Veteran Israel-basher Phyllis Bennis (writer, analyst, activist on Middle East issues) teamed with Tavis Smiley on Oct. 11, 2012 on his 30-minute weeknight show, produced by WNET, New York City, and Public Radio International and broadcast on more than 100 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations, to discuss “The impact of foreign policy on the presidential campaign.” The first-third of the show was devoted to bashing Israel and included an antisemitic canard.
CAMERA has exposed Bennis’s one-sided criticism of Israel here
, and here
(where Bennis teamed up with anti-Israel academic Fawaz Gerges to defame Israel). CAMERA’s Steve Stotsky aptly characterized
Bennis and her ilk: “A cast of veteran anti-Zionist Jews, including Phyllis Bennis, Jeff Halper, Allegra Pacheco, Ilan Pappe, Amira Hass and Noam Chomsky, utter familiar calumny against Israel, their nominal Jewish identities providing a false veneer of authenticity to their portrayals of alleged Israeli expansionism and inhumanity towards Palestinians.”
Smiley’s introduction of Bennis noted her special interest in Israeli policy: “She also helped found and remains on the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation …” (see below for Bennis’ comments on “Israeli occupation” in this Smiley broadcast – and CAMERA’s refutation).
Smiley’s anti-Jewish canard
Smiley provided a familiar antisemitic stereotype about Jewish money and influence while taking aim at Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
So he’s not been successful at that, even with his speech at the UN. Now, I raise that because the Jewish vote does matter, and let’s be frank about it – more important or as important in this election, Jewish money matters. That is to say money from Jewish contributors.
The biggest campaign giver on either side is a Jew named Sheldon Adelson on the conservative side. He and the Koch brothers may be arguing, they may be neck-in-neck on who’s given the most, but certainly Sheldon Adelson’s given a lot of money.
So the issue of Israel is important now, as it always is in U.S. foreign policy. How do you think that plays out in the election, particularly given, again, that Mr. Netanyahu has not been successful, but there are a significant number of Jews who feel that Mr. Obama has been disrespectful to Mr. Netanyahu.
Bennis mildly responded to Smiley’s antisemitic insinuation about Jews and campaign contributions and then made false accusations,
Well, let me back up for one second, Tavis, on two quick points. One is that I think it’s important to distinguish Jewish money from pro-Israel money. There are huge numbers of Jews like me in the Jewish community who have very diverse views on Israel, who don’t support U.S. military aid to Israel, who don’t support giving Israel the kind of diplomatic support at the United Nations that the U.S. has provided, the kind of impunity for Israeli war crimes. So it’s not just about Jewish money, it’s about pro-Israel money that I think we have to identify.
Smiley unsuprisingly responded in agreement, “Okay.”
Bennis misleads about attitude of American Jews toward Israel
Bennis claims that “There are huge numbers of Jews like me in the Jewish community who have very diverse views on Israel, who don’t support U.S. military aid to Israel …” She doesn’t quantify “huge” or cite percentages to support her position. This is an attempt to mislead viewers. Reliable polls contradict Bennis. These include, for example, the report
“Luntz/CAMERA Poll Affirms Strong American Jewish Support for Israel.” It shows that large numbers of Jews take opposite positions to those of Bennis. For example, “American Jews strongly oppose (71%) boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns against Israel, with a nearly equal number (68%) opposing such action more narrowly focused against settlements.”
Bennis lies about Israeli war-time actions
Bennis’ “Israeli war crimes” accusation is false. A CAMERA report
points out that Bennis and her ilk gloss over real war crimes committed by the Hamas terrorist organization that now rules the Gaza Strip “yet they condemn Israel for military actions that are actually quite restrained and entirely legal.” The report notes that
International law and the UN Charter recognize the inherent right of states to use force in self-defense against an armed attack. The right applies even if the attack is by irregular forces. … Once an armed conflict develops, international law does not require proportionality of response. A state defending itself may indeed strive to cause disproportionate damage to its enemy’s military targets and military capabilities. Let the attacking state or organization beware.
The IDF [has] repeatedly warned civilians of impending attacks, using leaflets and mass telephone messages. It does not appear that any other military has ever taken such steps to minimize civilian casualt
ies, nor is there any other similar conflict on record in a built-up area where the percentage of civilian casualties in relation to combatant casualties was lower.
Israel uses phosphorous shells in flares and smoke shells. Such shells are standard equipment in all NATO militaries as well as the Arab states’ armed forces. They are of course dangerous to handle when burning but absolutely legal. The International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed that there was no evidence that these shells were used in Gaza in any irregular way.
More propaganda from Bennis
The other point I would just say as a point of background is that I think Netanyahu has succeeded in one very important point. By simply making the claim, much as we may dispute it, that Israel somehow faces this so-called existential threat from Iran, no one in Washington, not President Obama, not Candidate Romney, not Congress, not the secretary of state, nobody is pressing Israel on the critical question of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, on the siege of Gaza, on the continuing assassinations of Palestinians.
None of these issues are on the table, and they’ve been taken off the table for more than a year while Israel puts itself forward as being victimized and facing this so-called existential threat. So Israel has really gained from this debate.
Bennis’ denigrating characterization, “so-called existential threat,” ignores the reality of the actual existential threat to Israel posed by Iranian nuclear weaponry. The annihilationist intention of Iran’s leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, toward Israel has been documented repeatedly. Ahmadinejad, a religious fanatic who apparently believes world conflict will hasten the return of Shi’ite Islam’s messianic “Twelfth Imam,” has frequently advocated the destruction of Israel. For example, on Oct. 26, 2005, in a speech to a “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran, he vowed that “Israel must be wiped off the map.” The Iranian president called for Israel to be “uprooted” in a press conference with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Feb. 25, 2010, one of a number of more recent such statements.
Bennis’ “siege of Gaza” accusation is false propaganda. There is no such siege. In response to incessant barrages of rockets launched into Israeli cities, Israel closed its boundary with the Gaza Strip affecting only that territory’s northern and western frontiers. Gaza’s southern boundary is controlled by Hamas on one side and Egypt on the other. The purpose of Israeli closings of the crossing points between the Strip and Israel is to provide for inspection for potential contraband, including weapons, raw materials for weaponry and construction of fortified sites by Hamas and other terrorists groups, and cash and personnel for such groups. Furthermore, Israel transfers thousands of tons of humanitarian
goods weekly to Gaza and supplies it with much of its electricity, even though the Strip’s Hamas rulers are pledged to destroy the Jewish state and to attack Jews around the world.
Bennis’ anti-Israel bias is obvious in her characterization of the America-Israel alliance: “President Obama has been more supportive of Israel in all the ways that matter – money, protection at the UN, diplomatic protection, et cetera, especially money; military aid, $4.1 billion of military aid this year, of our tax money, going to the 23rd wealthiest country in the world – that President Obama has done that more than any other president in history.”
Again, Bennis ignores the facts. Most of the military aid to Israel of about $3 billion per year comes back into the American economy as payment for defense materials; Israel is required by U.S. law to spend 74 percent of U.S. aid in the United States. This helps create or sustain thousands of American jobs. Further, there is an important benefit to the United States in the sharing by Israel with the United States of technology for improved unmanned aircraft, anti-missile defenses, battlefield medical techniques and intelligence on anti-U.S. as well as anti-Israeli Arab and Islamic radicals. Additionally, the aid to Israel amounts to less than 0.1 percent of government spending in terms of the country’s $3.6 trillion federal budget. Perhaps most tellingly, Bennis is silent on the fact that American aid to Israel helps support the one country most like the United States in the Middle East, a democracy with a free press and judiciary, equal rights for minorities, religious liberty and gender equality. At this point her selective and erroneous accusations become hypocrisy.
Bennis misstates Romney’s position on the Middle East: “If, on the other hand, you have a president whose candidacy, whose campaign promises were based on the idea that I will be tougher, that, as Governor Romney said, the Palestinians have “no interest in peace,” then you have someone who is coming into office accountable to a foreign policy that has no interest in international law, no interest in the United Nations, no interest in ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories or the siege of Gaza, no interest in maintaining the end of the war in Iraq.”
The myth of “occupation” and “illegal settlements”
While many who are not anti-Israel argue that West Bank settlements are a hindrance to peace, it is erroneous to assert that they are illegal. Basic international law in this case, the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate, Article 6, calls for “close Jewish settlement” on the land west of the Jordan River. Article 6 is incorporated by Article 80 of the U.N. Charter, sometimes referred to as “the Palestine article.” The United States endorsed the mandate, including Article 6, in the 1924 Anglo-American Convention.
The West Bank is not sovereign territory of any country, but rather land disputed by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967, when Israel took control as a result of successful self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War. As Eugene Rostow, a co-author of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (1967), the keystone of all subsequent successful Arab-Israeli negotiations pointed out, 242 does not require complete Israeli withdrawal. Rather, the status of the territory, to which Jews as well as Arabs have legitimate claims, is to be resolved in negotiations as called for in the resolution and by U.N. Security Council Resolution 338 (1973). Meanwhile, Jewish villages and towns built in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people) since 1967 are no more illegal than areas built since then in previously existing Arab villages and towns. Though many people, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, insist otherwise, their charges
of “illegal settlements” are political, not legal.
Smiley’s history of bias
Smiley has demonstrated bias toward Israel and Christianity in past incidents. Examples here
, and here
Video and transcript for Oct. 11, 2012 broadcast is at WNET
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