People celebrate the winning of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 by Israel's Netta Barzilai with her song "Toy" , Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 13, 2018..
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
Asked why his forces killed thousands of innocent Arab civilians, the military spokesman replied, “When you have an enemy that uses noncombatants as collateral damage, it is difficult to completely avoid any casualties.”
Sound familiar? This could easily be the IDF Spokesman justifying our actions against Hamas in Gaza. But, in fact, the statement was recently issued by a US Army colonel fighting Islamic State in Syria. The explanations are identical, but while America’s is accepted by the world, Israel’s is almost universally rejected. Worse, it is condemned as a cover-up for war crimes.
The difference underscores one of the greatest dangers – and, to date, the most glaring failure – of our Gaza policy. The IDF is certainly prepared for any contingency, including reconquering the Strip. But Israel is not poised to win the ultimate battle – for our right to self-defense and even our right to exist.
That is Hamas’s goal. Beyond killing Israelis, its rockets are designed to get Israel condemned for killing Palestinians. For the same reason, Hamas sends children to break through the border fence and even pays them for every gunshot wound. Indeed, the demonstrator is the new rocket — cheaper, unlikely to trigger an Israeli military response, and immensely damaging to our legitimacy.
That damage is cumulative. Today, after three wars in Gaza, the vast majority of nations vote in favor of UN resolutions accusing Israeli soldiers of indiscriminately shooting peaceful Palestinian protesters. Hamas is not even mentioned. By contrast, Israel’s fundamental right to defend itself against jihadist terrorists who are hiding behind human shields is dismissed out of hand.
The erosion of Israel’s narrative certainly reflects an anti-Israel bias and even antisemitism, but it also results from our unwillingness to mount a comprehensive diplomatic campaign to convey the facts of Gaza. The result is painfully apparent, and not only in the UN.
Briefing the 10 pro-Israel Congress members who attended the opening of the new US Embassy, I was shocked to discover that none knew that Israel, alone, maintained three border crossings into Gaza. None knew that all commodities, except weapons, were allowed into the Strip. None had heard that Hamas shelled, burned and tunneled under those crossings in order to create a humanitarian crisis that could be blamed on Israel. None was aware that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had cut off the salaries and medical care of tens of thousands of Gazans, further deepening that crisis. If some of our best friends in Washington didn’t know these basic facts, how can we expect the world to?
As the specter of a fourth Gaza war looms closer, it is imperative that Israel strengthen its diplomatic defenses. Together with our military Iron Dome, we need a public relations and legal Iron Dome to protect us from the accusations of disproportionality and war crimes that are certain to accompany any large-scale military operation. We need to operate in multiple media – in cyberspace, in the traditional press, on campuses and among decision- and opinion-makers
To be sure, there are several ministries addressing these needs. Just this week, the Foreign Ministry excoriated CNN and BBC for their distorted coverage of Gaza. But there is yet no single authority that coordinates and supervises these various activities. There is no interministerial agency with the power and budget to develop diplomatic messages that are consistent and globally distributed. There is no government body capable of coordinating with Israel advocacy groups home and abroad or of rapidly disseminating images and information from the IDF Spokesman’s Office.
Presenting this case to Israeli audiences, I frequently hear that “the world will hate us anyway, so why bother?” My answer is that, yes, much of international community will still denounce us, but we are nevertheless duty-bound to strive to reduce the damage. We must, through public diplomacy, provide the IDF with the maximum amount of time and space needed to defend us. And we must deny Hamas the ability to win in The Hague what it lost on the battlefield.
Now is the time to establish that interministerial authority. Now is the time to mount a preemptive diplomatic attack. We have all the talent, the dedication, the allies and, above all, the truth to make an effective case. We just need to prioritize and decide.
The writer, an MK from Kulanu, is the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
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