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Originally published Monday, January 3, 2011 at 4:11 PM

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Guest columnist

The truth about Israel beyond the failed bus ads

A failed effort to place ads on Metro Transit buses that accuse Israel of war crimes is part of an effort to delegitimize the state of Israel. Guest columnist Jonathan L. Singer disputes the war-crimes allegations.

Special to The Times

THE Big Lie is alive and well in Seattle, and this fact is ironic for a city that prides itself on having a commitment to diversity, openness and intellectual engagement.

In the past, big lies were used by fascists and dictators as a means of delegitimizing certain groups or classes, seeking a scapegoat upon whom to blame general societal disappointments. Experts at utilizing this tool understand you cannot start with an outlandish statement but must state many small lies at first. In an age of Twitter and instant messaging, our culture is ripe for domination by this political approach.

We recently saw this approach at work in the failed attempt to place billboard ads on city buses in Seattle claiming that Israel is a state actively engaging in war crimes with the support of American dollars. [" 'Israel right or wrong' crowd advocates censorship in Seattle," Opinion, Jan. 1]

It is a beautiful example of the Big Lie at work — on buses that normally have photos of theater performers, or insurance agents, the proposed ad would have given us a stark and chilling vision of a brutish monster oppressing a helpless victim. Had the bus ads been allowed, the only context of the message would have been a government-owned bus adding legitimacy to a claim that is anything but true.

Seattle is ripe for this kind of hate speech because in schools, houses of worship and political gatherings, our community leadership has not challenged the little lies that delegitimize the state of Israel. It has become commonplace to portray Israel as an oppressor and an occupier without respecting Israel's legitimate rights and fears in a region where her neighbors actively call for her destruction.

No condemnation is made with similar vehemence or focus of other nations that clearly violate human rights and receive millions from the U.S. government. Only Israel, the democratic state — that supports women's rights, to which Sudanese refugees flee oppression in their land, where none are at risk of genocide — is the focus of their ire.

If you go to the website of the group sponsoring the ads, they make it clear that no matter what Israel does, she should not exist. They claim that in 1948 she displaced the Palestinians, though they pose the argument as if the concern is only the land captured by Israel in 1967.

This ignores the fact that Jews have had a continuous presence in the land of Israel since Biblical times and that the Palestinians declared war on the nascent Jewish state.

They do not want you to know that throughout history there has never been another state on that land, that the land was purchased, and the Jewish state was and is recognized by the United Nations.

They fail to mention the call by Hamas, which rules Gaza, to destroy Israel, and the rockets still being fired at Israeli civilian population centers.

And then they conclude that their position is not anti-Jewish but only a protest against the misbehavior of a state, but we know that it really is a new form of the old anti-Semitism, wrapped in the Big Lie insinuating that Jews are guilty of defending themselves, and therefore must be punished by being ostracized by the world and made stateless yet again.

Israel, like all countries, makes mistakes. Criticism in the context of support for Israel's legitimate rights is not hate speech. We hope that Seattleites concerned with fairness who want to create space for real dialogue about difficult issues will speak out against all hate speech. That outcry should not just be against the big lies but should focus as well on the smaller lies about Israel and the Middle East that if unchallenged create an environment in which the Big Lie thrives.

Israel wants peace with her neighbors, she has accepted the idea of two states, one Jewish, one Palestinian existing as neighbors in peace. In spite of all efforts at obfuscation, that is the Big Truth.

Jonathan L. Singer is a senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am, Seattle. Another 24 rabbis in the Seattle and Tacoma area support this statement.

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