How to Answer Biased Questions About Israel

It is often the case that candidates for higher office are asked questions on the campaign trail that are designed to bait them into saying things they may regret. The purpose of this handbook is to provide tools and resources for any candidate running for office on how to best respond to biased questions about Israel. The following suggested answers and information in this handbook aim to be as objective as possible, with all information being based on facts.

1. Security Assistance to Israel

Q: Is American security assistance to Israel overblown, unnecessary, or “special treatment?”

A: No. America has long provided security assistance to its allies, and the security threats Israel faces are unlike any others.

Further details:

  • The U.S. does not provide defense aid to Israel out of some impulse to altruism or charity; it does so because Israel’s defense and safety give direct benefit to U.S. national security, and that is not conditional.
  • Israel is a strategic ally and pivotal balancer against regional hegemon Iran and its state-sponsored terror, in particular, State Department-designated terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
  • On the ground, the program breeds close defense cooperation that greatly improves U.S. military effectiveness in the Middle East, ranging from joint military exercises to the development of missile defense technology, as well as the sharing of vital intelligence and counterterrorism tactics, cyber security technology, and battlefield medicine.
  • Security assistance to Israel is also highly integrated with the American economy, with 75% of it ultimately going back into U.S. jobs and businesses.

2. Israeli – Arabs Rights

Q: Is Israel an apartheid state?

A: No. Despite it being a “Jewish and democratic state”, the Arab minority in Israel enjoys equal rights and protections under the law. The treatment of Arabs by the State of Israel cannot be compared in any way to the treatment of the black majority in South Africa under apartheid. There is no Israeli ideology, policy or plan to segregate, persecute or mistreat the Arab population.

Further details:

  • Arabs are well-represented in Israel’s democratically elected parliament. Minorities in other countries in the Middle East are not usually afforded such rights. 
  • It is common that at least one Supreme Court seat is filled by an Israeli- Arab justice. 
  • Apartheid was a uniquely repressive system, through which South Africa’s white minority enforced its domination over the black and other non-white racial groups. No such laws exist in Israel.

3. West Bank and Gaza

Q: Is the West Bank an “occupied” territory?

A: No. Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 in a war of self-defense. Since 1967, the Palestinians have rejected every Israeli overture, missing opportunity after opportunity to peacefully resolve the dispute through negotiation.

Further details:

  • As long as the future status of the West Bank is subject to negotiation, Israel’s claim to this disputed territory is no less valid than that of the Palestinians.
  • Under international law, true occupation occurs only in territories that have been taken from a recognized sovereign, and the Palestinian authority is not. The last recognized sovereign of the West Bank and Gaza was the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist following the First World War.
  • As the West Bank had no prior legitimate sovereign, under international law these areas cannot be considered as “occupied” Arab or Palestinian lands, and their most accurate description would be that of “disputed” territories.
  • Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip completely in 2005. The area was taken over by the Hamas, a U.S State Department-designated terrorist group in 2007. Today Hamas brutally oppresses women, political opponents, Christians, and other minorities. The strict security policy including checkpoints, security barrier and more, is to ensure the safety and security of Israelis from terrorist activities.

A major part of the funding designated to the Palestinian people has been shifted to a corrupted Palestinian leadership.

4. Human Rights

Q: Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?

A: Yes. Israel is a vibrant democracy that respects the rule of law and has a strong judiciary which upholds the rights of all citizens.

Further details:

  • Israel’s “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” ensures the protection of civil and human rights for all.
  • Israel allows Palestinian residents of the West Bank to appeal to the Israeli courts to seek legal remedies. 

5. Religious Freedom

Q: Why can’t Israel accept other religions?

A: It does. Israel’s laws, Court rulings, and liberal democratic values protect the freedoms of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religious affiliation. Christians, Muslims, Jews and others are free to practice their religion in Jerusalem and all other places in Israel.

Further details:

  • Although Israel describes itself as a Jewish state, all religious groups have freedom to practice and maintain communal institutions in Israel. According to the 2009 U.S. Department of State report, “The Israeli Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty provides for freedom of worship and the Government generally respected this right in practice.”
  • Israel’s Declaration of Independence, promulgated in 1948, is another legal source that guarantees freedom of religion and conscience, and equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion.
  • Holy sites in the city of Jerusalem are open to worshipers of all religions. Israeli authorities ensure the safety of all worshipers in this volatile setting. It is an offense under Israeli law to cause damage to any place of worship or to any object sacred to any religion with the intention of affronting the religion of any class of persons.

6. LGBTQ Rights

Q: Why does Israel treat the LGBTQ community as second-class citizens?

A: It does not. Israel’s LGBTQ persons enjoy all protections under the law. There is more work to be done, but Israeli culture embraces gay rights as an element of basic human rights, something that is certainly not a given in the Middle East, making Israel the outlier.

Further details:

  • Members of the LGBTQ community are an integral part of society who serve in the IDF, the Knesset, and the Government. The LGBTQ community in Israel is thriving.
  • Israel is the only country in the Middle East where you can be openly gay and not be afraid for your life.
  • The Supreme Court of Israel has ruled that same sex married couple can register as such in official state records.
  • Every year several cities in Israel hold LGBTQ Pride parades. The Tel Aviv Pride is the largest, with over 250,000 participants from all around the world.   

7. Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)

Q: Is BDS is an apolitical movement aimed only at making Israel comply with international law?

A: No. One of the aims of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) is the delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish State, which is a fundamentally anti-Semitic position.

Further details:

  • One of the leaders of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, has said that he opposes “a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
  • By focusing solely on Israel’s alleged abuses, BDS ignores countless other worse human rights abusers around the world.
  • By including in its stated goals protecting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes they lived in prior to Israel’s establishment — something Israel considers an existential threat to its Jewish character — the movement is effectively calling for the end of the Jewish state.
  • U.S. House Resolution 246 passed in July 2019, officially opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel. It includes “opposing efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel;”

8. Jerusalem

Q: Does President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital deny the Palestinians of the right to call Jerusalem the Capital of Palestine?

A: Not at all. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital does not have any bearing on the identity of the future Palestinian Capital. This will be up to the two sides to negotiate in a peace agreement. 

Further information:

  • In 1995, the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act requiring America to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Proponents said the U.S. should respect Israel’s choice of Jerusalem as its capital and recognize it as such.
  • Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and the capital of Israel for over 70 years.
  • Moving the embassy is an important step forward towards peace, for there is no peace that does not include Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
  • Israel has declared numerous times that it remains committed to the status quo in the holy sites.
  • Jerusalem served as the Jewish people’s historic capital since King David made it so in 1004 BCE. Jerusalem remained the capital until its destruction by the hands of the Romans in 70 CE and the subsequent loss of Jewish independence.

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