Last week I explained How They Did It, how the enemies of Israel – the Arabs, the Soviets, the international Left, and others – turned much of the West against us. What can we do about it?
I concentrated on the ‘softer’ aspects of cognitive warfare, such as the infiltration of higher education and international organizations like NGOs and UN agencies, corporations, the use of social media, the exploitation of minorities with grievances, and the support of public antisemites (e.g., Ilhan Omar). But we should keep in mind that more kinetic actions can also have primarily cognitive objectives. The PLO’s European terrorism during the 1970s paved the way for its conversion from a gang of despicable terrorists into a member of the UN, and for murderer and thief Yasser Arafat to become a “statesman.” The 9/11 attacks against the US changed the media portrayal of its Arab and Muslim citizens from “billionaires, bombers, and belly dancers” to hardworking citizens who are targets for islamophobic hatred (this is not the case with Jews, despite the fact that Jews are far more likely to be the victims of hate crimes today).
Terrorism works on various levels, but on the deepest, visceral one it creates paralyzing fear, which the mind – still subconsciously – tries to rationalize away by distancing itself from the victims and identifying with the terrorists. “Don’t kill me, I am on your side!” the terrorized mind shouts. “I’m one of the good ones!” (e.g, a “Jew for Palestine”).
The counterattack has to be planned, coordinated, and specifically targeted in all of the arenas, soft and hard, in which cognitive war is being waged against us. This is something the State of Israel has never come close to doing. Our efforts at public diplomacy have often been most charitably described as a bad joke, like the campaign to advertise Israel as a destination for gay tourism (“Come to Israel! We have nice beaches and we won’t hang you!”) At best we are reactive, responding to vicious accusations of war crimes, apartheid, and other depravities, usually long after the damage has been done. And we often ignore the cognitive implications of our actions, or the lack thereof.
It won’t be easy. Organized support for anti-Israel organizations (including those connected with terrorism) has been going on for decades, with millions of dollars annually flowing from sources like the George Soros organizations and the European Union. Social media, especially, is constantly changing and new battlefields appear almost daily. Everywhere you look (e.g., Wikipedia) there is anti-Israel bias. And for every pro-Israel activist there are ten, or a hundred, attacking us.
An effective cognitive counterattack must have two parts: how we speak to the world, and – most important – how we act. Let me take the second part first.
There are basic human instincts that precede the ideas expressed in the UN charter by hundreds of thousands of years. Our actions must affect those instincts in a way that will cause others to respect us, and our enemies to fear us. I am not suggesting that we follow the example of the PLO and hijack planes in Europe, but our response to terrorism and threats from enemy countries (e.g., Iran) can be designed to have the appropriate effect. Humans are attracted to strength. They want to be on the side that’s stronger. They talk about the importance of moral and legal principles, but they bet on the winner. Our actions should radiate power and control, and even ruthlessness.
For example, no terrorist should survive his attack. Israeli security forces and the individuals involved have been sharply criticized, both by Israelis and others, for the “Bus 300 affair” in 1984, when two captured terrorists were executed in the field after interrogation. My contention is that this action sent exactly the right message, both to our enemies – “don’t try this or you will die” – and to the rest of the world – “Israel does not tolerate terrorism against her citizens.”
Our pusillanimous responses to Hamas, which has on numerous occasions killed Israelis and which today holds two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two soldiers hostage, is supposed to be justified for practical reasons, but is a total failure from the standpoint of cognitive warfare. When Israel bombs an unoccupied Hamas installation after arson balloons or even rockets from Gaza have burned crops or damaged buildings, the message that is sent is that we are too weak to protect ourselves. When our citizens are held captive while we supply electricity and water to the Gaza Strip, the message is that Hamas is in control, not Israel. I understand the limitations of our power, as viewed by the IDF, but I believe that they are not weighing the cognitive aspects of the question heavily enough.
Recently, the IDF demolished the home of a terrorist murderer, a citizen of the PA who was also an American citizen, despite a request from the US State Department to desist. This was the correct action from the cognitive point of view, sending the message that Israel is a sovereign state which controls Judea/Samaria, and which does not tolerate terrorism. On the other hand, the continued presence of the illegal Bedouin settlement of Khan al-Ahmar as a result of pressure from the EU and the UN tells the world that Israel does not control the land.
Our greatest enemy is Iran, whose regime has explicitly threatened to destroy us on numerous occasions and is developing nuclear weapons. There are obviously multiple considerations that play into choosing the best response, from a pre-emptive strike on her nuclear installations to a continuation of the campaign of sabotage that Israel has been waging for the last few years. Cognitively, the best approach is the one that publicly demonstrates that Israel has the power to destroy the installations, regardless of the distance or their fortification. This could be a massive aerial attack, or it could be covert action that is made public after the fact. The worst case is that we refrain from taking action because of pressure from the US.
In the soft realm, one priority is to put an end to Israel’s self-imposed cognitive failures. There is no reason that Israelis should be allowed to act as paid agents of the EU or the international Left, as is the case with B’Tselem and numerous other anti-state organizatons. There is a weakly enforced law that requires Israeli NGOs that receive half of their funding from foreign governments to report that, on penalty of a relatively small fine; and even that was opposed by the Left and the Arab parties in the Knesset. It is absurd that these groups should be allowed to operate in Israel. All foreign funding – private or governmental – for political NGOs should be forbidden, period. Representatives of foreign NGOs hostile to Israel should not be allowed into the country.
Speaking of Arab parties, there is a Basic Law that says that in order to run for election to the Knesset, a candidate or list must not “[negate] the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” This law is interpreted loosely by the Supreme Court, so that Arabs who do precisely that can sit in the Knesset. That must end.
Israel has military censorship, which sometimes makes us look foolish when foreign publications are revealing details that Israelis are not allowed to read or hear from their own media, but at the same time, the Ha’aretz newspaper is allowed to attack the state, day in and day out, often using material from the foreign-funded NGOs. Foreign propaganda outlets make good use of it, saying “even Israelis admit…” This is unacceptable; it borders on treason, and it must stop.
There is a place for traditional hasbara, explanation, or presentation of the news from the viewpoint of the state. I am not sure why everyone is entitled to an opinion and a platform from which to broadcast it, while the state is not. Why not a government TV/radio/Internet news outlet, staffed with professionals who could respond immediately and accurately to false accusations? Doing this properly, so that it would be both authoritative and not boring, would be expensive and require high quality personnel that would not be easy to find; but it is worth doing.
Much of what I have suggested will be criticized because “it violates human rights” or it is “antidemocratic,” or similar things. I don’t disagree. But the idea that Israel has to be a paragon of human rights and democracy is wrong. It is an expression of the antisemitic idea that Jews must always be held to the highest of standards – indeed, to a standard that is continually raised so as to always be out of reach. Israel is not a Platonic ideal state; it is not even the United States. It is a tiny nation with no strategic depth that is surrounded by enemies who themselves violate every standard of civilized behavior. National survival is more important than human rights – especially when those defining the concept of human rights are indifferent (or worse) to our survival.