How not to win friends and influence people

It is too late to prevent South Africa from coming out with a very public and official sanction against us. Let’s hope this will be a wake-up call to our incoming government and that urgent steps will be taken to prevent this malaise from becoming viral.

Anti-Israel protestors in South Africa 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
Anti-Israel protestors in South Africa 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
South Africa, the country that gave us “Zionism is Racism,” is about to become the first country to declare official sanctions against Israel.
Following an international conference that took place in Pretoria last October, in which over a thousand delegates declared their support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, the ruling ANC party in South Africa made support of an Israeli boycott part of its official policy. The ANC is now setting up a steering committee to implement sanctions against Israel.
Writers on anti-Israel website Electronic Intifada, referring to letters sent to the ANC by Jewish religious and community leaders, gloatingly boasted of the failure of the Zionist and Jewish community to challenge the new wave of anti-Israelism in the country. “The effort to call for ‘evenhandedness’ and ‘not to take sides’ indicates the weakness of anti-Palestinian groups who can no longer dream of a pro- Israel policy,” they wrote.
I agree. “Evenhandedness” and “not taking sides” is not the way to present Israel’s rightful position with regard to the Palestinians. It leaves us bereft by not boldly stating our own clear and moral position, that runs counter to the malevolent agenda of those driving the delegitimization of Israel. It leaves the battlefield for the hearts and minds of the middle ground to the tender mercies of those that wish us real harm. Such is the failure of strong affirmative action in South Africa since the notorious Durban resolution of 2001.
On February 1, Paul Mashatile, the South African minister of arts and culture, told the New Age newspaper, “We want to step up our support of the Palestinians and are investigating a number of peaceful ways to upgrade this support. We have no problem with supporting the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions [BDS] campaign against Israel.”
Mashatile said this while in Pretoria at the department of arts and culture for the signing of a cultural agreement between South Africa and Palestine.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, later this year, South Africa will chair the Organization of African Unity, and it is for certain they will bring their boycott Israel policy to a resolution in that important chamber which, given the increasingly Islamic nature of the African continent, will be adopted. So the delegitimization virus will spread throughout Africa.
Who is to blame for this political and diplomatic disaster? The foreign office. Actually, all the government offices and agencies that deal with diplomacy and public diplomacy. It’s a total and abject failure, and a damaging one for Israel.
The problem here is not simply a failure to declare any policy regarding the Palestinians.
The real issue has been a failure of contact, of communication.
WHEN I was younger, and wanted to become a successful businessman and communicator, I read a book by Dale Carnegie. It was called How to Win Friends and Influence People. The foreign office has not only failed to win friends, it has failed to reach out and contact people and explain successfully to them our position on issues such as the Palestinians.
It ignored the findings of the Reut Institute that identified the hubs of the delegitimization campaigns against Israel, of which South Africa was evidently one. In South Africa’s case, it would be the leaders of the political parties, mainly the ANC. They, the major constituent of the South African government, have been left to the those advocating the Palestinian cause, and people coming through the ranks of a strongly anti-Israel biased higher educational system in the South African universities have now become influence and opinion makers by taking important roles in politics, unions and the media.
Precious little has been done to nurture them, to invite them to visit our country, to fund our advocacy organizations and individuals who can make the case for Israel by touring South Africa, and other countries, to explain Israel, to recruit and train new advocates and activists in non-governmental fields – in short, to win friends and influence people.
When I was in South Africa earlier last year on a speaking and book tour, Israel Apartheid Week was in full force, in a more active form than in most other countries. It was backed by notables such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The South African Council of Churches came out in support of this fraudulent activity with a statement couched in anti-Semitic terms.
And where was our foreign office while this was going on? Well, nowhere really. The withering pro-Israel Zionist groups in South Africa were muttering over the lack of support coming from Israel. They were right. One radical South African-based anti-Israel group, the Open Shahada Street, part of the BDS movement, has more paid manpower than the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria. How can we possibly tackle one of the major hubs in the delegimitization campaign against Israel if we refuse to man the breaches and plug it with properly trained diplomats who can win friends and influence people? THE SOURCE of the problem is here in Israel.
It is the total dereliction of duty, public diplomacy duty, at the heart of the decision making process. The foreign office, the prime minister’s office, the government spokesman’s office, or the ministry of public diplomacy and diaspora affairs – all have proven themselves to be incapable of addressing the urgent need to present Israel’s position on leading issues, particularly the Palestinian issue. We have a strong case to make. We, who are active advocates for Israel, are making it every day. The government, it seems, is not.
Let’s take one example – Avi Granot. He is the man responsible for the Africa desk at the foreign ministry. The impression given is that his main emphasis in Africa is aid and business.
This is fine in itself. It certainly seems like a way to reach out and win friends. But is it? Is it, when no progress is made within the political establishment in South Africa, or when whatever contact is made proves ineffective? When a group of concerned ex-South Africans, advocates for Israel in Telfed, the South African Zionist Organization based in Ra’anana, brought their concerns to him about the impending boycott of Israel, they were summarily dismissed with the message: “Go home, and leave these matters to us, the experts. We know what we are doing.” With the oncoming South African diplomatic disaster staring us in the face, it’s clear they don’t know what they are doing.
Maybe Granot is doing an excellent job in winning contracts for Israel on the African continent. Perhaps he wants to do a lot more, but is restricted in his budget and staff. He probably is banging on tables, behind closed doors, for the means to do his job better.
Either way we are getting slaughtered in the battle for our legitimacy.
In a previous article, I highlighted the shocking spectacle of our ambassadors and diplomats being summarily and angrily dismissed by the prime minister’s national security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, when they assembled in Jerusalem and complained that they are not being given the tools and information to carry out their jobs successfully. This paralleled the experience of the Telfed advocates at the foreign office.
People at the top apparently don’t have the answer or the desire to face reality and see what a failure our image has become due to lack of leadership, lack of budget, lack of numbers of trained and affirmative advocates at government level, lack of support for the excellent organizations who are doing sterling work in the field of public diplomacy. In short, government-wise, we are barely on the battlefield for hearts and minds, while the Palestinians and their supporters seem to have endless resources and are succeeding to win the world away from us.
It is too late to prevent South Africa from coming out with a very public and official sanction against us. Let’s hope this will be a wake-up call to our incoming government and that urgent steps will be taken to prevent this malaise from becoming viral.
The author is the special consultant for delegitimization issues to the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College.
He is also the author of Israel – Reclaiming the Narrative.