What Is Israel Doing Wrong?

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.