Instead of looking abroad, Israel should look closer to home to counter delegitimization
Instead of looking abroad, Israel should look closer to home to counter delegitimizationReuters

The campaign of anti-Israel "delegitimization" and boycotts - including but not limited to the so-called BDS Movement - is nothing new, but in recent weeks the topic has received more attention than perhaps ever before.

Despite it being far from an existential threat in its own right, from the FIFA saga to the more recent, still-unfolding drama with Orange, it is clear that Israel can no longer afford to ignore such a campaign of demonization, which is increasingly being used as leverage by internal and external actors to coerce the Israeli government to alter its policies, and hamper its ability to adequately respond to threats by applying ever-greater international pressure.

And yet, with all the bluster, the debate over how to combat "delegitimization" is as stale as ever.

On the Left, the answer is simple: it's Israel's fault for not making concessions to the Palestinian Authority, or for not toeing Obama's line. Never mind that those behind BDS and similar anti-Israel campaigns are very clear that the issue is not one or even a number of Israeli policies, but the very existence of a Jewish state.

On the Right, legislators such as Ayelet Shaked at least understand that the drivers of the campaign, including BDS, are simply a modern-day incarnation of anti-Semitism. But they have offered little in terms of practical solutions so far; indeed, while this new government has paid lip-service to prioritizing the fight, in practice its pitifully fractured rump of a foreign ministry has practically no resources allocated towards actually doing so.

Responding to the inertia, an unprecedented meeting of pro-Israel and Jewish organizations met this week in Las Vegas, with billionaire sponsorship, in an effort to form a strategy to fight back at a grassroots level.

But according to one man who knows more than most, while grassroots efforts are important, the Israeli government bears most of the responsibility, and could have acted long ago to put a stop to the concerted campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel.

Tuvia Tenenbom is an Israeli-born German journalist, playwright and best-selling author. His latest, provocatively-titled book - Catch the Jew - tells of his experiences traveling around Israel under the assumed identity of "Toby the German," during which time he stumbled upon a disturbing reality that has plagued him ever since: that European governments are funding and directing a vast campaign of delegitimization from inside Israel's borders, under the noses of the Israeli government - and that worse still, despite all the rhetoric, nothing is being done about it.

Tenenbom stumbled upon this reality entirely by accident. After his first book - I Sleep in Hitler's Room, a vivid and disturbing account of anti-Semitism in Germany - became an instant best-seller, his publishers encouraged him to focus on Israel for his next installment.

But Tenenbom was unconvinced. "What could I possibly write about Israel that hasn't already been said? There are thousands of people constantly writing about Israel," he said, describing his thoughts at the time.

However, after much cajoling he finally gave in, setting off on a journey which would lead him to discover that the European anti-Semitism he had previously uncovered was not confined to Europe's borders, but is fueling a crusade against the ultimate embodiment of the Jewish people today: the State of Israel.

He encapsulates what he found at the very start of our conversation.

"I was born in Israel. 33 years ago I left Israel, and when I left Israel there were two tribes: the Jews and the Arabs," he says. "But when I came back I was shocked to see another, new tribe: the Europeans, who spend millions and millions to destabilize Israel out of  pure anti-Semitism."

He insists it wasn't a discovery he had meant to make - in fact, he purposely didn't have much of a game-plan at all when he set out.

"I didn't think I would find it, I didn't look for it."

With all his books, he explains he finds the best way to work is to go with an open mind and "let the people and events guide me."

"I had only scheduled two things: an interview with Hanan Ashrawi, and a visit to a film festival in Jerusalem's German Colony neighborhood."

The latter event was what initially set off his curiosity about the role European governments were playing in stoking the conflict.

"All the movies were political, and very critical of Israel," he recalls, "some of them even equating the IDF with the Nazis."

"Then I looked and I saw the credits and saw who was funding the films: foreign governments! Germany, Switzerland... and I wondered: how come they are financing these movies?"

From there, Tenenbom's meeting with veteran PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi was a crash-course in the historic revisionism and outright denial of Jewish rights which has long underlined the Arab struggle against the State of Israel.

Tuvia with the PA's Hanan Ashrawi
Tuvia with the PA's Hanan AshrawiCredit:

As he would find the deeper he went, his new identity as a non-Jewish German convinced most of his subjects that he was "one of them," and encouraged them to open up to him.

"We got on very well," he recounts of his meeting with Ashrawi.

"She denied there was ever a Jewish state in that place (Israel), and she said she 'didn't know' if there had ever been a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem because 'I'm not an archaeologist.'

"I was also surprised to hear that she says she has a right to that land because she's Christian - but then she said she doesn't actually believe in God, so how could she be a Christian?"

He hadn't yet connected the dots, but that meeting soon paved Tenenbom's way to uncover and experience the sordid intersection between European and Arab anti-Semitism.

"They asked me if I wanted to meet more Palestinians and I said, 'of course.'"

Among other prominent PA figures he met was Jibril Rajoub, a "very charismatic, very clever, very sharp man," who told him that Israel will be isolated and destroyed like apartheid-era South Africa.

"We got on very, very well... he didn't suspect I was Jewish."

Bosom buddies: "Toby the German" and Jibril Rajoub
Bosom buddies: "Toby the German" and Jibril RajoubCredit:

During the meeting, one of Rajoub's aids, clearly excited at the presence of a German national, tells him: "We are all German, but the only problem is that... General Rommel did not succeed in coming here!"

But more than the blatant Arab anti-Semitism, everywhere he went Tenenbom was struck by a permanent and constant feature: Europeans.

"I went more and more into the Palestinian areas and I saw more and more activists. Everywhere I went there were Europeans - some Americans as well, but mainly Europeans.

"I started asking questions, and I found that most of these NGOs were European-funded, mostly by the German government, but also by other countries like Norway, Denmark, France."

Even the Israeli NGOs he encountered (and in some cases joined) - leftist groups like Btselem and Rabbis for Human Rights - had "a financier too. Most of them European, mostly from Germany."

The picture he paints is a disturbing one: "European governments are hiring Palestinians, and most importantly Jews they've identified as self-hating, and giving them money and all sorts of resources, with one goal in mind: to catch the Jew doing something wrong, even if they have to make it up."

"Like Rabbi Arik Ascherman," he says, referring to the head of the "Rabbis for Human Rights" NGO, a group regularly accused of staging provocations and stoking confrontations between Arab and Jewish villagers in Judea and Samaria.

Catch the Jew sees Ascherman display painful ignorance on basic Jewish concepts, as he leads Tenenbom on a tour through Israel.

"This is a man who couldn't get people to listen to him in America, so he came here, got European funding, and now he's an 'international rabbi' - it's ridiculous, but also sick," says Tenenbom

Tuvia with Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights
Tuvia with Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human RightsCredit:

From a Bedouin activist caught inventing diseases the Israelis were allegedly inflicting Arabs with; to a Red Cross activist caught making up a story of IDF abuse; to Israeli NGO Btselem's top Palestinian researcher openly denying the Holocaust and boasting that he "knows what to include, and what to leave out" in his reports; to a European-sponsored, anti-Semitic "ex-Jew," who guides tourists around the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center and perversely uses his po‎sition as a stage to spread anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda; Catch the Jew is a genuinely mind-blowing account of both the extent of the efforts made to attack Israel's legitimacy, as well as the non-existent efforts by successive Israeli governments to combat the threats growing in their own backyard.

There is one question which dogs me throughout our interview, however. Official German support for overtly anti-Israel activity figures large, but the German government - and Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular - have been outspoken on the issue of anti-Semitism, and are also key trading partners of the State of Israel, most conspicuously in the realm of military hardware.

Revealing experience: Tenenbom visits Bedouins
Revealing experience: Tenenbom visits BedouinsCredit:

Tenenbom acknowledges the "complex" relationship, but insists there is no contradiction. Instead, he posits that what we are seeing is simply a shift in paradigms from the "old" anti-Semitism - which is no longer "fashionable," and therefore easy but relatively meaningless to "take a stand against" - to a new paradigm entirely. 

"There are two aspects to the Israeli-German relationship," he explains. "One, which is publicly and well-known, is all the business - the discounted submarines, military hardware - and speeches against anti-Semitism, etc."

"But there is another aspect beneath it that is not very public."

"What you need to understand is that European NGOs, like almost all NGOs, are actually government-sponsored," he notes. "It's not like American NGOs, which are privately sponsored. Only very few private individuals, like George Soros and his ilk, actually sponsor some of these organizations. Otherwise, they are totally government funded."

"For a generation, Germany has been trying to rebrand itself as a nation of human rights, but if you look deeper, it's all meaningless gestures."

Tenenbom points by way of example to a 70 million-Euro Jewish Center built in Munich, in an apparently grand gesture to the Jewish community. 

"Ask them how many Jews go there - almost none," he fires.

Underneath, he says, lies "pure anti-Semitism. Read the German media, talk to Germans on the street - not as a Jew - it's frightening."

That depressing reality is something he had already discovered in his first book, and surfaced during last summer's surge in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, when mobs of anti-Semites took to the streets and violently targeted innocent Jews. But while he knew there were plenty of anti-Semites in Germany, "I did not expect to meet them in Israel!"

Even Angela Merkel's own center-right Christian Democratic Union party sponsors anti-Israel tours.

"They fund 'peace missions' between Arabs and Jews, but the Jews they take aren't your average Jew - they're Jews they know are self-hating, those who think Israel is some kind of merciless killer."

Some of his astonishing interviews were caught on camera - including the Btselem researcher's holocaust denial, which triggered a firestorm of controversy as Tenenbom called on the Israeli leftist NGO to retract all reports written by him. The rest are recorded in the book itself.

He says he sometimes still struggles to get his head around his experiences.

"I just couldn't believe it. If anybody would have told me I'd have found this before I went I'd have told them: 'you're dreaming!'"

But what disturbs him far more is the failure by Israel and the wider Jewish community to fight back.

Despite the extent of the campaign, Tenenbom insists "it is definitely possible to fight back," but laments that "some of our worst enemies are Jews themselves."

"It's basically the sad story of the Jewish people. After 2000 years of anti-Semitism some of these Jews have bought into it and started to identify with their oppressors. It's like Stockholm Syndrome. They think that Europe is the shining star of humanity, and they don't want to be Jews - I saw them, I lived with them... there is this move to erase any Jewish thing in you, so you think 'lets join them!'

"They want to be the elitest of Israeli society, invited to panels, dinners, events - they want acceptance."

But aside from extremists on the fringe actively working against Israel, he blames the Israeli government for allowing such a vast conspiracy to unfold under its nose. Most gallingly, his book records how European diplomats are using their po‎sition "to be activists, not diplomats."

That issue rose to prominence in 2013, when a French diplomat was filmed slapping an IDF soldier during a protest - but Tenenbom says that was just the tip of the iceberg.

"Yes it's a democratic country, but if there was anything like this in the United States for example, the US government would have put a stop to it a long time ago. There should be a law against it, to end this involvement of European governments in Israel's politics and internal affairs.

"Do you think Norway or any of these other European governments would allow this?"

"Normally diplomats who come to a foreign country, their job is to represent that country - only in Israel do they work as activists against the Israeli government, against Israeli policies, going to demonstrations, funneling money to NGOs whose purpose is to make Israel look like the worst country in the world."

His message to grassroots activists both in Israel and the Diaspora is that they, too, can play a role, but first they need to "stop being afraid."

"The Jews are afraid to fight, but you mustn't be, not in university campuses and not in Israel. You have to push your MKs to pass this law. You've got to write about it, to speak about it, to expose it again and again. Stand up and be proud!

"That's one thing I really respect in the Palestinians. No matter what, how many Jews they kill, they stand and say: you're wrong and I'm right.

"But Jews don't talk like this. I say it's time for the Jews to become normal. There is already a Jewish country, so start being normal! Start behaving like a person who has a country! Say 'this is my land!' - and don't be afraid to point a finger at the Europeans and call them racists.

"They'll respect you more when you stand up for what's right instead of being like the other Moishele who tells them what they want to hear."

"That's what I do," he chuckles. "How much more can they respect you when you get a bestseller every time you put out a book?"

Catch the Jew can be purchased online here.

Catch the Jew
Catch the JewCredit: