Maybe if Israel buys some new friends the criticism will stop

by Yaniv Reich on January 15, 2010

Unlike some of the more thoughtful essays I have highlighted recently, the following article by Gigi Grinstein, the president of a strategy think tank called the Reut Institute, is a classic case of Israelis’ chauvinistic myopia.

I am going to try something new and intersperse my comments, in red, throughout the text in the hope its an efficient and effective way to provide lots of commentary.

Israel Delegitimizers Threaten Its Existence
by Gigi Grinstein

A year after Operation Cast Lead, it is increasingly clear: Together with the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the Gaza campaign exposed a dire need for Israel to reform its security and foreign policy doctrine.  Agreed.

Many Israelis are frustrated. Over a three-year period, despite overwhelming military, technological and economic superiority, we failed to achieve decisive successes in confrontations with both Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2006, Israel was dragged through a 33-day exchange, with a cost of 133 dead and a trauma to Israeli society that will take years to heal.  This makes me very mad. What about Lebanese trauma?  The over 1,000 murdered civilians and over one million displaced? Do only Jews feel trauma? And in last year’s Gaza operation, our superior military power was offset by an offensive on Israel’s legitimacy that led to a significant setback in our international standing, and will constrain future Israeli military planning and operations as effectively as any Arab army could. We can only hope. This is a scorecard Israel can’t afford to accept.  Too bad, you’re going to have to and no attempt at rewriting the rules of war will change that.

Israel’s wars are won, or lost, as much on the drawing boards of strategists and planners as on the battlefield. In its first 20 years of existence, Israel had remarkable military successes, but, notwithstanding the bravery of our soldiers, they were primarily the outcome of an intellectual victory in the war of ideas and concepts.  Although true, arguably, about military affairs (e.g. Israel faced the same issues of international condemnation in 1956 and 1982), this is emphatically untrue with respect to the settlement enterprise, which has been ongoing since 1967, and which is not recognized by a single country on the planet earth. David Ben-Gurion’s 1947 “seminar,” by which he prepared himself for leading the nascent state in an existential military confrontation, generated a set of principles for Israeli national security many of which are relevant today. By 1967, it was secure in its borders.

In the more than four decades since then, Israel’s physical existence has been an unchallenged reality, even if at times its citizens have been subjected to terrorism and violence. Arab intentions to destroy Israel were repeatedly frustrated, to a point where any such effort was effectively abandoned, and Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel. Even though Iran may grow into an existential threat, Israel’s successes to date have been truly phenomenal.

Frustrated by Israel’s military might, its adversaries – primarily Iran and its Arab allies in Hezbollah and Hamas – have experimented with politics and violence in their attempt to cap our power and diminish it.  Over time, they were able to crystallize a set of ideas that have proven effective. Rather than seeking to conquer Israel, they would aim to bring about its implosion, as with South Africa or the Soviet Union, by attacking its political and economic values.  Do you honestly believe the criticism of Israel in the world today stems from Hezbollah and Hamas’ “crystallized ideas”?  That’s shear nonsense. While Israel aims to avoid civilian casualties (not according to the Dahiya Doctrine, Israel’s military strategy against terrorist groups), they systematically involve civilians on both sides of the frontier. While Israel seeks decisive “victory” in direct confrontations, they value “resistance” and low-intensity conflict.

Turning Israel into a pariah state is central to its adversaries’ efforts. Ahem, Israel is a pariah state in deed if not name.  What other country so systematically violates UN resolutions and the official policies of even its allies? Israel is a geopolitical island. Its survival and prosperity depend on its relations with the world in trade, science, arts and culture – all of which rely on its legitimacy. This is precisely why we can expect the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement to be effective. When the latter is compromised, the former may be severed, with harsh political, social and economic consequences.

The transformative change taking place stems from an unholy alliance with some European elites.  This alliance exists mainly in the imaginations of paranoid Israelis. The radical, brutal, sometimes-fascist Islamic states and organizations that reject Israel share aims with Europeans that deny the right of Jews to self-determination.  Some of these organizations and/pr some branches of these Islamic organizations might deny Jews the right to self-determination.  But it cannot be argued credibly that criticism of Israel’s outrageous and violent policies constitutes the denial of self-determination.

And so, our politicians and military personnel are threatened with lawsuits and arrest when they travel abroad (YES!) , campaigns to boycott our products gain traction (the more, the merrier!), and our very existence is challenged in academic institutions and intellectual circles (only Israel’s existence in its current apartheid form). The country is increasingly isolated (as befits its behavior over many decades).

To date, Israel has failed to recognize these trends for the strategically significant, potentially existential, threat they constitute. It has mustered neither resources nor personnel to fight them, and lacks a comprehensive approach to the challenge.  Is that why the foreign ministry has hired new people to combat Israeli criticism on Facebook and Twitter?

Many frame the problem as one of public relations, as if what’s required is a task force of eloquent speakers that can deliver a three-point punch line in polished English in 30 seconds. This may have been useful in the early days of global news, 20 years ago. Today it is insufficient.  When will Israel realize this is not an advertising problem; its a fundamental issue with Israeli state policy?

Others say that Israel’s policy is key, and that a genuine and credible commitment to the peace process will decrease both criticism and delegitimization of the country. OK, at least he acknowledges this point. But the delegitimization effort would continue even if Israel were to sign a comprehensive peace treaty with the PLO: Indeed, the forces that drive this effort are not Palestinian moderates, but rather people who oppose Israel’s very existence. An agreement would only fuel their campaign to converge around the next outstanding issue that comes up between Israel and the Arab world.  This is nothing but unsubstantiated garbage.  If it is that difficult to distinguish between hardline militants and reasoned critics of Israeli policy, perhaps Israel needs to spend less money on the military and settlements and more money on education.

Israel’s delegitimacy is propagated in a few global metropolises – such as London, Madrid and the Bay Area – that are hubs of international NGOs, media outlets, academia and multinational corporations.  Phew, luckily this doesn’t include me. Therefore, an extraordinary effort is required to respond to and isolate Israel’s delegitimizers. We must play offense and not just defense.  And what might that entail, Mr. McCarthy?

The most effective barrier to fundamental delegitimization is personal relationships. In every major country, Israel and its supporters must develop and sustain personal connections with the entire elite in business, politics, arts and culture, science and academia. Interesting idea… defuse criticism through nepotism? This requires not only an overhaul of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and particularly of its larger embassies, by infusing them with significantly larger operating budgets (maybe instead of bribery, one could consider ending your policies of ethnic cleansing of the West Bank), but also the mobilization of our civil elite in Israel and overseas for the task.  I think more Israeli supermodels would do the trick.

Operation Cast Lead may have ushered in a new era in Israeli national security. The frontiers of our survival have shifted from the battlefields and military to our formal and informal diplomats the world over. Good thing you have FM Lieberman and Deputy FM Ayalon on the case. This is a struggle that may be less bloody, but is as existentially important.  Only if your notion of Israel is inextricably linked with the status quo of occupation and apartheid.

Let this be a case study for you in how Israeli psychology works, and how it ought to work.

Update: MuzzleWatch has an excellent post on this article too. My favorite line: “[Ours] is a force for change and accountability that cannot be “decapitated” through relationships with elites and exerting McCarthyite pressure.”

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