Israel is hunkering down, but instead of feeling defeated, it’s getting ready to take on the world.
My visit to Israel during this war has shown me that Israeli leaders of every stripe, from Left to Right, feel embattled, besieged, beleaguered. But also defiant and unbroken. They are already building ramparts for Fortress Israel.
The world, the feeling goes, is turning on us as never before. Our outreach to the nations, especially Europe, has failed completely. They are solidly anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, with little distinction between the two.
The solution is Fortress Israel, an island nation with two principal defenses: its military and its relationship with the United States.
Forget the UN. It nominates Ahmadinejad toadies like William Schabas. It investigates Israel while even Islamic State and Boko Haram get a pass. Forget France, which is returning to pogroms. Screw Britain, with MPs saying they’d also fire rockets at Jews in Israel.
We are tired of trying to explain ourselves. Israelis feel no one will understand. No one wants to understand.
You can see the position hardening.
And it’s tough to argue with that conclusion.
I was amazed that The Guardian published two major stories in its pages basically apologizing to its readers for publishing my organization’s ads with Elie Wiesel condemning Hamas for child sacrifice. Alan Rusbridger, its eminent editor, implied that our ad had destroyed his paper’s reputation, writing, “I am saddened that, for some readers, it appears that the amazing, brave reporting by Guardian journalists, staffers and stringers in Gaza, to get the suffering and news out of there, at risk to their own lives, counts for less than one advertisement... So it’s a shame that the controversy over the advertisement eclipsed the unflinching work that the Guardian has done in being the world’s eyes and ears, including going to the hospitals where the injured and dead children were being taken.”
Chris Elliott, the Guardian reader’s editor, actually wrote, “I think the Guardian should have rejected the language of the advertisement.”
So much for Britain’s belief in freedom of the press.
His column claimed that the Stop the War Coalition had 140,000 signatures condemning our ad and that the Guardian itself received 350 complaints. Which explains the real nature of the controversy. The Guardian is simply bowing to the outside pressure of Europe’s Israel-haters, of which there are more than a few.
Forget Israel getting fair editorial treatment. We can’t even pay to make Israel’s case.
In America the attitude would have been different. You don’t like the ad, turn the damned page. Not one American paper rejected our ad. But the Guardian and The Times subsequently and categorically refused to print our new ad against William Schabas, the Bibi-hating, Israel-condemning, “objective” new judge of Israel at the UN.
There have always been demonstrations against Israel in Europe. In my 11 years as rabbi in Oxford I witnessed many and provoked more than a few by hosting five Israeli prime ministers.
But this war is different, we all feel. Now the demonstrations in Europe are not against Israel but against Jews. They invoke Hitler. They chant HAM-AS rhyming with poison GAS. They want us dead.
Fortress Israel is being created by the realization that Israel is surrounded on all sides by enemies who seek its destruction. From Hamas to the south to Hezbollah to the north to Syria and Islamic State to the east, Israel is a nation under siege. What makes it more isolated than ever before is the world condemning this tiny democratic country for defending its citizens from mass slaughter.
And yet the impulse to retreat into Fortress Israel must be resisted at all costs. To the contrary, on the diplomatic and PR front Israel must become more aggressive and more engaging.
It’s time to take the fight to our enemies.
William Schabas planned to investigate Israel. As always it would be Israel on the defensive, being attacked by a UN that has yet to issue a single condemnation of Bashar Assad’s poison gas attack on Arab children. What our ad campaign in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post did was put Schabas on the defensive, with his sickening record of being a shill for Iranian mullah terrorists. In the wake of our campaign, Schabas has been defending himself all over world media. He went to Tehran to a conference hosted by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – to promote human rights, he says. Ahmadinejad isn’t so bad. He’s just a politician. And Schabas won’t say whether he took money.
Understandably, Schabas now looks like one of two things. Either a useful idiot who lent his academic prestige to a cynical PR gambit by a murderous Iranian regime, or a naïve fool. Either way he’s toast and has squandered any last vestige of credibility. So let him chair the UN commission so the world can see it for the farce it is.
Let’s bring the fight to our enemies.
In place of Fortress Israel we must create Strike Force Israel.
I’m glad that the Guardian attacked itself for taking our money and printing our ad. I’m glad that it has succumbed, by its own admission, to reader complaints, thereby demonstrating how easily intimidated it is.
Will an aggressive PR response create enemies? Absolutely, just as Israel defending itself will do. Indeed, an article in The Jerusalem Post quoted Israel studies professor emeritus Colin Shindler of the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London saying, “In all likelihood, Boteach has inculcated stronger pro-Palestinian feeling” with the Elie Wiesel ads.
I assume this was Shindler’s cynical attempt at humor.
Britain becoming more pro-Palestinian is akin to the pope becoming more Catholic.
But for every three detractors we will find one who is impressed by our courage to run the gauntlet and make a compelling case for Israel in world media based on courage and conviction.
It was the attitude taken by Ambassador Ron Dermer when he called out Erin Burnett and CNN for not providing context about Hamas’s use of UN schools for rocket launches. It was the attitude taken by Elie Wiesel where one of the most respected men alive hit hard at the murderers of Hamas for their use of human shields.
An Israeli ambassador to a European country with whom I met recently asked me whether I thought his regular appearances on national TV were helpful. “So many are telling me that Europe is lost,” he said.
“It’s not lost,” I told him. “Rather, the idea that we will be very popular in Europe is lost. But making our case regardless of the consequence is something we should be doing every day. And you will gain the individual citizen’s respect.”
Let us forgo Fortress Israel and join Strike Force Israel.
Not Israeli retreat but an Israeli PR advance. Not hunkering down but engaging our detractors.
It’s time to admit that the Hillel-Chabad approach to pro-Israel activism on campus must be modified or supplemented.
These incredible organizations are on the front lines. But students are not inspired by felafel parties alone.
They are not moved merely by Israeli film festivals or Israeli dance evenings, important as they are. Do you see the BDS people staging Palestinian theater evenings? No, they go after Israel, enlist tens of thousands of idealistic and ignorant young people, and send them out as a propaganda army against Israel.
It’s time to engage BDS. It’s time to respond to Europe.
Our organization, This World: The Values Network, is continuing our Israel debate series on campus, inviting the best Israel and Arab speakers to debate the Middle East.
Many potential campus partners whom we’ve approached have told me that they won’t join our debates because they’re afraid of the Israel side losing. Which calls to mind what Franklin Roosevelt said: The only thing to fear is fear itself.
In the fall I will be back at Oxford, God willing, debating Hanan Ashrawi at the Oxford Union. Will we win? Just by demonstrating that Israel refuses to be intimidated and hunker down into Fortress Israel, we are victorious.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of “This World: The Values Network,” the world’s leading organization promoting universal Jewish values in politics, culture, and the media. The international best-selling author of 30 books, he has recently published Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.