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(photo credit: AP)
The government's decision to launch a political and media offensive before beginning the major military operation in Gaza was an important and necessary step. The moral case for using force to protect citizens against aggression is clear - the most basic human right is the right to life, and this point needs to be highlighted in every venue. In contrast, there is no moral justification for Hamas's terror and missile attacks, or for remaining silent in the face of the use of human shields in Gaza to protect terrorists from counterattack.
But based on past experience, to make this moral case and to counteract the images from Gaza, carefully considered and professionally implemented strategies are required. For years, Israel has been totally defeated on the "soft power" battlefields, which are dominated by the UN, the media and powerful nongovernmental organizations funded by European governments that claim to speak in the name of human rights and international morality. In these venues, the most effective weapons have been the words and distorted (or faked) pictures highlighting the illusion of Israeli dominance and Palestinian victimization.
IN THE "soft war" that is accompanying the military operations in Gaza, Israel can expect a repeat of the successful strategies used by Palestinians and Hizbullah. In 2000, the apparently staged killing of 12-year old Muhammad al-Dura, orchestrated by a Palestinian cameraman working for a French television station and amplified by NGOs, was a central event and used to portray Israelis as child-murderers. In 2002, following the Passover night attack in Netanya, the IDF operation in Jenin was immediately countered by the false claims of a "massacre" (initiated by Palestinian officials, and echoed by Amnesty International and the British press, in particular). Campaigns to impose boycotts and sanctions followed, using demonization rhetoric such as "apartheid," in accordance with the strategy adopted by the infamous NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban Conference.
Similarly, the 2006 Second Lebanon War was accompanied by daily condemnations of "indiscriminate attacks" and "war crimes." In one incident, headlines based on a false claim of massive civilian casualties resulting from an air attack led Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to declare a 48-hour halt in air force operations, giving Hizbullah a chance to regroup and extending the war. A few days later, Human Rights Watch issued a minor correction, but by then, no one noticed.
THE PROPAGANDA war in Gaza began more than a year ago, with a steady flow of UN, media and NGO campaigns falsely accusing Israel of "collective punishment," starving the innocent population and preventing Fulbright students from leaving Gaza. In these attacks, the human rights of Israelis are usually ignored. The Hamas leadership provided images of "candlelight vigils" and hungry children, although there was always sufficient electricity and food. On this basis, the NGO "reports," press releases and pseudo-legal claims are repeated verbatim by the media, and then echoed by the UN and diplomats with a strong anti-Israel bias.
To counter this offensive and launch an effective counterattack, the main sources of "soft power" aggression must be confronted. In addition to giving a high priority to exposing the false claims and lack of credibility of many such human rights allegations, the best defense is a good offensive. The propaganda effort is supported by massive budgets, provided directly and indirectly (often through church groups) by the European Commission and member governments, as well as Norway and Switzerland. The funds are justified as support for peace, democracy and human rights, but the evidence shows that these groups use their funds for anti-Israel propaganda.
Similarly, action needs to be taken to prevent groups such as the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, (also funded by the EC) and Relief Web (run by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - OCHA) from using their mandates and funding for anti-Israel political offensives.
THE GOVERNMENT must consistently confront foreign government funders - particularly the Europeans - on these issues. As long as this practice continues, Europe cannot expect to be given a serious role in attempts to reach peace agreements in the region. Foreign government funding for groups that lead campaign to demonize Israel through the false rhetoric of "apartheid," "war crimes" and "collective punishment" is fundamentally immoral. The Knesset can play an important role by investigating this practice, and passing legislation that makes all such political funding from foreign governments entirely transparent, in contrast to the current secrecy in decision making and other details.
Since many of the same organizations also receive generous donations from the private New Israel Fund (which is based in New York and receives money from Jewish federations), Israelis should also begin a dialogue with its donors and officials. Many of them are simply unaware of how their money is being spent. (The EC office in Washington also gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to the NIF - a highly unorthodox practice - which then distributes the money to some of the leading political NGOs.) These are only the first steps in a long war to regain the moral high ground that Israel lost by default, and in the face of a very intensive and professional Arab attacks. To be successful, the efforts require a much wider and highly professional strategy of public diplomacy, involving all of the major officials and government offices.
The writer is chairman of the Political Science Department at Bar-Ilan University and executive director of NGO Monitor.
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