The announcement this week of the launch of the Voices of Israel initiative by Israel’s Foreign Ministry contains a vital public acknowledgment, via official government policy, that the global delegitimization campaign directed against Israel is, in fact, a “national security issue.”
This is a paradigm shift from simply labeling it a political or diplomatic threat. A “national security issue” means it is an existential threat in the same way as the military threats are. Taken to its logical conclusion, the implication is that the Israeli government would need to invest comparable financial and human resources to the military threat.
A step in the right direction for Israel
Voices of Israel is a vital step in the right direction. But this is only a start. More needs to be done. If the international delegitimization campaign truly is a national security threat, then, to counter it, the Israeli government needs to invest more than just the NIS 100m. over four years (matched by global funders) that it has allocated for this project. Working with partners on the ground is a valuable idea, but this innovative thinking needs to be expanded to many other facets of Israeli policy and planning.
To justify this, we need to get to grips with just how severe a security threat this delegitimization campaign is. The existential threat, both from within and without, must be clearly understood.
The external threat
Externally, the campaign has begun to fracture the already brittle western consensus on Israel’s national security policies. Israel’s western allies say that they stand with her today. But will they continue to stand with Israel next year, and the year after that, and over five or ten years if the opinion of a growing body of their own citizens is turned against Israel and its defensive actions?
Left unchecked, the unfortunate likelihood is that a point will be reached where policymakers in London, Brussels and Washington can no longer afford to stand against the widespread view of their citizens that Israel is, by definition, a systemic oppressor. If such a view takes hold, it will mean that no defense of Israel with reference to the facts will be possible; that any actions Israel takes with respect to the Palestinians will be viewed as unjust, and the only remedy for the situation will be the complete defeat of the deemed oppressor.
The internal threat
Internally, the situation is even more fraught. The danger is that the shame engendered by constant stigmatization will begin to fracture national security consensus within Israel, especially among its younger citizens. The deluge of reports and accusations will sow doubt in the minds of citizens about the ethics of their national defense efforts. Global isolation and pariah status will cause them to regret the social and economic costs of that defense. Growing numbers will see military service as a moral stain, and movements opposing such service will grow.
Safer in their homes than any generation before, young people will forget why Israel’s national defense measures were instituted in the first place. They will begin to long to be esteemed in the world outside of Israel, and wonder whether a time might not come to compromise on their defense even if that means risking the Jewish state for the alternative of a global Diaspora free from the charges of apartheid, rights abuses and crimes against humanity.
In time, if not countered, the sense of discomfort with Israel, and doubts about the justice of its cause – so prevalent among many young Jews in the Diaspora – will take root among Israel’s own citizens.
Both of these consequences – the undermining of solidarity both from without and from within – carry grave implications for Israel’s national defense efforts and hit the Jewish state where it is most vulnerable. It will fracture foreign support by fracturing foreign citizen opinion at the same time as fracturing domestic national security consensus.
The sobering result of the twofold assault is that Israel, with its allies, will at a future date do what its enemies cannot, and pursue the dismantling of its conventional defense capacity, making disproportionate and reckless concessions to relieve the external and internal pressure that would undermine Israel’s vaunted military edge and leave the state in a very vulnerable position.
What response is needed?
There needs to be a proportionate response on a grand scale to match the immensity of the threat. As a matter of urgency, the government needs to draw up a coherent strategy; a multi-faceted approach encompassing diplomatic, legal and public-relations elements. Internally, these efforts must include a well-thought-out strategy to win over the hearts and minds of young Israelis, leveraging, among other platforms, the national education system.
The response must be sophisticated and proactive; strategically brilliant and technologically savvy. And that means a complete reallocation of state resources, to ensure the necessary funding, and to recruit the best and brightest in the field.
Vast legal teams must be assembled to challenge the apartheid accusation on judicial fora across the globe. Research must be commissioned from think tanks and academic institutes to refute all claims, no matter how small, against Israel’s legitimacy. Israeli ambassadors and diplomats, teachers and youth leaders, at every level, must be trained and equipped to deploy this research to counter the threat externally and internally. Every available communication platform must be filled with comprehensive content, professionally presented, refuting the charges.
These are the details.
The driving principle is clear – if Israel’s international legitimacy is a national security issue it needs to be treated as such by the Israeli government.
If this is done, there is reason to be optimistic because Israel has the truth on its side. The global delegitimization movement is based on lies. Accusations such as the apartheid libel and others are a total distortion of reality.
The truth is that Israel is one of the world’s leading democracies and is a beacon of freedom and human rights in a violent region. If Israel can just muster the same level of funding, expertise and focus as its opponents, victory is assured. If not, its survival is at risk. The stakes could not be higher.
The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.