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Line up for the essential tools of selling Zionism in the modern agePosted: 22 May 2010

Are you a Zionist and in need of tools to sell the wonderful democracy

known as Israel? Concerned that too many people see the Jewish state

as an occupier? Hope that finding new tactics will assist the noble act of

selling Israel to the world?

Rest easy, help has arrived:

In 2001, IDC Herzliya students Gur Braslavi and Ariel Halevi won

the Oxford Union Debating Competition for teams from foreign countries.

 Nine years later, their joint company, Debate Ltd., was chosen to

carry out the Israeli government’s new public diplomacy initiative.

The company recently took on a contract to conduct 200 workshops

in which its instructors teach regular Israelis the arts of rhetoric and

persuasion. If the pilot proves successful, it will likely be extended and

multiplied. By creating an army of amateur ambassadors, Israel

hopes to counter negative media portrayals and improve its image abroad.

“Define terrorism,” said the instructor, entering the boardroom of the

 Tel Aviv district branch of the Histadrut labor union. “Come on. You’ve

all experienced it. Tell me what terrorism means,” he urged.

After overcoming their surprise at the abrupt and irregular entrance,

the 15 participants – members of the Histadrut’s under-27 exchange

mission to Berlin – started suggesting answers.

“War,” threw out one. “A threat,” said another. “A lethal danger.”

 “Violence.” “Injury to civilians,” more people shot out.

“OK. By those definitions, is Israel a terrorist?” asked the instructor.

In the silence that followed the question, the instructor, a good-looking

 man in his late twenties or early thirties wearing a button-down shirt

 and sporting a short haircut, took a pause to introduce himself.

“My name is Ran Michaelis, and I am a senior instructor at Debate.

Debate is a company that specializes in interpersonal relations and project

management. We work with organizations in Israel and federations abroad

on Israeli advocacy, on behalf of the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and

Diaspora affairs.”

“I was once asked that very question by an Arab woman after a lecture

I gave at Richmond University,” said Michaelis, returning to his question.

“I told her Israel’s definition of terrorism, which is: the attempt to harm or

kill innocent civilians.

“Without pausing for a second, she pulled out a photo of an Israeli soldier

aiming a rifle at an old Palestinian woman. She pointed her finger at me,

and shouted: ‘You, and all the Israelis are not innocent! According to your

own definition, suicide bombers are not terrorists.’

“My question to you,” Michaelis asked the group, “is: How do you answer her?”

In the hours that followed, Michaelis taught the group how best to answer

the woman’s question, as well as many others. Throughout the workshop,

he challenged the participants with difficult situations, all of which have

come up over the years, and provided them with the best tools to approach

resolving them.

Like a young soldier returning from battle, Michaelis regaled the participants

with stories from Israel’s hasbara front lines, sharing his experience of speaking

 before hostile audiences of anti-Israel students and leftist professors in American

universities, tackling issues ranging from the security barrier to the Goldstone report.

“The basic structure of the workshops was developed during an all-night marathon

that Gur and I held,” explained Debate co-founder Ariel Halevi. “After an intensive

brainstorming session, we attempted to turn what we knew intuitively into an

organized lesson plan. The 14-hour session resulted in five principles of effective

advocacy. Later we added two more, to create the backbone of the method.”

The seven principles of effective advocacy are a set of analytical and rhetorical


that help give novice advocates the means of engaging people on issues regarding

the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s not about information, it’s about knowledge. It’s about navigating the


effectively. Every one of the principles offers a different tactic to tackle

issues that come up in encounters with foreigners,” saidHalevi.

The first principle the participants are taught is the importance of terminology.

“Don’t enter into a conversation before you are clear about the terminology

you’re using,” Michaelis urged. “For example, 95 percent of thesecurity

barrier that Israel built around Judea and Samaria is a fence, yet people

 continually refer to it as a wall. The word “wall” tends to conjure up images

of the Berlin Wall. It is an inaccurate and misleading characterization of

the barrier and its function – keeping out terrorists.

“I have no problem with you talking about the merits or problems of the

barrier, but make sure that the conversation sticks to the facts, and not to

an Israel-hater’s misrepresentation of them,” said Michaelis.

Other words to watch out for, according to the seven-principle method,

are apartheid, assassinations, freedom fighters and human shields.

“Each one of them carries some kind of mental or emotional infrastructure.

If you overlook the terms people use and dive straight into the ideological

discussion, you are overlooking a major obstacle that someone put in your

place, preventing the audience from relating to you,” saidHalevi.

Obama’s America isn’t so inspiring after allPosted: 22 May 2010

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald on America’s continuing policies to deny human

beings the right of appeal to terrorism charges. Obama equals Bush:

So congratulations to the United States and Barack Obama for winning

the power to abduct people anywhere in the world and then imprison them

for as long as they want with no judicial review of any kind.

This is what Barack Obama has done to the habeas clause of the Constitution: 

 if you are in Thailand (as one of the petitioners in this case was) and the U.S.

abducts you and flies you to Guantanamo, then you have the right to have a

 federal court determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold you.  If, however,

President Obama orders that you be taken from Thailand to Bagram rather than

 to Guantanamo, then you will have no rights of any kind, and he can order you

detained there indefinitely without any right to a habeas review.

Freedom sails into GazaPosted: 22 May 2010

Although Israel says it plans to stop this mission, the aim is clear and should be



The biggest attempt by international aid groups to break the Israeli siege on the

Gaza Strip has gotten underway.

Nine ships under the banner, Freedom Flotilla, began their journey to Gaza on

Saturday, despite warnings from Israel that they will be stopped for “breaching

Israeli law”.

The vessels are carrying 5,000 tonnes of reconstruction materials, school supplies

and medical equipment.

The biggest of the nine ships set off from Istanbul, Turkey, heading to the south

western city of Antalya where two other Turkish ships will be waiting to join the


The three ships will then travel to the waters off Athens and Crete to rendezvous

with the other six, before making the four-day journey to Gaza.

The beauty of New Zealand lands on Waiheke IslandPosted: 22 May 2010

Spreading the word across New ZealandPosted: 22 May 2010

Solving the Iran “crisis” really isn’t that difficult (if we want to)Posted: 22 May 2010

A handy reminder by Noam Chomsky from 2008 that the corporate press

have a

particular interest in mouthing US foreign policy goals (and all this is relevant

in light of the ongoing irrational hatred against the Islamic Republic):

To take another illustration of the depth of the imperial mentality,

New York Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino writes that “Iran’s

intransigence [about nuclear enrichment] appears to be defeating attempts

by the rest of the world to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.” The rest of

the world happens to exclude the large majority of the world: the non-aligned

movement, which forcefully endorses Iran’s right to enrich Uranium, in accord

with the non-proliferation treaty (NPT). But they are not part of the world, since

they do not reflexively accept U.S. orders.

We might tarry for a moment to ask whether there is any solution to the U.S./Iran

confrontation over nuclear weapons. Here is one idea: (1) Iran should have the

 right to develop nuclear energy, but not weapons, in accord with the NPT.

(2) A nuclear weapons-free zone should be established in the region, including Iran,

Israel and U.S. forces deployed there. (3) The U.S. should accept the NPT. (4)

The U.S. should end threats against Iran, and turn to diplomacy.

The proposals are not original. These are the preferences of the overwhelming

majority of Americans, and also Iranians, in polls by World Public Opinion, which

found that Americans and Iranians agree on basic issues. At a forum at the Johns

Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies when the polls were released

 a year ago, Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for national security and

international policy at the Center for American Progress, said the polls showed

“the common sense of both the American people and the Iranian people, [who]

seem to be able to rise above the rhetoric of their own leaders to find

common sense

solutions to some of the most crucial questions” facing the two nations,

favoring pragmatic, diplomatic solutions to their differences. The results

suggest that if the U.S. and Iran were functioning democratic societies,

this very dangerous confrontation could probably be resolved peaceably.

Texas teaches the kids that the United Nations hates us for our freedomsPosted: 22 May 2010

Perhaps the ideologues should simply tell the young that the church should

intervene in every aspect of our lives. It may be coming to an American state near you:

Education officials in the US state of Texas have adopted new guidelines to the

school curriculum, which critics say will politicise teaching.

The changes include teaching that the UN could be a threat to American freedom,

and that the Founding Fathers may not have intended a complete separation of

church and state.

Critics say the changes are ideological and distort history.

However, proponents argue they are redressing a liberal bias in education.

Analysts say Texas, with five million schoolchildren, wields substantial influence

on school curriculums across the US.

The BBC’s Rajesh Mirchandani in Los Angeles says publishers of textbooks used

nationally often print what Texas wants to teach.

Jefferson out

Students in Texas will now be taught the benefits of US free-market economics and

how government taxation can harm economic progress.

They will study how American ideals benefit the world but organisations such

as the

UN could be a threat to personal freedom.

And Thomas Jefferson has been dropped from a list of enlightenment thinkers in

the world-history curriculum, despite being one of the Founding Fathers who is

credited with developing the idea that church and state should be separate.

The crisis within liberal Zionism (not least because occupation now defines Zionism)Posted: 22 May 2010

Following the much-discussed essay in the New York Review of Books on “saving”

liberal Zionism, here’s the relatively liberal Zionist Forward newspaper in an

editorial (and note the inability to take real responsibility for decades of Zionist

backing for utterly inhumane policies in the occupied territories):

Can you be a liberal and a Zionist today? In a long and thoughtful essay in

the New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart accurately describes how and

why so many young American Jews are becoming alienated from Israel and

blames the American Jewish establishment for its lock-step support of the

Israeli government’s current policies and attitudes. His provocative argument

has fostered a robust online conversation, as you’d expect, but one question

posed by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg caught our eye. After lamenting how

“claustrophobic” he feels in confronting the subject, Goldberg asks:

“Who else is still out there arguing that you can be liberal and Zionist at the same

time, meaning, pro-Israel and anti-occupation?”

Well, we are.

Beinart’s essay is alarmist to a fault, and, in our opinion, doesn’t take into


the responsibility that Palestinians and the entire Arab world bear in further


Israel and sometimes leaving it no choice but to, say, build a security barrier to

protect its citizens. His central thesis, though, seems sadly true: “For several

decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their

liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many

young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”

But the task of reconciling this tension between love for Israel and attachment to

traditional liberal values such as human rights, religious pluralism, equal citizenship

and territorial compromise has not been abandoned. It is being fully explored on

our pages and in our blogs, in works by J.J. Goldberg, Leonard Fein, Yossi Alpher,

Jay Michaelson and many others. More broadly, the wish to resolve the tension

has fueled political movements such as J Street, and myriad efforts on the religious

and cultural scene, here and in Israel, to express those liberal values in non-traditional

venues and idioms.

If young American Jews are disengaging from Israel — or connecting to

it from a more politically right-wing, religiously Orthodox perspective — the

fault lies not only with AIPAC and other organizations that too often confuse

 dissent with disloyalty. Responsibility also lies with a more potent

establishment: the parents, schools and synagogues who should be teaching

the next generation to speak Hebrew, practice ritual, grapple with Jewish text

and access a tradition built on dialogue and debate.

To be a fully realized 21st century Jew, one must engage with Israel in some

fashion. But too many families and communities have failed to provide the tools

to do that in a meaningful way, substituting easy rhetoric for the hard task of real

commitment. Young people see through that sleight-of-hand and either search for a

more authentic version of Judaism in the growing attraction to Orthodoxy, or merely

shrug and walk away.

For those who believe that “liberal Zionism” isn’t an outdated oxymoron, but a

cause to be nurtured, Beinart’s essay was another reminder of the challenge that

lies ahead. But it need not be a lonely one.


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