Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government is less than a month old, but it’s already apparent that it is different from its predecessors. And if it continues on its current diplomatic trajectory, it may do something that its six predecessors failed to accomplish. Netanyahu’s new government may improve Israel’s position internationally.
The stakes are high. Over the years, Israel has largely concentrated its efforts on developing the tools to contend with its military challenges. But as we have seen over the past decade and a half, Israel’s capacity to fight and defeat its enemies is not limited principally by the IDF’s war-fighting capabilities.
Israel’s ability to defend itself and its citizens is constrained first and foremost by its shrinking capacity to defend itself diplomatically. Its enemies in the diplomatic arena have met with great success in their use of diplomatic condemnation and intimidation to force Israel to limit its military operations to the point where it is incapable of defeating its enemies outright.
The flagship of the diplomatic war against Israel is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Participants in the movement propagate and disseminate the libelous claim that Israel’s use of force in self-defense is inherently immoral and illegal. Over the years BDS activists’ assaults on Israel’s right to exist have become ever more shrill and radical. So, too, whereas just a few years ago their operations tended to be concentrated around military confrontations, today they are everyday occurrences. And their demands become greater and more openly anti-Semitic from week to week and day to day.
Consider the events of the past seven days alone.
Late last week Israel fended off a major international effort led by Palestinian Authority Soccer Federation chairman and former terrorist chief Jibril Rajoub to expel it from the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Not only is Rajoub a man with blood on his hands. The Fatah luminary is admired by the Israeli far-Left while also being a favorite of Qatar, the chief state sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
Rajoub is sympathetically inclined toward enabling Hamas in Gaza to expand its presence in Judea and Samaria.
Before the government had a chance to sigh in relief that FIFA was settled, Britain’s National Union of Students voted to join the BDS movement. This means that the anti-Israel demonstrations and assaults that take place several times a week at Britain’s universities will now take place under the NUS banner.
Also Wednesday, the French telecom giant Orange’s CEO Stéphane Richard told reporters in Cairo that he wishes to cut off his contract with Israel’s Partner telecommunications company, one of Israel’s largest cellular telephone services providers.
Richard was apparently coerced into making his statement by the Egyptian BDS movement which has threatened to boycott Orange’s subsidiary in Egypt due to its contract with Partner.
Tuesday it was reported that last month the Dutch government issued a travel advisory to its citizens traveling in Israel. In an act of anti-Jewish inversion now common in the Western discourse about Israel and its enemies, the Dutch government warned that Jews in Judea and Samaria constitute a threat to Dutch travelers because they throw stones “toward Palestinian and foreign vehicles.”
In the US, the Anti-Defamation League reported that this past academic year there was a 38 percent rise in anti-Israel events on college campuses over the previous year. The number of BDS campaigns doubled over the previous academic year.
By ADL’s count, there were 520 anti-Israel events on campuses. BDS campaigns were initiated on 29 campuses.
At the UN, Tuesday “The Palestinian Return Center,” Hamas’s European chapter, was granted official status as a recognized nongovernmental organization by the UN’s Commission on NGOs. Now, thanks to the commission, Hamas terrorists can participate in UN meetings, have full access to UN facilities and wear their new, official UN badges.
Incidentally, the same commission rejected a request by ZAKA to receive the same status. ZAKA is an Israeli NGO that provides first aid and handles the remains of terrorism victims and victims of major disasters in Israel and worldwide.
Also at the UN, Leila Zerrougui, the envoy for children in armed conflicts, is pushing to get the IDF added to the blacklist of groups that harm children.
Boko Haram, Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Taliban are among the current names of the list.
Wednesday Republican Sen. Ted Cruz sent a pointed letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemning Zerrougui’s actions. Cruz threatened, “Congress will have no choice but to reassess the United States’ relationship with the United Nations and consider serious consequences if you choose to take this action.”
In contrast to Cruz’s position, in his interview with Channel 2 broadcast Tuesday, US President Barack Obama indicated that due to the rising tide of anti-Israel sentiment and campaigns, if Israel doesn’t make unreciprocated concessions to the PA then the administration will have no choice but to join the anti-Israel UN bandwagon.
The time has come, then, for Israel to take the wheels off the wagon.
For the past dozen years or so, pro-Israel activists in the US in particular have been fighting an uphill, lonely battle against the organizations promoting the BDS movement. Among their top complaints has been the constant refrain that the Israeli government has undermined their actions by standing silent or denying what was happening or treating Israel’s defenders as the moral equivalents of its adversaries.
To some degree, the reticence of the Foreign Ministry was understandable. The BDS Israel haters often claim that they wage political and economic warfare against Israel and isolate and humiliate Israel supporters in the West to promote peace.
This claim has always been ridiculous. You can’t support peace and boycott Jewish-owned businesses in all or parts of Israel. You can’t support peace and boycott Israeli students and professors and dance troupes.
But so long as the word “peace” has been involved, or the boycotters have pretended that they are only referring to Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry has by and large taken them at face value and pretended that their smear operation is nothing to worry about.
To the extent they have tried to deal with the growing hate Israel phenomenon, they have run away from its essence. Instead, our senior diplomats have said that the best way to combat BDS is by rebranding Israel as the start-up, gay, friendly state with great beaches.
And largely as a result of this self-induced paralysis and blindness, pro-Israel activists have been isolated.
Jewish anti-Israel organizations such as J Street, Open Hillel and the New Israel Fund in the US, and European governments and government- funded organizations in Europe have operated largely free from criticism by official Israeli voices unwilling to take sides in the debate about the country’s right to exist and defend itself.
All the while, Israel’s diplomatic standing has gone from weak to incapacitated.
Against this backdrop, statements and actions by the new Netanyahu government are encouraging because, unlike its predecessors, it seems to have stopped playing the fool.
At the outset of this week’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu spoke out angrily and specifically against the BDS movement and warned that Israel must not blame itself for the BDS haters’ assaults against it.
As he put it, “The last thing we need to do is to bow our heads and ask where we went wrong, where we erred. We have done nothing wrong and we have not erred. We are not a perfect country; we do not pretend to be such, but they are setting standards for us that are both twisted and higher than those for any other country, any other democracy.”
Wednesday Netanyahu assailed the British student union’s decision to join the BDS movement.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked excoriated the BDS movement at the Knesset, stating openly that it is the new Jew hatred.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has translated this new position into action. Among other things, this week she instructed Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland to formally demand that the Swiss government and the Zurich municipality rescind their financial support for the planned Breaking the Silence conference this month in Zurich. The purpose of the conference, like the purpose of the foreign-funded group more generally, is to demonize and libel the IDF.
So it appears that the government has decided to finally go on offense. But if this is true, then much more can and must be done immediately.
Take the Dutch travel advisory for instance. Israel wasted no time in condemning Holland’s move. But the Dutch statement was just the tip of the iceberg.
Holland spends millions every year to directly and indirectly finance organizations whose sole purpose is to demonize Israel and Israelis. The Dutch government paid a lot of money to invent lies about Israel and its Jews that then formed the basis of its malicious, bigoted travel advisory.
The Israeli embassy at the Hague as well as the Foreign Ministry must demand not only a retraction of the travel warning. They must demand an immediate cessation of this subversive, adversarial campaign.
So, too, while the British government responded with embarrassment to the BDS vote of the NUS, the fact is that the British government holds responsibility for the strength and radicalism of the BDS movement in Britain. Like Holland, the UK spends millions every year financing NGOs whose purpose is to undermine Israeli sovereignty, demonize the IDF, attack Israel’s right to exist and fund Palestinian terrorists.
Every year, the British government funds dozens of Israeli and Palestinian-registered NGOs whose purpose is to make Israel into an international pariah unable to wage wars of self-defense without risking war crimes tribunals, economic boycotts and international humiliation.
Rather than sufficing with expressions of thanks to the Cameron government for distancing itself from the student union’s boycott of Israel, the government must demand the cessation of direct and indirect British governmental funding of these groups and their campaigns.
The BDS movement is a proxy war. It is being waged against Israel not only by deep-pocketed Arab governments which fund the NGOs that carry the battle to the streets. It is also being waged by hypocritical leftist donors in the US and by supposedly friendly European governments.
The government has taken the first steps in beating back this onslaught. But the hour is late and the stakes are high. The BDS movement is a strategic threat because as it gets stronger, Israel’s ability to wage war on the military battlefield becomes further constrained and the threats to Israel’s economy and social fabric grow. BDS must be defeated piece by piece in an unrelenting offensive that attacks its sources and puts it out of business. It won’t be easy. It won’t be genteel.
But if the government doesn’t submit to the diplomatic urge to be polite, it stands a chance of making matters better, for a change.