Comprehending the incomprehensible – Part II

Why a failed policy of appeasement prevails and why the Right keeps winning elections but never gets into power.

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 311 (photo credit: Emile Solomon / Pool / Haaretz)
Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 311
(photo credit: Emile Solomon / Pool / Haaretz)
I am absolutely astounded to find so many of your “luminaries” in the universities who are teaching the [youth] that Israel was basically born in sin. Quite a lot of the [anti-Israel] animosity in the [international] media is fed by organizations such as the Haaretz newspaper. It is coming out from Israel academics. This cuts ground from under the feet of those who tell the truth. Somebody should be putting the truth into the public domain, and the government of Israel has not done this for many years – British columnist Melanie Phillips, IBA TV, 2011.
In the first part of this analysis, the reasons for Israel’s feeble performance in the conduct of public diplomacy and in countering its accelerating international delegitimization were investigated. The causes were traced to a lack of resolve to prevail among those charged with the conduct of Israeli diplomatic strategy.
To recap briefly
This lack of will to win is reflected in the hopelessly inadequate resources allotted for the fight for Israel’s image and is rooted in large measure in the worldview of dominant civil society elites in the media, academia and legal establishment.
Their positions of unelected power and privilege, together with the nature of their personal and professional interests, provide these elites with the ability and the motivation to impose on the elected politicians – no matter what their electoral platform – an agenda that reflects their own unequivocally “PC” (Palestinian-compliant) perspective on the conflict.
Inevitably, this is an agenda that militates strongly – both implicitly and explicitly - towards endorsement of the Palestinian narrative, at the expense of the Zionist one.
Deprived of material resources and motivational drive, Israel’s public diplomacy is doomed to anemic, ineffectual failure.
Perplexing political paradox
For those skeptical as to the validity of this analysis, the following astounding facts regarding Israel’s political history may prove illuminating.
From 1977, when the Likud first came to power on a platform of “Greater Israel,” to 2005, when the Likud withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in stark contradiction to its electoral pledges, there were 28 years. For 20 of these years, the prime minister came from the ranks of the Likud.
When the Likud won its first elections, not only was the entire Sinai Peninsula under Israeli control, but any suggestion that Israel might evacuate the Jordan Valley, divide Jerusalem or withdraw from the Golan was unthinkable heresy.
Yet today, over a third of a century after Menachem Begin’s dramatic electoral victory, all the above are not only common items in the mainstream discourse, but are publicly proclaimed as inevitable in the not-so-distant future by many mainstream politicians and pundits.
By any rational criterion, this must prove that while the “right wing” keeps winning elections, it never really gets into power. This, in turn, must mean that there is some external source of influence imposing outcomes on the political system that are completely different from those one would expect.
Eliminating the spurious
What could this source of extraneous influence be? Some might suggest international pressure driven by a combination of cynical interests, petro-dollars and anti- Semitism. Other might suggest coalition pressure because of allegedly defective Israeli electoral system. Yet others might claim that these results reflect some intrinsic wisdom in dovish policies of appeasement and withdrawal that make the repudiation of hawkish pledges inevitable.
None of these hypotheses holds water.
It cannot be attributed to international pressure, which clearly cannot be invoked to explain the either the Oslo process or the disengagement, two of the most significant political events of the past two decades. These were both Israeli initiatives, cooked up exclusively by Israeli chefs and served up by Israeli waiters.
Indeed, the entire Oslowian enterprise was the surreptitious initiative of influential figures in Israeli civil society, who prevailed upon a initially reluctant polity to adopt it and engage the PLO, still officially deemed by many a terrorist organization deep into the negotiation process. As for the disengagement, there was no international pressure for Israel to undertake unilateral measures.
Indeed, it was an embattled Ariel Sharon who, under intense legal and media onslaughts, persuaded a leery Washington to endorse the notion of unreciprocated surrender of territory.
Neither can coalition pressures account for these decisions, since there were no coalition pressure to adopt them. Quite the opposite. Several coalition members resigned in protest against them.
Finally, it was not some inexorable wisdom in these policies. Indeed two bloody decades later, they have precipitated all the dangers that their opponents warned of, and none of the benefits that their proponents promised.
So it must be something else that generates this ongoing distortion of voter preference and divergence from electoral pledges.
Unholy trinity?
This brings us back to last week’s diagnosis of the source of this perversion of the democratic process: A trinity of interactive elites within Israel civil society.
The makeup these elites and the mechanisms of this distortion must now be elaborated upon. As mentioned, these elites include the individuals who dominate the legal establishment, those who dominate the mainstream media and those who purport to represent the dominant view in the Israeli academia.
The reservation of “purport to represent” regarding the academia is important because many among the faculty members in Israeli universities are not adherents to a radical Palestinian-compliant worldview. However, this does seem to be the dominant proclivity in the faculties of social sciences and humanities (including law).
The members of these faculties have close ties with the mainstream media.
This affords them a greatly enhanced platform for airing their political views relative to their colleagues in fields such as, say, paleontology or particle physics.
Moreover, and perhaps more important, they play a crucial role in molding the next generation of aspiring politicians, journalists, political advisers and strategists, and so on.
The ability to impose
But why does this trinity have the ability impose its political preferences on the elected polity (often in stark contradiction to electoral pledges), and what motivates it to wield this power (often in stark contradiction to the national interest?).
As for the ability:
• Those who dominate the legal establishment can almost invariably impede any initiative the elected politicians wish to implement – as they did in preventing cutting off the electricity supplied to Gaza needed to drive the lathes that machine the rockets fired at us.
• Those who dominate the media can almost invariably initiate any concessionary initiative that elected politicians may be loath to implement – as was the case with Oslo, certainly with the disengagement (and even more so with the Schalit prisoner exchange).
• And when the professional stamp of approval is needed for these policies, the biased professors in the social sciences and the humanities are always ready to provide it and endorse even the most dangerous delusions as far-sighted prudence.
Motivation to impose
As for the motivation: The conduct of these unelected elites is driven by set of personal and professional interests that are served far more effectively by acquiring the approval of their peer groups abroad, rather than the approval of the Israeli public.
For instance:
• For any career-driven member of the legal establishment, the assessment of his/her actions/decisions/verdicts by say the Harvard Law Review or by professional colleagues at Yale, Princeton or Oxford carries far more weight than what might be said about them in the market place in Mahaneh Yehuda or the town square in Or Akiva.
• Likewise, any ambitious scholar in the social sciences or humanities seeking to secure funding for a research project with relevance for the Arab-Israeli conflict – or to publish its findings in a prestigious journal – knows he/she has a much greater chance of success if his/her reputation reflects a history of identification with the Palestinian narrative rather than commitment to the Zionist one.
• For an image-conscious media personality, the odds of being invited as a keynote speaker to a high-profile event abroad are clearly far higher if he/she is known to express empathy for Palestinian suffering rather than concern for Israel security.
It is this combination of elite power and preference that draws the contours of the public discourse. It facilitates the circumvention and the manipulation of public opinion, and hence the capacity to set the overall direction of national policy – no matter who gets elected.
Precluding truth
It also reveals why professionals, charged with the conduct of Israel’s public diplomacy – and who are drawn from, and interface with, these elites – cannot adopt a winning strategy.
In his seminal opus, The Art of War, the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Zu stipulates “...the ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.”
The battle on the public diplomacy front is no different – to win one must go on the offensive.
But in public diplomacy, launching a strategic offensive entails portraying Israel’s adversaries as they truly are. If not, the public will have no way of understanding Israel’s security constrains and imperatives, and why certain measures which otherwise might seem unwarranted and excessive are crucial for the protection of its citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike. However, if one presents the Palestinian society as it really is – a society with behavioral norms and societal values very different from those that prevail in Manhattan or Mayfair; a cruel, violent society that suppresses its women, oppresses it homosexuals, represses its political dissidents; a society that, while not legally permitting it, at least socially condones the “honor killing” of young women, the brutalization of political rivals, and the summary execution of homosexuals – if one presents the Palestinian society as its true, unvarnished self, it makes nonsense of the worldview of Israel’s empowered elites.
Indeed, it exposes their support for a Palestinian state, adjacent to the nation’s only international airport and abutting the length of the Trans-Israel Highway, as dangerous folly.
Precluding winning
Sadly, this is essentially the position to which Israeli civil society elites have mortgaged themselves – and their personal prestige and professional standing.
Accordingly, they cannot permit portrayal of Palestinian society as it really is, i.e., permit Israel to go on a strategic diplomatic offensive. Clearly this precludes the captains of Israel’s public diplomacy from adopting a winning strategy, as this would disastrously undercut their own worldview.
As a result, Israeli endeavors are inevitably reduced to defensive tactical responses, chasing events rather than preempting them, and doomed to failure.
This – far more than international animosity, global anti-Semitism or George Soros – is the underlying reason for Israel’s abysmal performance on the public diplomacy front.
Elements of remedy?
As noted in Part I of this analysis, the remedy for this malaise does not lie in Israel’s political anatomy, but in its sociological topography, and while the details of such a remedy and their envisaged mechanism of operation must await a future column, the following must be made clear.
The remedy does not entail changing the elected political leadership, as two decades of disappointment from ostensibly hawkish candidates has depressingly demonstrated. Instead it involves fundamentally transforming the elite structure of Israel’s civil society and the discourse it generates.
It requires empowering and emplacing new counter-elites, which in turn requires creating nuclei and raising banners around which such alternative elites can coalesce and the hitherto hesitant can rally.
It calls for setting up a “theater of engagement” to accommodate an ongoing adversarial intellectual clash between these emergent new elites and the incumbent old ones – a clash which the latter cannot evade. This must be a theater for which the followers of the old elites comprise a permanent audience.
It must be a clash in which the ideas of the new elites are proven superior – substantively and morally – a clash in which those of the old elites are defeated and discredited in full view of their flock.
This is the only way to erode their power and diminish their influence.
Unless this is grasped, unless such a venture is initiated by those who truly endorse the Zionist ideal, all will soon be irretrievably lost.