#askDermer a colossal social media #Hasbarafail
by Sheila Musaji
The Israeli Ambassador, Ron Dermer had an #AskDermer time on Twitter yesterday. The #AskDermer hashtag said that he would be available on Thursday, July 17th at 8:340 am et to discuss ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in a Q&A. This is the same Amb. Dermer who was for some reason invited to the White House Iftar and given the opportunity to be the first speaker, and who then sent out a particularly undiplomatic tweet about which Haaretz published U.S. Muslims fuming over Dermer’s White House Iftar tweet. Read about the White House Iftar fiasco at Iftar Wars?: To Attend or Not To Attend.
The fact that Dermer is tone deaf to the sound of anything but Israeli propaganda is not a surprise. When he was first appointed as Ambassador to the U.S., Peter Beinart wrote Reading Israel’s New U.S. Ambassado in which he reported that “between 2001 and 2003, Dermer wrote roughly 125 columns for the Jerusalem Post. He goes on to say:
... The first theme is Dermer’s disdain for Palestinians and his cartoonish view of their and Israel’s shared history. In a May 25, 2001, column, he bemoans the fact that on Nakba day, when Palestinians commemorate the flight of roughly 700,000 of their compatriots from their homes during Israel’s war of Independence, the Israeli “media was filled with tales of Palestinian anguish.” For Dermer, this “self-flagellating sympathy by the country’s Jewish population is a cause for serious concern.” Why? Because Israel bears no responsibility for the refugees’ plight since “nearly all of [them left of] their own free will.” Unfortunately for Dermer, few serious historians share his view. (By way of comparison, watch this account
by Benny Morris, whose political views are now not that different from Dermer’s, but who has immersed himself in the historical archives.) Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the people who agrees with Dermer is Netanyahu himself, who in his 2000 book, A Durable Peace, declared that “most of the Arab refugees left voluntarily.”
Dermer revises history yet again on January 25, 2002. “How can it be,” he asks, “that Palestinian Arabs, long exposed to Israeli democracy, have never mounted a non-violent campaign to achieve their goals?” Put aside the issue of how much democratic exposure Palestinians get as non-voting, non-citizens living under military law in the West Bank. The problem with Dermer’s question, as Yousef Munayyer has documented, is that Palestinians have protested nonviolently since the early twentieth century. (As a Zionist, I don’t agree with the goals of many of those protests, but they’ve been conducted via boycotts and strikes, not only armed attacks.) But having stipulated that Palestinians don’t protest nonviolently, Dermer goes on to speculate that the reason is “a cultural tendency towards belligerency” that is “deeply imbedded in the culture of the Arab world and its foremost religion.” (Again, he’s on message with his boss, who in A Durable Peace says “violence is ubiquitous in the political life of all the Arab countries.”)
A defender of Dermer’s might object that he can’t be truly hostile to Palestinians or Arabs because, like Natan Sharansky, with whom he authored The Case for Democracy, he believes they yearn for freedom. But there’s a tension between this democratic optimism and Dermer’s disdain for Palestinian, Arab and Islamic cultures. It comes through clearly in a column he penned after 9/11 (“The View from Ground Zero”) in which he writes with unabashed enthusiasm that while “George Bush has called the enemy terrorism, bending over backwards not to besmirch Islam… [t]he American people are not convinced. They see Islamic fundamentalism, if not Islam itself, as the enemy. The prevailing mood I detected was best expressed not by the president’s call for Americans to pray in their ‘churches, synagogues and mosques’ but by the refusal of commuters on a Minneapolis flight to fly until three Arab passengers were removed from the plane.”
If Dermer can be contemptuous of Palestinians, and Arabs and Muslims more generally, he’s equally scornful of those Israelis who identify with their plight. In a July 20, 2001, column, he compares Shimon Peres to Neville Chamberlain for helping broker the Oslo Accords, thus echoing an analogy made repeatedly by Netanyahu in the 1990s. On January 11, 2002, Dermer divides Israeli doves into two categories—“census takers” and “self-haters”—and then declares that a “recent article by David Grossman, a renowned Israeli author, placed him squarely with the self-haters.” (Someone snuck a free copy of this one online.)
It takes a certain moxie—when you’re barely thirty years old and recently arrived from the U.S.—to compare one of Israel’s most venerable statesman to history’s most notorious appeaser and to suggest that Israel’s most famous novelist is motivated by self-loathing. And as usual, Dermer levels his accusations with a torrent of intellectual self-regard and little actual evidence. Grossman, he declares, “displayed a level of historical ignorance not uncommon among Israel’s literary elite” and yet offers not a single fact to prove Grossman wrong. Anyone who has read Bibi will recognize the style. It would be nice, Netanyahu lectured the U.N. in 2011, to have a “press whose sense of history extends beyond breakfast.” (In a May 23, 2003, column, Dermer uses the exact same phrase.) But like Dermer, Netanyahu is not quite the historian he imagines himself to be. In a review of Netanyahu’s heftiest book, initially called A Place Among the Nations and later reissued as A Durable Peace, the University of Virginia’s William Quandt noted in Foreign Affairs that “the historical sections of the book” are “not well grounded in fact.”
Finally, Dermer’s columns heap abuse on every effort to birth a Palestinian state. The Oslo Accords are a “folly” (Jan 24, 2003) and a “ruse” (May 3, 2002). Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David is a “Herculean effort at appeasement.” The Bush administration’s Road Map for Peace is a “blatant reward for terror” (May 30, 2003). Dermer’s hostility to Palestinian statehood is relentless. “A Palestinian state will give the Palestinians powers that will endanger the very existence of the Jewish state,” he writes on May 16, 2002. But unfortunately, he worries on March 2 of that year, “Israelis may be foolish enough today to agree to one Palestinian state.”
These columns were written a decade ago, and it’s always possible that Dermer, like Netanyahu, has changed his mind. In June 2009, in a speech at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu endorsed Palestinian statehood after a career spent opposing it. A month before that, after being quoted as saying, “This idea of two states for two peoples is a stupid and childish solution to a very complex problem,” Dermer clarified that “when I say ‘childish’ I mean… the fixation with that idea rather than focusing on the fundamental issues. I don’t think that two-states for two peoples is a childish approach.”
The problem with believing that Dermer and his boss have undergone a sincere conversion—as opposed to a rhetorical one designed to relieve international pressure—is that although they now endorse something called a “Palestinian state,” they’ve rejected the parameters for creating one that have governed every serious negotiation in the past. Netanyahu and Dermer took office in the wake of talks between Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that both men have subsequently said could have produced a deal within months. According to published reports, Olmert and Abbas were both within the parameters laid out by Bill Clinton in December 2000: a Palestinian state in 94 percent or more of the West Bank (with land swaps from within Israel), a Palestinian capital in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, international but not Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley, some return of Palestinian refugees but not enough to shift Israel’s demographic balance (Olmert reportedly suggested 5,000; Abbas countered with 150,000).
Netanyahu and Dermer refused to pick up where Olmert left off. Indeed, in a clear swipe at the recently departed prime minister, Dermer told AIPAC soon after Netanyahu took office, “The days of continuing down the same path of weakness and capitulation and concessions, hoping, hoping that somehow the Palestinians would respond in kind are over.” Even in the Bar-Ilan speech where he endorsed Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu laid out demands far beyond Olmert’s. Unlike Olmert, he made the demand that Palestinians not merely recognize Israel, but recognize it as a “Jewish state,” a core requirement for any deal. He ruled out dividing Jerusalem, something Olmert had already agreed to. And he said Israel needs “defensible borders,” a buzzword he’d used in the past to insist that Israel retain as much as half of the West Bank, and which several key former and current Netanyahu aides have argued is incompatible with the kind of Palestinian state envisioned by Clinton and Olmert. Indeed, after Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, his own father told reporters, “He doesn’t support [a Palestinian state]. He supports the sorts of conditions that they [the Palestinians] will never accept.”
Since then, Netanyahu and Dermer have publicly rejected Barack Obama’s 2011 proposal that negotiations be based upon the 1967 lines plus land swaps, the basic parameters laid out by Clinton, and accepted by Olmert. Between 2009 and 2013, they oversaw a government that doubled funding for settlements. During his reelection bid this January, Netanyahu never made the two-state solution the official position of his Likud-Beiteinu ticket. And once reelected, he formed a coalition in which a majority of cabinet ministers, according to some estimates, oppose a Palestinian state.
This doesn’t mean Abbas bears no responsibility for the failure to launch serious negotiations over the last four years. It’s entirely possible that he’s now so weak and lethargic that he doesn’t want to put himself in a position where he’d have to make difficult compromises. But by remaining outside the basic two-state framework established more than a decade ago, Netanyahu and Dermer have never put him to the test.
In the wake of Dermer’s appointment, media speculation has focused on whether the Obama administration is annoyed by the pick. I understand the temptation. During the reporting for my book, one senior White House official told me that Dermer could “stand some self-reflection.” Another, on background, was even more salty. (Though, to be fair, another former administration type called him capable and effective.) But whether Team Obama likes Dermer’s personality and his partisan leanings is a distraction. The real question is whether they’re bothered by the fact that, as the window for a two-state solution closes, Netanyahu is sending to Washington a man with a history of trying to seal it shut. If that doesn’t bother the Obama White House, it means they’re probably already given up.
Here are a few of the lies he tweeted during the #AskDermer session:
— The only ones calling for genocide is Hamas
— Israel cares more about Pal civilians in Gaza than Hamas. We try to get them out of harms way. They put them in harm’s way
— Unfortunately Hamas is using human shields to protect their rockets, placing missiles next to mosques, hospitals & school
— Israel has the right to defend itself
— This started with the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas
He went on and on with the same old false talking points, and never showed any compassion for the Palestinians. His talking points were so predictable that I was surprised he didn’t use the old “This land is mine, God gave this land to me”.
About the “only ones calling for genocide” comment, see Jewish “Ahavah shel achvah” Brotherly Love is Difficult for Some to Attain for lots of examples to the contrary. Or you might see Ali Abunimah’s article from the past week Jewish Agency’s Avi Mayer whitewashes “Death to the Arabs” rally. Abunimah notes that actually ” the demonstrators were chanting “mavet la’aravim” – “Death to the Arabs” in Hebrew.” Or you might consider the meaning of Ayelet Shaked of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party’s statement calling for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”
“They have to die and their houses should be demolished so that they cannot bear any more terrorists,” Shaked said, adding, “They are all our enemies and their blood should be on our hands. This also applies to the mothers of the dead terrorists.”
About those human shields, see this Human Rights Watch report Human Shielding and the Use of Civilians for Military Purposes. This report discusses the Israeli IDF use of Palestinian civilians as human shields at great length. And, here’s an Amnesty International report Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 days of death and destruction which found no evidence of Palestinians using human shields.
Gaza is the most heavily populated area on earth, and is basically a prison where civilians are packed together. As Jon Stewart pointed out - Have you seen Gaza? Where are they supposed to go. Israel on one side and Egypt on the other. Should they swim for it?
If bombing in areas where it would be impossible to have civilian casualties in order to hit military targets is reasonable, then would the IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv be a legitimate target for the Palestinians?
Actually, the vicious murder of the three teenagers in June was not the first act of revenge recently. See Mouin Rabbani’s article Institutionalized disregard for Palestinian life which goes into detail about this charge, and the fact that no one knows who carried out the murders of the three teenagers. He says in part:
... One either rejects the killing of non-combatants on principle or takes a more tribal approach to such matters. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the global outpouring of grief and condemnation over the killing of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank is the moral equivalent of Rolf Harris denouncing Jimmy Savile.
Over the past 14 years, Israel has killed Palestinian children at a rate of more than two a week. There seems to be no Israeli child in harm’s way that Barack Obama will not compare to his own daughters, but their Palestinian counterparts are brushed aside with mantras about Israel’s right to self-defence. The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence, but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip.
The current round of escalation is generally dated from the moment three Israeli youths went missing on 12 June. Two Palestinian boys were shot dead in Ramallah on 15 May, but that – like any number of incidents in the intervening month when Israel exercised its right to colonise and dispossess – is considered insignificant.
Binyamin Netanyahu immediately blamed Hamas for the three Israeli teenagers’ disappearance. The White House almost as quickly confirmed Hamas’s guilt, which has since been treated as established fact by the media. Yet the culprits remain at large and their institutional affiliation unclear. For its part Hamas, which like other Palestinian organisations never hesitates to claim responsibility for its actions and is prone to exaggerate its activities, has this time denied involvment.
... If it was known that there were no hostages to be rescued, what was Israel trying to achieve? A key objective was reversing the tentative steps taken by Fatah and Hamas towards national reconciliation. Israel prefers a divided Palestinian polity partially ruled by militant Islamists to a unified one led by the pliant Mahmoud Abbas, who remains committed to negotiations and publicly proclaims security collaboration with Israel to be ‘sacred’. Concerned that a reconciliation at a time of growing Palestinian unrest could lead to another uprising, Israel sought to pre-empt it. In doing so, it rearrested a number of Palestinians released in the 2011 prisoner exchange with Hamas. In the context of the latest collapse of American-sponsored diplomacy, and a growing global consensus that Israel, its appetite for Palestinian land and failure to fulfil its commitments regarding prisoner releases were to blame, Netanyahu leapt at the chance to change the narrative from colonialism and its consequences to terrorism. ...
About that Israel has a right to defend itself comment, see Seumas Milne’s article Gaza: this shameful injustice will only end if the cost of it rises in which he notes “The idea that Israel is defending itself from unprovoked attacks is absurd. Occupied people have the right to resist.”
As Professor Omid Safi said on Facebook in response to Amb. Dermer’s nonsense about “Israel cares more about Pal civilians in Gaza than Hamas”.
Insist and resist.
There are many kinds of weapons.
The Israeli army might be the fourth largest army in the world, backed by the US political clout and tax-payer funds a massive lobby organization, and powerful spin propaganda agents.
We as the members of the world community concerned about issues of peace and justice have another weapon. The weapons of truth-telling, of love, of justice.
The Israeli ambassador, during his ill-fated Twitter propaganda session, said: “Israel cares more about Pal civilians in Gaza than Hamas. We try to get them out of harms way. They put them in harm’s way.”
These lies have to be shattered and exposed for what they are. We have to ask: How did 1.8 million Palestinians get put in “harms’s way”, in Gaza?
The Palestinians in Gaza were largely put there after the ethnic cleansing of 1948, the Nakba, when as part of the creation of the Israeli state, Zionist armies demolished and destroyed over 500 Palestinian towns and villages, driving away their civilian population. That population was driven out of historical Palestine, or internally displaced. Many of them ended up inside Gaza, where they remain, unable to go back into their own ancestral homes and lands.
Decades before there was a HAMAS, there were refugees, there was an occupation. Gaza was occupied in 1967, and has remained under siege and occupation since then. The civilian population of Gaza is under Siege, trapped between Israel and Egypt, no where to go, no way of defending themselves.
So next time you hear a spin-master telling you that Israel tried to get the people of Gaza “out of harm’s way”, recall the weapon of truth, of justice, of history, of context, and resist. Resist. Resist. Insist and resist. #Gaza #Nakba #askDermer #Palestine
Actually, as noted on Al Jazeera Israeli Ambassador’s #AskDermer Q&A on Gaza goes terribly wrong. The article noted that:
Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer(link is external) landed himself in hot water Thursday when his Twitter Q&A #AskDermer(link is external) was hijacked by Palestine activists. The Q&A was held amid escalating violence between Israel and Hamas forces in Gaza. The hashtag, which was used(link is external) more than 20,000 times, included questions that were harshly critical of Israel’s strategy in Gaza. Many tweets by activists were snarky, and others were angry.
At least 232 Palestinians have been killed(link is external) (77 per cent of whom were civilians(link is external)) in the 10-day fighting, as well as one Israeli. ...
Read the full article which includes screenshots of many of the tweets.
The session brought about a number of new hashtags including #HasbaraFail. That Dermer’s foray into social media was a failure seems to be the consensus of opinion. Dermer is getting worldwide attention in the press and on social media, but it is negative.
Here are just a few of the articles on the #askDermer social media fail:
An Israeli Ambassador Tried To Hold A Chat Over Twitter, And It Turned Into A Disaster http://www.businessinsider.com/ask-dermer-twitter-qa-israel-hamas-gaza-2014-7
Epic Fail: Israel’s Ambassador to US lambasted on twitter during #AskDermer Q&A http://www.ad-hoc-news.de/epic-fail-israel-s-ambassador-to-us-lambasted-on-twitter—/de/News/37880967
Israel’s envoy to US faces harsh criticism in Twitter Q&A http://www.timesofisrael.com/israels-envoy-to-us-faces-harsh-criticism-in-twitter-qa/
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israel’s ambassador to US ‘justifies bombing hospitals’ in twitter Q&A http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israelgaza-conflict-israels-ambassador-to-us-justifies-bombing-hospitals-in-twitter-q-and-a-9612834.html
Israeli ambassador’s Twitter Q&A gets dominated by critics http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/07/17/israeli-ambassadors-twitter-qa-gets-dominated-by-critics/