History has taught us that the "Big Lie" often works. As Adolph Hitler learned, repeat something enough times and with enough conviction and people will wind up believing you, even though what you are saying is patently false. Hitler's lessons are being put into practice today on campuses across the United States, where the issue of divestment from Israel has become not only a rallying point for much anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activity, but also a prime example of the "Big Lie" in action. The campaign involves a petition outlining alleged Israeli violations of the human rights of the Palestinians. The petitioners say they are "... appalled by the human rights abuses against Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government..." and call for financial divestment from Israel pending the following:

1. Israeli compliance with UN resolution 242;
2. Israeli compliance with the UN committee Against Torture 2001 report;
3. Israeli compliance with Article 49, paragraph 6 of the 4th Geneva Convention; and,
4. Israeli acknowledgment of the applicability of UN resolution 194.

Big Lie # 1: Israel is violating UN resolution 242
The petition's suggestion that Israel has not abided by the terms of resolution 242, implying the need for immediate and total withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, is false. Nowhere in the resolution is there a call for a complete Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied during the 1967 war. Is that the Israeli interpretation? No, in fact it is what the authors of the resolution had to say. Take Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador, who said, "We didn't say there should be a withdrawal to the '67 line... We did not say that the '67 boundaries must be forever." The American ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, made this even clearer. "The notable omissions in regard to withdrawal are the word 'the' or 'all' and 'the June 5, 1967 lines' ... the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories, without defining the extent of withdrawal." Withdrawal was also not meant to be unilateral and unconditional, as noted by Joseph Sisco, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for State, who said that the border "...lines must be agreed to by the neighbors involved."

Israel has withdrawn from all the territory captured from Egypt and dismantled settlements in Egyptian territory in return for peace. Territory was returned to Jordan in the context of a peace treaty. Israel embarked on the Oslo process and withdrew from almost the entire West Bank and Gaza in anticipation of a negotiated agreement to end the conflict. While Israel has met the test of the resolution, those that still promote and support violence have not. Nevertheless, the "Big Lie" of resolution 242 continues.

Big Lie # 2: Israel is violating the UN convention against torture
The petition's reference to the UN Committee on Torture states that Israel must end the use of "legal torture." Among the countries that the UN has called to task on the issue of torture are Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The UN report, however, actually complimented Israel on its cooperation and welcomed the "constructive dialogue" that has been taking place. The committee specifically noted eight separate "positive aspects" of Israel's conduct, including the Supreme Court's ruling against torture and the security services directive ordering all personnel to abide by the court's decision. The UN committee also noted the difficulty that Israel faced in implementing application of the convention due to "...the difficult situation of unrest faced by Israel..." and recognized the "...right of Israel to protect its citizens from violence." While the committee made certain recommendations for further improvements, it was in the context of a generally positive report and without using the term "legal torture" as stated in the petition. Another "Big Lie."

Big Lie # 3: Israel is violating the 4th Geneva Convention
When the 4th Geneva Convention says that an occupying power "...shall not deport or transfer parts of its civilian population into territories it occupies," it does not speak about the voluntary movement of civilians into territory whose sovereignty is in dispute. In fact, Article 49 begins by describing the process as "forcible transfers." As noted by former U.S. Undersecretary of State, Eugene Rostow, "...the provision was drafted to deal with individual or mass forcible transfers of population, like those in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary before and after the Second World War." Absent a peace treaty or internationally recognized borders, Israel has as much right to these territories, historically part of mandated Palestine, as does any other party. Again, is that only Israel's opinion? No, it's also the opinion of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who said, referring to settlements back in 1981, "They're not illegal."

Few ever mention the context in which settlements began. No Palestinians were "deported" from their property nor were Israelis "transferred" in instead. Communities were built on mostly barren, unpopulated land. While settlement began after Israel won the war in 1967, no mention is made of what took place in September 1967. At a conference of major Arab countries, the participants said "no" to peace with Israel, "no" to negotiations and "no" to recognition. Hardly a formula for reconciliation. The Palestinian National Charter in 1968 went even further, calling for armed struggle against Israel, refusing to recognize the United Nations partition and claiming that Jews had no historical claim to the land at all. With no one to talk to, and a mortal enemy pledging to eradicate it, Israel justifiably began settling the same territory that called for "close settlement" by Jews in the Balfour declaration.

The overwhelming majority of Israelis recognize that in the context of a peaceful solution and negotiated agreement, settlements may be evacuated. Mandating this without security guarantees and without an agreement to end the conflict under the pretext of conforming to the Geneva Convention is another "Big Lie."

Big Lie # 4: Israel is violating UN resolution 194
While resolution 194 mentions the refugee issue, it also is taken out of historical context. It was an earlier UN resolution (181) that called for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab one. The Israelis accepted it and the Arabs did not. When Israel was subsequently attacked and invaded, a refugee problem was created, with many Palestinians fleeing their villages and many Jews being forced to leave their homes in Arab lands and parts of Palestine.

Resolution 194 speaks of several issues, but only one of these concerns refugees. The resolution also calls for the "...freest possible access to Jerusalem by road, rail or air ... to all inhabitants of Palestine." (article 9) Jewish holy places, however, were destroyed. Synagogues were burned, Jews were barred from their holy places and cemeteries were desecrated. Tombstones were removed and used for latrines. The entire Jewish population of the old city of Jerusalem was expelled.

In referring to refugees, resolution 194 does not in fact ascribe any blame to Israel and nowhere does it demand repatriation by Israel. Israel, in fact, is not mentioned in the resolution at all. The resolution's use of the term "refugees" would certainly include Jews as well, and the use of the term "governments" and "authorities" in the plural indicates that several parties carry a burden here. The resolution specifically makes any return contingent upon "...those refugees wishing to... live at peace with their neighbors." Those refugees who, like many Palestinians, parade with a key symbolizing their return in one hand and a gun and suicide belt in the other are not the refugees the resolution had in mind.

Saying that Israel must acknowledge the principle of resolution 194 fails to recognize the thousands of Arab refugees that Israel has, in fact incorporated into various Arab villages and towns over the years within the framework of family reunification. UN resolution 194 does not, as the petition states, require Israel to unconditionally recognize "rights" of refugees. This oft-repeated mantra is simply another big lie.

So where does the need for pressure lie? With Israel, who accepted the notion of a Palestinian state back in 1948, when even the Arabs did not? With Israel, who uprooted settlements and returned all land to Egypt and Jordan in return for peace treaties? With Israel, who granted Palestinian autonomy under the Oslo accords and received non-stop terror in return?

The real reason for the lack of peace has nothing to do with exaggerated charges of human rights violations against a country where the rights of all citizens, regardless of nationality or religion, are protected. In the struggle to defeat Israel, those that do not hesitate to use terror as a weapon certainly have no difficulty in distorting the truth, even it is in the form of a divestment petition on a university campus.

Want to promote human rights? Don't repeat the mistake of Hitler's Germany. Stop the Big Lie against Israel.
I. J. Mansdorf, PhD, a psychologist living in Israel, is actively involved in dealing with the results of terror as a consultant both in Israel and in the United States and serves as coordinator of the Israel Citizens Information Council. He can be reached at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on November 29, 2002.