Natasha Mozgovaya
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 12, 2012 - 1:00am

Last week, at the Friends of the IDF event in Los Angeles (yes yes, the same one that Stevie Wonder decided to bow out from), guests enjoyed the event, but some activists complained to reporters that it wasn't easy to get people out to it.

Many were busy, and others just simply find excuses to skip any possible controversy. Some things are just not "hasbarable".

The Israeli government's recent decision to announce construction in the E-1 area east of Jerusalem sent Israeli diplomats and pro-Israel advocacy organizations out onto the hasbara, or public relations field, to argue that settlements have nothing to do with the stalemate in the peace process.

But other groups, like the pro-Israel lobby J Street, began collecting signatures to tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that this policy is not okay with American Jews. More than 8,000 signatures had been registered by the time this post was written.

Another petition drafted by rabbis and signed by some 140 people so far expresses American Jewish religious leaders' concern over the E1 announcement: "We fear that building settlements in E1 would be the final blow to a peaceful solution," the letter said, warning of the possible deterioration of U.S.-Israeli relations.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, writing in the New York Daily News opined that the world must "stop scapegoating Israeli settlements", listing the familiar talking points about the 2005 disengagement from Gaza: "Israel uprooted all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza.... in the seven years since, Israel has been targeted by nearly 9,000 terrorist rockets from Gaza. Clearly, settlements are not the reason. Rather, it is our enemy’s determination to deny the Jewish people the right to independence in our ancestral homeland".

The Israeli envoy also argued that, contrary to the widespread claim, E1 construction would not cut the West Bank in two: "In a negotiated two-state solution, short tunnels under E1 can also connect Ramallah with the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem", he wrote.

Campuses across the U.S. are one of the most challenging arenas for Israeli hasbara. The David Project, an organization established in 2002 with the goal of "positively shap[ing] campus opinion on Israel," prepared a brochure on settlements, designed to provide a "nuanced" understanding of the controversial issue, going through the Six-Day War and its consequences, settlements locations, the differences between "suburbs," "blocs" and "outposts," and the legal issues (status of the territories prior to the war was "murky"). In its conclusion, the primer stresses that "the settlements are not a monolithic entity and cannot be viewed as such."

It should be noted, however, that when the Obama administration insisted in 2009 on a total settlement freeze, the rule was a "settlement is a settlement."

And whereas rockets constantly fired from Gaza are far less "hasbarable" than West Bank outposts, it should be remembered that Israel withdrew from Gaza unilaterally, without an agreement, and has since boosted Hamas' narrative credibility, releasing Palestinian prisoners and undermining the influence of the Palestinian Authority leadership.

Part of the criticism is well-deserved - but the alternatives are not pretty, especially when, to use a popular series refrain, "winter is coming."

The settlements are not the reason for the conflict - but they do not help much. The idea of channeling the same energy and resources to strengthen Jewish identity in the Galilee and the Negev might seem to some settlers as less heroic than at a site facing historic Shiloh, but for those who visited it recently, it is no less essential.

As for the hasbara efforts: Nuanced approaches are always welcome, but in this case, with yet undefined borders of a country over 60 years old, it might be more useful not to lose sight of the forest among the trees.


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