State Comptroller Joseph Shapira .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
One of the highlights of the annual report released on Tuesday by State Comptroller Judge Yosef Shapira is the government’s failure to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and other attempts at delegitimizing the Jewish state.
According to Shapira, no significant victories have been won in this battle, because the two ministries charged with waging it – the Foreign Ministry and Strategic Affairs Ministry– have been too busy bickering with each other over purviews and powers to join forces in what should be a common war with a shared goal.
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at such a critique.
Though it’s healthy to have an independent body monitoring government activities, certain phenomena are so inherent, self-evident and redundant that they’re not worth wasting paper to expose. Two of these can’t be stressed enough.
The first is that democratic governments by their nature are bureaucracies whose biggest claim to fame is inefficiency. This is true in general and of countries like Israel in particular. Though headed by a highly savvy, free-market maven, it continues to operate like a socialist apparatus. And though its citizens have ample evidence at their disposal that private endeavors always get things done better and more cheaply, they still can’t get it through their simultaneously innovative and thick skulls that the government is a necessary pill to swallow, not some doctor who should be capable of curing all ills. This is an irrefutable truth.
Another is that no amount of quality “hasbara” – an untranslatable Hebrew word for public diplomacy, the field of Israel’s making a case for itself in the international arena – can prevent or eliminate anti-Semitism.
Nor is lamenting about how poorly the Israeli government rates on this score the least bit new.
In the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel’s reputation in the eyes of the world shifted from David to Goliath, the issue of explaining why the Jewish state was still a moral entity surrounded by enemies bent on its destruction came to the fore and has been a point of debate, at home and abroad, ever since.
Self-flagellation may be a trait of the tribe, as is hysteria from Diaspora Jews about the combination of arrogance and naiveté that Israelis have historically exhibited in the face of political onslaughts. But in this case, I have always considered both to be unfair.
In the past, we heard incessant whining about the fact that not enough foreign-service staffers spoke proper English, or the other languages of the countries to which they were dispatched. It was also a national pastime to tear one’s hair out when watching a debate between an Israeli and an Arab on CNN or the BBC (well before Fox News was launched).
“Oy, it was so embarrassing,” Israelis would wail at the water cooler about one or another diplomat who spoke on TV with a heavy accent. “No wonder we’re losing the propaganda war.”
What nobody seemed to notice was that the Palestinian in the studio had ranted in equally terrible English, while presenting an utterly incoherent argument, based on bald-faced lies. In other words, it wasn’t the quality or content of their presentations that mattered, but rather the fact that Israel – the collective Jew – had become the bad guy. And no number of Berlitz courses could have countered that.
Proof that making Israel’s case in eloquent English does not put a dent in the global assault against the Jewish state lies in the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a master at it, yet the situation has grown worse, not better.
On the other side of the ocean, while figures like Alan Dershowitz in the United States, Irwin Cotler in Canada, Michael Gove in Britain and hundreds of other tireless defenders of Israel have stepped up their campaigns to contradict the false narratives that are taking campuses and political parties by storm, the BDS movement particularly, and anti-Semitism in general, have continued to rage on, spreading like a deadly virus immune to all available treatment.
This is not to say that such efforts are in vain. On the contrary. Not only do they provide ammunition and solace to the many “lone soldiers” at universities and elsewhere who are caught in the anti-Israel crossfire, but such tenacity has borne actual fruit, such as the blocking of BDS bills and altering of hostile resolutions.
It is good to know that the state comptroller considers battling BDS a serious enough priority to warrant mention in his report. And if he were to conclude that government resources would be better handled by private individuals and groups with creativity, know-how, dedication and a lack of diplomatic constraint, I would champion his findings.
But neither he nor the rest of us should be under any illusions about the root and character of Israel- bashing and anti-Semitism, which are not the Israeli government’s fault.The writer is the managing editor of