’s most senior government officials are actively engaged in nourishing a culture of hate – indoctrinating children and young adults to hate Israel and Jews and to view terrorists as heroes and role models.”

Cartoon encouraging attacks on Israelis published on Fatah Facebook page, October 2015 (PMW)

Rather than raising their children to seek peace with Israel, the PA spends 6.9 percent of its annual budget for salaries of terrorists or their families, the document states.

Israel, on the other hand, utterly rejects hate speech and violence “against anyone, including Palestinians,” the booklet goes on, citing legislation to enable the swift removal of hate speech from social media.

“Intense emotions exist on both sides of the conflict,” the pamphlet allows. “But there is a huge difference between feeling anger and frustration, and encouraging a societal norm in which hatred of the other plays a large part.”

In the booklet devoted to “The Quest for Peace,” the Foreign Ministry assures readers that “Israel seeks to avoid war and has always been keen to solve conflicts by compromise.”

Time after time, Israel has made “far-reaching peace proposals, made major concessions, relinquished extensive tracts of land, uprooted civilian communities (also known as ‘settlements’), withdrawn forces and taken steps to enable the Palestinians to establish the foundations of self-government,” it states.

A Jewish settler argues with a woman soldier who force him to evacuate his home in the Jewish settlement of Ganey Tal in Gush Katif on August 17, 2005. (Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)

The Palestinians, by contrast, refuse any peace proposal, the document says. Their leaders “promote virulent hate speech against Israelis and Jews, and encouraged terror acts such as suicide bombings and rocket attacks that targeted civilians, killing and injuring thousands.”

Hotovely acknowledged that arguments like the ones presented in her booklets are unlikely to change the minds of sworn Israel-haters. But that’s not her goal, she said. Rather, she hopes to arm pro-Israel campus activists with “official content” that will help them answer questions they might encounter from the pro-Palestinian camp.

“The university campuses are one of the most difficult and important arenas, and I come as a representative of the government and a representative of the ruling party on a journey that will begin the hard work of changing the trend toward Israel on US campuses,” she said. “Students who identify with Israel will not longer be afraid to speak their minds.”

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