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
– 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
– Shmuley Boteach, “Why Jews are so bad at PR,” The Jerusalem Post,
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
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
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.
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
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.
• 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
• It endangers Jewish communities across the globe –
because of their imputed affiliation with a “reviled and loathsome”
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
• It leads to a sense of resignation as to the
inevitability of acquiescence to Arab demands – no matter how perilous this
On the domestic level:
• It undermines the morale of the
population by promoting an unjustified sense of beleaguerment and
• 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
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.Diminishing
The introductory excerpt from Shmuley Boteach’s Post
this year succinctly encapsulates the malaise – some might say, paralysis – that
Israel’s diplomatic failure has inflicted on Israel’s military.
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
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.)
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
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. Eytan
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.
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.Prescient prognosis
“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.”
highlights another sinister consequence of Israel’s PD failure.
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
In a remarkably prescient caveat, Eytan 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
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
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
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.
vividly illustrated by the fate of Sweden’s Jewry – particularly in the city of
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
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.
of Israeli leadership to mobilize these elements comprises a grave dereliction
of duty, bordering on betrayal of Israelis and of Jews in the
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.
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)
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