In a recent post on Molad, a new Israeli think tank that was established a year ago as “The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy,” I have already highlighted the principal flaws of their first published study. However, Molad’s embarrassing debut work provides plenty of additional material for critical commentary, given that also other material on the center’s website indicates that Molad intends to recycle the same old progressive pieties that have led most of “Middle Israel” to conclude that the left has few answers for the challenges facing Israel in a region that is deeply hostile to the existence of the Jewish state.
Indeed, a survey sponsored by Molad in spring 2012 confirmed that “Israel’s left bloc has ceased to be politically relevant for substantial percentages of the Israeli public” because it is perceived “as alienated, weak on security, and unable to govern effectively.” A Ha’aretz report on the survey results put it even more starkly, noting that the Israeli public viewed the left “as being non-serious, irresponsible, not credible, elitist, alienated and devoid of realistic solutions to Israel’s security problems.”
Molad’s first major study will do absolutely nothing to change this negative image of the left. On the basis of deeply flawed research, the study concludes that Israel operates a formidable and effective hasbara apparatus and that the country’s negative global image could therefore only be blamed on Israeli policies. Predictably, this completely unsupported conclusion proved quite popular among the “Zionism-is-racism”-crowd, who seemed particularly pleased by an illustration of the global reach of “All the propagandists” that accompanied a Ha’aretz report on the study.
Screenshot of Ha’aretz illustration of Molad''s hasbara study. The dog-whistle message is arguably that Israel is real big when it comes to controlling information.
But by now, Ha’aretz has a report on a study by Tomer Simon of Ben Gurion University whose research indicates that during the recent fighting, Hamas “won” against the IDF on Twitter. Unfortunately, this is a more realistic assessment than Molad’s myth of Israel’s all-powerful hasbara, because just like in the UN, the playing field is also tilted against Israel when it comes to social media: even though the tiny Jewish state thankfully has many dedicated supporters, its detractors and enemies can easily marshal far greater numbers and resources.
It is indeed rather ironic that Molad’s study on Israel’s supposedly formidable hasbara operation is entitled “Myths and Facts.” One of the central myths propagated by the study is reflected in the quote that Molad offers at the very end of the conclusion. As a kind of triumphant exclamation mark, the study cites a statement by Matthew Gould, the British Ambassador to Israel, who is described as “a true friend of Israel:”
“Anyone who cares about Israel’s standing in the world should be concerned about the erosion of popular support. The problem is not hasbara. The British public may not be experts but they are not stupid and they see a stream of announcement about new building in settlements, they read stories about what’s going on in the West Bank and Gaza, they read about the restrictions in Gaza. The substance of what’s going on is really what’s driving this.”
These remarks are from an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 in early August 2012, and back then, both I and others pointed out that given the well-documented bias against Israel in the British media, Ambassador Gould was on very shaky ground with his claim that the British public was well informed about the “substance of what’s going on.”
By now, the view expressed by Gould – and propagated by Molad – is further undermined by the fact that recently, some influential voices have been willing to highlight the deeply flawed conventional wisdom that tends to dominate the media coverage and discourse about Israel’s policies.
One relevant example is a recent Washington Post editorial that objected to “Overheated rhetoric on Israeli settlements.”The editorial argued that the constant international chorus condemning any Israeli announcement on settlement planning or construction was “counterproductive because it reinforces two mistaken but widely held notions: that the settlements are the principal obstacle to a deal and that further construction will make a Palestinian state impossible.”
In the context of Molad’s claim that “Israel’s diplomatic isolation…can only be a product of Israeli policy itself,” it is also interesting to note that the Washington Post editorial emphasized that “appropriate” criticism of Israel’s settlement policies would be based on similar considerations as criticism of the recent unilateral Palestinian initiative to seek recognition as a state in the UN General Assembly. By contrast, Molad seems to believe that things are just as they should be when Israel suffers “diplomatic isolation” for its settlement policies while the Palestinians enjoy overwhelming international support when they take unilateral steps that can only complicate a negotiated peace agreement.
There is plainly little doubt that Molad is among those who cherish the “two mistaken but widely held notions” that the Washington Post editorial sets out to correct.
Another example that tackles some of the fundamentally mistaken but widely held notions that are so popular among progressives like Molad’s think tankers is a recent essay by Walter Russell Mead. Under the title “The Key to Peace: Selling The Two State Solution in Palestine,” Mead notes:
“Many people want to embrace the happy fantasy that the Palestinians are ready today to make peace if those nasty Israelis would just stop provoking them by building new settlements, and that if we in the West press Israel enough on the settlement question, peace will quickly come. […]
In our view, the real reason the peace process hasn’t succeeded in producing real peace is not that Israeli settlements keep Palestinians away from the table.
The real problem is exactly what it has been for sixty years: deeply rooted Palestinian opposition to a two-state solution. While many Palestinians are ready to accept that solution, many of those see it as only a temporary step on the road to a single, Palestinian state, and a very large group of Palestinians stands with the Hamas leadership in rejecting the legitimacy of Israel on any terms.”
But just like many progressives, Molad apparently believes that Palestinian rejectionism should be politely ignored; similarly, Molad seems convinced that the fact that the Hamas leadership categorically rejects Israel’s legitimacy shouldn’t prevent us from searching frantically – and of course successfully – for all sorts of signs of moderation and pragmatism. After all, compared to the frightening fanaticism and ideological rigidity of anyone right-of-center in Israel (or the US!), Hamas is obviously a very “complex” movement that shouldn’t be judged hastily on the basis of countless declarations and actions glorifying Jew-hatred and jihadi terrorism as religiously mandated principles…
Unfortunately it seems clear that as far as Molad is concerned, Israel fully deserves “diplomatic isolation” at the UN, while a Palestine that is in part ruled by a group that proudly celebrates every terrorist act and every war crime it manages to commit deserves overwhelming support for its bid to be recognized by the UN as a state.
One can only conclude that it is evidence of the common sense of mainstream Israelis if a left with these views is regarded as “non-serious, irresponsible, not credible, elitist, alienated and devoid of realistic solutions to Israel’s security problems.”