Is the Israeli Government with us? Or are we alone?
When it comes to representing Israel against the libels and boycott campaigns, the Israeli Government is not on the battlefield. Their record is a disgrace. Every action taken against us from the Goldstone Report, the Gaza Flotilla, the Muhammed al-Dura case, the Israel apartheid libel, and many others, have been complete failures when it comes to the official Israeli responses.
There may be a case to be made that the Israeli Government is not supposed to be active in public diplomacy but to represent Israel, officially, in real diplomacy, government to government. This only partially explains why groups and NGOs find visits to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Knesset forums so frustratingly vacuous. The Israeli government is not taking the assaults on Israel’s legitimacy seriously.
In South Africa, the anti-Israel Open Shahada Street NGO has three times more paid employees than the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria. This is one reason why we are getting hammered in the South African media, in their national politics, on the campus there. We are simply unable to get any meaningful support from our government.
The Israeli Government was roundly criticized by a distinguished panel of activists at a recent public meeting of Truth Be Told (see ‘Countering the Global Media Assault on Israel’ Jerusalem Post, 17 May 2013) for their ‘declining budgets and mindless mindsets.’
NGO-Monitor relays to us the massive funding of anti-Israel NGOs from European governments under the guise of ‘human rights’ and social programs amounting to millions of Euros. Yet it is impossible for effective pro-Israel NGOs and groups to receive any hand-out from government sources to mount any successful action in defense of Israel’s damaged reputation.
For those of us fighting the good fight it seems to us as if our anti-Israel enemy has a bottomless well of funding, and he never sleeps. On the other hand, some Israeli embassies have commercial and military attaches. None have public diplomacy attaches. The Israeli government, it seems, does not officially deal in public diplomacy. It dabbles (badly) from time to time, but it does not professionally have a strategy or game plan.
The Israeli government is aware of the dangerous threat of demonization and delegitimization, yet it has no answer and no action plan. Neither is it willing to listen to the advice of those fighting the good fight as to how they can help the cause and win the battle.
With the inauguration of the new government the first victim was the Ministry of Public Diplomacy. With the elevation of Yuli Edelstein to the Speaker of the Knesset his ministry was dismantled. I have three questions. Did anyone notice its passing? Can anyone tell me what it did during the brief period of its existence, save for flying Edelstein to pompous events as the government’s figurehead and receiving VIPs visiting Israel? Can anyone point to one effective and successful piece of action from this ministry that countered the wall of lies and hypocrisy against our country? It has gone, and nobody has noticed its passing. This is more than a shame, it is a tragic example of government incompetence to those of us who carry the scars of the battle for Israel.
It was true that, under Danny Ayalon’s period as Deputy Foreign Minister, he understood the importance and strength of the social media and produced a number of excellent short videos that are still useful tools in our armory. However, his intervention was a rare example of coordination between a government ministry and those battling to place Israel’s narrative before a wider public. Rather, it is left to independent bodies to win the hearts and minds of the undecided.
One prime example is Herzlia’s I.D.C., who sponsored the Situation Room to counter the fraudulent message of the 2011 Gaza Flotilla. Let’s recall the hasbara disaster of the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident when the government produced the evidence too little and too late. It has taken us years and we still haven’t lived down the official bungling. In 2011, the I.D.C. donated an office and a bank of computers as we called for a team of foreign language volunteers to battle the Flotilla liars with truth which we presented on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and self-produced websites. The daily messages reached hundreds of thousands of people in Europe and throughout the world and helped enormously in having them question to motives of the Gaza Flotilla extremists. We destroyed their message of being on a ‘humanitarian mission.’ As an adjunct to this exercise, it was Jonathan Lux, a London-based lawyer and a member of the UK Lawyers for Israel who initiated a phone call to an Athens-based colleague that led to the Flotilla boats being held in lock-down in Piraeus harbor. Such is the power of the individual and volunteer when officialdom fails in its duty.
This year, IDC Herzlia, under the guidance of Jonathan Davies, their Vice President for External Relations, sent five beautiful Israelis of Ethiopian background to Cape Town, South Africa, to counter the hateful ‘Israel Apartheid Week.’ Their presence there was a shock to the anti-Israel organizers as it projected the true face of Israel as a Rainbow Nation. It blew the slanderous message of Israel being a racist state out of the water. Davies and IDC intend to send similar teams to Britain and other campuses throughout Europe. This is one perfect example of what can be achieved by non-governmental means. This counter offensive could be so much more effective and widespread if only the Israeli Government would support such initiatives.
Not only are government officials and well-connected Israelis not fighting on our side, they can often be found in the camp of our enemy. A perfect example of this has been the lone battle of Philippe Karsenty who, for decades, has been fighting the Muhammed al-Dura blood libel. When the news broke on 30 September 2000 that a Palestinian boy had been killed by Israeli gunfire at Netzerim Junction the IDF, in a knee-jerk reaction, admitted responsibility and offered an apology for the incident. It was later proven that the IDF had no part in an incident that Karsenty spent a decade proving it to be a hoax perpetrated by France 2 TV in collaboration with Palestinian media people. Karsenty pleaded for the support of the Israeli Government in the law suits brought against him by France 2 and Canal 22. None was forthcoming. Karsenty claimed that prominent Israelis such as Kadima’s Yizhak Hasson, who had served in the Shin Bet, endorsed France 2’s Charles Enderlin who claimed in his book ‘A Child is Killed’ that he had the support of the IDF and the Shin Bet. An Israeli doctor who also supported Enderlin was Rafi Walden, who is the son-in-law of President Shimon Peres, according to Karsenty. Even after Karsenty won his cases, and the message was out there that the al-Dura case was a media fraud, he continued to find antagonism from Yigal Palmor of the Foreign Ministry, and even from Tzipi Livni. When Karsenty offered to gift his hard-earned success to the Israeli Government for them to officially expose the bias and, in the case of France 2 and the Palestinians, the deliberate al-Dura fraud against Israel, Livni responded “We don’t care about that,” according to his account to a Los Angeles audience.
Now we read that a government panel has just come to the conclusion that the IDF did not kill al-Dura. Good morning, Israeli Government! Where have you been for the last thirteen years? Karsenty has spent eight years and his private resources after coming to that conclusion in the year 2000 – that the IDF did not kill Muhammed al-Dura, and that the whole incident was a hoax. Such is the disastrous state of Israeli public diplomacy.
There are worthy advocates out there who are willing to put themselves on the line for Israel. They are ready to take up Israel’s case on the campus with StandWithUs and IDC, against the media with Honest Reporting, in the courts with examples such as Karsenty and UK Lawyers for Israel and Shurat HaDin, and to win the hearts and minds of public opinion with groups such as Truth Be Told and many others. However, they need to know that the Israeli Government stands with them in an active and affirmative manner.
The question is who is there in the lethargic, bumbling, world of Israeli politics and official bureaucracy who is able to reach out in any type of Knesset or Foreign Ministry forum and listen to what can be done? Is there anybody in there listening to this message? Or are we alone, the individual NGOs and grassroots groups, to fight the wall of hate and lies and attempt to reclaim the narrative for Israel?
Barry Shaw is the author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’
Barry Shaw is also the Special Consultant on Delegitimization Issues to The Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya Academic College.