Soldiers stand next to an Iron Dome battery.. (photo credit:REUTERS)
Austria… undertook after the Second World War a sophisticated campaign to minimize the then-prevalent impression in the Allied world that the Austrians, having welcomed Hitler in 1938… Through cultural attractions – the Vienna Opera, Vienna Boys Choir, Lippizaner horses – Austria was eminently successful in changing that overall impression [which] made the world believe that Hitler was a German and Beethoven an Austrian – Walter R. Roberts, member of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, “Public Diplomacy: Rethinking an Old Concept at Department of State Senior Seminar,” Washington, 1997
The lack of an adequate PD [public diplomacy] program has significantly affected Israel’s strategic outlook and freedom of action... Any further neglect of PD would not only restrict Israel’s strategic options, it would be detrimental to its ability to survive in an increasingly intolerant and hostile world which thinks sacrificing Israel’s vital interests or even the state itself would be a small price to pay for ending the global confrontation between the West and Islamic fundamentalism. – Eytan Gilboa, “Public Diplomacy: The Missing Component in Israel’s Foreign Policy,” November 28, 2006
Before I begin this week’s discussion, I should point out to readers that in the editing process of last week’s column, “Marshaling the intellectual arsenal to preserve the Jewish state,” several important sections were inadvertently omitted in the print version – which made for somewhat disjointed reading in places. This has been remedied in the online version – to which I refer readers, who may have had some understandable difficulty following my train of thought reading the print version.
The introductory excerpts demonstrate three things: What Israel could be doing, what Israel is not doing, and the terrible price it will incur if it continues not to do what it should – and could – be doing.
For, as Prof. Gilboa succinctly points out, Israel’s ongoing dismal defeat on the public diplomacy front has not only restricted its strategic options and constrained its freedom of action, it is beginning to jeopardize the country’s ability to survive “in an increasingly intolerant and hostile world [which] would think little of sacrificing Israel’s vital interests or even the state itself.”
Indeed, readers will recall last week I made the point that what Israel is confronted with is less a war of weapons and more a war of wits and will.
No matter how impressive Israel’s material achievements, unless it can prevail in the battle of information, ideas and images, it will not endure as the nation-state of the Jewish people in today’s interconnected world.
Perversely, for the Jewish state’s detractors its stunning successes are frequently proof of its guilt; its victories evidence of its crimes – all achieved at the expense of its alleged “victims,” and as a consequence of their alleged “repression.”
It is difficult to overstate the significance of the ominous consequences, looming ever-closer, of this ongoing, inexplicable and unacceptable debacle, which is likely to prove no less – indeed, arguably, even more – calamitous than that which left Israel unprepared for the Arab onslaught on Yom Kippur in 1973.
Sadly it is likely to be just as costly – indeed, arguably even more so – in terms of loss of life.
Increasing source of embarrassment?
Israel is in dire need of a dramatic sea-change in the manner in which it presents its case – not only in terms of the style and substance in which it conveys it, but in terms of the vigor and assertiveness in which it does so.
This is called for not only vis-à-vis the international community, in order to rebuff the burgeoning challenges to its legitimacy. It is no less necessary for the Jewish people and increasingly harassed Jewish communities across the globe, where, rather than being a deserved source of pride, Israel is rapidly becoming an growing source of embarrassment, making identification with it more and more difficult, even hazardous.
But perhaps above all, it is most needed for its own citizenry, where the chronic lack of inspiring leadership is gnawing away at the nation’s sense of purpose, and hence its cohesiveness, resolve and resilience, spawning evermore bizarre and perilous proposals to stem the rising tide of censure and sanctions – which, if adopted, would make the country, demonstrably indefensible and untenable.
Recently, there have been signs of growing awareness of this need and the urgency of addressing it. The response, however, has been, at best, lethargic and the prescriptions for remedy, hopelessly inadequate – reflecting serious underestimation of the scale and scope of the problem.
The will to lose?
The persistent and pervasive phenomenon of continuing Israeli impotence and incompetence in the conduct of public diplomacy, despite astounding achievements in virtually every other field of human endeavor, has long been a vexing conundrum for many of the country’s staunchest supporters.
It is an enigma that I, too, have long grappled with, and after wracking my brains for well over a decade have come to a perturbing, but demonstrably inescapable, conclusion: Israel is losing the battle for hearts and minds across the world, for a very simple reason, very difficult to accept, yet very easy to prove: It simply does not want to win! I realize of course that such a startling allegation is likely to raise more than a few skeptical eyebrows, but as I said, it is eminently easy to prove its plausibility.
After all, if one wishes to determine the motivation of an organization to achieve an objective, clearly one of the most revealing indices is the amount of resources it allots for achieving it – with highly desired objectives being allotted commensurately high levels of resources, and vice versa.
Accordingly, when one encounters the pitiful resources assigned to Israel’s public diplomacy effort – less than a leading Israeli corporation spends on promoting one of its popular peanut-snacks – one is compelled to conclude that the objective of that effort – winning hearts and minds across the world – is not a high priority objective. In other words, Israel does not really want to win the crucial battle for public opinion! As loath as one might be to accept this, it is a conclusion starkly apparent from the “revealed preference” of successive elected governments, as reflected in their longstanding behavior.
Perverse tale of two ‘Iron Domes’
The reason for this frugality is, of course, not the availability of resources, but the preferences in assigning them. After all, as I have pointed out frequently, were Israel to allot a mere 1 percent of the state budget for public diplomacy, this would make $1 billion available for putting Israel’s case to the world.
Without even broaching, at this stage, the matter of the quality of the message to be conveyed, and the qualifications of the messengers intended to convey it, the mere weight of presence in the media such sums could generate is significant. It is clearly capable of making a substantial change in Israel’s ability to reach out to various publics across the globe, engage influential opinion-makers, and enhance its ability to respond to, and repulse, accusations of its attackers.
The perverse anomaly of Israeli miserliness with regard to its public diplomacy is highlighted by the comparison with the large amounts spent on projects such as the Iron Dome anti-missile system, designed to intercept inaccurate projectiles, with explosive charges usually no larger than about 20 kg.
Perverse tale (con’t)
While Iron Dome is undeniably a superb technological achievement, and undoubtedly saved many lives and prevented considerable damage in recent military encounters, its larger strategic value is far from undisputed.
For not only is it likely to be overwhelmed in a coordinated attack from several fronts, it has paradoxically allowed the Palestinians to attack Israel with greater impunity, secure in the knowledge that the damage caused by such attacks will not provoke Israel into a large-scale ground offensive, to seize and secure the areas from which they are launched. Accordingly, some have claimed that Iron Dome has, hitherto, protected the Palestinians no less than the Israelis.
By contrast, there can be little dispute over the strategic imperative for a political “Iron Dome” defense system, to intercept the incoming barrages of demonization, delegitimization and degradation launched daily at Israel, effectively defanging the IDF, severely inhibiting its capacity to respond appropriately to enemy aggression and gravely undermining the security forces’ ability to provide the nation’s citizens with adequate security.
Yet to contend with this clear and present peril, only risible sums are assigned. Go figure.
The blame Bibi bears
While the need for a political Iron Dome seems painfully obvious, two things are less obvious, one of them more so than the other.
The first is why successive Israeli governments have consistently refrained from addressing this issue, despite the glaring and pressing urgency to do so. This question is especially acute in regard to the last three governments, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, which perhaps more than most of its predecessors were subject to incessant and intensifying hostility from international sources – often fed and fanned by domestic antagonists.
It is possible to find plausible mitigating explanations for the often less-than-successful manner in which Netanyahu handled each of the harrowing situations he has been forced to contend with in the course of his tumultuous incumbency. However, what is far less clear, and less acceptable, is why, during the half-decade and more in which he has had headed the government, he has been so remiss in putting into place mechanisms and systems (read “political Iron Dome”) that could have prevented those situations from arising in the first place, or at least could have considerably reduced the severity of their impact.
I have written extensively on the reasons for this seemingly inexplicable paralysis in Israeli policy, formulated by allegedly assertive rightwing coalitions. In these analyses, I pointed to the phenomenon of what I have designated “the Limousine Theory.” This elucidates how entrenched, left-leaning civil society elites (the backseat occupants in the allegorical “limousine”) through their unelected positions of privilege and power effectively hijack the decision-making mechanisms from the elected politicians (the driver in said “limousine”) – and prevent them from implementing any policy inconsistent with their conciliatory left-wing agenda – including the conduct of an assertive, effective defense against Israel’s detractors, demanding perilous concessions from it.
Securing a political Iron Dome
Understanding this somewhat abstruse mechanism of cause and effect is crucial in being able to remedy the malignant outcomes we encounter in the Israeli political system.
This brings me to the second – and thornier – point. How can/should such an “Iron Dome” be structured to operate effectively? How can it be secured against the vagaries of Israeli politics and from being hijacked by those who would distort its intended purpose and divert it from its intended course? For it is one thing to advocate diverting vast some of money for establishing the vigorous defense of Israel as the nation-state of the Jews, it is quite another to ensure its effective operation to attain that objective.
In previous “Into the Fray” columns – see for example “Intellectual warriors, not slicker diplomats” (February 20, 2013) – I have sketched a blueprint for the functioning of such an enterprise. This would be effected mainly through the use of government-funded NGOs (by means of an independent authority for strategic diplomacy under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office), unbound by the formalities of protocol and niceties of diplomatic etiquette, staffed by “intellectual warriors,” unfettered by constraints that limit the freedom of response (and initiative) of official organs of state.
Rechanneling of philanthropic funds
This of course leaves open the possibility of an “inappropriate” prime minister being elected, which brings me to my final point.
The chances of such a political Iron Dome enterprise being initiated from within the political system, no matter who gets elected, are slim to nil. Instead, the initial impetus must come from countervailing civil society elites and new centers of intellectual endeavor that can challenge – even replace – the back seat occupants in the allegorical limousine, so as to instruct the driver to head for a new destination.
However, that would require a radical restructuring of philanthropic philosophy by right-wing benefactors who traditionally have channeled their largesse toward charitable causes more concrete rather than conceptual...
But more on that next week in my fourth and final column on “Preserving Israel as the nation-state of the Jews” – subject of course to breaking news.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategic-israel.org)