Why the Palestinian Narrative Still Holds
In his article "Reader beware" (American Thinker, July 26) Leo Rennert notes how the leftist Israeli daily Haaretz openly pushes a pro-Palestinian narrative that distorts historic facts of the Middle East conflict. The author quotes Danny Ayalon, Foreign Deputy Minister of Israel, who appears in a recent YouTube video attempting to counter that narrative, and whose arguments are then blatantly dismissed by Haaretz.
It may seem stupefying that well-known historic facts can be thus ignored, unless we understand the real nature of the narrative and why it is resilient to this kind of argumentation.
What Ayalon says in the video has been said many times before: the legal arguments have been made for "disputed" rather than "occupied" territories of the West Bank. Everyone, Arabs and their foreign supporters included, knows that the so-called 1967 border is really the 1949 Armistice Line and it has never been an established border. The reason Haaretz & Co. don't care is not that they don't know, but rather that it would cost them dearly to know.
What the pro-Palestinian narrative gives to its adherents is a moral high ground, and that will not be relinquished to such feeble things as historic or legal data. This narrative is not based on facts; it is based on a need for emotional satisfaction. The supporting data is carefully hand-picked to suit the storyline, and the reasoning that holds together this edifice is barely logical. The moral satisfaction, however, is so strong, and the psychological rewards of being on the side of the Oppressed against the Occupiers is so relevant, that it will take an exceptionally well-designed campaign to crack the narrative. Citing facts won't do the trick. It never has.
The importance to Haaretz, and to leftist liberals in general, of wordings such as "occupied" instead of "disputed" is that it places Israel in the role of the aggressor. It implies a hidden premise that Israel, as the militarily and economically stronger side in the conflict, must keep relenting to the weaker Palestinians for a higher justice to prevail. The implicit narrative here is that for Israel to be stronger is a kind of a sin that must be acquitted by voluntarily giving up her advantage to the inherently righteous, because weaker, Palestinians.
To counter the image of Bad Occupier Israel, advocacy needs to make it explicit that being strong is a worthy achievement. Strength can be the product of human effort, of work, and knowledge, and of sustaining of a more successful society. Success is something that deserves to be protected rather than leveled off to accommodate less thriving societies. And if being strong is shown not to be a sin, then the strong have the right of self-defense against the weak. They even have the right to the benefit of the doubt and to fair treatment in discussions of certain disputed lands.
Ayalon's attempt is relevant in that he realizes the importance of language in this propaganda war. What we call those territories does reflect on our way of thinking. However, wording is only the surface of the narrative, and unless the more concealed assumptions are addressed, his efforts will be inefficient. His video may get a "Like" from those already speaking his language, but it does nothing to substantially undermine the pro-Palestinian argument as a whole.
There are several aspects to this narrative, each of which can be analyzed in depth, but they all center on one grand theme: the White Man's Atonement to the People of the Third World. Israel is the outpost of Western culture in this setup, the embodiment of all of our colonizer sins, and the Palestinian Arabs the victims of our hubris and expansion.
The aspiration to repent and kowtow is strongly manifested in the leftist-liberal media when it forbids any criticism of the "suppressed" people, or of the narrative created in their defense, while at the same time it vigorously deconstructs the historic narratives of the West. The implied rationale behind this bias is that victimized people must never be criticized because whatever they do is merely a reaction to what has been, unjustly, done to them by us. In the stories presented by this media, victimized people never commit any actual mistakes. If they happen to do something that is not quite in line with our values, such as supporting a terrorist organization in Gaza, it turns out to be only a desperate reaction born out of their longing for justice.
On the other hand, Israel needs to be proven guilty only once to be proven guilty in every aspect. The obscure presumption is that unless Israel is innocent of each and every charge brought up against her, the narrative that depicts her as the blameable entity is justified. Incidentally, when Israeli advocacy tries to refute each accusation individually, it in effect cooperatively succumbs to this deadly presumption and consolidates it.
For the Israeli Foreign Ministry to be successful in countering this web of emotions and justifications, it will need to step up its campaign from scratching the surface of the narrative to discrediting its deeper levels, down to its very core of perceived Western guilt. No doubt Danny Ayalon is aware that it will take more than a few youtube videos to get even started.
Balázs Benkő is a classical philologist, a political and legal communications advisor, and a businessman. Zita Rainer is a social media marketing strategist.