Into the fray: Like a man in a bucket: Failed philanthropy (cont.)

Trying to win the strategic ideological battle with the Left using the current methods is like a man standing in a bucket, trying to lift himself up by the handle. And just as futile.

Hommage Rabin 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hommage Rabin 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Philanthropy is not working as well as it should, and almost everyone knows it. The causes that receive the most donations are not necessarily the ones that make the greatest impact. Personal whims and preferences of donors determine where dollars flow more than proven effectiveness.
– Eric Friedman, “Why Philanthropy Needs Reinventing,” Philanthropy Journal, August 26, 2013.
I am aware that I am recycling the same introductory excerpt that appeared in my previous column – but I feel this is justified since, as will soon become clear, it is still entirely relevant to this week’s piece.
To recap briefly
In last week’s column, I broached several perturbing aspects of what could well be termed the “paradox of politics” in Israel; and what message it entails for the efficacy of philanthropic funding of endeavors intended to advance the world view of their “right-wing” or hawkish-oriented benefactors.
As for the paradox of Israeli politics, I pointed to the astonishing phenomenon, where, following the failure of dovish coalitions and their policies of territorial concessions and political appeasement, hawkish governments are voted in to replace them. But shortly after taking office they inexplicably embrace the failed policies of their dovish predecessors, which they were elected to countermand – and which the bulk of their members built their political careers on resisting.
Even more puzzling is the fact that these breathtaking U-turns were undertaken despite the fact that not only was there no clamor for them from coalition constituencies, but in fact they were frequently executed in complete contradiction of their voters’ political predilections.
As I observed, this bizarre situation clearly demonstrates that neither electoral success nor public support play a dominant role in determining political realities in Israel.
Causes, consequences and conclusions
Instead, these realities are, to a large degree, “elite-generated” phenomena, and are the result of the pursuit of the personal and professional interests of a small, but highly influential, group of civil society elites. These interests are, in large measure, a product of the personal and professional ties they maintain with left-leaning liberal peer groups abroad and which, in turn, determine their personal and professional status.
From their unelected positions of power and privilege – in the mainstream media, legal establishment and academia – these elites are able to control much of the political discourse in the country. It is this discourse that impacts the cognition of the elected politicians and creates the perceived constraints that the policy-makers feel bind them, and the perceived possibilities they feel are available to them.
Without a firm grasp of this causal relationship and the mechanisms of is operation, it is impossible to comprehend the process of cause and effect in Israeli politics; and without such understanding, no political action can be successful – at least in terms of its practical strategic impact.
The importance of this cannot be overstated.
For it impinges directly on the crucial issue of how the Jewish people – in Israel and the Diaspora – should make optimal use of the resources available to them, to ensure the survival of their nation-state in a implacably hostile environment.
‘Nothing more practical than a good theory’
The inescapable conclusion that emerges from this analysis is that to be able to enhance their ability to influence political realities in Israel, the “Right” must act to wrest control of the political discourse away from the left-leaning civil society elites, who monopolize – or at least, dominate – it today.
To achieve this goal, “right-wing” benefactors must begin to divert funding less towards endeavors that focus on the “concrete” and more toward those that focus on the “conceptual.”
Given the prevailing mind-set on much of the “Right,” this is a suggestion that may well be met with derision, and claims that it would favor the theoretical over the practical, and promote esoteric philosophizing over tangible facts-on-the ground.
This is criticism that should not be heeded. For as Kurt Levin, often dubbed the “founder of social psychology,” famously remarked: “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.” This touches precisely on the failing of the political “Right” and its civil society auxiliaries.
They have neglected–or at least, are seen to have neglected – the need for a “good theory” to counter the aggressively advanced paradigm of the “Left.”
Fleeting ‘facts-on-the-ground’
After all, the dominance of the Israeli “Left” over the political agenda did not come as a result of its physical activities but by attaining ascendancy in the clash of ideas (largely due to the “Rights” abdication).
It was not “feats in the field” that facilitated the emergence of the Oslodelusion; or transformed the perception of a Palestinian state, west of the Jordan, from a perfidious anathema in the late 1980s to an imperative for national salvation in the early 1990s.
Conversely, the “facts-on-the-ground” in Gaza and Northern Samaria, did nothing to prevent the obliteration of thriving communities and decades of Zionist enterprise within a matter of weeks.
Similarly, Jewish ownership of properties purchased from Arabs in east Jerusalem and elsewhere will not prove a bulwark against withdrawal and the transfer of the areas, in which they are located, to Arab rule.
At best, the owners will be compensated should they choose – or be coerced – to leave.
A slight change of plan
I ended last week’s article with a promise that I would soon pursue the discussion of this topic in a coming column – “in a more detailed and action-oriented manner.” It was my intention to devote this column entirely to this task.
However, I have decided to defer – at least partially – the “action-oriented” prescription as to the type of endeavors and enterprises “right-wing” politicallyengaged philanthropists should begin to focus their funding on, to next week – the third and final installment on this issue.
There is, however, a good reason for this deferral.
Since I ascribe paramount importance to acquiring an intimate understanding of the causal nexus between left-leaning elite control of political discourse and the political realities in Israel, I should like to exploit a fortuitous coincidence to help illustrate, accentuate and corroborate this vital relationship.
For such understanding is indispensable in deciphering the perverse paradox of politics in Israel – and hence in formulating effective initiatives to confront, curtail and counter its pernicious consequences.
Of course, it is these initiatives, which logically should merit the largess of “right-wing” benefactors wishing to countermand the realities that flow from this paradox. It so happened that, together with my article last week, my Jerusalem Post colleague, Caroline B. Glick, published an insightful analysis of the Osloprocess, marking the 20th anniversary of its ill-conceived initiation.
Collegial corroboration
Although I have never discussed the issues I raised in my column with her, I was gratified to see that Glick deftly described – although in a somewhat less explicit and more context-specific manner – the very the mechanisms that I have stipulated above.
In her “Israel’s 20-year nightmare,” Glick illustrates clearly how the political discourse is manipulated to suit the leftleaning agenda, giving prominence to certain topics, while suppressing others.
Thus with regard to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, increasingly portrayed by growing numbers on the Left as being the result of Israel shunning possible opportunities for peace with Egypt, she correctly notes: “Just to make sure we remember how illserved we were by our leaders 40 years ago, every year around Yom Kippur, the media gives an open mike to every maudlin, angry and indignant story they can find.
Every year documentaries are produced.
Every year, books are published.”
Yet, as she writes, when it comes to the discourse on the Oslowian debacle, the contrast is striking: “Nothing even vaguely resembling [this] has occurred in relation to the so-called peace process with the Palestinians that is now 20 years old.
No commission of inquiry was convened.
No heads have rolled. No television station has broadcast a serious documentary explaining the price Israel has paid on any level for a mistake that has cost us so dearly on every level.”
Consequences of control of discourse
Glick also accurately identifies the effects that this control of the discourse has on the decision-making of the elected politicians, much as I delineated last week when I indicated that it is the discourse that determines the decisions of the elected incumbents and their perceptions of the restraints and possibilities that shape the formulation of their policies.
This is clearly reflected in Glick’s condemnation that the party most responsible for Israel’s continued abidance by a strategy that has brought us nothing but disaster is the media. “Our media outlets run a constant stream of post-Zionist propaganda that has reduced our elected representatives’ field of action to the size of a postage stamp.”
She goes on to invoke this as an explanation for the previously mentioned “paradox of politics” in Israel, stating: “The reason that once in office non-leftist leaders embrace the positions of the radical Left, ignore the public, block every attempt to correct the damage that the Oslo Accords have wrought, and embark on a new path, is that they are no match for Channel 2 and all the rest.”
Irrelevance of popular support
Last week I observed that neither victory at the polls nor the extent of public support play a dominant role in determining political realities in Israel. Glick shows that she too is mindful of this inherent disregard for popular opinion – at least whenever it clashes with the political predilections of left-leaning elites.
Noting that the masses of Israelis who foresaw and opposed Oslo were ignored, she wrote: The public foresaw what was eminently foreseeable.
More than two million Israelis – or nearly half the country’s Jewish population in the early 1990s – actively opposed the so-called Oslo Accords and what followed.
As a proportion of Israel’s population, the number of Israelis who took part in protests against the so-called peace process comprised the largest protest movement in history.” Yet to no avail.
Like a man in a bucket?
The creation of political realities in Israel is an elite-driven process, that tends to be far more top-down than bottom up.
Those genuinely wishing to change prevailing realities must realize this and focus resources on emplacing, empowering, and promoting counter-elites – what I have termed in previous columns “intellectual warriors” – to replace the current “agenda-setters.” In the design and operation of such initiatives it is crucial to avoid “singing to the choir.” They must aim at reaching across the political divide, at challenging and discrediting the incumbent elites – in full view of their own constituencies.
Their message must therefore be formulated in largely secular (but certainly not anti-religious) terms, and their activities devised to make inroads into the existing establishment.
Their center of operations must be from locations inside the pre-1967 lines – and prospective benefactors must resist the temptation of succumbing to the “feelgood- factor” by funding “in-your-face” ventures, which provide excellent outlets for “letting off steam,” but little in terms of effective political results.
These initiatives cannot project themselves as detached “alternative” endeavors catering only for likeminded participants, but as a serious challenger for control of the mainstream.
They must involve the creation of a “theater of engagement” for the conduct of intellectual combat, which the current elites feel obliged to participate in, and cannot evade or ignore.
Next week – subject to breaking news – I will set out a practical outline for such an initiative. It will be an expensive enterprise, but any endeavor to change the course of history will be costly.
Whatever the cost, we should remember that persisting with the effort to win the strategic ideological battle with the Left using the current methods will be much like a man standing in a bucket, trying to lift himself up by the handle.
And just as futile.
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.