By Cindy Mindell
Dr. Eric R. Mandel has been an Israel advocate since the early ‘80s when he briefed American presidential candidates on the Middle East and directed a bi-partisan political group that raised funds for candidates advocating for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.
He is co-founder and current co-chair of the multi-denominational Five Synagogues of White Plains Israel Action Committee, an early communal advocacy model replicated around the country. Former lay leader of political education for the Westchester County chapter of AIPAC, Mandel currently lobbies members of Congress on the U.S.-Israel relationship and is involved with Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.
Mandel is founder of the Middle Eastern Political Information Network (MEPIN), a blog that members of Congress and the Knesset. He is East Coast co-chair of StandWithUs, an international organization founded in 2001 and dedicated to informing the public about Israel and combating extremism and antisemitism.
He will present “Defending Israel: The Facts to Combat Delegitimization and How You Can Make a Difference” on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m., at Congregation B’nai Torah in Trumbull.
He spoke with the Ledger about the mounting urgency fueling the work of StandWithUs and other Israel-advocacy organizations.
Q: What do you see as the current need for Israel-advocacy education in the U.S.?
A: I think that, unfortunately, fewer and fewer American Jews, especially our young people, are as informed about the issues, the history of Middle East conflict, the creation of the modern state of Israel, and the history of the Jewish people.
In October, I wrote an article for the JewishMedia News Service [www.jns.org], “Young American Jews and Israel,” citing a statistic from a recent Cohen and Kelman poll: 50 percent of young American Jews would not consider the destruction of Israel a personal tragedy. In contrast, 80 percent of their elders — American Jews over the age of 65 — reported that Israel’s destruction would be a personal tragedy for them. I based the article on an observation by Daniel Gordis in his new book, “The Promise of Israel.” He writes: ““…when the ingathering of exiles after two thousand years does not strike a chord of sheer awe, Jews have lost sight of the real significance of Israel’s recreation. When Jews the world over do not recognize that the delegitimization of Israel affects them…a renewed discourse is desperately needed.”
One problem is a lack of information. There are people across the age spectrum who want to advocate for Israel but don’t feel comfortable with their level of knowledge or in speaking up. That’s where I help. The people who are our adversaries have their own set of facts. Winston Churchill said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Once a lie is put out to the public, there is no accountability, and the media go back to the same people again and again to ask for facts and quotes, even if they are not true.
Q: There is much talk about the PR war between Israel and the Palestinians. How do you define this “front” of the conflict?
A: Israel’s case is so easy to defend if you just deal with facts, and I’m not denying that it’s a complex situation. But when you look at what Israel has offered to the Palestinians and is willing to offer, and what our adversaries on the other side say about Israel, you bang your head against the wall.
I’ve been told by a harsh Israel critic that the facts are “propaganda.” Many of our young people think that Israel is the occupier, the victimizer, and that the weaker victim is always in the right. The fact is that Israel continues to evolve in the peace process, making more and more tangible concessions, but nothing they do gets the Palestinians to accept the Jewish state.
Critics of Israel refer to the PA as a “moderate” group. On a recent trip to Israel, I interviewed a low-ranking official in the PA who would be considered a moderate and I asked him, “Why can’t the Israelis talk to someone like you?” He said, “I haven’t killed any Jews or been arrested, so I’m irrelevant to the process.”
Those same critics refer to Israel as the “intransient party.” Israel offered a Palestinian state in 1947 and again in 1967; gave back territory in 2000 and 2001, and in 2007, offered a Palestinian state that would include part of East Jerusalem. All offers were rejected and responded to with violence. But people ignore that fact and make up others. Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has stated that the PA will never accept a Jewish state, in any territory or within any of the proposed borders.
So you can’t accept Israel the way it was created by the UN in 1947, terminating the British Mandate and outlining a partition plan – and at that time, there was no talk of a “Palestinian” state, but rather an “Arab” state; and you don’t accept the basics of UN Security Council Res. 242, calling for Israel to withdraw from territories it won in the 1967 war. Yet Israel is forced to take all the responsibility for the lack of a resolution because they’re the “occupier.” But the situation is so much more complex than that.
Q: How do you equip Israel advocates with effective and usable information?
A: The new war against Israel is not a war of arms but a big part is “lawfare,” an effort to delegitimize the Jewish state of Israel as a pariah state and apartheid state, in an effort ruin and isolate Israel. Today, in order to advocate effectively for Israel, people must understand international law. In that arena, Israel has so many rights that people neglect to even understand, let alone talk about, in relation to the “disputed territories,” the naval blockade in Gaza, and the right of every nation to defend itself.
I give people an understanding of the facts and the context, so that they feel comfortable with the facts – not opinions – of the creation of the state of Israel from 1900 to the present. I also give an update on how you can understand what’s going on right now: Israel is the David, not the Goliath. There are six million Jews in Israel, surrounded by 400 million Muslim Arabs, not counting the Persian Iranians. They are also surrounded by total instability – in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and even Jordan. Old allies like Turkey are now critics. To the south, they’re dealing with Hamas, the child of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Q: How do Israel-advocacy organizations like StandWithUs deal with developments like the recent UN General Assembly vote to recognize the Palestinians as an observer state?
A: In going to the UN General Assembly to upgrade their status, the Palestinians unambiguously violated their written agreement with the Israelis. The Oslo Agreement mandated that neither side would take unilateral actions and would refrain from “steps that will change the status of the West Bank… pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” With its new status, the Palestinian Authority can go to the International Court of Justice and claim that Israel is committing crimes against humanity or war crimes. In fact, Abbas used that language in his speech; he referred to Israel’s “perpetration of war crimes” and alleged that “Israeli occupation is becoming synonymous with an apartheid system of colonial occupation, which institutionalizes the plague of racism and entrenches hatred and incitement.” He also referred to the “dreadful campaigns of ethnic cleansing,” and Israel “wiping out entire families,” while the Palestinians are “burying its beloved martyrs.”
The UN vote is a strategy to promote the BDS movement. This is a very dangerous action and won’t help to advance peace, but Israel is focused so much on its one major existential threat – Iran. The Gaza war and the UN vote are sideshows. Stopping the Iranian nuclear weapon is the number-one issue for Israel. Unfortunately, we don’t have a situation where the current level of sanctions against Iran will stop it and the clock is ticking.
Q: In the wake of the UN vote, how do you address criticism of Israel’s decision to build new settlements?
A: I believe the answer to your question should begin by asking what the international community has done in response to a blatant violation of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The answer is that it not only ignored, but also rewarded the PA with an upgraded status. Israel is again the David against a worldwide Goliath that wants to isolate and delegitimize the state.
How should Israel respond? Is settlement building a wise decision? We must start with the Levy Report issued in July 2012, which is known as the “Report on the Legal Status of Building in Judea and Samaria.” Edmund Levy is a very respected jurist and a former Israeli Supreme Court Justice. The conclusion of the report is that Judea and Samaria are not occupied territories but rather disputed territories. Israel does not violate the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention against transfer of populations because “Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of settlements cannot in and of itself be considered Illegal.” The same international community that ignored the egregious Palestinian action in the UN last week reinterprets the Fourth Geneva Convention to fit its agenda to delegitimize Israeli communities over the Green Line.
So the question is the wisdom of the Israeli response to the PA action at the UN last week. I believe that Israel should be totally focused on Iran and this action will create an unwanted distance from the current American administration. I believe that action by the U.S. Congress to withhold PA funds would have been the best choice. Israel is in an election season and as we well know from our American elections, candidates very often take more extreme views before an election and then moderate afterwards. I believe that the Israeli statements on E-1 and other settlement growth will be moderated with time. It is not that they are illegal but probably unwise at the present time.
For more information about Dr. Eric Mandel’s Dec. 11 talk in Trumbull call (203) 268-6940 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
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