Original Thinking: Israeli diplomatic incompetence

The defense of Israel, saving it from a global delegitimization campaign that will have significant diplomatic impact on our country, is sufficient grounds for influential and powerful people to rally around the Jewish state and protect it from our enemies.

Mavi Marmara 311 (photo credit: Stringer Turkey / Reuters)
Mavi Marmara 311
(photo credit: Stringer Turkey / Reuters)
How is it possible for Israel to effectively present its positions to the world when its government PR organs are in such a state of disarray? Not only are they in shameful condition, they have become incapable of addressing the most basic elements of our legitimacy and policy.
We hear the most outlandish criticisms and resolutions used against us that go unanswered by the government.
In an area of dispute when you don’t express your legitimacy, don’t adequately rebut the accusations of illegitimacy, you begin to appear illegitimate.
Delegitimacy is a growing, existential threat for Israel. It is a clear and present danger that is increasingly rearing its ugly head in official forums.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak actually called it a “strategic danger to the State of Israel.”
And yet, the government refuses to seriously address the issue, or to devote the necessary budget and planning to public diplomacy, or even to provide factual and ongoing information to those who campaign for Israel’s good name.
Recently we were privy to the distressing episode of our frustrated ambassadors being assailed by National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, after they criticized the government for not providing them with an official explanation on the thinking and policy of Operation Pillar of Defense.
When it gets to this level of crisis, you know we are in deep trouble.
When Ron Prosor, our ambassador to the United Nations, asked about the rationale behind the government’s timing of the announcement of the construction plans for the E1 area, his question was greeted by applause by the attending ambassadors. This expression of their concern and frustration at the government’s lack of explanation was angrily put down by Amidror, the head of the National Security Council, who responded, “If you don’t agree with government policy, either go into politics or resign.”
Prosor had asked a perfectly legitimate question and was rebuked. As one diplomat said, “We are not given the tools needed to explain governmental policy.” This is precisely what Israeli activists and advocates having been saying for years. It is clear that, in the battle for international public opinion, the government still doesn’t get it.
There is an anti-Israel diplomatic storm brewing in Africa.
South Africa’s governing African National Congress party in December made supporting boycotts, divestments and sanctions a part of its official policy. As the anti-Israel Electronic Intifada website trumpeted, “The decision by the ANC National Conference is the most authoritative endorsement of BDS against Israel.” The country that gave us “Zionism is Racism” is now a prisoner to the BDS movement.
Clearly the government’s lack of will to fight the delegitimization of our country has led to a crisis of monstrous proportion in Africa.
Apparently it learned nothing from the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban that adopted the resolution that Israel is a racist state.
Now South Africa intends to impose sanctions against the Jewish state.
More danger appears on the horizon. Later this year, South Africa will take the chair of the Organization of African Unity. Should Johannesburg adopt anti-Israel sanctions, it is likely to bring this resolution to the rest of Africa where, with the support of the increasingly Islamic members, it is likely to receive a sympathetic hearing, unless last-second action is taken by Israel to show the South African government decision-makers the true face of Israel.
It is worth reminding ourselves that no African nation voted with Israel and against the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN in November.
Israel has learned nothing from Durban 2001. It has failed to court the leaders of the ANC with the same enthusiasm and dedication as our BDS movement enemies have. I don’t know how true it is, but somebody told me that the anti-Israel “Open Shehada Street” group in South Africa has more paid staffers than the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria.
The enormous effort required must not be confined to South Africa. We are losing Europe.
My point is that the government has failed to represent Israel in the critical arena of Israel’s public diplomacy. It has shown disrespect for activist warriors fighting a rear guard action in the war of delegitimization. In certain cases it appears unaware, insensitive and incompetent in addressing key battlefronts until they explode in their faces.
The Gaza flotilla was one example of action done too little, too late, and then done badly.
Following the Lindenstrauss report, critical of the government handling of the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, a number of NGOs and Israeli activists volunteers decided to act the following year to counter the propaganda of the 2011 Gaza flotilla. I was one of the people who set up the situation room donated to us by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
A group of young computer nerds created websites, Facebook groups in various languages and Twitter accounts as we flooded the social media with information that discredited the flotilla activists by presenting an accurate picture of what they were really about, which was not peace and reconciliation.
We were helped by NGOs, led by Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center and UK Lawyers for Israel; they succeeded by using ingenious methods, in locking down the flotilla boats in Piraeus, Greece, and prevented them sailing to Gaza. Intelligence information was obtained by this group of volunteers that led to preventing anti-Israel provocateurs from boarding planes to Ben-Gurion Airport as part of an antagonistic “Flightilla.”
Without question, and compared to the 2010 disaster, the independent action of enthusiastic activists acting on a prepared plan proved to be hugely successful.
Actions taken by individuals and groups have had remarkable success in the battles against our vocal and hyperactive enemies. The government must learn to support and sponsor independent activists. They have the record of success to prove that smart local action is effective.
The good news is that it works. There is, alas, little hope that those in official positions to effect change will take sufficient note of the serious existential threat to our nation. They will continue their policy of “too little, too late.”
Pro-Israel activists and groups, both here and abroad, are uncertain as to which government agency deals with public diplomacy. Is it the Foreign Ministry? Is it the Prime Minister’s Office? Or is it the minister of public diplomacy, and what does he do, exactly? It’s quite confusing. If this is the plane of diplomacy, then who is flying it? If this is the plane of diplomacy, we are experiencing a hell of a lot of turbulence, and we are worried about surviving the flight. Nor do we understand the direction they are taking us. I’m not sure there is any coordination among the crew (who is the crew, by the way?). This plane of diplomacy, flying in an atmosphere unfavorable to the safety of its passengers, does not appear to be staffed by people competent in manning a successful campaign capable of getting us safely to our destination. When crew members, such as the ambassadors, are grumbling about those in the cockpit we simple passengers have real reason to be alarmed.
One added and valid point is that the government is failing to invest sufficient capital into keeping the hasbara plane afloat.
Here I am prepared to make an impolite but provable claim. Israeli public diplomacy should not be left in the hands of native-born Israeli bureaucrats and politicians.
With one or two notable exceptions, those that have dabbled in the subject have proven to be unmitigated disasters.
Look instead at the private NGOs that are battling the anti-Israel delegitimization and demonization campaigns.
All of the prominent action groups, in their respective fields, were created, developed and achieved external funding by Israelis emanating from English-speaking backgrounds.
A few of the most outstanding examples include NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg, Palestinian Media Watch’s Itamar Marcus, Joe Hyam’s HonestReporting.
We can add to this list the amazing work being done by Israel21c, StandWithUs and Birthright Israel, all funded by American pro-Israel patrons.
These NGOs have succeeded with little to no governmental help or funding.
Instead, they raised budgets from private sources abroad that have enabled them to continue the fine work they are doing for Israel.
The time has come for the government to be outflanked by well-funded, independent, pro-Israel public diplomacy NGOs. Wealthy pro-Israel individuals and foundations must get involved with such NGOs so that Israel’s voice is properly and widely represented.
It is time that people in Chicago, Shanghai, Berlin, London, Stockholm and yes, in the Arab world, can turn on their TVs and find an international Israeli news channel as conveniently as they can find CNN, Al Jazeera, France 24 and the BBC. An estimate of costs for such a news channel is $15 million a year.
Don’t expect the government to cough up the money any day soon, no matter how essential it is for the world to hear our voice and see the true face of our country. This must be an independent effort by people who share this author’s concerns. I don’t believe that, despite difficult economic times, there are not the sufficient number of able people willing to underwrite such a critically important venture.
The defense of Israel, saving it from a global delegitimization campaign that will have significant diplomatic impact on our country, is sufficient grounds for influential and powerful people to rally around the Jewish state and protect it from our enemies, and from the incompetence of our government politicians and officials.
Barry Shaw is the author of Israel Reclaiming the Narrative. He is also the special consultant on delegitimization issues to the S.Daniel Abrahams Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College.