Why Israel fails in public diplomacy (and strategic action)

Martin Sherman writes (“Comprehending the incomprehensible — Part I“),

For anyone seeking the principal reason why Israel is losing the public diplomacy war, the answer is difficult to accept, yet very easy to prove.

Israel is losing the battle because it doesn’t want to win.

Sherman’s thesis is tightly argued. I’ll summarize:

If an organization wants to achieve an objective, it will allocate resources to it. Israel’s budget for what Sherman calls ‘public diplomacy’ and I call the ‘information war’ is minuscule. The state is able to come up with large sums of money for such things as the withdrawal from Gaza or building the security barrier, but the Osem company spends two to three times as much promoting its ‘Bamba’ snack than Israel does telling its story to the world.

Since everyone admits that this is enormously important, why isn’t more funding provided?

Sherman suggests that the explanation for this criminal negligence is the same as the solution to these additional paradoxes:

• Why a country that displays such technotactical brilliance is afflicted by such strategic imbecility;
• Why hawkish candidates consistently win elections, but then immediately adopt the failed policy of their defeated dovish rivals;
• Why the doctrine of political appeasement and territorial concessions is repeatedly and consistently disproven, but somehow never discredited – and certainly never discarded;
• Why the Israeli political establishment has not embraced more appreciatively and mobilized more effectively the huge potential in the support of communities such as the Evangelical Christians across the world, and particularly in the US, as a strategic asset.

Sherman blames “the decisive role that civil society elites have in setting the direction of the country’s strategic agenda – no matter who gets elected.” And he adds that “this is a role that is not only decisive, but also in many ways detrimental, dysfunctional and at times disloyal.”

He’s talking about the academic/media/legal establishment, which includes some of the most viciously anti-Israel personalities you will find outside of Hamas. He gives some egregious examples, like BDS supporter Professor Neve Gordon and Ha’aretz journalists Akiva Eldar and Gideon Levy, and explains how the anti-state worldview that suffuses this stratum of Israel’s society, is strictly enforced by sanctioning ‘dissidents’ livelihood, promotions, etc.

This unelected establishment, says Sherman, has “both the ability and the motivation to determine the direction of the strategic agenda of the nation,” neutralizing the will of the voting public. And that direction is pathologically self-destructive.

With regard to public diplomacy or information warfare, the battle is lost before it even begins, because “the senior professionals charged with conducting the county’s public diplomacy are drawn from – and interface with – the elites discussed previously.”

This is an extremely important article, and is worth reading in full. In part II, Sherman will expand on the precise way in which the world-view of the intellectual elite acts on the decision-making processes of state institutions.

I’ve written in the past about Dr. Kenneth Levin’s thesis that many Jews suffer from what he calls “The Oslo Syndrome.” I described it thus:

Levin’s thesis, somewhat oversimplified, is that anti-Jewish attitudes in oppressed Jews result from a) internalizing  and coming to believe the antisemitic canards of their oppressors, and b) an unrealistic delusion that they have the power to change the behavior of the antisemites by self-reform — by ‘improving’ themselves so as to no longer deserve antisemitic hatred.

What we apparently have here is an entire social stratum of Israeli society — arguably made up of  the most influential Israelis — that is afflicted by this disorder. Worse, these individuals provide positive feedback for each other’s derangement to the point that some — see the examples in Sherman’s article — become nothing less than traitors, agents of those that want to commit another genocide against the Jewish people.

Recently there have been several pieces of legislation considered in Israel’s Knesset that have been criticized in the media as “anti-democratic.” Their intent has been, for example, to limit foreign funding of Israeli organizations, to change the method of selecting Supreme Court Justices, and to increase the limit on libel damages that public figures can claim from media.

Without discussing the details, it seems that these are all attempts of Israel’s elected legislature to limit the power of the unelected elites, in other words, to defend democracy, not to attack it.

How ironic!

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2 Responses to “Why Israel fails in public diplomacy (and strategic action)”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    There are many too claims mixed up here at once. It is not so simple as Martin Sherman contends though of course his suggestion that there is a strong strain of anti- Israel feeling and thought in areas of the Media and Academia is correct.
    First of all, consider the ‘other side’ and ‘the audience’. To whom can we explain of the ‘rightness’ of Israel’s case? The Islamic world is a non- starter. The Chinese, the Indians, most other non- Christian nations look at the numbers, the markets, the advantage in supporting the other side. The Western European post- Christian has its Anti-Semitic legacy and also its perceived economic interests. The Radical Left which has adopted the Palestinian cause does not in all its hypocritical absurdity seem at all open to persuasion. We do have the Evangelical Christians with us. And we do have so far as we can trust the polls have the overwhelming support of the American people. We have many allies in other places both Jewish and Christian. India too is now an ally, if not a full- fledged one.
    This does not mean more should not be done to make Israel’s case especially in regard to the whole ‘Occupation’ concept. But it does suggest that the kind of
    ‘total thinking’ by which we can get everyone our side just by explaining ourselves rightly is a non-starter.
    One more point. If there is one Israeli Jew who has caused most damage to the Israeli ‘Hasbara’ effort it is Amos Schocken. The Hasbara situation would be far different were Israel’s ‘leading intellectual and cultural newspaper’ owned by someone who actually supported the Jewish state.

  2. Robman says:

    Shalom is right. Sherman’s admirable piece, though it highlights a genuine problem, makes the mistake – if not meaning to do so – of investing too much power in the Jews and of Israelis themselves. It isn’t very far from Sherman’s thesis to the “Oslo Syndrome” Vic cites above: ‘If only we reform ourselves and stop making dumb mistakes, then we’ll turn things around.’ It is a kind of chauvinism, actually, to invest in one’s own side so much power, and to ignore the power of others.

    Indeed, that Isreal’s legislature is attempting to address this problem, as Vic also cites above at the end of his article, is a sign that at long last, things are starting to move in the right direction.

    Clearly, there is far more to do. And I agree with Sherman fully that the traitorous Judenrat sorts – both in Israel and among Diaspora Jewry – need to be confronted. So, I would not mean to discourage Sherman or any like-minded types at all.

    But we must not harbor illusions about the power of our enemies. It would certainly help if Israel and Jews generally were more united in our common defense, but even if this were achieved, the bad guys – the anti-Semite far liberal left, the Islamists, and their petrodollar pimps – aren’t giving up any time soon. Consider for a moment their influence in the media: In my own personal experience with grassroots Israel advocacy, it is next to impossible for me to get my point of view successfully inserted in public media forums. People who take high-profile pro-Israel positions are either completely ignored or even savaged by the media in most cases.