How is it possible for Israel to effectively present its positions to the world
when its government PR organs are in such a state of disarray? Not only are they
in shameful condition, they have become incapable of addressing the most basic
elements of our legitimacy and policy.
We hear the most outlandish
criticisms and resolutions used against us that go unanswered by the
In an area of dispute when you don’t express your legitimacy,
don’t adequately rebut the accusations of illegitimacy, you begin to appear
Delegitimacy is a growing, existential threat for Israel.
It is a clear and present danger that is increasingly rearing its ugly head in
Defense Minister Ehud Barak actually called it a
“strategic danger to the State of Israel.”
And yet, the government
refuses to seriously address the issue, or to devote the necessary budget and
planning to public diplomacy, or even to provide factual and ongoing information
to those who campaign for Israel’s good name.
Recently we were privy to
the distressing episode of our frustrated ambassadors being assailed by National
Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, after they criticized the government for not
providing them with an official explanation on the thinking and policy of
Operation Pillar of Defense.
When it gets to this level of crisis, you
know we are in deep trouble.
When Ron Prosor, our ambassador to the
United Nations, asked about the rationale behind the government’s timing of the
announcement of the construction plans for the E1 area, his question was greeted
by applause by the attending ambassadors. This expression of their concern and
frustration at the government’s lack of explanation was angrily put down by
Amidror, the head of the National Security Council, who responded, “If you don’t
agree with government policy, either go into politics or resign.”
had asked a perfectly legitimate question and was rebuked. As one diplomat said,
“We are not given the tools needed to explain governmental policy.” This is
precisely what Israeli activists and advocates having been saying for years. It
is clear that, in the battle for international public opinion, the government
still doesn’t get it.
There is an anti-Israel diplomatic storm brewing in
South Africa’s governing African National Congress party in
December made supporting boycotts, divestments and sanctions a part of its
official policy. As the anti-Israel Electronic Intifada website trumpeted, “The
decision by the ANC National Conference is the most authoritative endorsement of
BDS against Israel.” The country that gave us “Zionism is Racism” is now a
prisoner to the BDS movement.
Clearly the government’s lack of will to
fight the delegitimization of our country has led to a crisis of monstrous
proportion in Africa.
Apparently it learned nothing from the 2001 UN
World Conference Against Racism in Durban that adopted the resolution that
Israel is a racist state.
Now South Africa intends to impose sanctions
against the Jewish state.
More danger appears on the horizon. Later this
year, South Africa will take the chair of the Organization of African Unity.
Should Johannesburg adopt anti-Israel sanctions, it is likely to bring this
resolution to the rest of Africa where, with the support of the increasingly
Islamic members, it is likely to receive a sympathetic hearing, unless
last-second action is taken by Israel to show the South African government
decision-makers the true face of Israel.
It is worth reminding ourselves
that no African nation voted with Israel and against the Palestinian statehood
bid at the UN in November.
Israel has learned nothing from Durban 2001.
It has failed to court the leaders of the ANC with the same enthusiasm and
dedication as our BDS movement enemies have. I don’t know how true it is, but
somebody told me that the anti-Israel “Open Shehada Street” group in South
Africa has more paid staffers than the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria.
enormous effort required must not be confined to South Africa. We are losing
My point is that the government has failed to represent Israel in
the critical arena of Israel’s public diplomacy. It has shown disrespect for
activist warriors fighting a rear guard action in the war of delegitimization.
In certain cases it appears unaware, insensitive and incompetent in addressing
key battlefronts until they explode in their faces.
The Gaza flotilla was
one example of action done too little, too late, and then done
Following the Lindenstrauss report, critical of the government
handling of the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, a number of NGOs and Israeli
activists volunteers decided to act the following year to counter the propaganda
of the 2011 Gaza flotilla. I was one of the people who set up the situation room
donated to us by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
A group of young
computer nerds created websites, Facebook groups in various languages and
Twitter accounts as we flooded the social media with information that
discredited the flotilla activists by presenting an accurate picture of what
they were really about, which was not peace and reconciliation.
helped by NGOs, led by Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center and UK Lawyers for
Israel; they succeeded by using ingenious methods, in locking down the flotilla
boats in Piraeus, Greece, and prevented them sailing to Gaza. Intelligence
information was obtained by this group of volunteers that led to preventing
anti-Israel provocateurs from boarding planes to Ben-Gurion Airport as part of
an antagonistic “Flightilla.”
Without question, and compared to the 2010
disaster, the independent action of enthusiastic activists acting on a prepared
plan proved to be hugely successful.
Actions taken by individuals and
groups have had remarkable success in the battles against our vocal and
hyperactive enemies. The government must learn to support and sponsor
independent activists. They have the record of success to prove that smart local
action is effective.
The good news is that it works. There is, alas,
little hope that those in official positions to effect change will take
sufficient note of the serious existential threat to our nation. They will
continue their policy of “too little, too late.”
Pro-Israel activists and
groups, both here and abroad, are uncertain as to which government agency deals
with public diplomacy. Is it the Foreign Ministry? Is it the Prime Minister’s
Office? Or is it the minister of public diplomacy, and what does he do, exactly?
It’s quite confusing. If this is the plane of diplomacy, then who is flying it?
If this is the plane of diplomacy, we are experiencing a hell of a lot of
turbulence, and we are worried about surviving the flight. Nor do we understand
the direction they are taking us. I’m not sure there is any coordination among
the crew (who is the crew, by the way?). This plane of diplomacy, flying in an
atmosphere unfavorable to the safety of its passengers, does not appear to be
staffed by people competent in manning a successful campaign capable of getting
us safely to our destination. When crew members, such as the ambassadors, are
grumbling about those in the cockpit we simple passengers have real reason to be
One added and valid point is that the government is failing to
invest sufficient capital into keeping the hasbara plane afloat.
am prepared to make an impolite but provable claim. Israeli public diplomacy
should not be left in the hands of native-born Israeli bureaucrats and
With one or two notable exceptions, those that have dabbled
in the subject have proven to be unmitigated disasters.
Look instead at
the private NGOs that are battling the anti-Israel delegitimization and
All of the prominent action groups, in their
respective fields, were created, developed and achieved external funding by
Israelis emanating from English-speaking backgrounds.
A few of the most
outstanding examples include NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg, Palestinian Media
Watch’s Itamar Marcus, Joe Hyam’s HonestReporting.
We can add to this
list the amazing work being done by Israel21c, StandWithUs and Birthright
Israel, all funded by American pro-Israel patrons.
These NGOs have
succeeded with little to no governmental help or funding.
raised budgets from private sources abroad that have enabled them to continue
the fine work they are doing for Israel.
The time has come for the
government to be outflanked by well-funded, independent, pro-Israel public
diplomacy NGOs. Wealthy pro-Israel individuals and foundations must get involved
with such NGOs so that Israel’s voice is properly and widely
It is time that people in Chicago, Shanghai, Berlin, London,
Stockholm and yes, in the Arab world, can turn on their TVs and find an
international Israeli news channel as conveniently as they can find CNN, Al
Jazeera, France 24 and the BBC. An estimate of costs for such a news channel is
$15 million a year.
Don’t expect the government to cough up the money any
day soon, no matter how essential it is for the world to hear our voice and see
the true face of our country. This must be an independent effort by people who
share this author’s concerns. I don’t believe that, despite difficult economic
times, there are not the sufficient number of able people willing to underwrite
such a critically important venture.
The defense of Israel, saving it
from a global delegitimization campaign that will have significant diplomatic
impact on our country, is sufficient grounds for influential and powerful people
to rally around the Jewish state and protect it from our enemies, and from the
incompetence of our government politicians and officials.
Barry Shaw is
the author of Israel Reclaiming the Narrative. He is also the special
consultant on delegitimization issues to the S.Daniel Abrahams Center for
Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College.