Israel turned 66 this week, but some things never change: It still faces multiple threats, as it has since its inception; they currently range from Iran’s nuclear program to the global delegitimization campaign. But if that sounds like an invitation to despair, consider the following comment by a veteran Israeli diplomat:
“Back in the 70s and 80s, my predecessors were hearing exactly the same warnings from our supporters in America and Europe. That the anti-Israel atmosphere on the campuses is poisonous, that an entire generation is being turned against us by the hostile media, that we will wake up one morning and find that Israel is isolated. And all these years have passed and Israel has diplomatic relations with dozens more countries, and our economic and cultural ties around the world have never been better. In the meantime we’ve built up this massive imaginary enemy, we have devoted resources to fighting it and not done anything to actually fix our country.”
There are at least three major inaccuracies in that statement, but the bottom line is indisputable: Despite the multiple threats it has always faced, Israel’s track record over the last few decades – and indeed, the entirety of the last 66 years – has been one of astounding growth and progress. And there’s no reason why the future can’t be equally bright.
The caveat, of course, is that our future will be bright only if we do what’s necessary to make it so. And that brings us to the diplomat’s three major errors.
First is the assumption that delegitimization is an “imaginary enemy,” and the resources devoted to fighting it have therefore been wasted. The threat of becoming an international pariah is no joke; Israel’s modern, open economy couldn’t long survive the kind of treatment meted out to countries like North Korea or Zimbabwe. Granted, our flourishing economy also serves as a bulwark against pariah status; other countries have more to lose by boycotting Israel than they do by boycotting North Korea or Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, it’s foolish to underestimate the power of public opinion in the democratic West; if public opinion turns against Israel sharply enough, it can trump even the West’s own self-interest.The fact that this hasn’t happened yet despite decades of anti-Israel poison in the media and on campuses shows not that it cannot happen, but the efforts Israel and its allies have devoted to combating this poison – incompetent though they often are – have so far been enough to prevent the worst from happening. Clearly, this isn’t grounds for resting on our laurels; both in the media and on campuses, the situation is worsening, and Israel will need to improve its public diplomacy if it is to keep the delegitimization movement in check.