The dramatic uprisings currently taking place in the Middle East have nothing to do with Israel, which will come as a surprise to those who get their news solely from the mainstream media and Al Jazeera. Just three weeks ago, French President Nicholas Sarkozy was quoted as saying " the upheaval in Lebanon is but a side effect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." As idiotic as it may sound, this statement is part of a larger misconception, which holds that all the issues in the Middle East will be alleviated when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. Solve the conflict at any cost – even with the disappearance of Israel, say the extremists – and the problems of the Middle East will miraculously disappear.
This conception has been shattered by the events in Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and possibly Syria. Turns out, there are bigger problems for the people of the Middle East. If anything, these events have put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the correct proportion as a local, albeit protracted conflict, limited in scope but highly leveraged by media and politics.
Traditionally, Arab leaders have pumped their people with anti-Israeli propaganda, allowing anti-Semitism and incitement to run unchecked in order to gain legitimacy. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal he believes Syria will remain stable because of its poor relationship with the U.S. and its conflict with Israel. In the last few days, the Egyptian government-run media has started blaming Mossad conspirators for the upheaval, in a bid to regain some legitimacy. Meanwhile, some anti-government protestors condemn Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman as "Zionists collaborators" (no doubt spurred on by Al Jazeera footage that tends to show Suleiman with Israeli flags in the background, immediately pinning him in the court of public opinion).
This, however, is only half the story. For decades, anti-Israel organizations, Palestinian academics, new historians and European intelligentsia have been promoting a revision of history, altering facts, exaggerating some events while eliminating others. Essentially, by repeating these lies often enough, as Melanie Phillips explained recently on Israeli TV, they have been successful in legitimizing an alternative, false history, one in which the Jews are not seen as the indigenous people of the Land of Israel but rather the demonic and evil persecutors of the native Palestinians.
Examples are far too numerous. Here are just a few that range from the comical: deadly shark attacks in Sinai attributed to the Mossad, through to the nauseating: the usurping of Holocaust language to describe the conflict (as in the website www.shoah.org.uk), to the truly astonishing: denial of Jewish history on Temple mount. In this video from Israel's Channel 2 news (minute 1:30, Hebrew and Arabic) the Mufti of Jerusalem claims that the recent excavations of a drainage tunnel from the Second Temple period are really Muslim artifacts and not Jewish at all – even though they date from 2000 years ago, 20 years before Jesus was born and 600 years before Mohammad took his first breath.
We, meaning most everyone who deals in Zionist and Jewish education, Israel advocacy, hasbara etc., have failed in reacting to this nonsense because we saw it as just that – nonsense. The Israeli government has largely ignored this phenomenon because it believes the "real" and "important" decisions are made in the diplomatic channels, where leaders choose what is in their country's best interest. But decisions are now being made on the Arab streets. And those streets have for years been fed a diet of anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda by their governments and, more recently, by Al Jazeera.
What does this mean? Security and economic interests should not be the sole axis of our hasbara. We need to get back to basics. We need to talk about ideas and beliefs. Identity, indigenousness and historic truth should be the language of this discourse. Because the longer we remain silent, evil will prevail.