In a recent interview session I was asked what Israel has done in the past couple of years that should have been done differently. It is, of course, always easy to dispense and dispose at a distance, especially if one is not in the trenches in the midst of a bitter and ongoing conflict. Safety promotes a facile omniscience. Nevertheless, close study and a sense of profound involvement can lead to insights and proposals that need not be entirely irrelevant, complacent, or fatuous.
To begin with, it is obvious that Israel has failed miserably to carry out an effective hasbara program, that is, public diplomacy, the circulation of information, pro-Israel activism. There is now a powerful psychological dimension in the war that is being waged against the Jewish state, a new media front in which the country is being demonstrably trounced. It is the Palestinians who have won the day with the clever deployment of their propaganda arsenal, in other words, disinformation, historical falsifications, and outright lies, the kind one sees animating the slanderous, campus-sponsored “Israel Apartheid Weeks.” France’s Ambassador for Human Rights François Zimeray is perfectly right when he urges Israel “to raise the drive to repair its international image to the level of a strategic imperative, or risk a situation in which the state itself was delegitimized.”
Israpundit’s Ted Belman is also correct when he points out that diehard “anti-Semites, leftists and Islamists” will not be persuaded by the facts, but he concedes that Israel should not “cease its PR efforts. … She should continue to provide her friends with the truth so that they maintain their friendship.” Israel should have invested — and should invest — enormous resources in a hasbara campaign, not only in an attempt to apprise people of Israel’s historical and incontrovertible legal claims to the Holy Land, but to ferret out the motives and biographical facts of its enemies, including Jewish anti-Semites and anti-Zionists.
Take for instance Richard Goldstone, the author of the odious UN report on Operation Cast Lead accusing Israel of crimes it did not commit while mainly acquitting Hamas for crimes it did. Why did it take so long to discover who Goldstone really is or was and to disseminate the facts? Why did Israeli intelligence have to wait for Alan Dershowitz and others to discover the truth about Goldstone’s apartheid past as a white South African hanging judge, sentencing 28 South African blacks to death and others to various forms of torture? Why is this scandal not robustly brought to the attention of the world’s chancelleries?
Similarly, as many have asked, why did Israel not release the exonerating Mavi Marmara videos immediately following the fatal travesty during the flotilla incident on May 31 to counter the virulent and mendacious anti-Israel media onslaught the flotilla was designed to incite? It’s reported that the higher echelons of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) wished to preserve the honor and reputation of the elite commando unit that rappelled into a cleverly devised trap. But the honor and reputation of the state should clearly have taken precedence. Shades of the infamous al-Dura hoax for which Israel rushed to apologize before the facts were ascertained and it became clear that the entire episode had been concocted by the Palestinians in collaboration with the French media.
Hasbara should also undertake effective measures to reveal Israel’s many projects intended to stimulate the Palestinian economy. Seth Wertheimer’s industrial park in Nazareth now being built to serve the Arab community is an excellent illustration of so proactive an experiment. The Nazareth project is only the latest in a series of such “peace through prosperity” ventures; yet for many of us in the West the practical application of this pivotal concept is almost totally unknown.
Secondly, it has become prudent, particularly in the light of an increasingly inimical American administration, if not to decouple from, at least to loosen and dilute the American connection. According to Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, there is already a “tectonic rift,” a “potentially irrevocable estrangement” between the two countries. If so, Israel must do its utmost to salvage what it can from the widening chasm. For example, Israel receives approximately $3 billion in United States aid annually, but most of this is funneled right back into the American defense industry in the form of purchases and contracts, helping to create American jobs while at the same time starving the potential of the Israeli defense network and drying up Israeli jobs. This situation need not continue. Israel surely has the technical know-how and the means to build its own fighter jets — just as Canada was able to produce the Arrow, the most sophisticated fighter plane of its time, before Prime Minister John Diefenbaker scrapped the project, doubtlessly submitting to American pressure.
In addition, with the worrisome decline of both American power and treaty-reliability under the administration of Barack Obama, the question may arise, to reconfigure Emerson: Why hitch your wagon to a falling star? Sarah Palin’s assessment of the dilemma for America’s allies is indisputable:
So while President Obama gets pushed around by the likes of Russia and China, our allies are left to wonder about the value of an alliance with our country anymore. They’re asking what is it worth.
She might also have mentioned belligerents like Iran, Syria, Turkey, and the Taliban that no longer take the United States seriously. Why, then, should Israel? Why should Israel have to ask the American administration for permission (and assent to its refusal) to bomb a convoy of Scud missiles being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah — missiles that will one day detonate on Israeli soil?
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Israel needs to be far more agonistic. Are we to believe that the nation that contrived the improbable 1976 Entebbe rescue mission is now incapable of freeing kidnapped Gilad Shalit from years of illegal Hamas captivity — even during the largely successful (but prematurely ended) Operation Cast Lead? Or of stiffening its treatment of imprisoned Hamas war criminals and aspiring suicide bombers rather than approving the use of cell phones and private TVs, correspondence courses from Israeli universities leading to earned degrees, and conjugal visits? What prevents Israel from unleashing systematic targeted assassinations against Hamas officials until Shalit is released? It required ten plagues for the pharaoh to relent and let his captives go, but I suspect in this case two or three plagues would be sufficient as the Hamas leadership is progressively lopped. Desperate expedients maybe, but assuredly feasible. One thing is certain: there is no way the young soldier should be allowed to remain in prolonged detention.
Naturally, there is always the risk of collateral damage in such rescue operations, which Israel strives to avoid and whose scruples its enemies rely upon to deter such tactics, but no such reluctance has prevented the Americans from taking out whole families in its Predator strikes against Taliban insurgents. The IDF is far more conscientious; nonetheless, in the real world, defending one’s own should trump negative publicity, sentimental proclivities, a supposedly pragmatic concern with sparing one’s adversaries (as per the infamous “rules of engagement” which cost soldiers their lives), or pandering to the glib insincerities of the “international community.” And releasing hundreds of recidivist terrorists in an asymmetrical quid pro quo, which Israel has been prone to do, is manifestly a losing proposition, as finance minister Yuval Steinitz himself declared in a recent conference. But, as sketched above, there are other ways of attaining a desired result. Sometimes brass knuckles work better than velvet gloves.
True, Israeli leaders from all quarters of the political spectrum are extremely sensitive to the country’s fragile position in the court of world opinion and tailor their policies accordingly, often bending to accommodate. But this is a mistake; indeed, it is patently counter-productive. Pliability and flexibility are two different things. Admittedly, the currents of opinion in the diplomatic arena must be taken into account, but the tendency to play politics, to accord an exaggerated significance to the inclinations, prejudices and directives of foreign actors, and to surrender either the necessities or advantages accruing to the domestic realm lead almost inescapably to blowback effects.
One recalls that Israel was at the height of its popularity after the 1967 war when a small and vulnerable nation decisively vanquished its larger enemy in a mere six days. Israel as David stands taller than Goliath. Moreover, the Israeli political class should be aware that in the present state of affairs, Israel will be blamed no matter what it does or how it replies to the threats it regularly confronts. Consequently, while taking care to explain its actions via energetic hasbara, it should put the security of its citizens before the tender mercies of hostile UN functionaries, anti-Zionist NGOs, morally defective journalists, and news aggregators like AP and Reuters, so-called “peace activists” who have only Israel’s demise at heart and the consummate hypocrites among the foreign powers.
What the Zionist patriot Ze’ev Jabotinsky said of the Jewish Regiment in World War I is apposite to this very day with regard to the IDF: it represents “the most uncompromising conception of State-Zionism, therefore the most unyielding opposition to all policies incompatible with that object.” Frankly, Israel does not need bleeding hearts like former Meretz politician Yossi Beilin or European manqué Shimon Peres, architects of the disastrous Oslo Accords, or temporizing parties such as Labor and Kadima have become, or its revisionist, pro-Palestinian university professoriate and leftist media types, all of whom would be on the first planes out should the Palestinians succeed in subverting or overrunning the country and imposing their rule, turning Israelis into corpses or dhimmis.
Nor should Israel permit itself to be insulted in international forums or seats of power, as did Peres when he absorbed Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s brutish calumny at Davos and — wait for it — later called Erdogan to make amends, or Benjamin Netanyahu when he lamely accepted Barack Obama’s unprecedented rudeness in the White House without getting up and walking away, despite diplomatic protocol or presumed national interests. This kind of docile behavior never works and only comes back to haunt one. As the daily Haaretz wrote, “The Prime Minister leaves America disgraced, isolated and altogether weaker than when he came” — and Haaretz is a leftist rag!
It is to be hoped that Netanyahu develops a spine before his subsequent visits to Washington and establishes a vertebral presence to his country’s benefit. He must know, too, that a majority of the American people are solidly in Israel’s corner and would surely respect him for standing up to what is, in effect, a rogue administration. In any event, what Israel needs is to revive the intrepid and unshakeable spirit of the Joshua generation, the resolve of the warrior Maccabees, and the grit of the early Zionists who founded the nation.
Such men and women would not have waited for 5,000-plus rockets to target its civilians in Sderot and other Gaza belt communities over the years following its disengagement from the terrorist enclave. It was obvious from Day One that a military incursion was inevitable, yet in a predictably doomed effort to reason with its enemies, to polish its credentials before an ill-disposed consortium of international bigots, and to placate the foreign ministries of disapproving governments, Israel lingered while its southern communities were terrorized and normal life became impossible. It should not have opted for the practice of, let’s call it, Olmerta, maintaining a relative silence before the unconscionable, walking softly, and carrying a small stick, or no stick to speak of. Quite the contrary. It should have initiated a vigorous armed response after the first rocket fell. Not a single civilian casualty should have been tolerated.
Many Westerners, of course, would have emitted a loud public outcry and signaled their opposition with threats of boycotts and obstreperous demonstrations. And Israel would have been right to ignore our liberal vacuities. After all, what would we do if we were Israelis and our own towns and cities were on the receiving end of kassams, katyushas and grads? Send medicines, fuel, electric power, and food to the gunners, as the Israelis foolishly did and still do? Relax the Gaza blockade, as it has just done, to appease its false friends while strengthening the Hamas terrorist regime? Would we have said with the prophet Jeremiah’s cynics “peace, peace, when there is no peace” or boarded Cat Stevens’ peace train? Bury a wife or husband or child killed by a missile in the evening and head off to work the next morning, stopping for a latte at Starbucks? Concur with our political authorities that it is imperative not to provoke our enemies or offend our putative allies?
Or would we take the necessary action? I suspect we would have no such inhibitions as the leftist media and our liberal governments demand of the Israelis. The smug irreality of the denunciation of any Israeli reprisals or defensive operations — although these have plainly not gone far enough — is only an expression of the insularity and deficiencies of the Western political imagination.
Israel too, as noted, is infected among its leadership and broad swaths of the intelligentsia with a similar dumbing down of the sensibility, faulting their own state for its ostensible belligerence or attributing peaceful or justifiable intentions to the other side. One thinks, too, of the Israeli Supreme Court which has consistently ruled in favor of Palestinian interests, as it did, for instance, when it canceled a law exempting the state from liability for collateral damages to Palestinians in the conduct of anti-terrorist operations, thereby hampering the efforts of its own army to protect its own citizens.
More recently, this disgraceful body of activist jurists ordered the re-opening of Highway 443, a major artery connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, to Palestinian Authority drivers. The judges were not deterred by the fact that 443 had been the scene of many Palestinian shooting, Molotov cocktail, and rock-throwing attacks on Jewish commuters — although the Israeli Security Agency was, having forbidden the prime minister from using the road. Ordinary Israelis, it seems, are thoroughly dispensable for, according to Court president Dorit Beinisch, it is important to avoid giving “rise to a feeling of inequality and even an association of unacceptable motives.” What’s a couple of dead Israelis and the pervasive anxiety of Israeli motorists compared to making Palestinians feel better and to accumulating brownie points?
Such attitudes are completely irrational and ultimately self-defeating. Rather than bow to world opinion at the expense of its own security, Israel would be far better served adopting the three proposals outlined above as essential components of its strategic thinking: an intelligent and aggressive hasbara shaped to perforate the tissue of lies woven in the media, a reduced dependence on American foreign aid and waning influence, and a bold and assertive stance in the face of those who are committed to its destruction. It should seek to emulate the convictions and many of the policies of its greatest and most courageous political figures and leaders, from Theodor Herzl to Ze’ev Jabotinsky to David Ben-Gurion to Golda Meir to Menachem Begin. No more Mr. Nice Guy. For nice guys not only finish last, they tend not to survive long enough even to stay in the race.