The way to build a relationship with the Israeli people

Israel is probably the only democracy the values of which are tested every day.

SOLDIERS ON patrol in the West Bank. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SOLDIERS ON patrol in the West Bank.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Diplomacy is tough. Every Israeli who has ever traveled to Italy knows that the Israeli gesture asking kindly for patience would be interpreted as an offensive dismissal in Italy. A thumbs-up in many parts of the Middle East is the very opposite of, well, a thumbs-up. These examples could open an introductory course to basic diplomacy, where understanding local narratives and trends constitutes the most basic prerequisite for successful engagement.
So, if Europe is genuinely interested in effectively implementing its “soft power” doctrine and playing a leading political role in the region, it must know Israeli society inside out. It should be familiar with every nuance and what is and isn’t “the done thing.”
The European foreign service should know, for example, that despite our tendency to turn every minor difference into an emotional debate, there is one thing, perhaps one thing only, that is truly sacrosanct for us – the Israel Defense Forces.
Here, respect for the IDF is the consensus on which our society is built. It is above every possible political disagreement. We all served. We all know the stories. We all remember Lt. Hadar Goldin and his team, who were killed by Hamas terrorists in a surprise attack an hour after a UN-mediated cease-fire entered into force. We all heard about the medic Dror Dagan, who attended to a Palestinian woman who pretended to faint so her husband – a senior Hamas militant – could shoot him in the back, leaving his lower body paralyzed for life.
I personally remember very vividly how, while fighting in Gaza, I had an armed terrorist in my sights but couldn’t get permission to fire, despite the serious risk he was posing to my friends and me, for fear of harming civilians in his vicinity. As an Israeli who served as a combat soldier and educated two cycles of new infantry recruits, I cannot ever be convinced that the IDF is inherently evil.
But perhaps Israelis are not really the target audience of such efforts.
When Dana Golan of the organization Breaking the Silence (BtS), who receives her salary largely through EU support, told the European Parliament’s Human Rights subcommittee that Israeli soldiers are war criminals who “throw [their] moral code out the window” shortly after the summer of 2014 when thousands of Hamas rockets rained down on millions of Israelis, she convinced us of one thing – that her group is dangerous.
This is not about “fake news” or a difference of opinion to us, it strikes at the very glue that binds us together.
Following that, in a television interview, the interviewer told BtS’s CEO that she probably heads “the most despised organization in Israel at the moment.” His comment reflected the massive public outrage resulting from their “work” abroad, which generates hate and misunderstanding toward Israel and the IDF.
Let me reiterate: this is not a partisan matter. The few exceptions to BtS’s “testimonies” that were not anonymous, and were verifiable, were eventually exposed as at least highly doubtful. Far from black and white.
This made almost everyone in Israel distance themselves from BtS and question its motives. Even the kibbutzim, the conventional stronghold of the Left, keep their distance. In June, Kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa refused to allow BtS to use their shared facilities, and Kibbutz Tlalim informed it in July that its propaganda is not welcome in their community. Later in July, after facing some hard and inconvenient questions in Kibbutz Mizra (of the socialist movement “Hashomer Hatza’ir”), a BtS speaker posted on his Facebook account that it was “the worst and most difficult event I ever had.” Kibbutzim Neve Or, Yagur, Shefayim and others followed suit.
My Truth was founded out of this grassroots movement to provide a voice to Israeli soldiers who are deeply dissatisfied with the political manipulation being done in their names. The organization is comprised of volunteers, who are committed to education and dialogue of the kind that Europe and Israeli society must develop.
Israel is probably the only democracy the values of which are tested every day. In its 69 years, it has stood against full-scale wars of annihilation, ongoing terrorism against its civilians at home and abroad in all forms, as well as psychological and political warfare. Reality has presented many dilemmas along the years. When the Supreme Court sets a precedent, many times it is because no comparative law sources existed to consult due to the exceptional legal questions that were laid before it.
Europe’s evolving challenges are becoming increasingly similar to those Israel has faced for decades, in many fields – security, immigration, stability and more. Europe now realizes that in order to have peace, security and prosperity at home it must strive to stabilize and promote its “ever closer” neighborhood, through political and physical means.
We know very well that the challenge is a difficult one, and overcoming it will not be easy or swift, but we are stronger working together, based on our shared values. Unfortunately, the current dialogue hinders collaboration and tears us apart where we need to be united. Our task in the weeks, months and years ahead is to work on these points of unity, and yes, to also work on the basic diplomatic faux pas that some of the ill-intentioned will try to throw our way to undo our efforts. The new EU ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, who took office this Monday after having already served in Israel should be the right partner with whom to meet the challenge.
The author is an experienced professional in Israel-EU relations, a veteran IDF soldier and is the European outreach coordinator at My Truth.