April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Tom S. van Bemmelen, z”l

Reviewing: “150 Palestinian Tales” by Tom S. van Bemmelen. Aspekt Publishers 2017. 379 pages. ISBN-13: 978-9463381000.

The attack by Hamas terrorists left 1,400 persons dead, with many victims apparently heroically resisting or shielding their families. Compare the number of victims to another pogrom, Kristallnacht, which left officially “only” 91 dead. After that attack, the Nazi regime blamed the Jews for damage caused throughout Germany (mostly to synagogues) and demanded financial reparations.

The reactions today, especially at top U.S. universities, to Hamas atrocities, similarly blame the victims. See, for instance, the statement by the Student Bar Association at New York University Law School. Immediately after the Hamas pogrom, a statement of condemnation was issued: condemnation of Israel and of the U.S. for Hamas terror attacks and containing the statement: “I express my unwavering and absolute solidarity with Palestinians in their resistance,” but not a word about innocent victims. Initially, few in leadership positions at the schools did anything to counteract the fact that elements of their institutions promote Jew-hatred, and hatred of women by referring to rape as resistance.

People in the community have expressed surprise at the audacity of such antisemitism, including at my alma mater Columbia. But, why be surprised? Iran’s ally Qatar has donated more than $5 billion to schools including Harvard and Yale. The purpose of these gifts is to brainwash the next generation. The language of brainwashing is very different from the language of debate at law schools. Important for indoctrination is to never change the message. We compared statements now coming out of academia, including those from Harvard’s student organizations, Columbia, and Berkeley and found striking similarities in form and content. You would expect these lawyers-in-training to make convincing arguments for their Palestinian pet cause. On the contrary, they are using canned talking points, all coming from the same playbook. Bizarrely, much of it addresses the situation from before 2005, when Israel actually had settlements in Gaza.

Growing up in The Netherlands, I have seen this movie before, when anti-Israel and anti-Jewish groups combine into a dominant force in the public debate. There, as in the U.S., the new movement calls itself “progressive” and receives immense outside funding for propaganda, initially from the Soviets and later from Qatar.


Progressive Identity Theft

Perhaps moved by a beautiful legacy of American progressivism hearkening back to Theodore Roosevelt, many U.S. liberals like to call themselves “progressives.” But as political science experts have quipped, the last American progressive died in 1970. The current global progressive movement is committing identity theft by misappropriation of someone else’s good name. Core belief of the new progressives is that the world consists of two classes: oppressors and the oppressed. Jews are oppressors (mostly in the economic sphere) and Israelis are also oppressors. Not sharing the religious values of the progressives of old, or the humanist values of liberals, it is easy to come to the conclusion that oppressors have to be physically eliminated. Adding to this dangerous mix is the death of objective journalism. Most so-called “journalists” are in reality advocates, with strong progressive and potentially pro-Hamas views.


Deja Vu All Over Again

In Europe the same fusion happened during the 1970s when advocates of the Palestinian cause hid their Holocaust-denying credentials and adopted a progressive vocabulary. Propaganda played a pivotal role in this change of political identity, carefully crafted and initially paid for by the Soviets who tried to take over the debate on campus and offered study trips to Russia as a prelude to obtain more power in labor organizations and in politics. The primary target audience for Soviet brainwashing were European students and academics, but the then-mayor of Burlington, Vermont—Sen. Bernie Sanders—went on such a Soviet socialism glorifying trip. Ironically, around the same time Sanders visited Moscow, I had moved to the U.S. and was marching with Glenn Richter’s Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.


There Is No “I” in Advocacy

In the meantime, back in The Netherlands, my father retired from the Royal Navy where he had been flying planes to track Soviet submarines near or in NATO territorial waters. He became active full-time in politics and was elected the next year to be a senator and member of the Senate Defense and Intelligence committee. Informally he also became one of the spokespersons defending Israel’s position in the media.

It became clear to him that the other side had abandoned its amateurish approach to propaganda. The new anti-Zionist messaging served two goals: (1) replace the accurate perception of Zionism as a liberation movement with that of a movement of oppression; (2) create a political identity for a European population that within one generation had lost faith in religion.

Sen. van Bemmelen realized that it would be more effective if many voices came together to support Israel. He promoted active involvement of the full spectrum of members of the small remaining Jewish community and from surviving members of the Resistance. He used the platform www.likud.nl to build bridges to Christian supporters of Israel, and to representatives of groups oppressed by Arab or Islamist regimes, who all contributed responses to progressive provocations in the media. Combining voices from these three faith communities against terrorism led to a powerful counter-narrative.


150 Palestinian Tales

Over the years, the team responded to 150 recurring items of fake news. Sen. van Bemmelen edited a book collecting these tales, which was translated into German this year. An English edition had been published earlier by Aspekt Publishers and distributed to student organizations and to the offices of each U.S. senator. The book reads well and is also a great reference source, because it presents 150 vignettes containing answers to propaganda points, which are all referenced in an easy-to-use index.

Common refrain in progressive “explanation” of the Hamas terror attack is that no food or medicines could enter Gaza during recent years. The book provides facts, such as the World Health Organization’s concern that obesity had become a serious health problem in Gaza. A picture with a car transporter filled with BMW cars going into the Hamas-administered strip provides additional factual context.


How Can We Help?

The lesson from Europe is that “keyboard warriors” can make a difference, especially when they unite. A local example: the NYU bar president’s antisemitic letter was brought to the attention of the law firm which had offered this graduating student a job, resulting in the offer being withdrawn.

Michael van Bemmelen holds a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University, a M.A. from Erasmus University Rotterdam, and works as a consultant in Teaneck.

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