Israel Resource Review 25th Febuary, 2003


Israel's Need for an Information Strategy
Hirsch Goodman
Senior Security and Defence Analyst

The relationship between governments at war and the media has always been complex. The government's instinct to disclose details of military-related activities only selectively and its desire to garner public support for these activities often conflict with the media's drive to air an entire story, even if the resulting coverage is critical as well as factual. Pivotal points in the history of military coverage were the war in Vietnam, when television brought the war back home so dramatically and almost in real time, and the 1991 Gulf War, when battlefield coverage was instant, incessant, yet tightly controlled by the both the Allies and the Iraqis.

Since then much has changed. Reporters can get to the battlefield with greater ease and independence than ever before. It has become much less complicated to broadcast, with correspondents having light portable equipment and access to satellite communications. The demand for news has become insatiable with dozens of 24-hour news channels created and servicing virtually every point on the globe.

For Israel, mired in the current violent Israel-Palestinian conflict, the military-media dynamic is especially complex. The imagery alone is problematic. Israel is portrayed, correctly, as a country with a well-equipped and vastly superior army fighting irregular Palestinian resistance forces dedicated to ending Israeli occupation. Yet because much of the fighting takes place in densely populated urban environments, which is dramatically different from traditional army-to-army conflict, the quintessential image is that of a state-of-the-art army advancing on a beleaguered civilian population. Also, because of the dangers inherent in covering high density urban conflict and restrictions placed on the press by the Israeli authorities for operational considerations, much of the footage broadcast by the international media has been provided by Palestinian camera crews equipped with light video cameras and, often, an agenda.

Complicating the situation is that while Israeli society is divided over the issue of continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and openly expresses its diverse views to the media, Palestinian society is uniformly against the occupation. Perhaps also because of its undemocratic nature, it generally speaks with one voice and is uncritical of its leadership in public. The Palestinian Authority is likewise not above using threat and sanction against journalists who do not toe the line and cover a story as it sees fit. The result is a blatant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian versions of events.

Israel and the foreign press have had a tense relationship since the war in Lebanon began in 1982, when the traditional portrait of Israel as victim was replaced by Israel as aggressor. The relationship deteriorated further in the first Intifada (1987-1993), when Israel's image as a conqueror dominated the coverage. During the current conflict, however, Israel and the foreign press have reached a point of open hostility, with many in Israel tending to believe that the international media has an anti-Israel bias.

While there may be an element of truth in this, much of the problem seems to be of Israel's own making. That this may indeed be the case was suggested by a highly critical report issued by the State Comptroller in 2002. In a chapter on Israel's information policies and practices, relations with the foreign media were judged to be unfocused, lacking in coordination, and at times, because of contradictory messages that were broadcast, counterproductive.

What has also become apparent over the past 28 months of conflict is that while there have been no major changes in the fundamental policies of countries toward Israel, Israel's international reputation has been harmed, sometimes seriously. This is especially the case in Europe, where attitudes toward terror are different from those in post-September 11 a.m.erica. What is also clear is that often this damage had more to do with Israel's inability to explain itself than with its actual policies.

At no time perhaps was this more vividly demonstrated than during the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) incursion into the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002 as part of Operation Defensive Shield. With no credible information forthcoming to counter rampant allegations, Israel was widely believed to have massacred hundreds in the camp. In fact, as was later documented, 23 Israelis and 56 Palestinians were killed in Jenin, most of the Palestinians armed gunmen. The reason the world believed a massacre had occurred in Jenin was that rumor was allowed to replace credible information, and there was no information sharing among various government departments themselves and between the government and the foreign media. Little or no thought was given to documenting the terrorist infrastructure in Jenin before it was destroyed, and this lack of evidence lent credence to allegations of a massacre.

The battle at Jenin is but one example of why Israel needs to develop an information strategy which would authorize one inter-departmental body to coordinate Israel's relations with the media, articulate what its message should be, and advise how best to disseminate it.

A Government Information Strategy

Israel's challenges, while different from those in other countries, are not unique. Significantly, more and more countries over the past decade, particularly in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, have realized the need to put order in their media policies given the changing nature of the relationship between the government and the media.

Upon assuming office, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and his influential media advisor Alistair Campbell commissioned a report on improved management of government communications. The Mountfield Report, submitted in 1997 and accepted by the Prime Minister, suggested that government ought "to retain a politically impartial service and to sustain the trusted values of the service embodied in the rules of guidance" as well as "improve co-ordination with and from the Centre [the government], so as to get across consistently the Government's key policy themes and messages." This was to be achieved through the establishment of a new strategic communications unit serving the entire government, improvements to the Cabinet Office's existing information technology system, and clearer rules on attribution. The report also called for the establishment of a round-the-clock monitoring unit, a quick response mechanism, and a framework that would "offer high-quality management and leadership, staffing and training and development tailored to meet the needs of the 24-hour media world." The report's recommendations led to the "Government Information and Communication Service Handbook," a manual for the civil service on how to manage its work with the media.

On the other side of the world, Australia's Ministry of Defence produced the "Defence Overarching Organisational Communication Strategy," to "guide public affairs and corporate activities across Defence, 2001-2004." The impetus for the document was a series of public information blunders in the way the government managed its military-humanitarian operations in East Timor and the influx of illegal immigrants that followed. The 193 page document is in essence a detailed manual that ensures that at every stage of operational, tactical, and strategic planning in the Defense Department, media issues are assessed according to a defined, comprehensive, and structured information strategy. Unlike the British paper which extends to all branches of government, the Australian effort is exclusively defense oriented and aims at "developing a reputation management capability that represents international best practice."

The Government of Israel has no comprehensive information strategy. The Prime Minister's office, the Foreign Ministry, and the IDF all have separate mechanisms for dealing with information in their own sphere, as do the other ministries and government agencies. But there is no single voice, attitude, or operation that can offer the "reputation management capability that represents international best practice" the way the Australians are striving to do. Some argue that this is healthy, as it serves the cause of pluralism in a democratic society where messages are mixed and opinions varied. They see a national media policy as some form of "Big Brother" mechanism designed to issue singular messages and create "spin" in order to detract from the real issues of the day.

The contrary is true. An effective information strategy is a mechanism to govern the complex relations between government and the media, intended to ensure that the media receive credible, accurate, and reliable information in real time; that the media and the government agencies they work with enjoy a professional if not a cordial relationship; and that since both sides understand that the relationship between government and media is by definition symbiotic if at times antagonistic, they share the need to inform the public honestly and accurately, and hence have good reason to cooperate.

There is a danger of over-control, and in the UK one has seen a questioning of centralized information management, largely because of the particular dominant personality at the helm. In the US there is a fair amount of resentment that the United States Information Agency (USIA) has been attached to the State Department, so that its role has changed from information facilitation through cultural exchanges, journalists' delegations, libraries, and similar measures to serving the needs of hard diplomacy.

Neither of these examples, however, fundamentally detracts from the point that in this day and age governments need a mechanism for working with the media in a systematic and structured way so as to ensure the flow of accurate information. The alternative is that rumor and speculation will take its place, which is not good for either the governments trying to present their policies, or journalists whose professional skills are judged by their ability to provide reliable and credible information. It is possible to attain an accurate, reliable flow of information by insisting on credibility, accountability, and perhaps legislative shields that ensure the principle of free speech.


The following are some of the basic tenets that Israel should take into account when planning an information strategy:

  1. The media is all intrusive and it will cover the story. It is up to the government whether it will have any input in that story or not.
  2. Since the media ultimately cannot be excluded entirely from the battleground, it is best to consider how to include it in covering operations. There are inherent tactical problems in Israel, for example the fact that Palestinian camera crews work for foreign television stations, but these can be resolved. Experience has shown that excluding the press, even in pool form, has resulted in rumor replacing truth.
  3. The common wisdom that the "underdog automatically gets media sympathy" is not necessarily correct, as proven by NATO in the former Yugoslavia and by the United States during the campaign in Afghanistan against the Taliban.
  4. Credibility is the heart of the matter. Any doctrine must stress this over and over again. Once credibility is lost it is nearly impossible to regain it.
  5. No one department of government or branch of the military has all the information, ascertains what information is needed, or knows what can be useful. Inter-departmental information sharing, therefore, has to be a critical component of the country's information effort.
  6. The strategy must rest on an organizational structure dedicated to processing and disseminating credible information in real time, and contextual information in either briefings or backgrounders. Globalization has made time zones irrelevant.
  7. Media must be taken into account as an element of planning at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels, and has to be factored in as is any other element of a military operation. This entails that a check list be drawn up ensuring that all angles have been covered, considered, debated, and decided on in the best interests of the country's overall policies and not one department or ministry in particular.
  8. Extensive research with important ramifications for Israel has been conducted in the field of public policy over the past decade. Israel's problems are not unique and it does not have to re-invent the wheel. While Israel has yet to develop a comprehensive policy governing its relations with the media, some work has gone into learning from the past and modifying practices. Personnel changes have been made; inter-departmental committees have been set up for information sharing and strategy planning; both the IDF and Foreign Ministry are in the process of writing manuals to govern their relations with the media; the army, police, and others have become more aware of media needs and attempt to accommodate them; and an effort has been made to rebuild Israel's credibility with the foreign press, by providing background briefings with people in positions of authority, organizing tours to disputed areas, and providing footage and other documentary materials.

To give shape to what is still an amorphous policy sphere, however, what remains is to devise a comprehensive strategy for government-media relations.

This piece published as Volume 5, No. 4 of a February 2003 working paper of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and can be found at:

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Richard Perle, Top Bush aide, Attacks 'Selfish' Chirac

White House adviser Richard Perle tells David Rose that France's 'cosy relationship' with Saddam means it will veto a second UN resolution

A leading adviser to President Bush last night launched a savage attack on President Chirac's diplomatic campaign to block war with Iraq, saying that it was merely the product of French commercial interests masquerading as a moral case for peace.

In an exclusive interview with The Observer, Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board and a central figure in the circle of hawks around Bush, went well beyond US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent criticism of 'old Europe', warning that war without the further approval of the UN Security Council was now imminent.

'I'm rather pessimistic that we will get French support for a second resolution authorising war,' Perle said. 'I think they will exercise their veto, and in other ways obstruct unified action by the Security Council: they're lobbying furiously now.'

Perle agreed that support for war in Britain and America would rise if there were a second resolution, and that the UN was 'a symbol of international legitimacy'. But in words that will serve only to deepen the transatlantic rift over Iraq, he added: 'These five countries, the permanent members of the Security Council, are not a judicial body. They're not expected to make moral or legal judgments, but to advance the respective interests of their countries.

'So if the French ambassador gets up and expresses the position of the government of France, what you are hearing is the moral authority of Jacques Chirac, whatever that may mean.

'What you're hearing is what the French President perceives to be in the interests of France. And the French President has found his own way of dealing with Saddam Hussein. It would be counter to French interests to destroy that cosy relationship, and replace it with a hostile one.

'So how much legitimacy attaches to a French veto? At some point, people are going to have to start asking themselves that question.'

In Perle's view, the French position against regime change in Iraq is fatally undermined by its multi-billion-dollar oil interests negotiated since the last Gulf war: 'There's certainly a large French commercial interest in Iraq, and there are contracts that a new government in Iraq may not choose to uphold, partly because they're so unfavourable to the people of Iraq. Saddam has been prepared to do deals to keep himself in power at the expense of the people.

'My understanding of the largest of these deals, which is the French Total-Fina-Elf contract to develop certain oil properties in Iraq, is that it is both very large and very unfavourable to the Iraqis.'

Perle added that he found the claim that America wished to topple Saddam for the sake of its own oil interests bizarre.

'The US interest is to buy oil cheaply on the world market. And the best way to increase the supply of Iraqi oil, and so cut prices, would have been to abandon sanctions in 1991 and urge the expansion of Iraqi exploration and development.

'When you consider that there is now a prospect that the oilfields may be destroyed by Saddam, if what we really wanted was more oil, not only should we not be supporting Saddam's removal, we should be working with him.'

Perle denied claims widely reported on both sides of the Atlantic that the Bush administration intends to rule Iraq directly through a military governor for an extended period, and that it envisages no role for the Iraqi opposition. He was scathing about the 'conventional wisdom' among the foreign policy and intelligence establishment, which holds that the Iraqi opposition groups are hopelessly divided and the country far too fractious for meaningful democracy.

'This is a trivial observation and a misleading one, both by CIA officials and MI6,' Perle said. 'They're simply wrong about this. They don't understand the opposition. They say they're divided. Are they more divided than the Labour Party? I rather doubt it. Are they more divided than the Tories? I certainly doubt that.'

His own long-term dealings with Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, and key figures in the main Kurdish groups, had convinced him and other leading US policymakers that 'Iraq is a very good candidate for democratic reform'.

'It won't be Westminster overnight, but the great democracies of the world didn't achieve the full, rich structure of democratic governance overnight. The Iraqis have a decent chance of succeeding under the leadership that has developed in the diaspora caused by Saddam's seizure of power.'

Reports claiming that a US military governor would keep most of Saddam's Baath Party officials in place and run the country on existing administrative structures were inaccurate and absurd, Perle said. 'The idea that the US would simply issue orders to the same mob that served under Saddam is ridiculous. This is not simply about switching one mafia family for another. American policy after Saddam's removal will be to assist the Iraqis to move as quickly as physically and practically possible into positions of power.'

As Assistant Defence Secretary under President Ronald Reagan, Perle was one of the key architects of the 1980s aggressive policy towards the Soviet Union, which Reagan dubbed an 'evil empire' and did much to undermine. He said he found it dismaying that many in Europe now found it 'politically incorrect' to describe regimes such as Iraq and North Korea as evil now:

'What we discovered from the victims of the Soviet empire, once they were free to speak, was that they agreed with us: evil was exactly the word they chose. I suspect that's the word that would be chosen by most of those forced to live in North Korea under Kim Jong Il, under the Iranian mullahs and Saddam Hussein.'

This piece ran in the Observer in London on February 23, 2003

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The Nineteen Year Deceipt of the Islamic Jihad in the US
Steven Emerson
Special to the New York Post

The indictment yesterday of the Islamic Jihad terrorist leadership operating out of the United States since 1984 was unprecedented in scope and magnitude. With 50 counts (166 pages), it revealed in fascinating detail the internal conversations, discussions, planning and covert financing of one of the most murderous terrorist enterprises in the world. It uncovered a world we never get to see: how a terrorist enterprise was created, maintained, financed, and coordinated from the safety of the United States. From issuing communiqués on behalf of suicide operations to arguing how their monies were being spent by factions in the Islamic Jihad, the indictment - spanning 19 years - shows a key to Islamic terrorists' success in planting themselves in the heart of the West: the ability to deceive the public, media and government in portraying themselves as part of America's pluralist ethnic mosaic.

Islamic Jihad has been officially headquartered in Damascus, Syria, but the indictment makes clear that its CEO was a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Sami Al-Arian - who ran the terror apparatus under the guise of externally operating three seemingly innocent entities: a Muslim academic institute, a Palestinian humanitarian-aid group and an Islamic religious center. As yesterday's evidence makes staggeringly clear, Al-Arian & Co. used these entities as a perfect cover to operate a violent terrorist group that has killed more than 100 civilians, including two Americans.

The indictment contains conversation after conversation of Al-Arian conspiring with Islamic Jihad leaders outside the United States to coordinate and finance the Islamic Jihad group. Count 42 states: "The enterprise members, while concealing their association with PIJ [Palestine Islamic Jihad], would and did seek to obtain support from influential individuals in the United States under the guise of promoting and protecting Arab rights. The enterprise members would and did make false statements and misrepresent facts to representatives of the media to promote the goals of PIJ."

Back in 1994, I produced and reported "Jihad in America," a PBS documentary that exposed the secret Islamic Jihad cell that Al-Arian ran from Tampa. I interviewed Al-Arian - who, of course, denied any terrorist affiliation. But the documentary also revealed statements by Al-Arian championing terrorism, the existence of Islamic Jihad publications distributed from his office, the use of his academic institute as a cover for Islamic Jihad and actual videos of Islamic Jihad terrorist conferences he organized in the United States.

Virtually every national Islamic "civil rights" group - created with the same guile that fostered the success of Al-Arian's organization - responded by claiming that we were "attacking Islam" and that we were stereotyping all Muslims. That pattern of obeisance to terrorism was repeated yesterday following issuance of the indictment.

Hiding under the patina of promoting Arab and Muslim rights, these groups gathered impressive supporters in the media, Congress and intelligentsia who jumped on to the "Al-Arian is the victim" refrain, further emboldening him to literally get away with murder.

The list of scoundrels who assiduously and systematically protected Al-Arian's terrorist enterprise included then-Rep. David Bonior, Martin Merzer of the Miami Herald, The St. Petersburg Times' Sue Aschoff and countless others.

Al-Arian was so successful in his deception that he was invited to the White House four times, meeting with both President Clinton and President Bush.

In the end, Al-Arian succeeded in his deception via the same exact formula that constrained the FBI - deterred by the fear of being accused of "racial profiling" - from investigating Islamic militants training in U.S. flight academies in the months before 9/11. This formula lies at the heart of Western vulnerability to terrorist groups implanted in our midst. Al Qaeda and Hamas used it in setting up Islamic "civil rights" groups and charities throughout the '90s - designed to tar with the broad epithet of "racism" anyone who would have exposed their secret terrorist connection.

Yesterday, the Justice Department demonstrated that the United States was not going to sit quietly and allow this murderous deception to continue. Democracies only act, a British politician once said, when there is blood in the streets. For the last 10 years, rivers of blood have flooded Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, New York and Washington. Unfortunately, the terrorist facade, while damaged by the indictment yesterday and the series of post-9/11 effective one-two counter-terrorist punches by the Bush administration, is still vibrant in the United States.

The terrorists had a good 10 years on us. Whether we are able to truly dissipate their infrastructure in the future will depend on the response that is forthcoming.

Steven Emerson is the author of "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us" and executive director of the Investigative Project, the nation's largest archival intelligence center on Islamic terrorist activities.

This piece ran in the New York Post on February 21, 2003

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To Sue the PLO or Not to Sue -- the Israel Foreign Ministry Thinks Not
The Deeper Reason Why Netanyahu Lost His Position as Foreign Minister
David Bedein

Perhaps the most effective tool against the PLO is the power of the court, where a victim of PLO terror can litigate to tie the billions of dollars of assets of this international terror outfit. While organizations such as the Zionist Organization that have consistently opposed the Oslo process had always favored and endorsed such litigation against the PLO and the PA, the legal departments of mainstream organizations such as the Bnai Brith and the American Jewish Congress have begun to consider legal action against the PLO and the PA. Indeed, the fact that the Bnai Brith issued a working paper on the assets of the PLO transformed the PLO into an easy target for litigants around the world, especially since the PLO holds billions of dollars of investments abroad that make easy targets for litigation.

This past week, the idea of suing the PLO ran into opposition in Jerusalem. Not from the PLO. From the senior staff of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Addressing a plenary session of the Conference of Presidents of 54 Major Jewish Organizations from North America, Danny Shek, the head of the European section of the Foreign Ministry, and Alan Baker, the legal advisor to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pleaded with Jewish organizations not to engage in litigation against the PLO and PA in the courts of the world. Shek and Baker stated that any and all litigation against the PLO and PA abroad would weaken their case that foreign courts should not bring Israeli officials to court, as had occurred in Brussels.

The veteran legal counsel of the American Jewish Congress, Mr Phil Baum, challenged the stand of the Israel Foreign Ministry, favoring litigation against the PLO as a terrorist organization. It will be recalled the American Jewish Congress was one of the most consistent supporters of the Oslo process until the PLO rebellion of Fall 2000. The famous ad of the American Jewish Congress in the New York Times will not be forgotten: "It takes a big organization to admit that it made a big mistake". Shek and Baker stuck to their guns and reiterated that their position of that suits against the PLO should be taken out of foreign courts.

The position of the Israel Foreign Ministry does not seem to speak in one voice on the matter of litigation against the PLO. In response to the pleas of senior foreign ministry officials not to sue the PLO, the office of Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs Benyamin Netanyahu was that he would not pay attention to Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials said in terms of not suing the PLO

There may have been a deeper reason for Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials telling the Conference of Presidents not to sue the PLO. After all, if the PLO is tied up in litigation as a terror organization, its standing as a peace partner for Israel will be on shaky ground.

On the day that the Israeli foreign ministry officials appeared for the conference, the director of the office of the Prime Minister, Attorney Dov Weisglass, informed theConference that the Israeli government was working intensely to disband illegal terror organizations such as Islamic Jihad and the Hamas He was careful not to mention the Fateh.

Only a few hours earlier, a senior Israeli security official had informed the conference of presidents that the Fateh had carried out more terror attacks than the Islamic terror groups. When Weisglass left the conference hall, I asked Weisglass why he was not calling for the Fateh to be disbanded, since the Israeli government sefined the Fateh as a terror organization.

Weisglass asked me where I got that information about the Fateh being a terror organization. "From your office". I said, and reminded him that the secretary of the Israel Prime Minister's office had supplied me with the information that the Fateh was formally defined as an illegal terrorist organization. He then said that the Israeli government relates to the Fateh in a pragmatic fashion, saying that he hoped that "other voices" would be heard from the PLO.I asked Weisglass if he was aware of the Fateh website which provided a questionnaire as to where their members prefer to carry out terror attacks - within the 1949 armistice lines, or beyond the 1967 lines. Weisgalss said that he was not aware of that website. I asked him how it was, then, that his secretary had confirmed that he had received my report on the Fateh website. He shrugged his shoulders. Interestingly, the Israel Government Press Office, working under Weisglass's authority, distributed copies of the Fateh web site (www. more than two months ago to the foreign press based in Israel. I then asked Weisglass how he reacted to the fact that Abu Mazen, widely known as a Palestinian moderate, is the author of a PHD thesis which is used in PA schools today that compares Zionism to a Nazi movement. Weisglass said that he was not aware of that. I asked him why it was then that his secretary confirmed to me that he had received the material that I had forwarded to him about Abu Mazen's PHD thesis. He shrugged his shoulders and headed for the exit and then on to a flight to Washington

Now we will see if Sharon's coalition partners, the National Religious Party and the National Unity Party will ask Weisglass tough questions of the Israeli government policies towards the Fateh.

It is now quite clear why Netanyahu lost his position as the Foreign Minister of the State of Israel. "Bibi" was not ready to protect the PLO.

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Profile of Abu Mazen, a Candidate for PA Prime Minister who Revises the Story of the Nazi Murder of Six Million Jews
Rafael Medoff

While European Union officials praised Yasser Arafat's decision to appoint his first-ever prime minister, historians of the Holocaust winced at the news that a leading candidate for the job is the author of a book denying that the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews.

The candidate is Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), Arafat's second in command, and his book, published in Arabic in 1983, translates as "The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement." It was originally his doctoral dissertation, completed at Moscow Oriental College.

The book repeatedly attempts to cast doubt on the fact that the Nazis slaughtered 6 million Jews, according to a translation provided by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

"Following the war," he writes, "word was spread that six million Jews were amongst the victims and that a war of extermination was aimed primarily at the Jews . . . The truth is that no one can either confirm or deny this figure. In other words, it is possible that the number of Jewish victims reached six million, but at the same time it is possible that the figure is much smaller -- below one million."

Abbas denies that the gas chambers were used to murder Jews, quoting a "scientific study" to that effect by French Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson.

Abbas' book then asserts: "The historian and author Raoul Hilberg thinks that the figure does not exceed 890,000."

That is, of course, utterly false. Hilberg, a distinguished historian and author of the classic study "The Destruction of the European Jews," has never said or written any such thing.

Abbas believes the 6 million figure is the product of a Zionist conspiracy: "It seems that the interest of the Zionist movement . . . is to inflate this figure so that their gains will be greater," he writes. "This led them to emphasize this figure in order to gain the solidarity of international public opinion with Zionism. Many scholars have debated the figure of six million and reached stunning conclusions -- fixing the number of Jewish victims at only a few hundred thousand."

Another falsehood. In fact, no serious scholar proposes such a figure.

After reducing the magnitude of the Nazi slaughter so that it no longer seems to have been a full-scale Holocaust, Abbas seeks to absolve the Nazis by blaming the Zionist leadership for whatever killings did take place. According to Abbas, "A partnership was established between Hitler's Nazis and the leadership of the Zionist movement . . . [the Zionists gave] permission to every racist in the world, led by Hitler and the Nazis, to treat Jews as they wish, so long as it guarantees immigration to Palestine."

In addition to encouraging the persecution of Jews so they would immigrate to the Holy Land, the Zionist leaders actually wanted Jews to be murdered, because -- in Abbas' words -- "having more victims meant greater rights and stronger privilege to join the negotiation table for dividing the spoils of war once it was over. However, since Zionism was not a fighting partner -- suffering victims in a battle -- it had no escape but to offer up human beings, under any name, to raise the number of

victims, which they could then boast of at the moment of accounting."

Perhaps sentiments of this sort were common within Abbas' circle of graduate students in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. But in the free world, such propaganda has never been accepted as serious scholarship.

In most Western countries, Holocaust-deniers have been treated as pariahs. In Canada and many European countries, Holocaust-denial is a criminal offense. In New Zealand, Canterbury University recently issued an apology for having accepting a master's thesis denying the Holocaust, while the French minister of education revoked a doctoral degree that was awarded to a Holocaust-denier by the University of Nantes. A Polish university professor who denied the Holocaust was suspended from his position. The Japanese publisher Bungei Shunju shut down one of its magazines for printing an article denying the Holocaust.

International pressure compelled Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to publicly retract statements in his book doubting that the Holocaust had taken place. Austrian Freedom Party leader Jorg Haider was ostracized by the international community for his remarks praising members of the SS, as was French politician Jean Marie Le Pen, for questioning the existence of the gas chambers and belittling the significance of the Holocaust. A recent poll found 64 percent of Americans believe world leaders should likewise refuse to meet with Abbas.

Yet some in the media have treated Abbas with kid gloves, to say the least. The official BCC News Profile of Abbas reports: "A highly intellectual man, Abbas studied law in Egypt before doing a Ph.D. in Moscow. He is the author of several books." The New York Times recently characterized Abbas as "a lawyer and historian . . . He holds a doctorate in history from the Moscow Oriental College; his topic was Zionism." Neither the BBC nor the Times offered any further explanation as to the contents of Abbas' writings.

Bestowing the title "historian" upon Mahmoud Abbas awards his writings a stature they do not deserve, and deals a grievous insult to every genuine historian.

If Abbas is elevated to the post of prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, not only the media but the entire international community will be confronted with the question of whether Abbas deserves to be treated any differently from Tudjman, Haider and Le Pen.

The writer is visiting scholar in the Jewish studies program at the State University of New York-Purchase College. His latest book is "A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust," co-written with David S. Wyman.

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