Distinguished activists in the fields of academia, media, law and diplomacy convened at Haifa University last month to discuss “Rethinking the Challenges of Israel’s PR.”
People take it upon themselves to act for Israel, feeling that the government fails to defend us from adversaries who threaten harm to our legitimacy and security.
Our friends abroad, on the front line of the battle to defend Israel, feel abandoned by our government.
Why is the government not there to support us? The government deals with diplomacy. That means government-to-government, in the UN and EU, and inter-parliamentary bodies. The government does not dabble in the internal affairs of other countries; that would be undiplomatic. As such, our supporters are left alone, relying on private initiatives and independent groups for help.
The government is not there when the editorial line of the Western media pumps out anti-Israel imagery that favors Hamas over the IDF, and Palestinian lies over Israeli truth. The government is not there when boycott activists demonstrate outside stores selling Israeli products in Europe and South Africa. It wasn’t there to deal with the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, or the anti-Israel hate machine being generated on campuses.
We have a government that does little to protect our students and campus supporters struggling against well-funded, well organized, intimidating slanderers who feel they own the campus. And, when it does step out of the formal environment of governmental diplomacy, the government does it poorly.
In truth, the world has changed. In our advocacy work we see what I call “the uberization of public diplomacy.” Today, the public is attracted to the uber-initiative of choosing private transportation over conventional taxi and bus services. Similarly, they prefer the advocacy of independent groups to government or more conventional leadership. We are seeing anti-Israel messaging transmitted on the campus, in the media and elsewhere by hybrid groups.
So it’s private diplomacy, not government diplomacy, that sways public opinion. It is the integrated hyper-active group initiatives that are driving the messaging against us, of which BDS is the one that most readily grabs our attention.
In the UK, the National Union of Students produced a 92-page BDS campaign booklet whose foreword includes: “The campaign for BDS will not be won at national conferences, despite the importance of these bodies.
The BDS campaign will be won when institutions across the UK refuse to collaborate with Israeli institutions.”
This is the battle we must fight and win! It takes a network to defeat a network – and we don’t have a network.
We must abandon conventional methods that have failed to dent the attacks against us. We need to think creatively, out of the box.
We must create a new central advocacy body, outside of government, to vastly improve and coordinate our advocacy efforts to better effect. This center must empower the many NGOs with proven successes.
They can do better with the more resources and with a central coordination to help integrate and accelerate their work.
Yair Lapid called for an organization to fight the Israel haters. We should take him up on that demand.
He spoke about a battle. He was right. We are in a war.
We have individuals doing amazing work on various battlefronts – media, academia, law, diplomacy.
They are under-staffed, under-resourced, but are ideally positioned to win important battles that the government shouldn’t get involved in. These battles are the daily person-to-person, group-to-group battles that sometimes must be fought undiplomatically.
We need to take the fight to our enemies – and those who misguidedly support our enemies – in a more coordinated way.
We must counter those who are harming us in academia, public opinion and even foreign governments that finance much of the campaigns against us.
We must censure a media that presents us in a way that we hardly recognize ourselves.
We need an organization capable of building a network that can win the battles in the global hubs of delegitimization.
It takes a network to defeat a network and this cannot be done at government level.
In military terms, we are fighting separately, each fighting our own battles against a well-funded, well-coordinated enemy with an integrated message.
We are alone on the battlefield while they have captured valuable territory – campus, media, even influencing people and their governments.
Our arguments are the right ones but we, as separate units, are simply overwhelmed by the growing firepower ranged against us.
Our efforts can be more effective if we are united and coordinated under the umbrella of an advocacy center.
The IDF is made up of an army, air force and navy.
Trained people serve in different units but under a central command whose task is to develop the effectiveness of these units, to deploy and coordinate their use to achieve victories that will defeat, deplete or demoralize the enemy.
Here are a few examples where non-governmental coordinated responses won battles.
I have seen the effective application of law help students who felt isolated and defeated win counterclaims on campuses in the UK and in South Africa, and lawyers forcing the media to retract and apologize for false reporting.
I worked with students at IDC Herzliya who, as part of their advocacy efforts against the 2011 Gaza flotilla, prevented a BDS plan to fly anti-Israel activists into Israel to cause disruptions at Ben-Gurion Airport. They called it the “Flightily” and it failed utterly.
The 2011 Gaza flotilla failed due to the actions of UK Lawyers for Israel and Shurat Hadin. Compare that to the Mavi Marmara PR disaster of the previous year.
These are just a few instances where effective coordinated actions have won major battles for us.
Think how much more effective we could be if we had a fully functioning advocacy body manned by leaders with organizational and communication skills, motivational and logistical support capabilities, and with influential global connections.
This is the model we must aspire to, led by talented people dedicated to Israel and not to personal vanities.
It should be headed by an elite honorary board made up of global figures who share a strong affirmative dedication to Israel.
It should be manned by an executive branch that will coordinate a plan of action to create an integrated support system.
This executive will lay the foundation and appoint directors and managers both in Israel and abroad who will work with existing NGOs and set up new ones where needed.
Basically, we should copy the best examples of global corporate structures. That’s why, with respect, business executives are better placed to succeed than politicians and academics. They know how to raise capital and operate corporate structures efficiently.
We must be everywhere, every day – a constant multi-headed presence.
It takes a network to defeat a network.
The Haifa conference must not be a stand-alone event. It’s too important an issue. It must be the first step on the road to achieving the goal of establishing a much needed independent advocacy central organization.
The writer is senior associate for public diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is also the author of Fighting Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism and Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.