A few months after Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip ended in 2009,
Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu, then the chief spokesman of the Israel Defense Forces,
flew to London for a number of lectures and meetings.
It was at the
height of the international community’s criticism of Israel and just weeks after
the United Nations Human Rights Council had established the Goldstone Commission
to probe alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
When Benayahu arrived at his
hotel, he checked in under a different name – John Watson, Sherlock Holmes’s
partner. He was accompanied by two security guards throughout the duration of
his stay in the United Kingdom.
Almost three years later and now out of
uniform, Benayahu recalls that trip as a major turning point in his
understanding of the nature of the threat that Israel faces
“They explained to me that if word got out that I am staying in
the hotel there would be 4,000 demonstrators out in front within an hour,” he
said this week.
During his four-year term, Benayahu was one of the most
powerful people in the IDF and served as a close advisor to his boss – former
chief of staff Lt.- Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi.
Defense Minister Ehud
Barak’s office has accused Benayahu in the past of working with Ashkenazi to
undermine Barak, an accusation that the former spokesman refuses to respond to.
Instead, he urges patience and says that once the State Comptroller report on
the so-called Harpaz Affair is released and he is officially discharged in
another two months from the military, he will have a lot more to say.
THE meantime, Benayahu has a message for the Diaspora: There is a war raging
around the world to delegitimize Israel and each and every Jew. no matter where
he or she lives. can be a soldier in that battle.
On April 29, The
will hold a conference entitled “Fighting for the Zionist Dream”
in New York City. One of the panels will focus on the so-called delegitimization
“This is a campaign that crosses the globe and is financed by
Iran and the Palestinians,” Benayahu says while looking out at Tel Aviv from the
offices of his new management consulting firm in the Azrieli Towers. “The
objective is to isolate Israel and to try – with non-military means – to defeat
Benayahu’s term as chief IDF spokesman from an international
perspective is complicated. On the one hand, he established the IDF’s digital
presence – on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
He also opened up the
military to the international press, getting foreign journalists access to
officers who in the past had refused to meet with them.
On the other
hand, he will always be remembered for the closure that Israel imposed on Gaza
during Operation Cast Lead, when journalists were not allowed into the
Benayahu uses this interview to set the
record straight. Firstly, he explains, journalists were allowed into Gaza if
they were willing to be embedded with IDF troops. Secondly, he adds, he actually
recommended that the government open up the Erez Crossing – which was not under
IDF control – and allow journalists free access to Gaza.
“I thought it
was the right move to open up the crossing and allow journalists into Gaza to
diversify the coverage, which should not only be Palestinian, but the government
did not agree,” he says.
Turning to the so-called hasbara (public
diplomacy) war, Benayahu believes that Israel needs to rely more on Jewish
communities overseas. Israel, he says, is currently focused on the traditional
conventional media but not on bloggers or social media websites.
someone needs today is time and a computer and they can make a difference,” he
says. “Jews around the world can be the ultimate weapon for Israel that it has been waiting for.”
He agrees that there are already a
lot of pro-Israel NGOs in the United States, Europe and Australia that have been
established to fill the vacuum but insists that individuals can do more on a
“Technology and the nature of the way information spreads
online have created, for the first time, a real opportunity for the Jewish
global community to be involved,” he explains. “The Iranians and the
Palestinians don’t send delegations everywhere. Instead they rely on their
nationals who live overseas.”
Benayahu also recommends that the
government take a more aggressive approach and start fighting back against
arrest orders, for example, that are issued against IDF officers and Israeli
politicians in Europe.
He recalls how last February he was with Ashkenazi
at a NATO conference in Brussels and they had to reschedule their flight back to
Israel because of several meetings that took longer than expected.
problem was that all of the flights had connections and there was concern in the
IDF’s Military Advocate General’s Office about having the chief of staff fly
into countries like Spain.
“This shouldn’t be the case,” he says. “The
Jewish community should be working more trying to get resolutions passed at the
UN Security Council, in filing complaints in courts in Europe and in getting
arrest warrants issued for Hamas and Hezbollah terror leaders.”