What is the best way to smear Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists and get away with it?
That is the question David Bernstein, Executive Director of the pro-Israel propaganda group, The David Project, asks in a surprisingly frank article titled “How to ‘Name-And-Shame’ Without Looking Like a Jerk” posted on Israel Campus Beat, a website sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
One of the more controversial tactics in a growing effort to counter the delegitimization of Israel is to “name-and-shame” - to go after those who actively delegitimize Israel and seek to delegitimize them.
There are even those, such as British journalist Melanie Phillips, who argue that our entire strategy should be to relentlessly attack the other side and to cease “defending” Israel.
While name-and-shame tactics can be put to positive effect, they can also easily backfire and do more harm than good. We need to learn the art of being disagreeable in the most agreeable possible fashion.
Hiding vilification behind a veneer of “civility”
Bernstein offers advice on how to be as insincere as possible in order to undermine Palestine solidarity work, especially on college campuses:
- Start every critique with supportive words for peace or free discourse or both.
- Don’t accuse anti-Israel forces of anti-Semitism unless they openly vilify Jews; accuse them of being anti-peace for opposing Israel’s right to exist.
- On campuses and other places where anti-Israel groups act in a disruptive manner, write and promulgate civility petitions calling on all parties to engage in a respectful discussion. If the anti-Israel groups sign it, then they constrain their future actions; if they don’t, they can be accused of being uncivil.
- In taking on an anti-Israel professor on campus, don’t focus on the substantive arguments they make. That will make you look like you’re trying to stifle discourse. Instead, accuse them, in the words of Professor Gil Troy, of “academic malpractice” for propagandizing the classroom.
- When someone on campus justifies Hamas or Hezbollah, call them out by asking a question: Do you really support the Hamas charter’s call for killing Jews? Can that ever be justified?
- Avoid indictments against all Muslims or Islam; preface any criticism of a Muslim radical group with an acknowledgement of peaceful Muslims.
No one should be fooled by the mask of civility - Bernstein makes clear that the goal is to “delegitimize” and marginalize, not to actually engage in “civil” debate.
The David Project’s dirty tricks
The David Project has a long history of dirty tricks. Indeed, the group was a key actor in the slander and fabrication campaign against Columbia University Professor Joseph Massad, part of the unsuccessful effort to deny him tenure (Massad explains the background in a statement on his website after his list of publications).
More broadly, the effort to “name and shame” Palestine solidarity activists is part of the major “anti-delegitimization” efforts underway by American Zionist organizations at the suggestion of The Reut Institute, an Israeli think-tank which in 2010 called for a campaign of “sabotage and attack” on activists and organizations.
In October 2010, the Jewish Federations of North America - an umbrella for 157 major pro-Israel organisations – and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs launched a $6 million initiative called the “Israel Action Network” to fight “delegitimization” – a strategy that will undoubtedly include “name and shame.”
As I wrote for Aljazeera.net last December in “Defending Palestinian solidarity”:
I got a foretaste of what the Israel Action Network’s tactics will likely be when Sam Sokolove, the head of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, launched a failed effort to get academic departments at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to withdraw their support for a lecture I gave in November. Sokolove’s campaign involved publicly vilifying me in the media, likening me to a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It is probably because of the publicity the Jewish Federation gave me that hundreds of people attended my talk.
We can thank Bernstein for his honesty in explaining to us what Israel lobby tactics amount to: personal vilification hiding behind a thin veneer of calls for “civility.” It’s a further sign of the bankruptcy of so much “pro-Israel activism.” It is not so much “pro-Israel” as anti-Palestinian. It has no positive message to offer whatsoever, certainly not one of peace.
Melanie Phillips named and shamed
One final note of irony. In his piece, Bernstein cites Melanie Phillips, a very prominent pro-Israel advocate in the UK who has routinely attacked and vilified many people who have spoken up for Palestinian rights.
Last week, Phillips left her position at The Spectator under a cloud: the publication was forced to make several high profile apologies for Phillips’ totally false attacks against several people and organizations for alleged anti-Semitism or criticism of Israel. Phillips has been particularly virulent in her Islamophobic attacks on British Muslims, as Mehdi Hasan of The New Statesman reports.