Wednesday, February 4, 2009


[My hometown paper the Vallejo Times-Herald has a columnist, Rachel Raskin-Zrihen, who is well-known in local circles for her Arab-bashing, Muslim-bashing rhetoric.  Her column this week was so much over the top, that her editors apparently thought it best not to carry it on their website.  Too bad.  You'll have to extrapolate what she had to say from my response here.]



Having kept such a low profile during all the killing in Gaza, Rachel Raskin-Zrihen is back…back on her favorite topic.


She's back at it, spewing her trade-marked anti-Arab, anti-Muslim invective, making all the wrong judgments, oblivious to the irony of the charges she tosses out left and right, mostly right.


Irony?  Let's take her opening salvo last Tuesday, keyed to the President's message to Muslim leaders that their people will judge them by what they build and not by what they destroy.  Might we apply the same standard to Israel's leaders, who, in the run-up to the country's February 10 election, seem to be out-segging each other over how many Palestinians they can kill? 


What have they built?  A wall three-stories high to pen in one people and blind the other to the reality of what happens on the other side.  Then there are the settlements – the huge white cities that dominate every hill from Hebron to Ramallah; the subsidized housing on someone else's land for over 260,000 Israelis, the "new reality on the ground" that, as Bob Simon pointed out on "Sixty Minutes," undercuts the two-state solution.


And what have they destroyed?  In just the last month, they've destroyed 1,300 lives, more than half of them women and children.  In that time, they've destroyed mosques, hospitals, food storage facilities, olive groves, 20 United Nations schools, and countless homes.  They've destroyed the already-frayed support for moderate Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas.  They've crippled hope.  Worst of all, they've dragged the good name of Jewish moral sensibility through the muck of senseless, often gratuitous violence, putting their faith not in their – our – God, but rather in their military prowess unleashed against an essentially defenseless civilian population.  And that is a sin I think Jeremiah might have something to say about. 


But there is a second irony in Rachel's latest that needs addressing.  It is her contention that there is some is some "unrivaled" Muslim "propaganda machine…that uses every conceivable cynical means to its end…the destruction of Israel, the Jews, the Christians and the West in general."  Phew!  Talk about apocalyptic rhetoric!  Trouble is it's fantasy.  Sorry, Rachel, Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians do not "know us better than we know ourselves," although, I agree, they know us "infinitely better than we know them."  For how can we know them, if we don't get any information about them, much less accurate information?


The irony in this second contention of Rachel's is that the "unrivaled" propaganda machine at work around the Israel-Palestine issue is the Israeli Hasbara, an operation I'm sure Rachel knows well.


Hasbara?  It is the Hebrew word for "explanation," or, more liberally translated, "public advocacy."  And it is the Hasbara that is the "unrivaled propaganda machine."  Having proudly worked for the U.S. Information Service for three years, I am in awe of it.  Rather than try to explain its scope and reach, I'd just recommend that you click on or or just google "Hasbara."  You'll get the picture.


This was the network that was activated in the midst of the Gaza operation when the scope of the carnage could no longer be denied.  In mid-January, the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent an urgent message to all its "Dear Friends."  It read: "We hold the [sic] military supremacy, yet fail the battle over the international media. We need to buy time for the IDF to succeed, and the least we can do is spare some (additional) minutes on the net….The more we post, blog, talkback, vote – the more likely we gain positive sentiment."  To that end, as the Jerusalem Post reported, Israel mobilized an "army of bloggers" to "explain" the pictures of destroyed schools, hospitals, and mosques…and all the dead children.  Trouble is there is no way to explain away what you see with your own eyes, no way to bring the children – the hundreds of children – back to life. 


And, so, Israel has won its "war" against a hapless civilian population, but lost the bigger war for hearts and minds, ours included, and, in the process, tarnished its own image and strengthened the hand of Hamas vis-à-vis Fatah and Israel.


What's left?  Sadly, just the name calling, the ad hominem, shoot-the-messenger invective against critics – Israeli and American – who support the legitimate interests of Israel and the United States and urge critical thinking on their behalf.  As one Hasbara site cynically put it: "For the Israel activist, it is important to be aware of the subtly different meanings that well chosen words give. Call 'demonstrations' 'riots', many Palestinian political organizations 'terror organizations', and so on. Name calling is hard to counter."


Yes, it is.  Rachel does it so well, sometimes subtly, as when she puts quotation marks around Palestine…as in "Palestine," as if there really were a "land without people for a people without land."  And then there are her nasty habits of morphing Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims (Iranians, Pakistanis, Afghanis, Indonesians?) into one menacing "radical Muslim world" and her use of pejorative adjectives like "totalitarian," "terrorist," and, shades of Michael Savage, "Islamo-facist" and sticking them on any old Palestinian or Arab she comes across.  Stereotypes are hard to shake.  One has to wonder, however, does she know the difference between an Afghan and an Arab, between Shi'a and  Sunni…or that there are 160,000 Palestinian Christians?


And then there is CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, that has taken the art of name-calling to unparalleled heights in responding to even the slightest criticism of Israel.  In recent days, for example, it has spared no invective in attempting to smear Bob Simon, who dared express despair on "Sixty Minutes," and President Jimmy Carter, who dared invoke hope in his latest book We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land.


Bottom line, the time for knee-jerk name calling is over.  Too much blood has been spilled in our shared Holy Land.  It is time to see things clearly and to think critically and honestly not about scoring points, but about finding solutions.  It is time for truth and reconciliation.  Shalom, Salaam.


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