Israel as a punching bag and the government’s inertia

The issue at hand is whether there will be enough initiative within the government to establish an anti-propaganda agency or whether we will have to wait for a major disaster to occur.

A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File] (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]
(photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
Hate propagandists of all kinds have been attacking Israel for decades and have gone largely unpunished. It is greatly surprising that successive Israeli governments have allowed this to happen without trying to establish an anti-propaganda agency in an effort to strike back. When this fact comes under discussion, one is usually asked why Israeli governments have agreed to let Israel become the punching bag of many of its enemies.
At first glance, it would seem difficult to find rational explanations for such prolonged inaction. Only once the delegitimization process of Israel is analyzed in greater detail can one identify a few possible ones.
One reason for the government’s complacency is the nature of the current anti-Israel campaign, which, in the world’s “post-modern society,” is highly fragmented. A substantial number of attacks come from many different directions.
Although few of them have a very pronounced impact, the problem is their accumulated influence. This is reflected in the title of my latest book, which analyzes the delegitimization process of Israel: The War of A Million Cuts.
The classic attacks of the Catholic clergy were based on a single “cut”: the dominant motif was accusing the Jews of having murdered the alleged son of God. Ethnic anti-Semitism was based on another major motif: Jews were deemed an inferior people.
The contemporary situation is radically different from that immediately preceding World War II. At that time, one major extremist anti-Semitic movement stood out prominently above all others – the Nazi party, and its highly visible leader, Adolf Hitler. Its adherents were widely spread across Europe, far beyond Germany.
No similar consolidated movement exists today. The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for instance, is a prominent propagandist of a genocidal anti-Israel policy. Yet he is not the role model for almost all the movements based in the West who attack Israel, which include part of the media, pseudo- humanitarian NGOs, churches, trade unions, leftist and extreme rightist politicians and others.
When I lecture about the delegitimization process of Israel, I sometimes say, “If I had been invited to speak 500 years ago, it would have been easy to convince a Jewish audience of the extreme nature of anti-Semitism. I would have invited a Catholic priest who would have explained that Church dogma holds all Jews, throughout all generations, responsible for the death of Jesus.
I would also have invited a Lutheran pastor who would have explained that Martin Luther, the founder of his denomination, said that synagogues should be burned in honor of God and Christianity, that Jewish homes should be broken down and destroyed, that Jews should be housed in stalls and that their books should be taken away. Luther also stated that rabbis must be prohibited from teaching, upon punishment of death”.
The complexity of the current system of attacks, their fragmented nature and the difficulties Israel’s leadership has in understanding the nature of the propaganda attacks is perhaps the main reason, but certainly not the only one, why Israel hasn’t created an anti-propaganda agency in all this time.
A second reason for inaction may be the view held by successive Israeli governments that as long as exports flourish, any dents that the anti-Israeli hate movement may make to Israel’s image are not too threatening. Government officials fear that attacking foreign propagandists in Western countries might affect business development. In other words, as long as the export economy performs well, they consider the fight against delegitimization to be a secondary issue at best.
That the economy is held as the highest priority is evident from other government policies. The Israeli government is reluctant to support the Holocaust restitution issue in regard to the Baltic countries, for example. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center says that “it is both ironic and sad that Israel’s almost total refusal to criticize them on their poor record on Shoah-related issues, may have paved the way for good relations with all three Baltic countries.”
A third factor might also partially explain the long-lasting government inertia which has prevented the creation of an Israeli anti-propaganda agency.
The establishment of such an agency would diminish the competency of various government ministries. To effectuate such a change, it would thus require a prime minister who makes the fight against propaganda a national priority.
There may even be a fourth reason. In some Israeli circles, one hears that a bit of anti-Semitism encourages foreign Jews to move to Israel. The average Israeli, however, hasn’t a clue about what anti-Semitism means; he lives in the rather isolated internal environment of the Jewish state.
The arrival of thousands of immigrants from countries like France, for example, lets many Israelis believe that even people who live in a wealthier environments prefer to come to Israel, a state which has quite a few problems of its own. They see anti-Semitism as beneficial to Israel, without understanding its true nature, its dangerous impact and virulent implications.
The reluctance to address the ever-growing issue of delegitimization presents an increasing danger to Israel.
Dealing with the military threats from Iran is, to a certain extent, fighting a more traditional type of war. To fight the war of a million cuts, however, requires many innovative approaches. These can only be developed through trial and error by a structured agency.
It may well be that Israel will only initiate the establishment of an anti-propaganda agency once the damage becomes far more visible and pronounced. A very painful major event rather than many smaller ones might break through the government’s inertia. It is doubtful that even a scandal like having the Israeli soccer teams banned from FIFA, the international soccer federation, could have pushed the government into action.
The real issue at hand is thus whether there will be enough initiative within the government to establish an anti-propaganda agency or whether we will have to wait for a major disaster to occur.
The author’s just-published book, The War of a Million Cuts, analyzes how Israel and Jews are delegitimized, and how one can fight these attempts at delegitimization.