Last week, friends forwarded me a mailing they had recently received from AIPAC. Included with the letter touting AIPAC’s accomplishments and the expected call for donations was a map-style fold-out insert, headlined with the ominous message: “Israel Faces Increasing Threats.” Under that headline, taking up more than half the page, is a photo of an Israeli policewoman shepherding to safety an Israeli woman who clearly has been the victim of a bombing attack.
For all of us who worry about people in Israel, this is one of those iconic, hit-you-in-the gut pictures. It brings to mind the awful attacks that Israel saw so many of in the 1990s and early years of the 2000s.
A little research confirms that this reaction is right on target, given that the photo is from a suicide bombing that took place in 1997. Yes, 1997. Which begs the question: why use a 16-year-old photo to illustrate a headline referring to current threats facing Israel?
Given that suicide bombings in Israel have, thankfully, been rare for some time now, with the last one taking place more than five years ago, the most innocent explanation is that someone in AIPAC’s design department reasoned, “suicide bombings happen in Israel all the time, so what’s the difference how old the photo is?” If that’s what happened, then AIPAC needs to do a better job educating its own staff. The less innocent explanation is that someone at AIPAC thought to themselves, “American Jews respond viscerally to images of innocent Israelis wounded in terrorist attacks, so we’re going to put this specific image front and center, even if doing so actively misleads American Jews about the situation inside Israel.”
The precipitous drop in terror attacks in Israel is a rare good-news story out of Israel that, regrettably, has largely been overlooked by the media. This in part no doubt reflects the fact that tragedy and bloodshed, not their absence, sell papers. It may also reflect the cynicism of those who want to exploit fear and sow hardline political sentiment inside the American Jewish community—whether in order to promote hawkish political positions or to raise funds.
None of which is to suggest that there have not been terror attacks against Israelis more recently than 1997, both in Israel and the West Bank. Suicide bombings in Israel were a horrific fact of life into the early 2000s, at which point Israel’s “separation barrier”—which for the most part prevents Palestinians in the West Bank from accessing Israel—turned the tide. Since then there have continued to be attacks against Israelis, including settlers in the West Bank and Israeli tourists in Europe. And of course, Israelis living near Gaza still live with the very real fear of rocket fire.
In truth, the title of AIPAC’s publication is absolutely correct—Israel indeed faces increasing threats. However, the photo on the cover and the material contained in the publication are misleading. AIPAC wants American Jews to believe that Palestinian suicide terror is a defining reality in Israel today—despite evidence to the contrary. Its broader message is that the region is in flux, the sky is falling, and the faceless, homogeneous Arab and Muslim hordes are at the gates, wanting only to kill Jews and destroy Israel. This message stands in stark contrast to the one offered only last week by Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad, who argued that the current regional flux presents a “unique opportunity for Israel to seek different alliances.”
The AIPAC message stands in contrast, too, to the reality articulated by every living former leader of the Shin Bet in the recent movie, The Gatekeepers. All of these men—whose entire professional lives were devoted to Israel’s security—today sound nothing like AIPAC and a lot like Peace Now in describing the high costs to Israel of maintaining the occupation and the imperative of achieving peace and a two-state solution. For them, the greatest potential threat to Israel comes not from outside forces but from within, and stems from the failure of Israeli leaders to truly pursue peace. Anyone who doubts the validity of this outlook—despite its unimpeachable sources—need only note that even as the incidence of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis is falling, attacks by Israeli extremists—often referred to as Price Tag attacks—is rising dramatically. These attacks have targeted Palestinians, the IDF, and Israeli peace activists. They have been aimed at Palestinian private property, mosques, and churches. Increasingly, they have spread across the Green Line to targets inside Israel proper.
In short, the real threats to Israel’s security and its future—its very viability as a prosperous, democratic nation with a real Jewish character and at home in the community of nations—stem not from external enemies but from Israeli policies that are antithetical to peace and the two-state solution, including an unwillingness to confront Israel's home-grown extremists. AIPAC should stop the worn out fear-mongering tactics and start focusing on these very real, increasing threats, for Israel’s sake.