The Israeli government has been out of the game, deliberately and wrongly, in fighting BDS and delegitimization. They fail to appreciate the enormous harm that this phenomenon could cause to Israel, and when they did, or didn’t, take action the results were damaging to Israel.
Two prime examples of the international harm caused to Israel, by its own wrong decisions, were the Goldstone Report and the Mavi Marmara.
With Goldstone, the Israeli Government decided, rather truculently, not to cooperate with Goldstone, thereby handing the Palestinians a huge PR victory.
With the Mavi Marmara they decided not to give the Gaza Flotilla sufficient advance intelligence and gravitas and simply send soldiers onto the ships with paintball guns until their lives were in danger. The result was fatal and, again, a PR disaster for Israel.
It is only when Israel’s delegitimization is treated with the same seriousness by our government as it does for terrorism that the tide will begin to turn.
A past government created a Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs. One of the things it produced was a tiny booklet called “Presenting Israel.” On the front page is a picture of a man with a camel. He is saying “Camels are a popular form of transportation in Israel…” You couldn’t make this up! Is this the best our government can do? The booklet gave the ministry’s website. I went to this website recently. It was closed down for updating.
Hillel Halkin, a Jewish intellectual and historian, described the official Israeli public diplomacy approach as one of “sheer incompetence.”
Eitan Gilboa found the government public diplomacy apparatus as being “fundamentally flawed.” He recommended the government to enlist NGO bodies to work alongside governmental ones. In my opinion, the government should follow President Obama’s foreign policy principle and lead from behind, letting the effective advocacy groups lead the way receiving material support from the government with transparency, cooperation, but no interference.
Those who are involved in the battle, those who are getting down and dirty on the campuses and other battlefields, when they have attempted to make headway with Israeli ministries are being treated with contempt, or ignored, by officials and politicians as if the topic of Israel’s delegitimization, demonization, BDS, and the growth and global spread of anti-Israel activity was a minor irritant.
My observation is that the bulk of anti-Israel activism takes place abroad, far away from the Knesset and the ministries. It had no influence or resonance on our politicians. It gets in the way of the daily workload of government officials. It did not resonate on their radar screen, or, if it does, they bleep it out, until the noise becomes too deafening to ignore.
Only recently have we heard public comments by some of our ministers, and then only in the context of very public political scuffs between political rivals with Yair Lapid saying boycotts will cause serious economic damage if peace talks fail, while Naftali Bennett takes a contrary view saying that Israel should not abandon its land due to economic threats. John Kerry talked about the boycott threat and Bibi devoted seven minutes of his 2014 AIPAC address to BDS in response thereby giving propaganda capital to the BDS Movement.
There are too many conflicting panic noises coming from our high officials publicly. This is highly damaging. This noise constitutes a major victory for the BDS Movement who broadcast this as a sure sign of their progress into mainstream. They announce how Israel is becoming destabilized and they are on the way to victory. Anything said publicly by Israeli politicians and ministers act as a megaphone and added publicity in the social media outlets of BDS, and other anti-Israel action groups. It is way out of proportion to the economic harm done to Israel by BDS - so far.
We are about to feel the actions of the EU Horizon 2020 with the promised sanctions of anything over the Green Line. They will show their displeasure with Israeli policies by offering funding and cooperation for Israeli research and development within the Green Line even as they will pull the plug on any cooperation with Israel over the Green Line. Is this action anti-Occupation, or is it actively forcing a European delegitimization policy on Israel? It seems that way as European parliaments fall like dominos to the support a Palestinian state wave that is sweeping the continent. Either way, it will certainly feed into the BDS frenzy of hitting on Israel, giving them the added gravitas and success of EU policy.
Added to this will be the effect of the Palestinian Authority’s thrust for an affirmative vote in the UN Security Council where the American veto is, for the first time, in the balance.
The delegitimization campaign against Israel must be treated with the same seriousness as terrorism because, at its deep heart, it is a form of economic, diplomatic, and political terrorism designed to isolate Israel in the way they claim they succeeded in doing to the white apartheid regime of South Africa. That’s as serious as it can get - turning Israel into a pariah state.
Israel is nothing like the white apartheid regime of Pretoria but, increasingly, the international community, including public opinion abroad, have surrendered to the thought control that positions Israel as the party at fault, as they look on us with jaundiced eyes.
Increasingly it is becoming acceptable to inflict punishment on Israel deriving from a false narrative put out by the Palestinians and their hyper-active and well-funded supporters.
So, what to do?
We need to look on it as a form of warfare. We are not officially on the battlefield. We don’t have a central command and control center to fight this battle. We don’t even have the budget to create the essential foundation and infrastructure to wage this war. Those fighting the battles that are taking place abroad in various forums are groups of dedicated local Israel supporters acting independently.
They are desperately trying to put out a raging inferno with broomsticks and water pistols. Their efforts are brave and commendable, but they need the full support of the main fire station in Israel.
Whether on the campus, challenging a biased media, or applying lawfare, those who have understood the enemy, who they are, where they operate, what weapons and messages they use, have achieved notable successes. I can give many examples of how they have achieved these victories. Let me give you one prime example of volunteer public diplomacy over government intervention.
I mentioned the Mavi Marmara incident of 2010 when Israeli soldiers rappelling down to this Gaza-bound ship were attacked and activists were killed in the ensuing fighting. The following year, IDC Herzlia offered offices and computers to a bunch of social media activists. We set up what we called the Situation Room to counter the 2011 Gaza Flotilla by using the social media as a platform for global public diplomacy. We brought in a bunch of young computer nerds created a huge social media presence in many languages using Facebook, Twitter, and other accounts. We led a social media campaign to name and shame the participants attempting to sail from Greece to Gaza.
Credit to IDC, Jonathan Davis, and the amazing kids who manned the computer and laptops, but let me share with you one anecdote that has been a secret until now.
None of the ships in the 2011 Gaza flotilla managed to leave the Greek port of Pireaus? How did that happen, do you think?
Let me reveal that it was due to a simple act by a pro-Israel action group in London called UK Lawyers for Israel. A member of their NGO called a colleague in Athens and asked him if there was anything he could do to help. This man happened to have contacts in the Greek coastguard. After a thorough, slow, inspection of the ships many defects were found. One tried to make a run for it and was dragged back to Pireaus and compounded for defying the coastguard.
In the meantime, here in Israel, Shurat HaDin contacted Lloyds of London and informed them that the flotilla ships were about to defy the international law by defying the internationally recognized Gaza blockade and would, therefore, be acting in a criminal manner. Lloyds withdrew their insurance from the ships. None of the ships sailed to Gaza and the Gaza Flotilla of 2011 ended in a whimper.
It was a hugely expensive and public failure for the activists. The success of the anti-flotilla campaign did not come about by the actions of the Israeli government, nor the Mossad, nor the IDF, but by a bunch of hasbara volunteers.
As an added bonus, the work of our computer activists uncovered the plan of European anti-Israel activists to launch what they called a "Flightilla" by sending hundreds of activists on various flights to Israel, create demonstrations on arrival into Ben Gurion Airport, and be met by pro-Palestinians to be taken for further disruptions around Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories. Fortunately, we were able to discover the groups, the organisers, and names of demonstrators who had booked their flights to Israel. This information was passed over to the authorities and almost all were prevented from getting on to their flights at the points of departure.
This is how pro-Israel activists, with coordination with Israel, can act as intelligence gathering to offset disruptions that target Israel.
This should be a valuable lesson for our government going forward.
If they intend to get involved, and it’s a big ‘if’, they must motivate and materially support the independent groups who are effectively fighting for Israel with too little resources in the various hubs of delegitimization. These hubs are located in London, South Africa, Holland, Ireland, Scandinavian countries, and increasingly in America. They are up against an enemy that doesn't sleep, that are highly motivated and organized. They are well funded by the Palestinian Authority and other wealthy donors, as well as by organizations and charities with money given by European governments.
Currently the Israeli government spends as much on public diplomacy as a medium sized company spends on marketing Bamba. This is painfully inadequate!
A warning! The Israel government should not channel their resources through the major Jewish organizations in the countries where the battles are being fought. This would be a fatal mistake. These organizations, this year, have failed the domestic Jewish communities they were supposed to represent. They did little to rally people to rallies in support of Israel or even to protest rallies against the rising anti-Semitism in their countries. In the main, this was left to new grassroots groups that have sprung up in the absence of their elected representative.
Israel must read the political map correctly, and they will see that, in some cases, these countries are headed by wealthy Jews who have an agenda that is not affirmatively pro-Israel, and who have actively supported fringe groups that are strongly critical of Israel and act against us. These activist groups have been harmful to Israel by amplifying the propaganda that leads to boycotts and divestments. Instead, the Israeli government must be persuaded to channel their resources directly to the affirmative action groups with transparent records of affirmative pro-Israel action and success.
Our government needs to empower those who are fighting for us. These people stood up when our government fell down.
The Israeli government should ally with groups and experts who have conducted intelligence gathering and apply that knowledge where it will do the most damage to those who are slandering us and acting against us. These activists in their various countries speak the language, know the terrain in which Israel’s enemies are active, and are our forward troops in the battle for Israel’s legitimacy. We need to set up a Command and Control center and support the troops in areas where victory can be achieved. The enemy is not invincible. Their message is corrupt, and we can beat them.
You can't win the battle against our delegitimizers until you identify the enemy and employ the right soldiers against them. I call them our hasbara warriors. Groups like UK Lawyers for Israel, who have won many notable victories for Israel in their short life, and the newly formed South African Lawyers for Israel, that use their knowledge of local, national and regulatory law to prevent boycotts and other anti-Israel actions. We call this the application of ‘lawfare’ against those who wish to harm us. Similar groups must be encouraged in other critical countries.
Another great example was displayed by IDC Herzlia in 2014. A group of six students were trained in advocacy skills and deployed to South Africa, into the lion’s den, during the infamous ‘Israel Apartheid Week.’ This was, yet again, a huge success.
The choice of students was our secret weapon. They were six attractive, eloquent, well-trained Ethiopian students who stood up to the organizers of IAW. How could these bigoted enemies of Israel possibly respond when an attractive Ethiopian Israeli girl stands up in the Cape Town campus auditorium at question time and says, “My name is Israela. I am an Israeli. I am a student at IDC Herzlia, and served in the IDF, and I am here to tell the students that I am living proof of the true face of Israel, and that the organizers of IAW are lying when they call Israel a ‘racist state’”
There is no way the anti-Israel bigots can win when we place the right people in the right battles.
These are the people who win us the battles against BDS. Its Stand With Us, not Israeli ministers. It’s NGO-Monitor, not Israeli officials. It’s Honest Reporting and CAMERA, not Israeli politicians. It is groups like Sussex Friends of Israel, NW Friends of Israel, CUFI, CFI, not the national leaders of Jewish communities.
It’s the thousands of individuals, the groups, the NGOs and the affirmative pro-Israel organizations who are fighting our fight. They must be supported by our government, by our economic base in industry and commerce, because every battle they win protects our legitimacy, our good name, and the economy of our nation.
Barry Shaw is the Special Consultant on Delegitimization Issues with the Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya Academic College.
He is also the author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’ www.israelnarrative.com