After Gaza: Could Israel have faced its critics better?

So why have none of the Israeli media asked a few creative Israelis how the country could counter Hamas’s public-relations strategy?

Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, May 11, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, May 11, 2018
After recent actions protecting the Gaza border, Israel faced much foreign criticism. Could it have answered these critics better? This is a legitimate question for a nation whose intelligence service managed to funnel out of Tehran – the capital of its arch enemies – half a ton of ultra-secret documents. It is also a legitimate question for a country where the creativity of many citizens has made it into the Start-Up Nation. If Israelis are so smart, why can’t its government deal adequately with extreme anti-Israeli incitement after its army confronts violent promoters of genocide?
Hamas has repeated variations of the same incitement strategies for a long time. It understands that Palestinians killed by Israel, even if most are terrorists, will lead to condemnations. Naturally from Arab states, but also from Western countries and part-time human rights organizations. These condemnations indirectly support the murderous goals of Hamas, even if the Western perpetrators of extreme anti-Israeli incitement deny that. The only resourcefulness Hamas leaders need is to continue to create – in disguise – violent ways to force the IDF to shoot at Palestinians. Since Hamas does not care about Palestinian deaths, this is easy.
There must be better approaches to solving these challenges than some recent Israeli official reactions. These included the frisking of the Turkish representative when he entered the Israeli Foreign Office, and the ritual rebuking of the ambassadors of Belgium, Spain and Slovenia after their countries voted for another – by definition biased – investigation by the UN Human Rights Council. It is understandable that Minister Yuval Steinitz was angry after the European Union’s arch-hypocrites asked to probe an incident in which an Arab activist was injured by police in Haifa. Yet his telling the EU to go to a thousand hells was not helpful.
This time, there were a few intelligent reactions from Israeli officials. Deputy Minister Michael Oren responded to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) journalist by saying her mode of questioning was exactly what Hamas wanted. After the interviewer asked a series of questions that would have been relevant only if the Gaza protests had been entirely peaceful, Oren told her about the protesters at the fence: “Their goal was to break through and kill. Now you spin it in a different way, but it wasn’t. The way you spin it, it’s just the way Hamas wants it.” Oren added that he hoped Hamas would send the journalist a thank-you note because she was doing great in their eyes.
ANOTHER INTERESTING reaction came from Israeli Ambassador to Belgium Simona Frenkel. She was called in by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the meeting her hosts raised the idea of an “independent” investigation into the Gaza deaths. The ambassador pointed out that concerning Israel, there has never been an independent investigation commission. She added: “They have all been political where there is an automatic majority against Israel.”
Frenkel remarked that Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel had already blamed Israel. This proves that Israel’s poor record of anti-propaganda activities even allows such absurd attitudes of first condemning Israel and then asking for an investigation.
These were incidental Israeli reactions. The country is, however, in need of a systematic anti-propaganda approach in view of repeated violent Palestinian initiatives. The Israeli government has consistently failed over the years in the battle against foreign hate-propaganda. So why have none of the Israeli media asked a few creative Israelis how the country could counter Hamas’s public-relations strategy? Let me open this discourse with two suggestions. There are quite a few Western journalists like the CBC interviewer who frequently spin the news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that Hamas is either not mentioned or looks innocent. After publishing an analysis of a number of their articles, these journalists could publicly be labeled “indirect spinning supporters of Hamas’s genocidal terrorism.”
Whenever foreign politicians or NGOs make remarks like these Hamas-supporting journalists, one can confront them by asking, “In what way does your attitude differ from these indirect helpers of the Hamas murderers?” It is not necessarily always the Israeli government which has to react. There are enough pro-Israel organizations that can do that.
A second suggestion derives from the fact that all countries whose leaders condemn Israel have themselves committed horrible crimes in the past. They hate being reminded of those. Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau harshly condemned Israel’s protection of its fence. His country has never been attacked. Yet in 1993, in Somalia, the UN Peacekeeping soldiers of the Canadian Airborne Regiment brutally tortured and killed a 16-year-old local civilian. The soldiers posed with the blindfolded, bruised and bloodied teenager before his death. An investigation committee was appointed. The investigation disclosed a multitude of failures. When the commission was getting too close to the truth, the investigation was ended by the Liberal Party government of Premier Jean Chrétien.
France is yet another case. President Emanuel Macron condemned Israel over the response to the Gaza demonstrations. I visited Paris for a conference a few weeks after policemen in the French capital on October 17, 1961, had murdered an estimated 150-200 peaceful Algerian demonstrators. Some of the corpses were found in the River Seine.
There are certainly Israelis more creative than myself who can come up with many additional and better ideas. The buck for the failure of setting up a properly financed anti-propaganda agency stops with Israel’s prime minister. Both an American Jewish leader and former members of his staff told me they have suggested this to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu many times, and he has always refused to act. Netanyahu has many merits on a variety of political issues. On this subject, however, he has failed and as a result, the country and its citizens continue to pay a heavy price.
The writer is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the ‘Journal for the Study of Antisemitism,’ and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.