Sometimes the task of defending Israel’s image in the world seems hopeless. Our traditional enemies, the Arabs, are in disarray, but the international Left, Europe, and the US administration continue to batter Israel in the information war. Every other day it seems that a new organization, publication or website pops up whose objective is to blacken Israel’s name. Almost unlimited funding seems to be available for these enterprises from the EU, European governments and sources linked to George Soros. Activist groups hijack religious, academic and labor associations and pass BDS resolutions or distribute anti-Israel material. Tendentious lessons creep into school syllabi.
At the same time, it has become harder for pro-Israel people to speak. The response on campuses to pro-Israel speakers – or anyone connected with Israel, regardless of his politics, is disruption and even violence; and this behavior is condoned by administrators, who, if they don’t agree with the disruptors, are afraid to challenge them.
Particularly in the US Jewish community, the anti-Zionist forces have been gathering strength, turning the traditional Jewish establishment organizations more and more in their direction. Battlegrounds include the campus Hillels, the Jewish Federations and Community Relations Councils, and even the religious movements. The Reform movement, never a bastion of Zionism, seems to be actively looking for reasons to criticize Israel and make demands, regardless of what Israelis think. Jewish Voice for Peace, which the ADL once called one of the top ten anti-Israel groups in the US, has expanded dramatically in the last few years from a tiny bunch of Bay Area wackos to a national force with its dirty fingers in every pro-BDS resolution and demonstration against Israel.
Code Pink – formerly a generalized leftist/feminist group, now specializing in attacking Israel – Black Lives Matter, and countless others have adopted opposition to the Jewish state as an essential piece of their ideology and justified it by appeals to the logically incoherent concept of ‘intersectionality’ (all oppression is the same, blacks, women and Palestinians are oppressed, ergo feminists and blacks must oppose Israel). Incoherent, perhaps, but practically it has been very effective in recruiting new blood to the anti-Zionist ranks.
I had lunch today with a pro-Israel Canadian today who wanted to know what he personally could do. Well, he could oppose all of the above, I suggested. But there are far more of them than there are of us, and they are very well-funded – much better than we are. And they are better at it than we are.
The Canadian said that it seemed to him that the anti-Israel forces were well-organized and even coordinated, and we were just flailing. Maybe he’s right, or maybe it just seems that way from our point of view. But there’s no doubt that we are losing the battle for Western public opinion (I suspect we are doing better among the Arabs, who are worried about Iran and scared by the explosion of chaos in their world).
Our cause is just, historical truth and international law are on our side. And yet we continue to lose the information war. Why?
There are at least two reasons. One is that people’s opinions are driven by emotions and only afterwards justified by reason, and we are not arguing on an emotional level. And the other is that we are not giving reasons that make sense, either rationally or emotionally.
I think there is a solution, or at least a strategy. We can call it “Strategic self-respect.”
We must present a unified message. It needs to be grounded in historical fact, and be internally consistent and complete. It needs to express the reason for being of today’s Jewish state, and our reason for supporting it. It must be a moral message, and emotionally powerful. It needs to make people get up and take action. And it must make them feel good about themselves for doing so.
The enemy has a story that is internally consistent and complete and couched in moral terms. It is also compelling; they are experts at appealing to emotions. Of course it is based on lies and told by terrorists, but once inside their conceptual scheme, it explains everything. Unfortunately, many Jews, even in Israel, accept the enemy’s narrative.
Individuals like my Canadian friend and unofficial groups can’t change this themselves. In today’s Jewish world, there is just one authoritative source, and that is the state of Israel. No matter what J Street, the Reform movement, the various Haredi sects, or the editorial board of Ha’aretz think, no one else can speak for the Jewish people. The state and its government must find its voice, amplify it, and transmit a consistent, powerful message in every language to every corner of the world (since everyone seems to think they know our business better than we do).
The message must include this:
The entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people by historical, legal and moral right. Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem are not ‘occupied’, they are integral parts of the state. Palestinian Arab terrorists are insurgents trying to overthrow the legitimate sovereign.
The Jewish people has existed for thousands of years and is the original indigenous people of the land. The modern State of Israel was created to ensure the preservation of the Jewish people. The War of Independence and the struggle that led up to it were pursued to restore the self-determination of the Jewish people and prevent its domination or persecution by Western or Arab colonialists.
The borders of the Jewish state were inherited from the Mandate for Palestine, including Jerusalem, and the illegal Jordanian occupation from 1948 to 1967 did not diminish the legitimacy of these boundaries. The ‘Green Line’ has no political significance, as stated in the 1949 cease-fire agreements.
Israel may choose to cede some territory in return for reciprocal concessions, but the Palestinian Arabs have no inherent right to any part of the land of Israel.
This must be clearly articulated by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Ministry and its employees. Our allies and enemies should understand that this is our position. It must be assumed as a starting point for any peace negotiations. Along with the historical facts that support it, it must be taught in schools and become common knowledge to Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel. The world needs to know: like it or not, this is where the Jews are coming from.
This position would have some diplomatic consequences. It implies that there is no legitimacy to an Arab right of return. It contradicts the “Arab initiative,” which blames Israel for the conflict and offers ‘normal relations’ in return for a complete reversal of the 1967 war and return or compensation for Arab refugees and their descendants. It implies that there is no rationale for ‘land swaps’, since there is no imputation of Arab ownership to land beyond the Green Line. It implies that settlements are legal.
It would also have important psychological and emotional impact. It represents a non-apologetic Zionist stance and presents the moral basis for the state. It does not accept guilt for the Arab nakba and does not ask us to compensate the Arabs for the consequences of their racism and aspirations to genocide. It makes it clear that our sacrifices are justified.
Those who are committed to the anti-Israel narrative won’t be converted to our position. But they can be challenged to try to refute it. And possibly our self-respect will favorably impress liberal Western Jews, many of whom who seem to have forgotten their identity.
Vic, you are right on with regards to the message that needs to be coming from, which I guess is a case of better late than never. However, this….”Our cause is just, historical truth and international law are on our side. And yet we continue to lose the information war. Why?” is very easy to answer, although some may think it simplistic……anti-Semitism. The world readily swallows the false narratives, and focuses such a wildly disproportionate amount of attention on little ‘ole us, again, because the world is inherently anti-Semitic. We can and will get better at disseminating the truths and facts, but it will make little to no difference.
All of which just points to the need for us to do what we have to do, without regard to this inherently anti-Israel barely concealed anti-Semitic world.
But we won’t, because we never learn.
I do not disagree with any of this. Perhaps having a unified message and broadcasting it to the world will change something.
It will not however change the opinion of those who whether it is because they are Radical Islamists or Radical Leftists or rightist or leftist Anti- Semites wish to destroy us.
My own feeling is that any person of good will and with a little desire to know the truth of the historical reality could not possibly come to an anti- Israel position. I naively perhaps hold on to the position that the Truth is on our side.
Vic, I very respectfully disagree with your strategy. We cannot argue from reason and fact. Doing so loses our audience and its influence in just a few moments. We must create compelling positive emotional responses to Israel and Israelis. Being right, just isn’t enough.
Imagine instead, an American-Israeli television production, something like current spate of shows about gold miners and survivalists in Alaska. Imagine that a dozen Israeli high school students, a diverse bunch, but all English speakers, are tracked by a television crew through their graduations and first year in the military. They talk about all their hopes and fears, their emotional responses to being away from home and to military discipline. Imagine these kids talking about Israeli politics and about international attitudes and how these affect them. Toss in a few broken-hearted boyfriends and girlfriends. Imagine their parents interviewed as well, and that their fathers are followed through miluim. Imagine that all this is supported through daily tweets and other social media.
We need to stop relying on old fashioned hasbara to create an international identification of young people and their parents with Israelis. We need to have people believe that they know a bunch of 18 year-old soldiers and know that Israel is not committing atrocities or oppression because they know these kids would not behave that way.
I will be glad to read your response.
Your suggestion is a good one. I am not saying we should not do something like this as well. I am only saying that we have to stop taking an apologetic stance that in essence grants the rightness of our enemies’ arguments and then begs for mercy, as we seem to be doing, even in our official positions.
It is absolutely correct that the only way to affect people is via emotional appeals.
Of course there are many people who hate us for various reasons who can’t be influenced. But I am thinking of young people, especially Jews, who might be attracted to honesty. As a parallel but entirely different sort of thing, look at the success Donald Trump has had from simply attacking political correctness!