The long war against Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel has been going on since before the founding of the state. The identity of our enemies varies depending on their ability to fight at any given time and other factors, but – with one important exception that I will discuss later – they are drawn from the Arab and Muslim nations in our region. Our most dangerous enemy in the past may have been Egypt; today it is Iran, and possibly tomorrow it will be Egypt again. But thanks to Islamic doctrine, it will never end.
The struggle for our independence includes physical, or kinetic, warfare, which has taken the form of pogroms, large-scale regional wars, intifadas, and various manifestations of terrorism. But there are also diplomatic, legal, covert, and psychological or cognitive battles going on at the same time.
The best way to picture our position in the cognitive struggle is that of a nation besieged. Our objective is to relieve the pressure so that we can continue with our normal lives. We are not interested in conquering and holding “enemy territory,” but we do want to destroy our enemies’ stock of cognitive weapons and crush their will to fight. Note that although the objective is to defend ourselves, our strategies to do that may call for aggressive offensive tactics. In the cognitive theater of war, our Muslim enemies are joined by some of the post-Christian nations of Western Europe, who are often even more bitterly hostile than the Muslims.
All our enemies have two kinds of objectives: to target us directly in order to create confusion, dissent, and defeatism at home, and to target the rest of the world in order to make it less likely that our allies will support us in time of kinetic war. That can mean making it more difficult for us to obtain supplies and weapons, or to use air space or land bases. It can mean preparing the ground so that other nations will vote against us in the UN Security Council, or so that public opinion in democratic countries will favor our enemies. It can mean damaging us economically by persuading nations, companies, and individuals to avoid doing business with our firms.
The cognitive attacks that target the nations of the world are intended to delegitimize Israel, to present her as a usurper that has no moral or legal right to exist; or to demonize her, to suggest that her behavior is so despicable, so evil, that she has forfeited her right to be treated like a normal nation of normal people, and deserves to be destroyed.
An example of delegitimization is the narrative that describes the birth of the state as the colonization – by “white” European Jews supported by the great powers – of indigenous “Palestinian” people of color, rather than the return of the Jewish people to its aboriginal land against the racist opposition of the entire Arab world to that return.
Demonization includes traditional military atrocity stories, especially the accusation that the IDF deliberately targets children – the reverse of the actual situation – claims of “apartheid,” and even, for less sophisticated audiences, the retelling of traditional anti-Jewish blood libels.
Cognitive warfare supports and functions in tandem with ordinary kinetic warfare and terrorism (which is both kinetic and cognitive). We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal of our enemies is to destroy our state, and kill or disperse the Jewish people. When an Iranian mullah leads a chant of “death to Israel,” he means death to Israel (America, too). When a European government sends money to the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, they are paying for the demonization of Israel in international forums, interference with IDF security activities, and lawfare against the Israeli government and IDF in Israeli and foreign courts. And when an Israeli newspaper columnist with Jewish parents writes an article in which he accuses Israeli Air Force pilots of murder, he too is pulling the trigger of a cognitive weapon aimed at our hearts. If his checks aren’t signed in Teheran, they should be. In all cases, the final objective is the same.
Israel responds to these attacks in a purely defensive way, to try to parry their thrusts. No, we say (after months of research), we did not shoot young Mohammed al-Durah in 2000; either he was shot by Hamas terrorists or he was not shot at all. No, our treatment of our Arab citizens and Arabs living under the Palestinian Authority is nothing at all like apartheid. No, we didn’t cut down those olive trees; Arab farmers pruned them.
As I wrote in my series about fighting BDS (here and here), the reactive approach has two serious defects: first, by restating the accusations, it gives them renewed currency and makes even absurd accusations acceptable subjects of discussion. Second, the mechanism of researching and responding to exaggerated or made-up claims can easily be overwhelmed by their sheer volume (just like Iron Dome can!)
A better strategy would be to go on the offensive and take the war to the enemy. The Palestinian narrative is flimsy and easily refuted. There is a continual flow of academic papers about the “settler-colonial” paradigm attributed to Israel, but where are the papers about the Arab migrations into the land of Israel in the 19th and 20th centuries? Where are the pro-Zionist academic conferences and grants given to scholars who present our side of the story, which has the advantage of being true?
And not only do we rarely attack the Arab historical narrative – indeed, many Israelis are in the forefront of those who promulgate it – we don’t sufficiently stress the moral depravity and culpability of Palestinian leaders, past and present. Imagine if we could obtain wide distribution of the story that Mahmoud Abbas raised the funds for the Munich Olympics massacre of 1972.
There is a reason that the pro-Israel point of view has such a tough time in academia and in free, Western media. And that is that while Israel has been busy fighting wars and defending herself against terrorism, our enemies have been using their petrodollars to subvert Western universities and media. Did you know that in addition to the millions it spends on lobbying American lawmakers, Hamas-supporting Qatar has given literally billions of dollars to universities and other academic projects (like the Brookings Institution) in the US? They specialize in universities like Georgetown and Northwestern, where there are schools for foreign service officers and journalists, but haven’t stinted on their gifts to Harvard, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and numerous others. And of course, Saudi Arabia has been doing the same for years, even subsidizing public-school textbooks in the US and Europe! Qatar also operates one of the most influential media outlets in the world (especially the Arabic-speaking world), Al-Jazeera.
Israel doesn’t have the billions of petrodollars that Qatar does, but with her technical abilities, she could do a great deal more. Unfortunately, perhaps because of inappropriate feelings of guilt over having won the wars of 1948 and 1967, fear of angering the Palestinian Authority or even Arab Israelis, and the pervasive influence of the Left in our media and academia, Israel is transfixed by the blows she has received on the cognitive battlefield, and is unable to take the initiative.
What will it take to win the cognitive struggle? Probably a wholesale change in our national consciousness. I’m not optimistic.