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5 Reasons Israel Is Losing the Public Relations Battle

There are some very good reasons -- none of them anti-Semitic -- why Israel is sinking in the perception of the outside world.

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3. Disregard for the rule of law

The Israeli practice of kidnapping Palestinians at will and holding them indefinitely without trial is abhorrent to all civilized persons. (They call it  administrative detention in Tel Aviv.) If a Palestinian is suspected of having actually committed a crime, then it should be possible to present evidence for it and to try the person.

Israel took the Palestinian soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak into custody three years ago, and only just released him under severe international pressure. The Israelis say he is an Islamic Jihad terrorist, but clearly have no good evidence for this charge or they would have tried him. Instead, they just put him away, apparently forever. He went on a hunger strike that endangered his life, and provoked  widespread protests from the soccer playing lobby. But Sarsak’s plight also elicited a condemnation from the  Austrian senate (Bundesrat). Israeli complaints that criticizing "administrative detention" is "anti-Semitic" and that after all Syria is doing something much worse are absolutely painful to hear. It is playground ethics: "he hit me first," "you just don’t like me," "why punish me when other kids have done really bad things?"

The Israelis would benefit from a reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the US Bill of Rights on issues such as a fair and speedy trial for everyone arrested, and from an acquaintance with the basic international law of Occupations, which rules out most of their practices toward the Palestinians. Note that when the Bush administration attempted to make Guantanamo a legal black hole, the US Supreme Court struck it down.

4. Punitive policies toward non-combatants

The Israeli blockade on the civilian population of Gaza is evil, creepy and illegal in international law. That is why the international community is pushing back. For instance,  UNESCO is establishing a science chair at a university in Gaza. Israel is the occupying authority in Gaza, and is therefore bound by the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of its subjects. Some 40% of Palestinian families there are refugees from what is now Israel, expelled by militant members of the Yishuv in 1948, and many of them still live in camps. The blockade has reduced some 56% of them to food insecurity.

Israel surrounds the Strip, and destroyed its airport and seaport, preventing it from exporting most of what it makes and produces, and limiting imports. The little territory of 1.6 million Palestinians  suffers severe health as well as  mental health damage from these Israeli policies. No Israeli official can explain what future the residents of Gaza might have that is not a kind of Israel-imposed hell. (And no, they aren’t generic "Arabs" who will melt into the great sea of other "Arabs" as the more racist Israelis might hope.)

Israeli relations with Turkey, long excellent, have been deeply harmed by the blockade and Israel’s attack on a civilian Turkish aid ship that tried to get supplies to the non-combatant population there. Israel refuses to apologize for killing nine aid workers, including an American citizen.

5. Violations of international law

Israel’s occupation forces it into a whole range of illegal and reprehensible behaviors. This is nothing to do with Jews or Israel, it is to do with occupations.  The Israelis have been arresting minors, sentencing them to harsh terms and fines, and treating them much differently than they would Jewish minors guilty of the same offenses. The British Foreign Office has just condemned these practices.

Israeli policies are no more off limits to criticism than are Argentinian or Indonesian ones, despite what the country’s remarkably thin-skinned and intolerant partisans often allege. And, when the chorus of criticism is coming from Anglicans, Presbyterians, the UK Foreign Office, the Austrian Senate, and UNESCO, that is a pretty wide set of world institutions not easily pigeon-holed as mere bigots. Maybe it is time for the Israeli government to reconsider the self-destructive course it is on, which likely will lead to the end of the state some decades hence, as Israeli President Shimon Peres is frantically warning.

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