The tsunami of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred that has all but engulfed European countries has not only left Diaspora communities uneasy and frightened but has shocked and bewildered Israelis and decent folk (yes, there are still some left) in Britain and the West.
It seems that Israel has utterly lost the war for hearts and minds. So could it be doing any better than it has done? The answer is undoubtedly yes.
Let’s first give credit where it’s due. Some of Israel’s officials who are sent to wade into the cesspools of world opinion are extremely good.
In Britain, Israel’s excellent ambassador Daniel Taub struck absolutely the right note – and lifted spirits – when he traveled to Bradford, which the demagogic MP George Galloway had declared an “Israel-free zone,” and unfurled the Israeli flag next to a “Welcome to Bradford” sign.
Let’s acknowledge that what’s been unleashed is at base an irrational animus. Whether it’s driven by anti-Jewish bigotry, the infantile leftism which views Israel as a proxy for capitalist America, or the post-modern moral imbecility which negates the distinction between aggressor and victim and believes “fairness” requires an equal number of casualties between the two “equivalent” sides, there is nothing anyone can do to penetrate these sealed rooms of unreason.
Unfortunately, because the media, intellectuals and fashionable personalities who dominate the culture overwhelmingly inhabit one or more of these sealed rooms, public discourse about Israel is shaped almost entirely by lies, distortion and malice. As a result, many people simply don’t know that virtually everything they hear or read about Israel is maliciously twisted – because they encounter no evidence to the contrary.
For four weeks during Operation Protective Edge, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and who has called Israel’s armed forces “the most moral army in the history of warfare,” was in Israel watching the conflict unfold. Over and over again he offered his services as an informed commentator to the BBC, Sky and other British broadcasting outlets. They asked him for his views about other world events – but not once did they ask this military expert to speak about Gaza.
This is where Israel has so badly fallen down.
For it has not sought to fill this information vacuum. Of course, it is hard to dent the impact of horrific images of dead Palestinian children shown night after night on the TV news.
However, I have lost count of the number of Brits – including Jews – who repeat the mantra that “the overwhelming majority” of the casualties of Israel’s “disproportionate” air strikes on Gaza have been civilians. But weeks ago, Al Jazeera reported that the majority of casualties were in fact fighting-age men – even though half of Gaza’s population is female and half aged under 18.
In other words, these air strikes were targeted to avoid innocent civilians. It was the relentless concentration on pictures of dead children which was disproportionate. But only those who followed Al Jazeera would have been aware of this.
Similarly, most people had no idea that (when I last looked) more than 450 Hamas rockets had fallen short in Gaza, almost certainly killing and injuring untold numbers of civilians. Nor did they know that the UN casualty figures, presented by the media as authoritative, in fact came from Hamas which declares every casualty must be described as a civilian.
Even if such information dribbles out in IDF or Foreign Ministry bulletins, it doesn’t reach those outside Israel. The Israeli government simply hasn’t got a clue about this, because it has never developed a strategy for fighting the psychological warfare deployed against it with such stunning success by its enemies over so many decades.
The main thing it misses is the need to stop playing defense and to go instead onto the front foot. Putting up a spokesman, however good, against some viciously twisted TV or radio interviewer shouting that Israel is killing Palestinian babies is to be on a hiding to nothing, in a situation in which any victory by that spokesman has little or no value, but defeat has a huge cost.
Simply by always being on the defensive, Israel looks guilty. It should instead be investing money and manpower in using information as a strategic weapon. In addition to taking the dissemination of information onto a different level altogether, it should be going onto the attack against all those who are undermining the defense of the innocent in the Middle East and empowering the aggressors.
It should have a public media rebuttal unit, which would not just monitor and correct every piece of false information but publicly call out news organizations and named journalists for promulgating lies or distortions. At a political level, it should be accusing such media outlets of inciting hatred and violence and, in acting as the agents of Hamas propaganda, serving as accessories to mass murder.
It should be calling to account British and European governments for their astonishing silence about the sustained demonization of Israel. It should be publicly asking the British government why, in threatening an arms embargo against Israel if it should defend itself against Hamas attacks in a “significant” escalation, the UK is effectively taking the side of exactly the same kind of Islamist fanatics against whom it is now taking such urgent action in Iraq.
It should be helping set up an independent commission composed of distinguished international jurists to investigate not just Hamas war crimes but the complicity of the UN Relief and Works Agency, the vast majority of whose workers are Hamas members and whose schools brainwash Gaza’s children into hating and murdering Israelis.
In other words, Israel’s strategy should be actively to reframe the narrative of the Middle East conflict and delegitimize the delegitimizers, whether these be the media, the UN or Israel’s supposed allies abroad.
Why hasn’t it done so? Because its government is chaotic, arrogant and timid. It contemptuously dismisses the need to win Western hearts and minds, and is afraid to puncture the lies told by its allies about the conflict. Given to machismo bluster, the only strategic thinking it understands is military. As a result, it is being beaten on a battleground it can’t bring itself to accept it is even on.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).