WHILE YOU STAND ON ONE LEG: A JNS news article Friday says UNRWA school books call Tel Aviv “Tel al-Rabia.” It’s just one piece of Jewish homeland delegitimizers’ campaign to paint “Zionism” as a “colonial movement,” a campaign greatly aided by mainstream media and even our own use of pejoratives connoting newness of Jewish connection. This week’s media watch suggests why we’re not doing well in making our Jewish homeland case to the world, and what we might do to do better.
Each Week: UN Teaches Kids Tel Aviv is “Tel al-Rabia”
Jewish News Service (JNS) had an article this Friday (1/6/17) quoting Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon that UNRWA’s school textbooks refer to Tel Aviv as “Tel al-Rabia.” Friday’s article also cites a Hebrew University study that “textbooks used in schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) removed references to Jewish municipalities in Israel, described Zionism as a foreign ‘colonial movement’ and denied the historical and religious connections between Jews and Israel.”
Claiming that Tel Aviv is, to borrow a popular phase from the UN, “occupied Palestinian territory” is nothing new. Google “Tel al-Rabia” and see.
Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) [Good Guys] quoted a January 9, 2013, edition of the official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, that an Arab group had visited places in “the Palestinian territories” the previous day, including “the cities of Jaffa and Tal al-Rabia.” PMW appended: “Note: Tal Al-Rabia is the Palestinians’ Arabic translation of Tel Aviv, to wrongly imply the existence of an Arab village of that name prior to Tel Aviv.”
I went and looked in my copy of Eban’s My People and found on page 317 the iconic photo of Jews standing in 1909 on empty sand land, captioned: “In the spring of 1909 the group which was to found and build Tel Aviv stands on the barren sands from which the city was to rise.”
Back to Google. A 10/8/10 Sarah Honig Jerusalem Post column, likewise featuring this iconic barren sands photo, said of an at-that-time Palestinian Arab “Tel al-Rabia” claim: “Whoa, hold it! What previous name for Tel Aviv? There was none. Tel Aviv had no predecessor. It arose from desolate wasteland. Nobody was here before it and it displaced nobody.”
I had wondered, many years ago, walking along the cement walkway connecting Tel Aviv and Jaffa, whether the Arabs would settle for Israel being, say, just the seaward side of this walkway. Nope.
Tel Aviv as “Tel al-Rabia” is just one piece of the picture the Jewish homeland’s delegitimizers paint for a world that finances, through UNRWA, Palestinian Arab textbooks that, per the Hebrew University study cited in Friday’s JNS article, “removed references to Jewish municipalities in Israel, described Zionism as a foreign ‘colonial movement’ and denied the historical and religious connections between Jews and Israel.”
What’s ordinary Jews’ answer to this?
I say, first, assess frankly how well the Jewish homeland case we’ve been making till now is succeeding. Then, second, set about making that case more effectively.
 Assessing the State of Success of the Jewish Homeland Case We’ve Been Making
One effect that American football’s scoring system has had on our senses has been the dulling of perception that in real life a 14-0 defeat is a debacle. At seven points for each score, we just lost in the UN 98-nothing.
Shortly before this UN debacle, a media watch champion had won a victory in getting a major paper to correct that the US had not regarded [note pluperfect tense] “Israeli settlements in the West Bank” as “illegal,” just as “illegitimate.”
For decades, we’ve been harping on the absence of “the” in Israeli withdrawal “from territories occupied” in the Six-Day War as not calling for withdrawal from “all the” territories. That was indeed the legislative intent of the resolution’s drafters, but how well was this legalistic distinction understood and appreciated by ordinary folks in the West? Last month’s new UN resolution, declaring every inch beyond the 1949 Israel-Jordan military ceasefire lines “occupied Palestinian territory” just summarily swept all this – the Six-Day War, 242, Judea-Samaria, historic Jerusalem – away with a pen stroke, though the full impact of this is not yet generally understood and appreciated. Rest assured, the folks we all call “the Palestinians” will work on it.
And we ourselves not just acquiesce in the mainstream Western media incessantly saying “Jewish settlements across Israel’s 1967 borders in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem,” but use these Jewish homeland-delegitimizing pejoratives ourselves.
 Making the Jewish Homeland Case More Effectively
I’d start with re-evaluating one of the expressions referenced in Friday’s JNS article. It said the Hebrew University study said UNRWA’s textbooks “described Zionism as a foreign ‘colonial movement’ and denied the historical and religious connections between Jews and Israel.”
Israel’s Arab foes and Iran have a reason for referencing Israel as “the Zionist entity.” It both dates to the late 1800’s and was European in origin. It lends itself to being cast as a “colonial movement.” I’m not for banning “Zionism” from our tongues, as I would “West Bank … East Jerusalem … settlements … occupation,” etc. But I would have us use it in its correct historical sense, not the way Israel’s enemies use it.
As Ben-Gurion put it in calling on the world’s Jews to stand by Israel in 1948, the movement for redemption of the homeland did not begin in the late 1800’s in Europe, but had been “the dream of generations” since the homeland’s Roman destruction. “Zionism” was one century’s embodiment of means for its achievement. Katz put it this way in Battleground (p. 97):
“Modern Zionism did indeed start the count of the waves of immigration after 1882, but only the frame and the capacity for organization were new. The living movement to the land had never ceased.”
Zionism was, if you will, “a first Jew giving money to a second Jew to send a third Jew to Palestine,” said Palestine being the historic homeland of the Jews.
This is the essential homeland case we must make: Not only did the movement to return to the land never cease, but the continuous physical presence of the Jews in the homeland, an eighteen-hundred-year tenacious physical presence that Parkes rightly characterized as “in spite of every discouragement,” never ceased. And during those long, dark Hadrian through Herzl’s time foreign rule centuries, no non-Jewish native state sprang up in what had been the millennium-long biblical homeland of the Jews. Modern Israel is the land’s next native state after Roman-destroyed Jewish Judaea.
Last summer, under the auspices of the Philly ZOA, a small group of us met with a rabbi from Israel whose mission was to try to get through to people “on the left” that their empathies should be with Israel and not with its enemies. He put several signs on the wall making various cases – Israel, like the U.S., is a democracy; Israel supports women’s rights, gay rights, etc.; Israel is the historic homeland of an indigenous people, the Jews. We were all told to go stand under one. I, along with a minority of the attendees, stood under “homeland.” The rabbi said that that was the only approach with a plausible chance of success.
I did not come to this view lately. Some years ago, somebody brought a small non-vanity publisher of, inter alia, “Judaica” books to a small meeting. I told him there were two “Judaica” books crying out to be written: on the Jewish people’s three-millennia physical presence in the land of Israel, and on how the media skews the news to skrew the Jew. He said you write those books and I’ll publish them. I, along with Lee on the latter, did, and he did. We now have a website, www.factsonisrael.com, I invite you to visit. Lee and I give Powerpoint talks (see on the Videos page) to synagogue and other groups, on the media bias book, including tomorrow morning, if the snow stops by then.