Mondoweiss / September 14, 2023
Netanyahu’s hasbara minister says there is no occupied land in Palestine and peddles Zionist mythology. “We haven’t stolen anything…. This house is ours by deed.”
As awareness of Palestinian dispossession and persecution grows around the world, we keep waiting for a more sophisticated Israeli response to that record.
Now we’ve gotten an answer from the Israeli minister of hasbara, or public diplomacy, Galit Distel Atbaryan, and it’s a rehash of the most Jewish-supremacist tropes of Zionist ideology.
There is no occupation. Jews were here first by biblical “deed” and were thrown off their land. Then by a “miracle” Jewish sovereignty was restored. Palestinians have no right to this land because they’re not an “ancient people.” So anything we do to Palestinians on our land is justified.
Efforts to distract the world’s attention from the “occupied elephant in the room” by talking up Israeli technology have been a failure, Atbaryan said:
“Imagine a pack of thieves invading a home, expelling the family that’s been living there by law and then asking the neighbors to accept it as the most equal pack of thieves in the world because it’s innovative and it invented Waze and the cherry tomato and it holds the coolest gay pride parades in the stolen living room.
No neighbor will feel sympathy for this pack of thieves no matter how successful it is.
This is exactly where Israeli Hasbara has missed the mark time after time – when there’s an inherent moral flaw in our very existence on this land, then it really doesn’t matter how successful we are. A thief is a thief and an occupier is an occupier.
Atbaryan explained how she would take on the occupation frontally, by denying it:
[W]e haven’t stolen anything…. This house is ours by deed.
We were expelled from it by force.
And we have returned to it but almost by miracle…
I will clarify that Palestinian consciousness is a late development and that this is not about an ancient people that lived here as a nation before we came back home.
These are Zionist myths. The “deed” refers to God’s promise to Abraham— biblical mythology blown up by Shlomo Sand in “The Invention of the Jewish People”. The claims about Palestinians not being indigenous are reminiscent of Golda Meir and Sheldon Adelson saying that there are no Palestinians. Or of Judith Peters’s tract, “Of Time Immemorial” (1984), which said that Palestinians only arrived after Jewish settlers made the desert bloom–and cited population data that Norman Finkelstein exposed as dishonest.
Such myths cannot be the basis of citizenship in the modern age. Civil rights do not derive from one’s belonging to an “ancient” people. That is straight out of the Nazi idea of Herrenvolk – and Atbaryan has been called a Goebbels in recent months. The Nazi charges against her rain like “confetti,” she said.
The crime here is that Atbaryan is a government minister. She is Netanyahu’s faithful subordinate. And she has long advocated for Jewish sovereignty in the entire land between the river and the sea because Israeli Jews want it, as she said in this article in Israel Hayom in 2020:
Applying sovereignty and extending Israel’s legitimate borders is a dream most in the Israeli public has been longing for. This dream will come to life only… with a real right wing government at the head, chaired by the one person who paved the way to acknowledging this vision [Netanyahu].
The real question for us in the States is, who will report and condemn these racist remarks by a Netanyahu minister? The press and leading American Jewish organizations were all over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s bigoted history of the holocaust that he offered last week. Atbaryan has more power over the people of Israel and Palestine than Abbas and way more traction in U.S political life than Abbas. She marched up Fifth Avenue in June with the Israel parade.
Will American groups issue condemnations of Atbaryan? Don’t hold your breath. Almost all mainstream Jewish organizations are openly or silently siding with Netanyahu right now. J Street was an anti-Netanyahu organization in recent years but its congressional delegation of liberal Democrats met with Netanyahu in February. It did so because Joe Biden has made it clear that he wants the Democratic Party to kiss up to Netanyahu for the 2024 election cycle. And everyone’s going along.
All these actors are acceding more or less passively to Netanyahu’s “vision” to extend Jewish sovereignty throughout the land that God deeded to the Jews.
If Americans oppose those policies, there is one answer: vigorous opposition, including condemning racist speeches and supporting boycott and divestment targeting Israel’s apartheid policies.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006