I found the pamphlets on a table at the Hillel house of a West Coast university. They'd been left by a representative of Stand With Us, the Los-Angeles based member of the "Israel advocacy" family of organizations. The booklets, entitled Israel: Pocket Facts, were the size of missionary tracts of yesteryear—small enough so that you can always keep one with you to consult when your faith is challenged.
On its website, Stand With Us says it aims at helping people "educate their own local campuses and communities about Israel." Putting "campuses" first appears intentional: Fierce arguments about Israel are more likely on campus than at the average workplace, and some donors worry that Jewish kids are besieged on the quad.
On each page, in large type, Israel: Pocket Facts provides a few easy-to-memorize shouting points with which pro-Israel students can respond to the equally simplistic slogans of anti-Israel students while everyone else wanders off in disgust. Some of the factoids are footnoted. The authors apparently hope that students won't follow the footnotes to the sources, or learn anything else about Israel, or think with complexity about the issues.
So, for instance, there's a page about why Palestinians left the territory that became Israel in 1948. It lists five reasons, including "to escape the war," and "Arab leaders encouraged the masses to get out of the way of the advancing Arab armies." If you read to the bottom, you get to "In some cases Israeli troops forced Arab residents from their homes in sensitive, strategic zones." All five are footnoted to Benny Morris's The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949—without page numbers.
In essence, the booklet repeats the classic Israeli account of Palestinian flight, adds a quarter of an acknowledgment of expulsions, and cites the very book that shattered the classic account beyond repair. Actually, I should say "books"— Morris's Birth originally appeared in the late 1980s; in 2004, he published a much expanded and revised new version. The latter edition indeed states that Arab leaders "ordered the evacuation of several dozen villages"—but describes forced expulsions from a much greater number. It rejects the Palestinian narrative that Zionist leaders planned before the war to empty Israel of Arabs - but also describes the crucial importance of the Israeli decision not to let refugees return when the fighting ended.
Another page of Stand With Us booklet is devoted to "Israeli Communities Beyond the Green Line." It explains that "built-up areas of Israeli settlements now cover less than 1.7 percent of West Bank land," with that information footnoted to the website of B'Tselem. Again, follow the footnote: It leads to the introduction to the Israeli human rights group's 2002 report Land Grab. Despite the relatively small built-up area of the settlements, the report says, the Israeli government has put 41.9 percent of West Bank land under control of local and regional settlement authorities. The point is actually the huge footprint of the settlements and the corresponding loss of land available to Palestinians.
Here, too, the student who actually tracks down Stand With Us's source could get an introduction to a complicated reality. But there's also a danger that she'll reach the sweeping conclusion that organizations supporting Israel are cynically trying to fool her, and accept equally one-dimensional and distorted accounts from opponents of Israel's very existence.
Other assertions in Pocket Facts lack any attribution, which avoids mangling sources. The page on settlements asserts that after the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel offered to give up the West Bank and Gaza for peace. In fact, the Israeli cabinet told Washington in June 1967 that it would withdraw from the Sinai and Golan for peace—but was unable to agree on a policy toward the West Bank. A page on the security fence asserts that "there are dozens of countries that have fences and/or walls at their borders," but it doesn't mention that the Israeli fence twists through the West Bank rather than running along the Green Line, the border between Israel and occupied territory. This is only a sampling of distortions, half-truths and sleight-of-words.
Yes, there's no lack of slogan-mongering on the other side of this argument, including the emotion-grabbing and inaccurate use of the apartheid label and historical accounts which assign all responsibility for the conflict to Israel and all victimhood to the Palestinians. But the answer to slogans shouldn't be slogans. In the years students spend on campus, they should be learning to examine information critically and carefully. You can't "educate…about Israel" by flinging factoids. Any account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that fits in a shirt pocket isn't worth having. Go and study.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.