Get out of the Ghetto

The BBC World Service commissions a yearly poll in which respondents are asked whether they think various countries have a positive or negative influence in the world. Here are the results by country:

BBC poll results by country

It’s a little depressing to see that Israel is ahead only of Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. Israel’s overall rating actually improved slightly since last year. These numbers have been almost constant since 2008, although 2007’s were significantly worse, probably reflecting attitudes toward the second Lebanon War.

But look at the ratings for Israel by respondents in various countries:

For important English-speaking countries, the results are worrisome:

Perhaps the most interesting shift is the change in American opinion, as the US public is now divided rather than favourable in its rating. While positive ratings have remained quite stable since 2010 (43%), negative ratings are up by ten points (41%)…

Negative perceptions grew sharper in the United Kingdom (66%, up 16 points), Canada (52%, up 14 points), … Australia (58%, up 11 points).

Someone recently said that “this is proof that Israel’s hasbara [‘explanation’, ‘public relations’ or ‘propaganda’, depending on your point of view] isn’t working.”

Of course it isn’t, and the reason is simple and obvious.

Israel’s efforts at telling its story take two forms: one is ‘branding’ — showing that Israel is a modern state with beautiful women, a great economy, fascinating tourist sites, absolutely world-class science and technology (including medical research, in which Israel might be the most advanced nation in the world).

Naturally this has no effect when the other side is arguing that they are oppressed and prevented from developing by ‘racist apartheid’, etc.

The other type of hasbara is what I call ‘apologetics’. For example, “We tried to be gentle to the Turkish peace activists on the Mavi Marmara, but it didn’t work out. Sorry, we did our best.”

OK, perhaps I’m exaggerating (only a little), but you get the idea. Israel sometimes even apologizes preemptively for something it didn’t do, like the faked death of Muhammad al-Dura or the Gaza beach explosion.

The problem is twofold. First, actual policies are based on the assumption that Israel must avoid giving offense at all costs. So the commandos landing on the deck of the Mavi Marmara were given paintball guns. Second, when outrageous accusations are leveled afterward, Israel tries to refute them rationally, point by point. The refutation simply gives prominence to the original charge, and the other side just says Israel is lying.

Diaspora Jews throughout history tried to protect themselves by not making the antisemites mad. It didn’t work, but they didn’t have a lot of options. Israel does not have to behave this way. Take the Mavi Marmara incident: the commandos should have been appropriately armed, and rules of engagement should have allowed a pipe-swinging thug to be shot. Possibly there would have been fewer injuries to the ‘activists’, and certainly to the commandos. Hasbara afterwards should have taken the form “you’re lucky we didn’t just sink the ship.”

Today Israel is engaged in a charade in which it pretends that a peaceful two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority (PA) is possible.

A peace agreement with the Palestinians does not stand in contradiction with Israel’s security needs, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio on Monday, saying that immediate action needed to be taken to advance peace efforts…

“Nothing of value was ever achieved without taking risks,” the defense minister said, adding that Israel could not afford to continue down the “slippery slope” of its own international isolation. — Ha’aretz

The only way such a ‘peace agreement’ would not be a disaster for security would be if Israel retained control of the Jordan Valley and strategic high ground. The Palestinians fully understand this and will not agree to it. There is also the not-inconsiderable problem of Hamas, which would have no problem taking over from the PA in a matter of days if the IDF leaves the territories.

The very slippery slope that Barak refers to — the international momentum toward unilateral recognition — is abetted by Israel’s pretense that a Palestinian state is acceptable.

Israel’s government officials have been making the same mistake since they studiously ignored Arafat’s violations of the Oslo agreements starting in 1993, and pretended that he wanted peace as much as they did. Barry Rubin tells a story (which I can’t find now) that Itzhak Rabin got a call immediately after the famous handshake on the White House lawn that Arafat had violated a prior agreement about which PLO terrorists would be allowed into the territories. No action was taken.

It was downhill all along, after Arafat made clear over and over again in speeches and broadcasts in Arabic that he intended to destroy Israel, and after there was clear evidence that he was not only not fighting terrorism as agreed, but actively supporting it.

Despite this, official Israeli behavior, in both policy and speech, promoted the idea that the Palestinian Arabs’ demands for a state were justified and would be met. Terrorism continued to claim victims until 2000, when it exploded into war, which claimed even more victims.

Kenneth Levin, about whom I wrote here, would say that Israel was operating on the basis of a pathological delusion that continued concessions would cause her enemies to stop wanting to destroy her (of course, the opposite is true).

Levin’s thesis is that Jews, battered by antisemitism,  begin to believe the lies that are told about them and then try to end the conflict by “self-reform” — by making themselves into ‘better’ Jews that don’t fit antisemitic stereotypes. In psychological terms, says Levin, this is ‘grandiose’ behavior, a delusion that the Jews have the power to change the behavior of the antisemites.

Israel, too, does not have the power to change the attitude of the Arab world that hates her, especially by “self-reform”, which in this context means making concessions to the Arabs. But, unlike the Jews in 19th-century Russia, Israel does have the power to prevent her enemies from harming her people.

Unfortunately this power cannot be exercised when the primary consideration is “don’t make them angry,” or “how will it look to the world?” It’s necessary to get out of the Ghetto for once and for all and to act as other nations act, directly in support of Israeli interests and national goals.

Both policy and hasbara must reflect this.

One more point: everyone loves a winner, and everyone wants to bet on the “strong horse.” An honest assertion of power in pursuit of national goals will win Israel more friends than apologetics.

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2 Responses to “Get out of the Ghetto”

  1. NormanF says:

    The smartest people in the world have turned out to be the dumbest in their own country and I am not mincing words when I say Israel’s politicians are the dumbest on earth.

    Israel’s only saving grace has been her enemies are even dumber.

    The reason Israel is losing the hasbara war is Israel is a doormat. Would you love a pushover? No you would hate him and despite him and that is only human nature and has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

    As for anti-Semitism, let us be clear: Israel will never be loved but Israel can make itself feared. Israel should stop worrying about making the world angry or being concerned with its opinion.

    Israel should stop apologizing for its existence and pursue its policy based on its own needs and interests. World respect will follow. If Israel continues down its current path of meekness and submission, it will continue to be battered and face increasing isolation and delegitimization.

    The meek and weak are not long for this world. Which respects only the strong horse. Its not hasbara that Israel needs to fix but rather how it relates to the world – it must become a state of smart, strong and proud Jews.

    In short, its time for Israel to get out of the Ghetto for good.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    I am not so impressed or rather disheartened by this survey as many. The BBC is not a disinterested party. Its figures on the U.S. attitudes toward Israel are contradicted by all U.S. polls regarding attitudes toward Israel. Many of the nations polled are Islamic nations who are automatically totally against Israel.
    I do not share the view that the fault is primarily in our own faulty powers of explanation.
    This does not mean I do not think we cannot and should not do better. We should.
    We should underline again and again that Israel is a democratic country making real contributions to the betterment of mankind- and that its enemies are the enemies of human freedom and dignity.