INTO THE FRAY: DERELICTION OF DUTY
By MARTIN SHERMAN 10-25-13
Continued impotence and incompetence in the (mis)conduct of Israel’s public diplomacy is becoming not only strategic threat to the country but is beginning to imperil Jewish communities abroad.
Today I saw the Israeli [consul] to Canada being interviewed. I cringed. He was trying to explain how Israel could counter the negative propaganda. He not only was clueless, but almost incomprehensible. He said that Israel should ignore negative criticism because that would make the general public seem that Israel is too combative.
When asked by the interviewers why shouldn’t Israel assert its rights, like referring to the San Remo Convention, he demurred and said that would damage Israel’s image. I was aghast at his utter incompetence. This an official representative of Israel. This is who Israel sends to fight the propaganda war.
– Walter44, an exasperated Jerusalem Post talkbacker, October 1.
Sad but true; witnessed similar incompetence in Australia
– Rafi, a dismayed Post talkbacker, responding to exasperated Walter44
What good is having Apache helicopter gunships, or Merkava tanks, to defend your citizens against attack if you can’t even use them because the world thinks you’re always the aggressor?
– Shmuley Boteach, “Why Jews are so bad at PR,” The Jerusalem Post, January 7.
The ongoing debacle of the (mis)conduct of Israeli public diplomacy (PD) is emerging as one of the country’s greatest strategic failures and gravest strategic dangers.
It is not only endangering the nation’s security, it is imperiling the safety of Jewish communities across the globe.
Pervasive and pernicious
It is difficult to understate how pernicious and pervasive the consequences of this inexplicable fiasco of impotence and incompetence are. They permeate all walks of national life, corroding the very fabric that binds the Zionist enterprise together.
While I do not wish to downplay in any way the danger of the Iranian nuclear program, the dangers inherent in Israel’s abysmal PD performance outstrip virtually any of the other threats that confront the Jewish state as a Jewish state.
While the former is more tangibly kinetic, the latter, although admittedly less cataclysmic, is no less lethal. As will be seen a little later, it intensifies the menace emanating from Iran.
In many ways, it would be apt to liken the danger of the Iranian bomb to one of being run over by a truck, and the dangers inherent in Israel’s PD catastrophe to those of being afflicted by an HIV virus that destroys one’s immune system.
For the failure or – perhaps more accurately – the virtual absence, of Israeli PD strategy goes beyond the problem of what it is not doing for Israel in presenting its case and promoting its image. No less damaging is what it allows others to do to Israel in undermining its case and perverting its image.
Detrimental, disruptive and divisive
The consequences of the PD debacle are myriad. Here is a partial catalogue.
On the security level:
• It diminishes Israel’s deterrence posture.
• It facilitates demonization of the IDF and of Israel’s security services.
• It restricts the scope of actions that Israel can undertake to defend its citizens.
On the international level:
• It facilitates the vilification and hence delegitimization of Zionism, its ideals and goals.
• It facilitates the promotion of the accelerating BDS campaign against Israeli merchandise and institutions.
• It endangers Jewish communities across the globe – because of their imputed affiliation with a “reviled and loathsome” Israel.
On the policy-making level:
• It constricts policy-maker’s perceived freedom of action.
• It promotes an exaggerated sense of isolation and vulnerability, which results in poor, not infrequently disastrous policy choices.
• It leads to a sense of resignation as to the inevitability of acquiescence to Arab demands – no matter how perilous this might be.
On the domestic level:
• It undermines the morale of the population by promoting an unjustified sense of beleaguerment and isolation.
• It generates a dysfunctional and defeatist domestic discourse on national policy.
• It creates divisive and disruptive fissures in Israeli society that undermine the resilience/stamina of the nation.
All this merely acts to erode the faith in the justice of, and the imperative for, the maintenance of Jewish national independence – and hence, the will to sustain it.
In the ensuing paragraphs I will illustrate, elaborate on, and corroborate these far-reaching allegations.
The introductory excerpt from Shmuley Boteach’s Post column earlier this year succinctly encapsulates the malaise – some might say, paralysis – that Israel’s diplomatic failure has inflicted on Israel’s military.
In its last three military encounters – the 2006 Second Lebanon War and the Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense campaigns in Gaza – the IDF emerged un-victorious – at least on the strategic level. In each case, despite its massive superiority in manpower and firepower, it was unable to curtail the fighting ability of small, lightly armed militias, even after weeks of combat.
Following each of these campaigns, its adversaries, Hezbollah (in Lebanon) and Hamas (in Gaza), despite the damage inflicted on them, ended with its political stature enhanced and its arsenal more than replenished.
(True, both have been arguably weakened recently, but this was due to the internal upheavals in Syria and Egypt – events totally unconnected to the military clashes with Israel, whose eventual outcome is neither certain nor predictable.)
It would be a grave error to believe that the periods of calm that follow these military engagements reflect successful deterrence of Hezbollah/Hamas. Their will to fight remains undiminished – as the recent discovery of the strategic tunnel in the South clearly underscores.
It merely indicates that they have been forced to regroup, rearm and redeploy – and to wait, with greatly improved capabilities, for the next opportune moment.
Diminishing deterrence (cont.)
Bewailing Israel’s feeble public diplomacy, former minister Michael Eitan warned: “The results of the war in the media directly affect the results of the war in the field.”
He is absolutely correct. These recent highly unsatisfactory military outcomes were incurred not because Israel lacked the military prowess to achieve victory and rout its far more feeble foes. It was because of perceived political constraints that prevented the IDF from making full use of the operational options available to it. These constraints were, in large measure, due to the inefficacy of Israel’s PD performance.
As Prof. Amos Gilboa, in his “Public Diplomacy: The Missing Component in Israel’s Foreign Policy,” aptly noted: “The lack of an adequate PD program has significantly affected Israel’s strategic outlook and freedom of action.” Echoing this sentiment in a piece written immediately after the Second Lebanon War (Summer 2006) on the critical importance of PD in war, former prime ministerial adviser Raanan Gissin lamented: This war is a symptom of the inability of Israel to prepare strategically with public diplomacy as a tool of war.
Israel’s adversaries are well aware of the efficacy of these political constraints. Since they bolster their belief that their actions will not be met with unacceptable severity, and embolden them with the confidence that their aggressive initiatives will not entail “disproportionate” consequences, these constraints gravely undermine Israeli deterrence.
The removal of these political constraints is precisely the function of diplomacy, a function which Israel’s diplomatic effort failed entirely to discharge.
“Demonstrators cry ‘Nuke Israel’... at US anti-Israel rallies,” blared a headline in Haaretz.
The article continues: “Comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany and signs depicting the Star of David as equal to the swastika have been a recurring feature at rallies in the United States.”
This example highlights another sinister consequence of Israel’s PD failure.
By allowing the ongoing international delegitimization/ demonization of Israel to continue unabated, this failure is contributing toward intensifying the threat from Iran. For not only does this serve to discredit – and hence stymie – Israeli efforts to rally the world into taking effective action against Teheran’s nuclear ambitions, but the portrayal of Israel as an increasingly delegitimized entity fosters the perception of it as an increasingly legitimate target.
In a remarkably prescient caveat, Amos Gilboa, in his aforementioned article cautioned: “Any further neglect of PD would not only restrict Israel’s strategic options, it would be detrimental to its ability to survive in an increasingly intolerant and hostile world which thinks sacrificing Israel’s vital interests or even the state itself would be a small price to pay for ending the global confrontation between the West and Islamic fundamentalism.”
Sadly, this ominous forecast seems to be materializing before our very eyes.
Recently, The New York Times, in a piece titled “Netanyahu Takes a Lonely Stance Denouncing Iran,” attempted to denigrate the Israeli premier in his resolute opposition to Tehran’s nuclear program, describing him as “increasingly alone abroad and at home” and “out of step with a growing Western consensus toward reaching a diplomatic deal that would require compromise.”
This, together with the manifest eagerness of many in the West to succumb to the threadbare credibility of the charm offensive by the newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, are chillingly reminiscent of Gilboa’s warning that the world would consider “sacrificing Israel’s vital interests or even the state itself a small price for ending the global confrontation between the West and Islamic fundamentalism.”
One of the gravest consequences of Israel’s virtual abdication from the public diplomacy front is the effect this is having on Jewish communities across the world, and on the personal safety of Jews in the Diaspora. Perversely, instead of being a protective shield for Jews, it is exposing them to dangers by making them a focus of anti-Israeli hostility because of their imputed affiliation with the mendaciously maligned Jewish state.
A recent Post editorial (October 17) quoted a 2011 study of public opinion across seven EU countries, which found that “more than 40 percent of citizens 16 years and older... agree with the statement that Israel is carrying out ‘a war of extermination’ against Palestinians.”
As the editorial points out, “an astounding number of Europeans feel a tremendous amount of opprobrium for anything connected to Israel... And since visibly identifiable Jews are connected with Israel,” this anti-Israel animosity translates into anti-Jewish animosity.
From Scandinavia through Scotland and Spain to South Africa, throughout France and Hungary and across campuses in North America, Jews are being besieged and harassed largely because Israel has failed to convey its eminently conveyable case to the world. It has allowed itself to be portrayed as a dangerous pariah – and any association with it carries a price.
This is vividly illustrated by the fate of Sweden’s Jewry – particularly in the city of Malmo.
Consider the following excerpt from a report by Haaretz: “[An] Israel solidarity demonstration in central Malmo ended in violence as participants were pelted with eggs, bottles and fire crackers.... [Mayor Ilmar] Reepalu suggested Malmo’s Jews could avoid anti- Semitism by condemning Israeli policy.”
The message is clear: Disavow Israel, or pay the price.
Bordering on betrayal
This is a far from exhaustive analysis of the problems precipitated by Israel’s abandonment of the public-diplomacy front. It has been principally a diagnosis for a malaise which has a remedy. It is a remedy that requires resolve, resources and resourcefulness.
The failure of Israeli leadership to mobilize these elements comprises a grave dereliction of duty, bordering on betrayal of Israelis and of Jews in the Diaspora.
The claim that because of the prevalence of visceral anti-Semitism in the world, “no amount of PR can counteract anti-Israeli acrimony,” is canard that must be summarily dismissed.
Defeatism and dereliction go hand in hand. After all, a necessary condition to win a battle is to participate in it. With regard to public diplomacy – this is something Israel has refrained from doing with any efficacy.
Subject to breaking news, I will take up the challenge of comprising a “to-do” list in next week’s column, to be tentatively titled “If I were prime minister…”
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategicisrael.org)