The ‘Industry of Lies’ Targeting Israel
A few years ago, the Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini encountered two protesters outside of an event in Boston. They were young women carrying placards denouncing the “genocide” that Israel was committing against the Palestinians.
Yemini initiated a conversation. “How many Palestinians were killed in this genocide?” he asked. The women looked at each other and hazarded a guess: it must be in the millions. And when asked how they had arrived at this figure, they rattled off the titles of books they’d read, and the opinions of their professors. They were Jewish, they told him — one was the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor — and their beliefs in human rights and “tikkun olam” compelled them to criticize Israel for the crimes against humanity that the Jewish state was surely committing every day.
Yemini, the former opinion editor at Maariv, and now a columnist for Israel’s second most widely-read paper, was pained that such ignorance should be displayed by educated Americans — and Jews no less. But he was not surprised.
A supporter of the two-state solution and a critic of the settlements, he had long been researching the disconnect between the reality of Israel and her image in the world. His book Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict, a best seller in Israel in 2014, has just been published in English. It is an encyclopedic compendium of the errors of fact and interpretation about Israel and her neighbors that have poisoned the international discussion. The book unveils “one of the greatest intellectual frauds of the recent decades. When it comes to Israel, the lie has become the truth, and the truth has become a lie.”
Yemini suggests that the falsehoods did not necessarily begin with evil intent. For progressives, the great moral battles since the fall of the Soviet Union now play out between the Third World and the West — between people of color and the white man. With some manipulation by the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, leftists of varying stripes have come to adopt the idea of a state for the Palestinians as their casus belli — although one could argue that the Kurds and Tibetans had stronger claims.
But “along the way, something went terribly wrong,” writes Yemini. “Good intentions degenerated into not-so-good intentions. Legitimate criticism slipped into not-so-legitimate criticism, which morphed into truth twisters, misleading statements, and outright lies.” He warns that the more wide-spread the lies and invective against Israel, the more remote the chance of peace becomes.
Charges of Israeli apartheid, which he dismantles in a few paragraphs, have nevertheless become a rallying cry for an international effort modeled on the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s directed against South Africa. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement does not seek two states side by side, but rather the elimination of the Jewish state — though many of its followers do not understand this.
Regarding genocide, the Boston women’s concern about a million Palestinian dead is misplaced. Yemini concludes after a lengthy analysis: “the number of those killed by Israel in all the relevant conflicts combined is lower, in both absolute and relative terms, than in any comparable conflict around the world. Relative to population size, more Palestinians have died in traffic accidents than in violent clashes with Israel.”
With regard to charges of war crimes, Israel — forced to fight terrorists who use their own civilians as human shields — has developed unique close-battlefield techniques to avoid harm to civilians that have been adopted by NATO forces. Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan stated that “during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare.”
According to Yemini, one thing that makes the distortion about Israel unusual is “the extensive involvement of academic scholars, bringing with them a presumption of objectivity and the prestige of their institutions to inject claims into the public debate that are easily shown to be untrue.” Ilan Pappe, one of the grandfathers of this industry, teaches at the University of Exeter. His voluminous writings exemplify the core of the anti-Israel narrative. His best known work is titled The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Yet he is a believer in a post-factual universe. “Who knows what the facts are?” he asked in a 1999 interview in Le Soir. “We try to convince as many people as we can that our interpretation of the facts is the correct one, and we do it because of ideological reasons, not because we are truth seekers.”
In his 2004 book, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, Pappe wrote: “My bias is apparent despite the desire of my peers that I stick to facts and the ‘truth’ when reconstructing past realities. I view any such construction as vain and presumptuous. This book is written by one who admits compassion for the colonized but not the colonizer; who sympathizes with the occupied, not the occupiers.”
Aided by a press corps that is at once overactive and indolent, the ginned-up narrative of Israeli perfidy has spread to the most enlightened and progressive countries in Western Europe. A 2004 poll in Germany showed that 51 percent of non-immigrant German believe that Israel is treating the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews. In Italy, 36 percent of Italians support the proposition that “Israel is conducting an extermination of Palestinians, just like the Nazis did to the Jews.” A global poll conducted by the BBC in 2007 found that most people think that Israel has the most negative influence on the world. In 2012, there was an improvement: Israel sank to the fourth most negative influence, behind Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.
In his book, Yemini probes the breathtaking leap that has vaulted Jews from persecuted victims of a well-documented historical genocide, to the perpetrator of invented crimes against humanity. As violence against Jews has risen worldwide, as boycott talk against Israel heats up once again in Europe, and as the Middle East changes shape by the hour, it is ever more important to insist on the facts — even as UNESCO tries to erase a Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
With this book, Yemini makes a principled and heroic contribution.