Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article was first published at The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (Besa), and republished here with the author’s consent.
SMOKESCREENERS OF FRIENDSHIP TOWARD ISRAEL
Smokescreening is a widespread activity in both politics and society. Yet it is mainly looked at as individual hypocrisy rather than analyzed as a systematic phenomenon. Smokescreening by pretending friendship toward Israel occurs regularly. The claims of these people are partly true at best. A few examples will illustrate this.
One super-smokescreener is Bernie Sanders, a Jewish US Democratic presidential candidate. Sanders claims that he is 100% pro-Israel and says that Israel has every right in the world to exist in peace and security and not be subjected to terrorist attacks. He also says that the United States must be more even-handed in how it approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.1 He does not say that what he suggests implies looking away from the genocide promoting Hamas, the largest Palestinian movement, and from Palestinian terror attacks supported by financial rewards from the Palestinian Authority.
Sanders also said: “It’s not antisemitic to criticize Israel for electing a right-winger like Netanyahu.”2 He furthermore called Netanyahu’s government “racist.”3 Yet Sanders does not expose the racism in large parts of Palestinian society. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is an extreme racist. He has pledged that there will be no Israelis in Palestine saying: “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands.”4
Sanders has stated that the Palestinians deserve to be treated with “dignity and respect.”5 He has not explained how people who are 93% anti-Semites according to the ADL 2014 global study merit dignity and respect 6 The smokescreening by Israel’s false friend Sanders requires a full-fledged article.
Another important smokescreener of friendship toward Israel is Barack Obama. While President of the United States he visited Israel in March 2013. He spoke at the Jerusalem Convention Center saying: “I bring with me the support of the American people, and the friendship that binds us together.” Obama added: “As the President of a country that you can count on as your greatest friend, I am confident that you can help us find the promise in the days that lie ahead.”7
Smokescreening friendship toward Israel is often accompanied by other manipulations. In that Jerusalem speech Obama also lied. He said: “But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Over the last few years, they have built institutions and maintained security on the West Bank in ways that few would have imagined a decade ago. So many Palestinians – including young people – have rejected violence as a means of achieving their aspirations.”8 A few months later Abbas would push Fayyad out as prime minister.
In 2008 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas discussed a peace agreement. Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who was present at the negotiations told PATV that Olmert accepted all of the PA’s demands. He even offered Abbas a little more than the full area of the West Bank. Erekat said that he told Abbas to accept it.9 Yet Abbas rejected this extremely generous proposal.
In December 2016, Obama decided to have the U.S abstain from voting in a major anti-Israeli UN Security Council motion. This proposal demanded an immediate halt to all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Obama thus enabled the measure to pass. It was one of his last acts as president. Donald Trump had already been elected as president and would be installed a few weeks later.10 Trump had made it clear that he opposed the resolution and had notified the White House about it.11
American law expert Alan Dershowitz has said that the former president told him that he would always have Israel’s back, yet he believes Obama stabbed the Jewish state in the back. He added: “President Obama’s decision on the way out to allow the United Nations to condemn Israel for occupying the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism, the Jewish Quarter, Hebrew University, the Hadassah Hospital bypass road, was abominable.” 12
When looking in Europe for smokescreeners of friendship toward Israel one has to focus first on German politicians. In view of the genocide of 6 million Jews in the grandfather generation, several leading Germans consider that they cannot easily express negative opinions about Israel. A fullfledged article about smokescreening by Germans, including many more leading persons is needed. Some politicians feel the need to pretend that Germany is an almost unconditional friend of Israel. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has said that Israel’s security is part of Germany’s national ethos.13
The reality is far from that. As head of the German government, Merkel leads German policymaking. The German daily, Bild, has pointed out that Germany regular sides with Israel’s enemies at the United Nations. In November 2018 of 21 Assembly Resolutions against Israel, 16 were supported by Germany while they only abstained on 4.14 15
Merkel is also a smokescreener as far as the fight against antisemitism is concerned. Yet despite the significant German right and left-wing antisemitism, Merkel welcomed far more than a million refugees since 2015 – many of those from the Arab world.16 The percentage of antisemites among these immigrants is much greater than that of the indigenous population.
One finds probably more prominent smokescreeners of friendship toward Israel in the other government party, the socialists (SPD). A current example is Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. He has often said that Auschwitz inspired him to go into politics.17 Yet the many German votes against Israel in the UN general assembly take place under his authority.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has attacked Maas’ behavior frontally: “Before he invokes Auschwitz again, he should go back and reread history. We expected much more from Foreign Minister Maas. Unfortunately, we find him on the wrong side of the tracks of the existential threats that Israel are facing every day. “18
Cooper added: “With all due respect, it is time for the German foreign minister to drop his assertion that it was the lessons of Auschwitz that propelled him into public life. He clearly has not applied any of the lessons to the current situation. Instead of weakening the tyrannical, genocidal regime in Tehran, he is doing everything to strengthen Iran. His instructions to the German UN ambassador are not those of a friend of a Jewish state.”19
The “mirror” or “reverse” phenomenon also exists. Some Israeli leaders make the huge mistake of calling people who are smokescreeners “friends.” President Reuven Rivlin called German socialist President Frank-Walter Steinmeier “a true friend of Israel” during his visit to Israel in 2017.20 While foreign minister, Steinmeier was responsible for a flood of German condemnations of Israel at the UN.
More recently Steinmeier “congratulated the Iranian Government cordially on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the revolution, ‘also in the name of my fellow country citizens’.” The daily Tagesspiegel wondered whether one had to remind Steinmeier that “Iran is a sponsor of international terrorism, threatens Israel with destruction, denies the Holocaust, oppresses women, executes homosexuals and punishes religious conversions with death.”
The paper concluded: “The moral compass that should guide the words of a President of the German republic has in this case greatly failed.”21 To put the congratulation of the Iranian Government even more in perspective: When Donald Trump was elected as U.S. president in November 2016 Steinmeier, then foreign minister, explicitly said that he did not congratulate him.22
The word “friend” is not even required for Israeli leaders to express major false praise for people who are far from friendly to Israel. When Shimon Peres, then Israel’s President, visited Norway in 2014, he stated nonsensically: “Norway is the pearl of humanity, built on human values, and seeks to keep people equal and free.”23
A report was published in 2012 by the Norwegian Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities. It was paid for by the government. The study found that 38% of Norwegians believe that Israel acts toward the Palestinians like the Nazis behaved toward the Jews.24 The tiny Norwegian Jewish community – at most 2000 people — has suffered from substantial antisemitism in this country supposedly “built on human values.”25
Smokescreening in general as an aspect of politicians’ behavior merits in-depth study in the framework of political science research.
24 Christhard Hoffmann, Øivind Kopperud, Vibeke Moe, et.al., “Antisemittisme i Norge? Den norske befolkningens holdninger til jøder og andre minoriteter,” Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities, May 2012.