Today I sat through an incredibly frustrating talk by the newly appointed Israel ambassador to the UN, Meron Reuben. Meron recently replaced Gabriela shalev who most likely resigned from her post after serving for the last two years. Meron gave a generic politico talk, spanning the ways in which Israel is helping the UN reach its millenium goals through its innovation in clean energy tech and agriculture. He also noted how tricky Israel’s relationship with the UN has been (historically) and how challenging of a role this is (I totally agree) – especially as the ambassador does not have any say in the political agenda, but merely represents the decisions made by the Israeli gov’t in front of the assembly.
The Q&A section was where things got both interesting and frustrating. Meron used the commonly heard Israeli political narrative. I’ll try to map out his main arguments, and then include my point of view.
“They have much more representation than Israel in the UN. There’s only one Israel and many Arab states.” This makes it extremely difficult to “be heard”, especially when your enemies repeat the same arguments over and over again. Meron mentioned that he can only speak so much, while the Arab nations have, in aggregate, substantially more time on the stage.
Antisemites are Out to Get Us
Meron uses the same techniques that politicians and the Israeli media know so well. He depicts Israel as the scapegoat, being harrassed and bullied. Constantly pointed at and given an unjustified amount of attention. He called this a “new form of anti-semitism”, something that he claims, is quite common in the UN.
Lies! Unlike us, They Don’t Fact Check
Meron claims that it has become hip to point a finger against Israel. “It is the trendy thing to do, especially if you’re part of the political left”, he claims. It is apealing for people to amplify messages that are anti-Israeli, even if they are not true, or fact-checked. When asked about how we can affect people’s perception about Israel, his response was that there’s not much we can do. That Israel is cautious and investigates claims, but by the time results and proof come back, nobody really cares anymore.
I am extremely weary of the language that Meron uses, which is reflective of the general way that Israeli politicians have been framing political reality in the Middle East. Creating an “us vs. them” narrative and never admitting any mistakes, but rather constantly justifying. Calling out anti-semitism whenever there is critique against the State of Israel is absurd and counter productive. You can only get away with that so many time before that term loses its value. Perhaps this is what one must do strategically when playing political power games, but it is certainly not convicing me to keep supporting the country that I would like to support.
Truth is, it’s driving me away.
Perception vs. Reality
Israeli politicians and diplomats are so focused on the hard facts that they are absent from the public discourse, and thus lose support worldwide. They need to be actively addressing events as they occur, engaging in conversation, and in effect “fighting” to affect people’s perception in real time. Because once an event occurs, and an opinion is engraved in someone’s mind, it is extremely difficult to change.
I’ve watched this happen too many times. Israel makes a military move that incites worldwide critique. In the first couple days, Israeli gov’t heavily controls all communications around the hot zone – always failing to completely stop the flow of information. Like in the flotilla incident, and during operation Cast Lead, only a number of formal military channels release information. People are left to asses the military sources, versus numerous leaks coming from Palestinians or activists under attack. Why would anyone be rooting for Israel in these cases? Instead of utilizing diplomats and representatives to engage in discussions with the public, Israel blocks all channels, and while it supposedly investigates all claims, the major source of real time information is coming from the other side.
You lose the battle over people’s perception.
And you lose the battle.