Land of Security Know-How

Neve Gordon · Rebranding Israel

Since the publication of his UN report charging Israel (and Hamas) with war crimes, Richard Goldstone has been subjected to a well-orchestrated delegitimisation campaign by Israel. Most recently, new 'revealing information’ was disseminated to the press, accusing the Jewish Zionist South African judge of sentencing 28 black South Africans to death during the apartheid years. 'The judge who sentenced black people to death,' said the speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, ‘should not be allowed to lecture a democratic state defending itself against terrorists.'

The ongoing character assassination of Goldstone isn't an isolated case, but should be seen as part of a large-scale state-branding exercise by Israel. In 2004, the Foreign Ministry hired a number of international PR firms to improve Israel's global reputation. In the words of Ido Aharoni, the head of the ministry's brand management team:

Every place has a brand... Brazil is about fun, Paris is about romance and Las Vegas is about sin... What is Israel about?... The conflict, and the context in which Israel is perceived is all about bad news, whether you agree with Israel or not.

The Foreign Ministry decided to draw attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by emphasising Israel's stem-cell research and the young computer experts who invented instant messaging. Aharoni points to Dan Senor and Saul Singer's book Start-Up Nation as a paradigmatic example of how Israel can be celebrated. The problem, in Aharoni's view, is that 'when we are given a chance to talk about Israel the only story we tell is about the conflict and it is a turn-off even among our biggest supporters.' Aharoni is convinced that by changing the story it tells about itself - by focusing on lifestyle and leisure, the environment, science and technology, art and culture, the people and heritage - Israel can change its international image.

Martin Kace, the head of the business consultancy firm Empax, disagrees with this approach. At the annual Herzliya Conference on National Security, he said:

It's true that the country has astoundingly high amounts of technological innovation; Israel is number one in the world in agricultural productivity, files more biomedical patents every year than any other country, is consistently top 10 in life expectancy, has a very active cultural and academic life, lots of Nobel laureates, great beaches, beautiful and scantily-clad people, a very active gay community and on and on... This is what the Israeli Foreign Ministry proposes as a platform for Brand Israel. It will fail miserably... because it asks people to completely re-contextualise Israel as they know it.

Kace does not propose that Israel end the conflict, but rather suggests that the conflict be incorporated into the Israeli brand, maintaining that Israel cannot deliver a credible brand message without acknowledging the ongoing strife. The idea, so it seems, is to present Israel as the Land of Security Know-How.

There is also a third strategy: to undermine the reputation of anyone who dares to question Israel's human rights record, and to obstruct the flow of unpalatable information that's gathered, organised, and distributed by rights groups and circulated by the international media.

Right-wing NGOs and social movements such as Gerald Steinberg's NGO Monitor and Im Tirtzu are doing much of this McCarthyist dirty work. Their blacklist includes not only individual critics of Israeli rights abuses, like Goldstone, but also local and international NGOs and their donors, particularly the European Union, the Ford Foundation and the New Israel Fund. Naomi Chazan, the former Knesset member who now runs the New Israel Fund, was recently featured on giant billboards with a horn emerging from her head because her organisation funded human-rights NGOs that passed information on to Judge Goldstone.

These McCarthyist organisations are working with right-wing legislators. On 28 April, 19 Knesset members introduced a bill that aims to close down any existing NGO if 'there are reasonable grounds to conclude that the association is providing information to foreign entities or is involved in legal proceedings abroad against senior Israeli government officials or IDF officers for war crimes.'

The Reut Institute, and a few other right-wing think tanks, have also joined the bandwagon, offering policy recommendations to decision makers. In 'Building a Political Firewall against Israel's Delegitimisation', Reut defined anyone who is critical of Israel as being part of a 'delegitimisation network' and therefore an 'existential threat'. According to Reut, this network is made up of 'organisations and individuals in the West – mostly elements of the radical European left, Arab and Islamic groups, and so-called post or anti-Zionist Jews and Israelis – [who] negate Israel's right to exist based on a variety of political and philosophical arguments.' The think tank concludes that the 'delegitimisation stems from a rejection of Israel's existence, and therefore cannot be made to disappear by PR or policy.' It accordingly argues that 'branding the other side' (i.e. Israel's critics) is a vital part of the struggle over Israel's reputation and, indeed, existence.

This negative branding is an international effort. Noam Chomsky, who was recently prevented from entering Israel and the West Bank, has long been a target of witch hunters like Alan Dershowitz, but other less known actors are also playing a part. Mitchell Bard, the executive director of the American-Israeli Co-operative Enterprise, and Gil Troy, a historian at McGill University, recently published a position paper summarising the discussions of the Working Group on Delegitimisation at the 2009 Global Forum against Anti-Semitism. Bard and Troy suggest that it is crucial to 'rename and reframe' the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS). 'We need to point out how BDS crosses the line from legitimate criticism to historically-laden, anti-Semitic messaging.' The report goes on to present the struggle against BDS as a war, using such terms as enemy, command centre, war room, fight, battle and battlefield.

But the branding campaign does not stop with human rights NGOs, their donors, individual critics or supporters of BDS. International humanitarian and human rights law – which emerged following the horrors of the Holocaust – is also under attack. This, at least, was one of the messages emerging from a conference organised by the Lawfare Project. The logic is clear: international human rights law is being deployed as a tool to criticise Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories and is consequently responsible for damaging Israel's reputation; it therefore must be curbed. This is an extremely frightening thought.


  • 19 May 2010 at 3:58pm
    Chris Larkin says:
    On the Lawfare Project website the following is cited as a case example of 'Lawfare':

    'Attempts by terrorist entities such as Hamas to impede the free movement of democratic state officials and achieve legitimacy by hiring lawyers and instituting "human rights" litigation abroad'

    Frightening indeed. If only because those pesky words "human rights" are in quotation marks.

  • 19 May 2010 at 6:17pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Troubling indeed. Tony Judt has been one of the most constructive and competent critics of Israel's policies and he was prevented from giving a talk in New York a year or so ago. Times have changed and the methods of defamation have been fine-honed so that reading this blog makes us 'anti-semitic'. Where do the supporters of a peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict go from here?

  • 19 May 2010 at 6:23pm
    pinhut says:
    ‘We need to point out how BDS crosses the line from legitimate criticism to historically-laden, anti-Semitic messaging.’

    Oh, let me take a wild stab in the dark and guess where that line is drawn. When it begins to be effective, perchance?

    This 'rename and reframe' project is disgusting, it should be reserved for launching new brands of washing powder, not for dressing up human rights abuses. It is like the scene in Brazil, where the restaurant is bombed and the staff simply place Chinese screens around the diners, to spare them the sight of the dying, and turn up the music to drown out their screams.

    Deal with the problem itself, rather than the 'problem' of hiding the problem.

  • 19 May 2010 at 10:24pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    The ongoing character assassination of Goldstone isn’t an isolated case

    Neve Gordon, you may be thinking that everyone reading this knows a lot more about Richard Goldstone than I, in fact, do. From Wikipedia, I learnt that while he was a judge in South Africa during the apartheid regime he condemned two black people to death, and that as an appeals court judge he refused the appeal of twenty-six others who had already been condemned to death. Apparently he wasn't in favour of the death penalty and was trying to improve the system from within, but 28 people?

    Whatever else is wrong with the Israeli report, if someone in my family in South Africa was dead because of Goldstone, I don't think I'd call this "character assassination".

  • 20 May 2010 at 7:32am
    DanielGreenwood says:
    Um, Wikipedia? Really?

    Anyway, on the alleged smearing - whilst it's likely to appeal to those who are already general supporters of Israeli policy, it is likely to drive a lot of others away, essentially making it counterproductive.

    • 20 May 2010 at 8:15am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ DanielGreenwood
      Oh, come on. Don't be a snob about Wikipedia. The quality of its articles may vary enormously, but at least any hidden bias is usually revealed on the discussion page. That's more than you can say for most sites on the internet.

    • 20 May 2010 at 6:58pm
      pinhut says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Could you point to something in the Goldstone Report that you do not agree with? Presumably, you've read it?

      Or does something that happened in South Africa magically invalidate the entire report? Is that your angle.

      My guess is what you don't like is moral equivelance, that We are like Them. This CTheory article on moral equivalence and why it makes nations like the US and Israel squeal is worth reading.

    • 20 May 2010 at 6:59pm
      pinhut says: @ pinhut
      Wikipedia is incredibly inaccurate. That the people making inaccurate contributions discuss the process is not evidence of any rigour.

    • 21 May 2010 at 12:23am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ pinhut
      My angle is that I wanted to find out about Goldstone's time as a judge in SA. No one was saying.

      What's your angle?

  • 20 May 2010 at 8:01pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Whatever. So did Goldstone condemn two black people to death, and did he deny the appeal of twenty-six other prisoners who had already been condemned to death?

    • 20 May 2010 at 8:03pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      (This 9:01 is supposed to go below Pinhut's)

    • 21 May 2010 at 1:01am
      pinhut says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      That's a classic "What about X?" The issue is the Goldstone Report. How does what happened in South Africa have any bearing on that report?

      So far, you have not said, though, it's clear, you'd rather talk about that report than about Israeli human rights violations and the idea of not improving Israel's image by changing the actual policies, but by figuring out ways to mask what's going on with PR.

  • 21 May 2010 at 12:12am
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Well, it looks like he did what I repeated from the Wikipedia article, but a lot of black people in SA liked him anyway. Here's one (weirdly unattributed) story from Eurasia Review:
    U.S. Federal Judge Thelton Henderson went to South Africa in the 1980s and according to a close friend of his who wrote me, discovered this about Judge Richard Goldstone:

    Thelton first went to South Africa in the 1980s. In fact, being African-American, he was detained there and endured a very unpleasant experience. He will tell you about black leaders repeatedly telling him there were three good judges in the country, and the best of the three was a remarkable man, Richard Goldstone. In addition to being regarded for his fairness and justice in the courtroom, he was known by prisoners for his regular visits to the prisons. He went regularly because he was concerned about their being tortured and about their not getting medical care. (Another friend has told me about this aspect of Richard and that some black prisoners felt he literally saved their lives as a result of his visits to prisons.)

    And here's a bit of Sasha Polakow-Suransky's article in Foreign Policy:

    Goldstone's apartheid-era judicial rulings are undoubtedly a blot on his record, but his critics never mention the crucial part he played in shepherding South Africa through its democratic transition and warding off violent threats to a peaceful transfer of power -- a role that led Nelson Mandela to embrace him and appoint him to the country's highest court.

    More importantly, Ayalon's and Rivlin's moralism conveniently ignores Israel's history of arming the apartheid regime from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s. By serving as South Africa's primary and most reliable arms supplier during a period of violent internal repression and external aggression, Israel's government did far more to aid the apartheid regime than Goldstone ever did.

    As Sasha Polakow-Suransky says, Israel's arms-trading relationship with South Africa illustrates how hypocritical the criticism of Goldstone has been. It wasn't very accurate criticism either, but it's too bad everyone finds it so hard to say that Goldstone DID condemn 2 people to death AND deny the appeals of 26 others WHILE ALSO being in many other ways a decent person.

    • 21 May 2010 at 1:05am
      pinhut says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Misdirection. The veracity or otherwise of the Goldstone Report is not founded on the character of Goldstone himself, but in whether the facts it documents are accurate, no matter how much it might serve your ends to try and contrive some spurious connection to past events in South Africa.

    • 21 May 2010 at 9:49am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ pinhut
      I didn't bring up South Africa; the author of the article did because Israel did. That's what the article is about.

    • 21 May 2010 at 10:44am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      I'm actually not very interested in Israel & Palestine. I'm pointing out how people on both sides of this argument just cannot stand for there to be any ambiguity about Goldstone. Since the whole Arab-Israeli conflict is made up of ambiguity and paradox, the more the people involved can accommodate shades of grey the more possibility there is for a resolution. Denying or ignoring Goldstone's background is akin to Clinton's saying "I never had sex with that woman, (and by 'sex' I mean ...)" -- in other words, it just looks fishy.

    • 22 May 2010 at 2:37am
      pinhut says: @ A.J.P. Crown

      You keep pushing the false proposition that the accuracy or otherwise of a 575 page report, worked on a by a large number of people, is somehow compromised by the issue of character.

      This is just because it's 'black South Africans' and it looks good as a smear, those dead darkies being useful in precisely the same manner as Afghan women are to people who never want to end the occupation. Where was any of this stuff *before* the Goldstone Report was published? It's Israeli pushback. You'll be citing the Beano next, perhaps Goldstone assaulted Dennis the Menace way back when.

      You can't answer the question - why do previous events in Goldstone's career have any impact on the accuracy or otherwise of the Goldstone Report?


      X occurred

      Report : X occurred

      Your Verdict : X did not occur because of Goldstone's character.

      Get a grip.

  • 22 May 2010 at 8:09am
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Your Verdict : X did not occur because of Goldstone’s character.

    No, that's the opposite of what I'm saying. You're the one who sees everything as either black or white, so its really what you're saying. You're telling yourself: "X did not occur because of Goldstone’s character, which has been so compromised by his background that we'd better bury Goldman's background". The problem is it's not up to you; the Speaker of the Knesset won't bury it and the Israeli pr won't bury it (that's what the article's about, right?).

    the false proposition that the accuracy or otherwise of a 575 page report, worked on a by a large number of people, is somehow compromised by the issue of character.
    So you're saying that this report might just as well have been in the name of Dennis? He wouldn't work on it anyway and his character isn't important and you only have to pay him sixpence a week so lets have the Dennis The Menace Report? Sure, the Israelis will try and dig up something from all those years he was at the Beano, but for me his character isn't an issue.

    Where was any of this stuff *before* the Goldstone Report was published? Yes, that's good question. Presumably Israel didn't object to him then and apparently it was hiding in plain sight, but you can't blame the Israelis for only mentioning it when they wanted to badmouth the report. "Goldstone’s apartheid-era judicial rulings are undoubtedly a blot on his record",in the words of Sasha Polakow-Suransky, so there must be lots more good stuff to say about him.

    • 22 May 2010 at 11:40pm
      pinhut says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      But wait, what if Israel had supported the apartheid regime...

      From your belove Wikipedia.

      Therefore, their stance on the Goldstone report is necessary called into question, according to your 'logic'.

      By the mid 1970s, Israel's relations with South Africa had warmed. In 1975, increasing economic co-operation between Israel and South Africa was reported, including the construction of a major new railway in Israel, and the building of a desalination plant in South Africa.[7] In April 1976 South African Prime Minister John Vorster was invited to make a state visit, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.[5] [8] Later in 1976, the 5th Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in Colombo, Sri Lanka, adopted a resolution calling for an oil embargo against France and Israel because of their arms sales to South Africa.[7] In 1977, South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha visited Israel to discuss South African issues with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan.

      In 1981, Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon visited South African forces in Namibia for 10 days[9], later saying that South Africa needed more weapons to fight Soviet infiltration in the region.

      In 1984, Pik Botha again visited Israel but this time only for an unofficial meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir.[10]

      By 1987 Israel found itself alone among the developed nations in still maintaining strong, even strategic relations with apartheid South Africa (Among African nations, only Malawi maintained diplomatic relations with South Africa throughout the Apartheid era ).[11] On March 18, 1987 the Inner Cabinet of the Israeli government denounced the Apartheid policy of South Africa and limited Israel's security ties with Pretoria. On September 16, 1987 the Israeli Cabinet approved a series of measures designed to limit trade, sports and cultural ties with South Africa. Among them was a clause in the "measures" package stating that effective immediately, only colored, Indian and black students would be allowed to attend leadership courses held in Israel.[12]

    • 22 May 2010 at 11:42pm
      pinhut says: @ pinhut
      Actually, your English is so poor, I'm no longer convinced that what you are trying to say can be determined. Somehow, you're not interested in Israeli-Palestine relations, or in Goldstone's character, but, you keep posting on a thread about Israeli-Palestine relations, and you keep referring to Goldstone's character.

      Obviously, no sane person is going to understand your motives.

  • 23 May 2010 at 10:08am
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    You're right, pinhead. I should stop commenting.

  • 23 May 2010 at 11:51am
    bluecat says:
    The point surely is that, if there were anything in Goldstone's past career or known beliefs which invalidated his report for the UN, the time to complain about it would have been before the report was completed.

    Coming up with reasons why nobody should listen to him after the event makes it seem highly probable that what they really don't like about him is his conclusions.

    • 23 May 2010 at 5:57pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ bluecat
      Yes, the Israeli government probably doesn't like the conclusions. Yes, that's transparently the reason for their complaining. But why does that mean they can't complain now? Bad sportsmanship?

    • 23 May 2010 at 6:53pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      ...But if they're complaining, they ought to tell the truth. Goldstone sentenced two people to death, not twenty-eight. The other twenty-six he encountered while he was an appeals court judge and he wouldn't have been able to commute their death sentence except on some arcane point of South African law. I'm guessing that a judge who has sentenced two people to death isn't that unusual at the UN. If that's true, then the Israeli government doesn't have much of a case. In other words, to have sentenced anyone to death seems like unacceptable behaviour to me, not knowing any of the details, but it's probably not grounds to get Goldstone fired or his report invalidated -- I bet the current South African government aren't opposed to Goldstone's UN work.

    • 24 May 2010 at 6:35am
      bluecat says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      They don't have any case at all, whether he sentenced two, ten, or a hundred people to death.

      If sentencing people to death had any bearing on the validity of his inquiry, the Israelis knew all about his history before the report was written and should have objected then.

      To do so only after the report has been mildly critical is patently to move the goal posts.

      Obviously if he had sentenced (say) exclusively Jewish people, or exclusively Arab people, to death during his previous career, that might be considered having a possible bearing on his fitness to run the enquiry.
      Equally, had he been one of the judges who sentenced Eichmann or Tobianski to death, that might also have raised questions about his partiality or impartiality.

  • 26 May 2010 at 2:55am
    mike cushman says:
    Can't for the life of me follow this rambling piece by Neve Gordon, one of Israel's radically unbalanced professors. He overtly admits Richard Goldstone was a hanging judge under the South African regime of apartheid, yet asks readers to grant him credence in besmirching Israel in the name of his so-called "international morality." The fact of the matter is this: Richard Goldstone is a war criminal for sentencing South African Blacks to death in the dozens. The international community branded this regime as an outlaw. Consequently, any of its henchmen, such as Goldstone, must be put on trial before the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Now... if this unconscionable "jurist" seeks an amnesty, let him petition the South African government to reconstitute its Reconciliation Commission so he can throw himself at its mercy. Neve Gordon has no business acting as a shill for deeply compromised jurists such as Goldstone. Has Gordon never heard of the Nueremberg Trials of 1946? This professor is absolutely insipid.

    • 27 May 2010 at 1:26am
      MAx says: @ mike cushman
      On the (possible doubtful) assumption that this last is sincere, it's simply unhinged:

      The first, and simple, point is that the report stands or falls by its merits and its reference to clear and internationally accepted prohibitions on the use of disproportionate or indiscriminate military force. To suggest that it is a question of the authors' "morality" is simply spurious, as is this broader attempt at character assassination.

      Further, and more specifically:

      - Goldstone was - as has never been questioned or concealed by him or by anyone else - a judge during the Apartheid era and sat on capital cases in that time.

      - While one can criticise anyone who has anything to do with capital punishment - including, of course, many prominent judges and lawyers worldwide - that was not a "war crime" or some form of international "outlawry".

      - Goldstone was - as others have noted, but as this commentator seems incapable of understanding - subsequently involved not only in the transition from Apartheid, conducting an inquiry into actions by the ANC and South African security forces but was then appointed, on nomination of Nelson Mandela, to the Constitutional Court.

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