Kulanu MK and former ambassador to the US Michael Oren.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) called for the government to intensify the fight against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, ahead of a Knesset Caucus to Fight Delegitimization of Israel conference on the topic on Wednesday.
Oren described BDS as part of a new stage in Arab attempts to destroy Israel through delegitimization.
“The goal of BDS is not a two-state solution or the end of the occupation.
Their occupation is 1948,” Oren said, referring to the year of Israel’s establishment. “They are well-funded, highly organized and very sophisticated.”
The way to fight the boycott campaign is “to go on the offensive, and bring the battle to BDS,” Oren said, admitting: “We haven’t come up with an answer [to BDS]. We need a legal and hasbara Iron Dome.”
Oren, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs and Public Diplomacy, cited a Knesset Research and Information Center report he ordered, which said that Israel spent NIS 103.6m on hasbara or public diplomacy in 2014 (not including spending on foreign aid, which also contributes to Israel’s image), and the spending is divided between five agencies under three ministries – the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Ministry and Strategic Affairs Ministry. The report called efforts to fight delegitimization and boycotts “unfocused.”
The Kulanu MK expressed concern that Israeli officials are not sufficiently aware of the boycott problem.
Oren said he became familiar with the BDS movement and its tactics while serving as ambassador to the US, and when he returned to Israel in late 2013, he was surprised by senior Israeli officials’ ignorance of it.
The turning point, he said, was this year, when BDS targeted “two things that are important to Israelis – cellphones and soccer,” when Orange’s CEO said he sought to cut ties with Israel and when the Palestine Football Association tried to ban Israel from FIFA.
The government dedicated NIS 100m. of the 2016 budget to the matter, as part of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which says it is currently building a comprehensive team meant to coordinate and lead efforts. However, Oren explained that throwing money at the problem is not enough.
“Questions remain. What will be the role of the IDF, Foreign Ministry and intelligence services? Coordination is needed. We need resources and personnel. The fight can’t just be sending pro-Israel speakers to campuses,” he said.
Oren hopes to use his subcommittee to examine how the funds are being used and what can be done to “make the hasbara machinery work better.”
One way Israel can improve its public diplomacy is by having better control over its message, Oren said, recounting that, during his time in Washington, DC, he was impressed by how well White House and State Department officials at all levels stuck to their message.
Oren pointed out that hasbara means “explaining,” but that good public diplomacy is not just talking about Israel.
“Hasbara is also explaining the other guy: Where they’re getting funding, their means of operation, their goals. BDS is an international operation designed to take us down, period. That’s how we have to respond to it; the problem isn’t getting any smaller,” he stated.
Wednesday’s conference is meant to raise awareness of BDS and talk about solutions, Oren said.
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the government’s policies against boycotts, is to speak at the event, as are former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, Pierre Rehov, director of Beyond Deception Strategy, a documentary exposing the BDS movement as seeking to destroy Israel, and others.
Oren is co-chairman of the Caucus to Fight Delegitimization of Israel, along with MKs Anat Berko (Likud), Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu).