29 December 2011
Losing the War of Ideas due to Incompetence

In the war of ideas, we operate under huge handicaps. Our adversaries attract sympathy as underdogs, yet carry enormous economic and political clout and effectively control international institutions like the UN. In addition, they have hijacked NGOs purportedly promoting human rights, yet are at the forefront of racist campaigns to demonize and delegitimize us. It is disgraceful that many western journalists collaborate with them.

Australia has consistently maintained a staunch bipartisan friendship with the Jewish State since its creation. Under the current Labor government headed by Julia Gillard, it remains, like the United States and Canada, one of the few countries where Israel still gets a fair hearing.

On November 26, John Lyons, the accredited Jerusalem reporter for The Australian, the leading national daily, wrote a 3000 word feature lambasting alleged inhumane Israeli treatment of Palestinian children.

Although The Australian has a consistent record of being fair and open-minded in relation to Israel, this was a classic compendium of anti-Israeli vilification, reminiscent of the wildest distortions and fabrications contained in the Goldstone report.

The sources attributed were the usual Israeli demonizers – B’Tselem, Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din, and in particular, the organization Defense for Children International (DCI) represented by Australian lawyer, Gerald Horton. Lyons also interviewed a spokesman for ‘Breaking the Silence’, the discredited group which paved the way and actively collaborated with the Goldstone Committee, providing ‘evidence’ which, after investigation, proved to be largely unsubstantiated and was even significantly repudiated by Goldstone himself.

Lyons, who the IDF provided with unfettered access to closed courts, portrayed youngsters in shackles and weeping mothers observing swift justice by ‘brutal’ Israeli military authorities. He described IDF courts as a “Guantanamo Bay for kids”.

He quoted at length from DCI’s Horton, who referred to “385 sworn affidavits” alleging the worst imaginable atrocities, including beatings, torture, intimidating children with savage dogs, electric shock treatment, and every conceivable horror. He even referred to an “interrogator from Gush Etzion” who specialized in threatening children with rape.

If only a tiny proportion of these allegations contained a kernel of truth, we would have good reason to be concerned. But as in previous horror stories, I have every confidence that the evidence is based on testimony which will once again prove to be overwhelmingly false. We need only refer to the Mohammed el Dura fraud, the Jenin “massacre”, the Goldstone allegations of “deliberate” targeting of civilians in Gaza and other charges leveled against us, that months later, were shown to have been outright lies.

Not surprisingly, the marathon feature by Lyons created a considerable stir in Australia.

Australian Jewish leaders and pro-Israel activists promptly requested the Israeli embassy to respond with information for rebuttals from the Army, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister’s office. Direct representations were also made to Jerusalem. For weeks, they were told that the authorities were reviewing the matter but no reply was forthcoming. One unofficial response idiotically suggested that the best approach to such a hostile article was to ignore it and it would blow over.

On December 17, the failure to respond resulted in a second article by Lyons, regurgitating what he had written previously, informing readers that Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was deeply concerned over the report and had instructed Australia’s diplomatic representatives to initiate a formal inquiry with the Israeli authorities. It is common knowledge that Rudd is personally keen to distance Australia from Israel in order to curry Arab votes for Australia’s candidature for a UN Security Council seat. But he would not have had credible grounds for initiating such an inquiry had the Israeli authorities provided a meaningful response.

Only following the Australian decision to investigate the matter, did the IDF spokesperson belatedly issue a bland legal statement, outlining the reasons why in this context, the custody of minors did not violate international law.

It may be difficult for those living in Western countries to comprehend the concept of jailing children for throwing stones. However, stone throwing has emerged as a staple component of terrorism and to some extent a wretched form of identity for Palestinian youth.

It should also be appreciated that stones are hurled equally at innocent Israeli civilians as well as soldiers, and in addition to maiming and scarring, have proven to be lethal. Only recently, Asher Palmer and his one year old son died after a stone smashed the windshield of his car.

Yet despite this, the reality is that as a deterrent, only a tiny proportion of stone throwers are being prosecuted. Otherwise, the Israeli jails would be overflowing with them.

The issue is additionally complicated because children in Israel are not tried under the same laws as apply to territories over the green line which, not having been annexed to Israel, operate under Jordanian and British mandatory laws.

Any Israeli official with a modicum of political sensitivity should have stressed that child terrorism represents one of the most reprehensible aspects of the Palestinian culture of death and criminality.

From kindergarten, Palestinian children are brainwashed into becoming martyrs by killing Jews in order to fulfill their Islamic obligation to expunge Jewish sovereignty from the region. Aside from continuously being employed as human shields, they are frequently exploited as suicide bombers.

The monstrous massacre of the Fogel family in March, which included the beheading of an infant, was perpetrated by a Palestinian family group which included a minor.

But what is both incomprehensible and disgraceful is that until now, the IDF response has still failed to repudiate the real source of concern – the outrageous lies and defamations concerning the torture of minors.

The response to the libels contained in Lyons article should have pointed out that many of the NGOs demonizing Israel are the same ones which provided “testimonies” about Israeli atrocities and war crimes to the Goldstone Committee which were subsequently demonstrated to be fabrications.

They should also have asked why Lyons did not query the failure of the defamers to raise these accusations in the appropriate Israeli tribunals such as the Supreme Court which even has a controversial record amongst Israelis for intervening in IDF related matters.

What is wrong with the IDF, Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Department? Do they really believe that they can ignore such vile accusations in the mainstream media of a friendly country? Their deafening silence even led to an editorial in the local Jewish weekly, the Australian Jewish News, foolishly asking whether “God forbid”, the “country we cherish” enabled “the torture of children”.

If this is how our senior military and government offices deal with such issues, it is high time to demand accountability.

It is the Prime Minister’s Office office which carries the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that such matters are efficiently handled. Binyamin Netanyahu, more than most politicians, has a genuine grasp of the crucial importance of the war of ideas. If his office is not fulfilling its obligations in this area, he must, as a matter of urgency, personally intervene to guarantee that government information offices are staffed by personnel who are sufficiently competent to confront such issues in a skilled and professional manner.

The writer can be reached at ileibler@netvision.net.il

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post

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Isi Leibler

Isi Leibler is a veteran international Jewish leader with a distinguished record of contributions to the Jewish world and the cause of human rights, including the struggle for Soviet Jewry. He was head of the Jewish community in Australia for many years and made aliya in 1999. Leibler has held senior roles in the World Jewish Congress, including chairman of the governing board and senior vice president. Today, he writes prolifically and is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post and Yisrael Hayom.

(11) Readers Comments

  1. Once again, Mr.Leibler, agree with you 100%

  2. Mr. Leibler, living in Sydney, I was greatly distressed to read John Lyons’ article and looked forward to competent responses from our Sydney Jewish Community leaders. Little or nothing was forthcoming.
    I was relieved to read just now, your rebuttal of much of the article … BUT, distressed again to read much “tit-for-tatting” in accusing the Palestinians – and especially the children – of “their share” of offences. What is important in this instance is the treatment of children as a stand-alone issue.

    Is it true that CHILDREN have been used as suicide bombers ? Women, yes … but children ?

    I do not condone the stone throwing at all … BUT (again) I expect the Israeli authorities to treat children decently, no matter what their crime.

    I look forward to learning in the future that John Lyons’ report is as flawed as the Goldstone Report turned out to be.

    In the meantime, I would hope that our precious competent spokespersons, such as yourself, do not descend into the same journalistic tactics as do our adversaries.

  3. I appreciated your article however would suggest that “stone throwing” be amended to “rock throwing”. Having gone through such an attack rocks were thrown not merely “stones”

  4. ASSUMPTION – If Isi Leibler is on a personal hotline to his close colleague Netenyahu

    QUESTION – What can we mere mortals do to address the problem. ?

  5. As an interested and firm “fan” of Mr.Leibler, I especially am writing to confirm his distress at Israel’s failure to respond quickly and fully to the vile attacks published in Australia. The “batlanut” of the Israeli government is most depressing, and discouraging to pro-Israel Americans, both Jews and non-Jews. The government of Israel, by its distressing failure to respond quickly and vigorously to the shameful attacks, should be made aware of the fact that allowing time to pass and failure to respond intelligently and strongly is a sure way to alienate its friends in Israel, America, Australia, and the entire world. What a collosal embarrassment!

  6. As usual, Mr. Leibler has spelled out truths, and although they hurt a lot…they are truths and let’s hope his articles get to the Prime Minister Netanyahu and others in the Israeli government. Adela

  7. After spending nearly 10 years in the field of public diplomacy and trying to get government and army officials to understand the real nature of our problem, we need a tsunami of public activists to stand up and say “We need a change in the government and IDFapproach to public diplomacy”.

    Yes there have been some small changes but we need big changes, to be more aggressive and more pro active

  8. These lies being propped up against Israel are shallow lies. The least people should be able to do is denounce the lies and expose them where ever they appear. But obviously, there are problems beyond that. Too many people are of weak character and would rather believe lies than confront the truth. And we get a few more every day. We have to confront not just the lies, but the moral failings of those responsible for believing them and those who indoctrinate others to be indifferent to the truth. The truth matters, not just morally, but practically and materially too.

  9. In the early eighties, we attempted to make Aliyah to Israel. Most of our surviving family from Europe was living there and we wanted to join them, not only for our sake but also so that our two little children, unlike us, would grow up with an extended family…
    While trying to arrange the transition from the U.S. to Israel, we learned a few things we had been unaware of earlier.
    Our plan was to move all our household possessions including our new car with us. With hard work, we had done relatively well in the United States and assumed (logically?) that it would be easier on our pockets if we had our things with us so as not to have to start from the beginning in our new home. We had planned to sell our home in Los Angeles and with that income, acquire a similar one in Israel.
    Easier said than done. In Tel Aviv, we went to the Aliyah office hoping to make all the arrangements needed.
    Our first shock, and it was a big one, the woman who spoke to us, apparently also a new immigrant had very scant knowledge how to handle these things. She Rattled down a few things form a list, then sat back and apparently that was it.
    Her “instructions” – We could not bring our own car with us. We had to purchase a “Government approved” car in Israel and it had to be a small one.
    We would be provided by the “Government” of an apartment with two bedrooms in the area of their choice, which we would then pay off in installments.
    We had to attend an Ulpan to learn Hebrew and then the “Government” would assign us jobs according to our capabilities…..etc.,etc…etc.
    My wife is a Research Scientist who had worked for a long time for one of the largest Hi-Tech firms in the U.S. I was a businessman and owned my w Travel Agency in Beverly Hills. Both of us College Educated.
    There was more, but we had enough. Later on, we learned that the woman was an Iranian immigrant who had been assigned to talk to the new applicants wishing to make Aliyah – We did manage to speak to the man in charge of the agency, he was not much more helpful than that woman.
    We changed our mind and after a few more weeks visiting with the family, returned to our U.S. home. It was a very disappointing experience. Later we did return to Israel several times, as tourists and love the country and its people. We had many friends and our family there but never considered a move again.
    We were mostly disappointed, because we wished to go “HOME” but we felt that our ancestral home did not want us, at the time at least, unless we were indigent refugees . It just didn’t feel well.
    We know things have changed in Israel since then. We did not become bitter from that experience. We do believe that many Israelis are still living in an insular, narrow state of mind, maybe due to being surrounded by enemies for so long, and not clearly realizing that there are many well intentioned people out there who want to support them, to become part of the experience….
    The birth of Israel was in itself a miracle. What Israelis have accomplished in the last 50 years is astounding. The technology emanating from its institutions, the quality of its people, the moral character unscathed by decades of brutal war and demonization by its enemies is in itself amazing. Israelis learned not to complain. This Spartans behavior is fine for the world in general. But allowing Jewish brothers and sisters to lend a hand can only improve the relationship between Israelis and the Diaspora. Despite our having many misguided Jews who seem to have swayed by the anti Israel propaganda, there are many more who wish to support, encourage, cheer for Israel…If they would just be allowed by the Israelis themselves. We cannot help where help is not accepted, where our efforts of rapprochement are ignored or outright rejected.
    With the brutal killings in Lybia, Syria, Egypt and other countries in the area, the world stands by and does nothing. And why is that ? Because it is expected from these countries. It is a wrong expectation, but that’s how the world has always responded to brutal conditions. People must be educated and told what’s really going on.
    I do not pretend to give unwanted advice. But if it was up to me, I would start by expelling lazy, unreliable and biased reporters who write unverified falsehoods, and who spread lies fed to them by outside sources seeking to damage Israel. If they do not retract misinformation (fast) in their writings, out they go. Expose the hooligans on the “Freedom Boats” for what they are, in the press, on TV, with Blogs, pictures and movies, etc. Do not allow a single lie, falsehood, invented criticism or misinformation to last more than without a proper response. Most of all, show those who criticize every move Israel makes, by pre-emptying the action and the reasons behind it. Israel is in a war declared and promoted by the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors as well as a few European countries (who should know better) Hit back, and fast. Do not allow the enemy to have the advantage. I am always surprised how nobody reacts to lies, falsehoods and whining, how twisted the education is for Palestinian and other Moslem children and adults. How they teach little children to “hate and to kill Jews”.. How
    Arab maps all over the Middle East do not show Israel, but the area is called Palestine. How can anyone complain over a few settlements for families to live in, when there are 1,000.000 Arabs with Israeli citizenship living and working inside Israel, with all the rights of Israeli citizens while the Arab countries want to stay “Judenrein” and the world supports this obscene idea ?. We abhor racism in our country. Isn’t that the ultimate racism ? How many will complain if Israel beats the news to the punch… with the truth ? It is time to talk back Israel. Open a new Government branch, staff it with intelligent, educated Israelis who speak several languages and start making some noise….It would be money well spent.

  10. The Foreign Ministry is thoroughly incompetent.
    Another example is its opposition to the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Turks in 1915.

  11. Isi is always on the money. He needs no kudos from me. This is for Martin Lackner. He’s absolutely correct. WWII should have taught us that silence isn’t golden, it’s suicide. Their lies must never be allowed to stand. Reporters only interested in defaming Israel should have their visas revoked, put on the first plane home, and placed on a ‘Persona non grata’ list. Newspapers & periodicals that defame Israel should be sued. When the lies go unanswered, the ignorant, of whom there are many, assume that they’re true. Lies MUST be challenged and countered with VERIFIABLE facts. And, it must be done swiftly. If lies are all they hear, that’s all they believe and all they remember. Reconsider making aliyah, Mr. Lackner. Israel needs people like you. Whether they know it or not. Kol ha’kavod.

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