Into the Fray: Intellectual warriors, not slicker diplomats
Israel’s greatest strategic challenge, its gravest strategic failure, its grimmest strategic danger is the (mis)conduct of its public diplomacy.
Soldiers [illustrative] Photo: Ben Hartman
War is a continuation of politics by other means. – Carl von Clausewitz, On War,
Politics is war conducted by other means. – David J. Horowitz, The
Art of Political War, 2000
Frederick the Great, who reigned as king of Prussia
(1740-1786), famously remarked that “Diplomacy without arms is like music
without instruments.” Today, over two centuries later, it would appear
this relationship has been entirely reversed, and that “Arms without diplomacy
is like music without instruments.”
Arms without diplomacy
In a recent
opinion piece (Jerusalem Post, January 7) titled “Why Jews are so bad at PR,”
Shmuley Boteach asks, with evident exasperation, “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?”
The last several weeks have seen a spate of similar articles, berating the
dismal and dysfunctional performance of Israel’s public diplomacy – reflecting,
one hopes, growing public discontent at the deplorable state of affairs that has
prevailed in this sphere for decades.
Regrettably, it appears that these
– richly deserved – rebukes have been largely limited to the nation’s
English-language press. A Google search I conducted on major Hebrew media
outlets showed that far less attention seems to be allotted to discussion and
analysis of this critically important component of Israel’s strategic
capabilities – revealing what appears to be an alarming lack of awareness of,
and/or interest in, the topic among the Hebrew-reading public.
to overstate the gravity
It is difficult to overstate the gravity of Israel’s
public diplomacy debacle, and to grasp the ongoing official disregard of the
strategic dangers that its continued neglect is creating.
over half a decade ago, in an article called “Public diplomacy: the missing
component in Israel’s foreign policy,” published in a well-known scholarly
journal, Prof. Eytan Gilboa issued the following ominous warning: “The lack of
an adequate PD [public diplomacy] program has significantly affected Israel’s
strategic outlook and freedom of action.... 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.”
all the recently published critiques did a good job in their diagnosis of the
malaise, I fear the prescriptions many of them suggested for its remedy are
hopelessly inadequate, and reflect a serious underestimation of the depth and
the scale of the problem.
Right diagnosis, wrong prescription
example, one ardent and articulate advocate for Israel, who for many years has
been a sterling stalwart in defending the country against unfounded defamatory
attacks at home and abroad, suggested measures with which many might concur. He
prescribes that “Israel must appoint a DIPLOMAT, rather than a politician as our
next foreign minister,” and that “Israel needs a friendly, cooperative, rapid
response PR team that will PROMPTLY supply helpful CREDIBLE information whenever
needed about government, IDF or police actions that are liable to be criticized
in the international media.”
I would prefer not to get ensnared in a
discussion as to whether it is practicable in the current or foreseeable future
political realities to expect that a plum political position such as foreign
minister could be conferred on a non-political figure; or whether the problem
with information provided by Israel is its promptness and credibility rather
than the editorial prejudices of the major media channels, both domestic and
So while I might concede that such suggestions should not be
dismissed out of hand as unfeasible or irrelevant, I have no doubt that even if
implemented, they would have little more than marginal impact.
no quick fix for this prickly predicament. The abysmal situation we find
ourselves in took years to develop.
It is the result of decades of gross
negligence by both the political and the professional echelons responsible for
the formulation and execution of the nation’s diplomatic strategy. It will take
years to redress, and is far more a problem of overall structure, than of
As such, it cannot be
rectified by the appointment of this or that individual to the post of foreign
minister and/or information minister – to be replaced after a maximum of a
four-year tenure. It cannot be resolved merely by putting a more polished
ex-post spin on events, or a more articulate after-the-fact presentation of
For what we are facing is nothing less than a deeply
troubling system-wide failure of the entire complex of diplomatic “machinery,”
allegedly designated to advance Israel’s cause abroad.
In his “How not to
win friends and influence people” (Jerusalem Post, January 11), Barry Shaw fires
off this caustic – but largely justified – condemnation of Israeli officialdom:
“It is the total dereliction of duty, public diplomacy duty, at the heart of the
decision-making process. The foreign office, the Prime Minister’s Office, the
Government Spokesman’s Office, or the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora
Affairs – all have proven themselves to be incapable of addressing the urgent
need to present Israel’s position on leading issues, particularly the
Regrettably, I find it difficult to dispute this
Comprehensive intellectual effort required
combating the growing delegitimization of Israel requires a far greater,
wide-ranging and concerted intellectual effort – much of which the government
can only help facilitate but not execute, certainly not on its own.
radical restructuring and revamping of Israeli diplomatic strategy,
infrastructure and doctrine is called for. The requirements for such a
metamorphosis go well beyond the individual appointment of personnel, or the
efficiency of transmission of information to an innately antipathetic
The full elaboration of what is required – and the rationale as to
why it is required – extend beyond the limits of a single opinion column.
Accordingly, I will confine myself to a skeletal tour d’horizon of the principle
parameters that such an enterprise must comprise.
foundation must be a fundamental change in the perception of the role of public
diplomacy in the strategic arsenal of the nation. As I have written in several
columns, the function of diplomacy – particularly public diplomacy – is akin to
the traditional function of the air force. For just as the classic role of the
air force is to provide ground forces the necessary freedom of action to attain
their objectives, so the classic role of diplomacy is to provide national
policy- makers the freedom of action they require to attain the objectives of
Intellectual warriors, not slicker diplomats
Adoption of this
perception of diplomacy as an operational arm of national strategy has
inevitable operational consequences.
The first of these involves the
realization that the effective conduct of strategic diplomacy cannot be left to
official diplomats, for as soon will become clear, it requires activities which
state representatives, bound by the formalities of protocol and the niceties of
diplomatic etiquette, are unlikely to be able to undertake.
tasks that must be assumed by nongovernmental organizations, comprised of
resolute and focused civil society elites, dedicated to the defense of their
country and with the appropriate attributes and resources to engage its
adversaries in intellectual combat, unfettered by the constraints that limit the
freedom of response (and initiative) of the official organs of state.
is these “intellectual warriors” who must comprise the front-line shock troops
in the ongoing battle against Israel’s international
Intellectual warriors (cont.)
The second consequence
relates to resources.
Winning a war requires a war chest. No matter how
well formulated the message, and how intense the motivation of its conveyors,
the impact will be limited to the size and range of the “megaphone” that civil
society intellectual warriors have at their disposal. This clearly requires
funding. Israel has been incredibly miserly in allotting resources for its
public diplomacy efforts and for the fight against its
As I have pointed out in previous columns, this
frugality is not due to a lack of resources. Were Israel to apportion a fraction
of 1 percent of its GDP (around a quarter of a trillion dollars), for this
purpose, this would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars that could be
channeled to engage, inform and educate large swathes of the public who have
fallen prey to its detractors’ defamatory deception. They could be channeled to
help confront, curtail and counteract the unwarranted delegitimization of the
Jewish state and the Zionist ideal.
Inexplicably, while foreign
governments finance a myriad of NGOs dedicated to besmirching Israel’s
reputation, the government of Israel extends virtually no support to NGOs
seeking to defend it.
As this parsimony is unlikely to disappear in the
near future, and until the government bureaucracy can be coaxed/convinced into
amending its current self-obstructive budgetary priorities, Israel’s
intellectual warriors will have to seek funding from like-minded private
benefactors, who have the necessary insight – and foresight – to grasp the
urgent imperatives of the hour.
Question of context
For the intellectual
warrior, the primary challenge is not to change the way in which current events
are reported but rather to change the context in which that reportage is
For a given incident will be interpreted entirely differently,
depending on the context in which it is perceived. Thus, no matter what events
are to be reported, it matters greatly whether Israel is portrayed as a
beleaguered democracy, a bastion of civil liberties and democratic governance,
valiantly defending itself against a sea of tyranny and theocracy, or as an
avaricious expansionist rogue state, coveting the lands of others and trampling
the rights of the defenseless.
Clearly, any civilian casualties resulting
from IDF operations would be judged very differently, depending on which of
these contexts apply: Regrettable but understandable “collateral damage,” in the
former; unacceptable victims of colonial aggression, in the
Changing the context in which Israel is perceived is a task of
mammoth proportions – particularly in light of the decades of neglect that have
passed since the dramatic transformation from its pre- 1967 status of a
David-like underdog to its post-1967 status of a Goliath-like oppressor. It is a
task that cannot be left to the country’s official diplomatic corps.
For international understanding of Israeli policy
and IDF actions, Israel must portray its adversaries – particularly the
Palestinians – as they really are.
Unless this is done, such policy and
action may well appear excessive.
To employ a rather stark metaphor – and
without wishing to impute canine qualities to humans of any kind, if one insists
that one’s antagonists are “cuddly poodles” rather than “vicious rottweilers,”
one cannot expect others to understand why “rottweiler” action is
Clearly, however, Israeli diplomats cannot portray
Palestinian society in its true light: as a cruel, brutal society where women
are suppressed, gays are oppressed and political dissidents are repressed; a
society where journalists are harassed, press freedom is trampled, political
opponents are lynched, honor killings of women by their male relatives are
endorsed or at least condoned, and homosexuals are hounded.
That must be left to
civil society intellectual warriors.
Going for the jugular
society intellectual warriors can identify and articulate the raw truth as to
the true origins of the delegitimization of Israel. Only they can “go for the
jugular” and underscore the inconvenient fact that if the Palestinian narrative
which portrays the Palestinians as an authentic national entity is acknowledged
as legitimate, then all the aspirations, such as achieving Palestinians
statehood, that arise from that narrative are legitimate. Accordingly, any
policy that precludes the achievement of those aspirations will be perceived as
But – in the absence of wildly optimistic, and hence
irresponsibly unrealistic, “best-case” assumptions – any policy that is designed
to secure Israel’s minimal security requirements, will preclude the
establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Consequently, any endeavor to
realistically provide Israel with minimal security will be perceived as
The inevitable conclusion must therefore be that for Israel
to secure conditions that adequately address its minimal security requirements,
the Palestinian narrative, and the aspirations that flow from it, must be
This is something that only civil society elites can
express and convey.
Israel’s greatest strategic challenge
greatest strategic challenge, its gravest strategic failure and its grimmest
strategic danger is the conduct – or rather misconduct – of its public
Unless new battalions of intellectual warriors are formed and
mobilized, the challenge will go unanswered, the failure will remain
unaddressed, and the danger will continue to intensify.
(www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel
Institute for Strategic Studies.