Conventional wisdom blames Israel’s poor hasbarah, or public relations, for the fact that it wins wars on the ground, but then loses to the Arabs in the critical battle for world public opinion.
Operation Protective Edge is proof that conventional wisdom is wrong and that international condemnation of Israel has nothing to do with the country’s proficiency at stating its case.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may have his faults, but inability to express himself effectively, in English, is not one of them. He is a master of the sound bite, a gifted communicator in the league of Ronald Reagan.
Gone are the days of Israeli ambassadors to Washington who got the job because of political connections and speak a broken, heavily accented English. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, is a bright, photogenic, native-born American, who is completely at ease in Washington and in the use of modern media. His predecessor, Michael Oren, was no less impressive.
And while war is always painful, exacting a high price in the lives of innocent noncombatants, there has never been a more justified military operation than Protective Edge. Does anyone, anywhere, really believe that Israel had a choice about going to war in Gaza? Would any country allow its citizens to be subjected to nonstop missile fire, to tunnels dug beneath its borders for use in committing terrorist atrocities?
Finally, Hamas, a ruthless enemy on the battlefield, is an ideal enemy on the PR front. It makes no attempt to camouflage its evil, anti-Semitic nature with calls for “land for peace” or the “two-state solution.” It says in the clearest way possible that it doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist.
“We will never recognize the usurper Zionist government and will continue our jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem,” says Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza. “Thousands of fighters above ground and thousands of fighters underground have been preparing in silence for the campaign to liberate Palestine.”
How much clearer can he get?
In light of all of this — the supremely skilled Israeli spokesmen, the morally compelling justification for the war, and the unmitigated evil of the enemy — Israel should be winning the PR battle hands down.
And yet, incredibly, it stands accused by the international community of “war crimes.” Adding insult to injury, the man picked to head the inquiry, Prof. William Schabas, is an expert on international law who refuses to call Hamas a terror organization and who has openly stated that “my favorite would be Netanyahu in the dock of an international criminal court.”
In a speech last year, Schabas revealed why he is completely unsuited to judge Israel. He said it was his “profound belief [that] the international law can be used to demonstrate and underscore the violations committed by the state of Israel, and moreover can be used to hold accountable individuals who have perpetrated international crimes against the people of Palestine.”
Asked about possible tools for prosecuting Israel, Schabas said: “I would have been inclined to talk about crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression … With a bit of luck and by twisting things and maneuvering we can get them before the courts.”
One might have expected the international media to pounce on such quotes and demand that Schabas recuse himself, but in the context of U.N.-Israel relations, such bias is nothing new. It’s “dog bites man” and therefore not worthy of coverage.
It isn’t just the United Nations that is giving in to its anti-Israel bias. Norway announced this week that it has set conditions to the delivery of aid money to Gaza after Operation Protective Edge. What conditions? That the enclave be demilitarized? That strict inspections be imposed to ensure that cement and steel go to the building of homes, schools and hospitals, instead of terror tunnels?
No, the condition is that Israel lift its “blockade” on Gaza.
“We cannot expect the international community to finance reconstruction once again” without prior conditions, stated Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende.
The fury at Israel, ostensibly over the high casualty count — which was brought about by Hamas using civilians as human shields — has not been limited to boycotts, demonstrations and cancelled contracts.
It has let the anti-Semitism genie out of the bottle all over the world. Anti-Semitic incidents worldwide in July rose by 383 percent over the same month last year.
Nobel laureate Professor Yisrael (Robert) Aumann, commenting on the U.N. decision to investigate Israel for war crimes, said it had nothing to do with a blockade of Gaza or Israel’s treatment of the Arabs of the enclave. It is anti-Semitism, pure and simple.
“Anti-Semitism exists, and today it has just donned a different form,” Prof. Aumann told Army Radio. “We’ve returned to Europe in the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries, dozens and hundreds of years. The cause of that is the hatred and jealousy over the success of the Jews in all they set their hands to, and that the Jews succeed in preserving their identity.”
Since the problem isn’t “Israel-bashing,” the solution isn’t better PR. The problem is age-old anti-Semitism and the solution is recognizing who we are as a people and doing everything we can to live up to our mandate.
This week’s parashah puts it succinctly: “Because you are a holy nation to Hashem your G-d and in you Hashem chose to be His Am Segulah of all the nations on the earth.”
This special status sometimes carries a price. But it is a small price, indeed, for the privilege of being an Am Segulah.