Propagandists seem determined to find new ways of presenting a “positive image” of Israel in Scotland — a country where they have encountered a frosty response on several occasions.
In October last year, Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub’s talk at the University of Edinburgh was disrupted by a crowd of 200 protestors, and ended up with the ambassador fleeing to his car. Just a few hours before that talk, Taub was voicing concern over “elements of extreme hostility to Israel in parts of Scottish society” during a meeting with the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.
The same thing happened a year earlier when Israeli diplomat Ismail Khaldi was invited to give a talk to students at Edinburgh University; his event was disrupted and shut down due to protest.
When politicians and diplomats failed to sell Israel as the one and only democracy in the Middle East, a medical center’s public relations officer seemed keen to give it a shot. American-born Larry Rich — director of development at the Emek Medical Center in Afula, a city in present-day Israel — gave several talks recently titled “Israel at eye-level, through the prism of a medical institution.”
His tour — which included visits to Edinburgh and Dundee — took place in early November. An email promoting it read:
You are cordially invited to a free illustrated talk by Larry Rich, director of development and international public relations, affiliated to the Emek Medical Center, in Afula, Israel
Mr. Rich will present a positive image of today’s Israel, with no political or religious bias, simply elaborating on co-operative achievements and everyday ground-level realities that seem light-years beyond what the media reports. Israel is a tiny, beleaguered nation sharing life-saving knowledge and cutting-edge technology with neighbors, some of whom look upon Jewish people as their enemy. The reality is that much is wrong with the image presented by the international media. The land of Israel truly lives the deeply-felt Jewish vision of mip’nei tikkun ha-olam — ‘for the sake of the world.’
Students at the University of Dundee devised a statement calling upon their university to refuse to give a platform to Larry Rich, labeling him an apologist for illegal wars, human rights abuses and the expulsion of the indigenous people of Palestine. In less than 12 hours, students collected signatures from more than ten of the university’s most active student societies, including those affiliated to the Labour Party and Scottish Nationalist Party.
However, the predictable response from the university’s secretary was a refusal to take action, based on the university’s principle of supporting academic freedom and the ideals of free expression and debate.
Rich’s event at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh was faced with interruptions inside the hall, as well as a small protest outside the event. The event was organized by Ken Macintosh, a member of the Scottish Parliament for the Scottish Labour Party. Macintosh had been proven — by police checks — to have previously lied when he claimed to The Jewish Telegraph that a leaflet distributed by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign was “anti-Semitic.”
I have personally been “privileged” to attend two of Rich’s events, one at St. Andrews University, and another the following day at the University of Dundee.
I attended Rich’s talk in St. Andrews — a small town between Edinburgh and Dundee — with a friend of mine. We were among a very small audience that consisted mostly of people with established pro-Israel views. We listened, recorded the whole talk and insisted on correcting fabrications, in a very civil manner.
The first time we did so, Rich thanked us and said, “I’ll research this when I get home, thanks, son.” But as his talk went on, he was growing frustrated with us audience members countering his falsehoods; eventually the police at the hall escorted us out, on orders from the event’s chairperson.
Rich’s PowerPoint presentation used in the talk was titled “Hasbara 2,” a reference to the Hebrew word for “explaining” which has become synonymous with propaganda. As Rich introduced himself to the audience, he said, “I’m not a politician, I’m not a general in the army, I am a simple small tile of the grand and complex mosaic of Israel.”
It appeared that he was deliberately trying to distinguish himself from those politicians and diplomats who have been given a hard time in Scotland. Having seen how diplomats’ speaking events ended up before, this was quite understandable.
However, what he failed to mention was that he was registered by the Israeli foreign ministry as an official speaker to represent Israel abroad in 2007. And he also “forgot” to mention that he had voluntarily served as a tank commander in the Israeli military for 17 years, twice being deployed to Lebanon during the 1970s and 1980s.
As Rich continuously claimed to be “a man of peace,” who “wishes to only focus on the positive” during the presentation, it was quite difficult for him to be convincing to the audience. He had, after all, taken part in occupation of Lebanon, during which numerous war crimes were committed, most notably the massacre of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps.
The talk focused heavily on the Emek Medical Center. It included anecdotes of how the center doesn’t only treat Jews, but also Arabs in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Rich neglected to mention that under international law, the occupying force is held responsible for meeting the needs of the people under occupation.
Nor did he refer to the Hippocratic oath, under which a person couldn’t even take up the profession of a physician if he or she didn’t abide by the ethical standards of treating everyone equally regardless of their ethnic background. He was also bragging that they employ Arab physicians at the hospital, therefore suggesting that Israel is a democracy.
The problem with the talk was the blatant bias and omissions of facts that served to present Israel as a beacon of hope for humanity in a region riddled with primitive, hateful and unenlightened peoples. To an uninformed audience member, Larry Rich could get away with the presentation of Israel as this remarkable Jewish country that is being demonized by a world that listens to hateful media, which fails to report the abundant good stories coming from Israel.
One example of his omission of key facts related to the medical infrastructure in the West Bank.
Rich went on an emotional rant about Yasser Arafat being a dictator and thief who was to blame for the West Bank’s medical hardships at a time when Israel was reaching out with compassion trying to help. He completely ignored the military occupation, the hundreds of checkpoints installed, the medical equipment seized by Israeli forces and even the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip.
He insisted on portraying the Palestinian Authority as an equal force to the Israelis in the West Bank, even though it is the Israelis who control borders and decide who can enter Israel and who can’t.
The talk indirectly acquitted Israel of all crimes. To a naïve audience, this would be a good propaganda tactic that could go miles in whitewashing Israel’s crimes, if left unchecked.
A successful challenge
The day after the event at St. Andrews, Rich came to the University of Dundee. Instead of there being two audience members with good knowledge on the Palestinian/Israeli reality present, there were about thirty, among an audience of around fifty in total.
Needless to say, Rich clearly knew he wasn’t speaking to a naïve crowd; he had a clear change of tone from his St. Andrews talk, and in total his talk was about 25 minutes shorter than he originally planned. Interruptions by a frustrated audience were frequent, but the eight police members who were needlessly present at the lecture theater didn’t escort anyone out this time. It was a clear success for members in the audience who cared about getting the truth out there, and clearly a failure for a propagandist.
In Dundee, one audience member said to Rich: “All countries have similar experiments in medical/technological fields, but you wouldn’t be here talking about this basic stuff if you knew Israel was not in trouble.”