Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it. – Jonathan Swift
Summary of Part I:
The Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement is not intended as an economic weapon against Israel, and has not succeeded as such. It does not seek to attain its stated objectives of forcing Israel to withdraw from the territories, grant rights to Arab citizens, or accept the “return” of Arab refugees. Rather, it is a cognitive weapon to facilitate the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state, which it does by providing opportunities for the promulgation of various “big lies” about Israel and its conflicts.
Such remedies as anti-boycott laws are unnecessary (there is little danger of economic damage from BDS). Worse, they play directly into the hands of Israel’s enemies. Every controversy about BDS, every resolution that is debated on a university campus or church board, in a union hall or the US Congress, provides a platform for the same false accusations of apartheid, racism, war crimes, and even genocide, as well as a reprise of the false historical and political Palestinian narrative.
The demonization and delegitimization of Israel present a real physical danger, because they affect the target populations, both the “street” in Western countries and their decision-makers. The effect is to increase tolerance of terrorism against Israel, to reduce support (such as the supply of arms) during wartime, to justify forcing dangerous “solutions” to the conflict, to prevent Israel from obtaining decisive victory in armed conflicts, and so on.
How should Israel and her supporters respond?
A cognitive attack demands a cognitive response. As we’ve seen, legal or legislative attempts to stop boycotts actually help BDS achieve its goal by providing loci for the promulgation of anti-Israel memes. Traditionally, Israeli “hasbara” in response to BDS has taken the form of denying its accusations. We insist that we are not an apartheid state, note that Arab citizens have full civil rights, and try to disprove particular accusations of mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs and war crimes.
But by repeating the accusations in order to deny them, we give them additional currency, and make formerly unthinkable concepts at least debatable. For example, anyone who knows anything about South African apartheid or Nazi genocide knows that there is absolutely no similarity between them and Israeli treatment of Palestinian Arabs. But if the lie is constantly repeated, it becomes a question to be taken seriously, with pros and cons. This is similar to the way Holocaust deniers claim that the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz is an “open historical question.”
There is also the constant flow of what can be called “nuisance libels.” The most well-known and consequential of these is the alleged killing of the boy Mohammed al-Durah by the IDF in 2000, but it is just one of hundreds or thousands of accusations of murder, mayhem, or mistreatment that are alleged against Israel on a continual basis. It is trivially easy to make an accusation with the flimsiest of proof, but refutation requires time and effort. As Swift said, falsehood flies and truth limps. And of course the controversy itself is the objective, as former US President Lyndon Johnson well understood.
Our sporadic, reactive, and generally less-than-serious approach to the cognitive war that we are in (whether we know it or not) has so far proven ineffective. But why shouldn’t our cognitive war fighting follow the same principles that inform Israel’s doctrine of traditional, “kinetic” warfare? In other words, why shouldn’t we take the offensive and bring the war to the enemy’s own territory? Let’s see what this might mean in terms of cognitive warfare.
The first thing we need to do is to directly attack the framing of the conflict as “Israeli-Palestinian.” The true description, to which we must continually return and use as a logical starting point for our cognitive attacks, is that of the war against Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East that has been going on since before the founding of our state. Our enemies in this war have primarily been the Arab nations, now (perhaps temporarily) replaced to some extent by Iran, with the “soft” assistance of the major European powers. The Palestinian Arabs are the smallest part of the alliance arrayed against us, but are used as an excuse for hostile action and as pawns in the long war.
The next target is the false historical narrative that paints the Palestinian Arabs as indigenous occupants of the land, and the Jews as “European” interlopers. We should deploy historical research and archaeological evidence to establish (and broadcast!) that the Jewish people are the oldest indigenous inhabitants of the land of Israel, the ones possessing aboriginal rights, and that the Palestinian Arabs are mostly newcomers to the land from multiple places of origin in the region. We should explain that the “Palestinian people” do not have a unique language or religion to imply peoplehood, have only self-identified as a unique people since after the creation of the Jewish state, and that the specifically “Palestinian” part of their Arab culture consists entirely of their struggle against the Jewish presence in the land.
Finally, the BDS movement tries to present the Palestinian Arabs as sympathetic and victims. We should remind the world that Palestinian heroes are terrorists who murdered Jews, usually civilians and especially children. We should note that Palestinian terrorists popularized airline hijacking and suicide bombing, the two techniques that were used in the most deadly single terrorist attack in history, 9/11. We should explain that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are corrupt, kleptocratic, and dictatorial regimes that terrorize their own people while stealing international aid and making war on Israel.
We should emphasize that the father of Palestinian nationalism, Haj Amin al-Husseini, incited anti-Jewish pogroms in Mandate Palestine, collaborated with the Nazis, met with Hitler himself, broadcast Nazi propaganda in Arabic from Berlin, lobbied to extend the Holocaust to Palestine, recruited Bosnian Muslims to serve in the SS, had a role in precipitating the notorious farhud pogrom in Iraq, and more.
We should ensure that they don’t forget Yasser Arafat, master of international terror, the man Malcolm Hoenlein called “the largest mass murderer of Jews since Hitler,” who died with several billion dollars of international aid money in bank accounts and property. We also shouldn’t forget Arafat’s educational system, carried on by his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, which incites children to stab Jews in the street, and then pays their parents when they are killed or arrested.
That’s not all. It’s not even the beginning, because we haven’t mentioned the war crimes of Hamas, which guards itself with human shields while it fires rockets at the Israeli civilian population.
BDS is all about delegitimizing and demonizing Israel. But where is the legitimacy in the claims of the Palestinian Arabs, who are at best descendants of colonialist invaders from Arabia, and at worst the children of 19th and 20th century migrants? And we don’t need to make up stories in order to demonize the Palestinian Arabs – they are as close to demonic as the Nazis they admire, if less competent!
None of this material is new. Ask any pro-Israel blogger. But we can do better. The BDS movement has been running a professional, well-funded, worldwide campaign for more than a decade. They are consistent, on message, and found on every campus and countless churches, labor unions, and professional organizations.
We have the resources, both the money and the brains. We can do this too – and we have the advantage that we will be telling the truth.