Dr.Gerstenfeld’s latest article, “Israel fighting propaganda” was published in the Jerusalem Post, and republished here with the author’s consent.
The Government’s Reluctance to fight anti–Israeli Propaganda efficiently
For decades many Arab propagandists and Western inciters have been demonizing Israel. Yet there is no organization within the Israeli government which has a detailed overview of the country’s defamers and their actions. It is a euphemism to call this bizarre.
One can understand this absurdity better when comparing it with how Israel deals with other types of attacks against it. Anti-Israeli military aggression has been countered by an increasingly efficient IDF. The chief of staff and the IDF’s top brass have an overview of the military battleground and the main enemy actors.
To counter its enemies Israel also needed to establish three intelligence services: the Mossad, the Israel Security Agency — better known as Shabak — and the military intelligence branch, Aman. Over the years the performances of these services have advanced. They make major efforts to learn as much as possible about Israel’s enemies in their respective fields. Their top people oversee the intelligence battleground in their area.
As a new field of aggression, cyber warfare, developed in recent years, the Israeli government recognized the danger and invested heavily in cyber defense. Israel is expected to be among the world’s leaders as this field develops to confront increasingly sophisticated cyber warfare. Each of the bodies that counter the various types of aggression also develop specific organizational cultures among their employees. This greatly helps in confronting Israel’s enemies.
Anti-Israeli propaganda themes have often developed from the many centuries old core motifs of antisemitism. For many Europeans, anti–Israelism has become a substitute for a currently not very presentable antisemitism. It is easy to understand that defense against hatemongering should be structured via an organization in the anti–propaganda field, similar in concept to the bodies mentioned in above mentioned areas.
At least one foreign Jewish leader has raised the issue of a counter-propaganda agency with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in past years.
I have discussed it over the years with some politicians. They often understand the need of establishing such an agency. One also does not have to explain to them that one cannot fight propaganda with improved public diplomacy or as it is widely known: “hasbara.”
The possible reasons for not taking the logical and necessary step of establishing a counter-propaganda agency remain opaque. Over the years I have developed a number of arguments which together may provide some explanations for the failure. One of these is that three ministries currently fight off some parts of propaganda attacks on Israel and/or antisemitism. Taking away their responsibilities in this area would mean yet another political battle, of which the Prime Minister already has many more than he likes.
A second reason is that in order to take effective action against propaganda, one has to have a reasonable understanding of the various perpetrator categories. We no longer live in the ancient reality of Christian religious antisemitism where the prime attacks came from a limited number of main perpetrators: initially the Roman Catholic Church and many centuries later also followers of Martin Luther and some other Protestant denominations. In the second major anti-Jewish hate outburst thereafter, ethnic-nationalist antisemitism, the Nazi movement and its followers became dominant. Their manifestations of antisemitism were horrible, yet easy to analyze.
No such transparency exists in today’s, fragmented but major anti-Israelism. Huge perpetrators come from Muslim countries, Muslims in the western world, media, politicians from different parts of the spectrum, academics, church leaders, NGOs, trade unionists, the social media, Jewish self-haters and other segments of society. This fragmentation is typical for the “post-modern” period.
A third reason has to do with the ancient tradition of Jewish masochism. One finds elements of it already in the Hebrew Bible. This current of Judaism has greatly developed in the diaspora over two millennia. Physical persecution and antisemitism were considered “normal” by many Jews. That attitude was an integral component of what is known as ‘galut mentality.’ Israeli society with its many immigrants is partly permeated with such masochistic feelings. They are often expressed by pseudo–moralists who ignore the cruel nature of our enemies.
A fourth related reason is that some think that not too violent antisemitism in the Diaspora is good for Israel, because it leads to Aliyah even from Western countries. This has, for instance, been the case with France.
BDS is far from being the main threat to Israel. The combined efforts to delegitimize the Jewish State are. Even the initiators of the BDS scheme, at the Durban NGO anti–racist conference in 2001, understood that its main purpose was as a propaganda tool against Israel. Had there been a counter–propaganda agency most of BDS could easily have been stopped early on.
Perhaps the best hope to promote the necessary establishment of a counter-propaganda agency lies in the Knesset. That could be achieved if a few of its members come together to systematically promote the establishment of such an agency. There have been more than enough reminders over the years to stimulate this promotion. Among the latest ones are the absurd and hateful UNESCO resolutions. There is no doubt that many other important acts of incitement against Israel and defamation of it are on their way.