Stalwart Israeli journalist takes a stand for his countryby dan pine
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Present him with one argument why Israel should be considered a pariah state, and Ben-Dror Yemini counters with five reasons why it’s wrong.
The op-ed editor of Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper considers himself a researcher first, and journalist second. Yemini’s stock in trade is examining the charges of Israel’s harshest critics, then disproving them.
He’s kind of an Israeli Joe Friday: just the facts.
“The only thing I want is that people know the truth,” Yemini said at the end of a visit to the Bay Area, sponsored by the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. “Israel is singled out as the monster among nations. It’s a blood libel.”
He worries that Israel’s critics have the upper hand when it comes to creating a resonant message.
As evidence, he cites polls, such as a recent German survey that showed 50 percent of Germans equate Israel’s Palestinian policies with Nazi treatment of Jews, or the BBC poll that shows only 19 percent of Britons hold a positive view of Israel.
Yemini calls the claim that Israel has committed genocide against the Palestinian people a lie, stating that at least 10 million Muslims have been killed by other Muslims since the founding of Israel in 1948. That includes conflicts such as the Iran-Iraq War, the Lebanese Civil War and the ongoing genocide in Sudan.
In that time, he says, 60,000 Arabs have died in Israel’s several wars, including 7,400 Palestinians in the occupied territories since 1967.
“If you take the claim that Israel is the main cause of violence,” he says, “statistically you’re talking about the contribution of Israel at 0.0-something. What a huge gap between the image of Israel and the real facts.”
Yemini calls the global deligitimization effort “brainwashing,” especially because young, college-age people are, he says, especially susceptible to the human rights rhetoric often used by Israel’s detractors.
“They are not evil or anti-Semites,” he says of those activists. “But they are manipulated. They don’t understand that they are not talking about human rights — they are talking about the extermination of Israel. If they really care about human rights, they would talk about Saudi Arabia or Iran.”
To the claim that Israel practices apartheid, he points to the fact that former Israeli President Moshe Katsav recently was handed a seven-year prison sentence. The presiding judge: an Israeli Arab.
“It was not mentioned in Israel because nobody thought it should be mentioned,” he added. “I’m proud that it’s a non-issue.”
As his surname suggests, Yemini comes from a Jewish Yemenite family. He grew up in Tel Aviv, launching a career as a lawyer before switching to journalism.
Though soft-spoken, Yemini has plenty of lawyerly fight in him. He can run through the litany of oft-cited anti-Israel claims and swat them away like flies.
Regarding the Goldstone Report’s now-discredited conclusion that Israel intentionally targeted civilians, he cites conflicts similar to the 2009-2010 Gaza War, from Chechnya to Pakistan’s Swat Valley to Sri Lanka.
“Same kind of battles,” he said. “In the others many more civilians, absolutely and proportionally, are killed, and yet the only state that was subject to inquiry is Israel. You ask yourself what’s going on?”
He also points a finger at an unexpected source of anti-Israel sentiment: the Israeli press, specifically the left-wing newspaper Ha’aretz, which often publishes critical columns.
“Ha’aretz is part of Israeli democracy,” Yemini said. “I’m glad we have it. But if someone writes that Israel every day shoots at the heads of Palestinian kids, does that mean it’s true? Because someone says something in Ha’aretz, does that make it the Ten Commandments?”
He held out his strongest criticism for those who excuse Arab violence, especially suicide attacks and rocketing civilians, as somehow a natural response.
“That’s saying we hold you and your community, your state, your religion, to lower standards,” Yemini noted. “You know what that is? Racism. I think standards should be applied fairly, honestly, equally. You are telling me no, he’s inferior. Don’t tell me Syrians are allowed to kill their own people. I don’t buy it. If you do, you have a problem.”
Because he has argued so pugnaciously for Israel’s right to exist, Yemini is often mislabeled as a right-winger. He says he has a long track record in the Israeli peace camp. Years ago, he visited Yasser Arafat in Tunis, and befriended several PLO officials.
“I have been for the two-state solution for many years,” Yemini said. “But just like I don’t want the Palestinians to be denied their self-determination, I don’t want anybody to deny the same right from me.”