Israel: Using Wikileaks to build a straw man

From the day the first batch of Wikileaks appeared in the international press, the Israelis were crowing “this is good for us”. Seizing on documents demonstrating that some Arab leaders bear ill-will toward Iran, the Israeli spin machine went into action.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that “Our region has been hostage to a narrative that is the result of 60 years of propaganda, which paints Israel as the greatest threat”, claiming that Iran had, in fact, eclipsed the Palestinian issue as the number one concern of the Arab World. Another prominent Israeli official gloated that “Iran was now ten times more important than Palestine” and that it was now time to shelve the “peace effort” and focus attention on Iran.

My first reaction was “how silly, yet predictable”. My second was “how dangerous”.

The Israelis and their supporters in the US have been announcing the end of the Palestinian cause for decades. I recall back in the 1980’s a piece that appeared in a prestigious US quarterly journal claiming that with the P.L.O. defeated in Lebanon and the Arabs focused on the Iran-Iraq war, the Palestinian issue was as good as dead in the Arab World. The article had been written a month before the outbreak of the first Intifada, but because of lag time, the publication did not go out until a month after that revolt began. So much for that analysis! Equally flawed assessments were made at the time that an international coalition was being mobilized to liberate Kuwait from Saddam’s occupation, and again a few years after 9/11 with the West Bank re-occupied by the Israelis and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat under siege in Ramallah. And here we are today with the same call to ignore Palestine being made yet again.

In each case, these predictions were wrong, born more of a kind of Israeli wish-fulfilment than a clear and thoughtful assessment of political realities in the Arab World. The desire to grasp at straws to wish away Palestine and Jerusalem and the importance of these issues to Arabs is par for the course for the Israelis. They are also dangerous and short-sighted.

It was true that in the 1980’s the Arab World was consumed with the Iran-Iraq war. And it was true that with the occupation of Kuwait, there was deep concern with the aggressive ambitions of the Iraqi leader. There was also good reason for the Arabs to be deeply troubled by the threat of al Qaeda and the reactions of the Bush Administration to the deadly attack on the US homeland, just as today there is growing concern with the aggressive and meddlesome behaviour of the Iranians in the Gulf and beyond.

But to use these concerns to construct a notion that any or all of them nullify concern with the plight of the Palestinians or the fate of Jerusalem is sheer fantasy. As our polling has consistently demonstrated, Palestine is not merely an issue, it is an existential concern that not only unites Arabs, it defines their sense of common history and their deepest feelings of betrayal by and their vulnerability in the face of Western machinations. In a real sense, the plight of Palestinians is to the Arabs, what the Holocaust is to Jews world-wide. To ignore this reality is to invite disaster.

This most recent denial is based on a straw man, constructed out of bits of Wikileaks that, in reality, are little more than hearsay and gossip – memorandums of conversations reported without context or analysis. As such, they are not the stuff out of which one can base a policy or even construct a solid case. After a recent television show, a prominent former US official chided his interviewer who had been pressing him to evaluate some of the more controversial Wikileaks revelations. The official asked his interviewer whether he would want the notes of the off-the-cuff conversations that had taken place before and after the show to be revealed – asking how he thought they would sound and whether they would fairly represent the views of the network in question.

— James Zogby is President of the Arab American Institute, and author of Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters, an upcoming book that will bring into stark relief the myths, assumptions, and biases that hold us back from understanding the people of the Arab world.

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One Reply to “Israel: Using Wikileaks to build a straw man”

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