Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article was first published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) and republished here with the author’s consent.
OMAR, TLAIB AND ISRAEL’S NON-EXISTING ANTI-PROPAGANDA AGENCY
The specific question on what went wrong around the blocked visit of U.S. Democrat anti-Israel Congress members Omar Ilhan and Rashida Tlaib is a minor issue in a much larger framework. The publicity around this non-visit cannot be looked at as an incidental mishap.1 It is part of a broader structural failure in the functioning of Israel’s government.
No other democratic country is verbally attacked as frequently as Israel. This includes vile verbal aggression by democratic governments and by mainstream politicians in these countries. Nations under attack create defense organizations. Against enemy armies, Israel set up the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It invested heavily in all aspects of it. The IDF is now one of the best armies in the world. So are Israel’s three intelligence services, i.e., the international security agency Mossad, the domestic security agency, Shabak, and the military intelligence branch, Aman. The cyberattacks on Israel led the government to invest in an expensive cyber defense program. This is likely to make the country a world leader in this field.
The extreme propaganda assaults against Israel have been going on for decades. Despite this, Israel’s defense against them remains amateurish. In the defense against such aggression the only successful rule is “you hit me, I hit you back harder.”
Looking back over the decades we can see many cases where Israel failed to deal properly with verbal attacks. Just a few among many examples: The BDS campaign started as a result of the NGO conference against racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001. It was a hate-Israel event.
The academic boycott campaigns against Israel started in 2002, without any orderly response from Israel. In the absence of any risk to themselves, foreign academics have not been afraid to put their name to open letters and petitions to boycott Israeli academics and divest from pro-Israeli companies. They are taking part in a free antisemitic lunch.
Yet academics are easy targets for counterattack. The careers and reputations of some of these people can be damaged without much effort. Had there been an Israeli anti-propaganda agency it would, for instance, have identified academic boycotters who plagiarized parts of their work or had many erroneous footnotes in their articles. Verifying the publications of a few academics is neither difficult nor expensive.
This idea is not original. In 2011, German defense minister Karl-Theodor Guttenberg was stripped of his doctorate because of plagiarism in his thesis. He had to resign from the cabinet.2 In 2013, the PhD thesis of German education minister, Annette Schavan, was voided because of plagiarism. She resigned from the cabinet.3 The doctoral thesis of the German family affairs minister, Franziska Giffey, is currently being investigated for plagiarism.4
Heavily damaging a few academically deficient pro-BDS academics and publicizing their major professional shortcomings could have a multiplier effect. Like in almost all societal areas, many if not most people are cowards. If supporting BDS becomes risky mainly hardcore antisemitic academics will remain. Their number is probably not very big.
Another example of an Israeli public relations failure concerns the 2010 Gaza flotilla provocation. Among its leading organizers was the Turkish IHH, a body known to have terrorist links. The main ship in the flotilla was the Turkish Mavi Marmara. It transported no humanitarian aid for Gaza, only people. Several of the participants on the ship were prepared for violence with weapons. They attacked the Israeli soldiers who boarded the ship. In the resulting fight a number of these attackers were killed. Probably under pressure from then U.S. President Barack Obama, Israel paid compensation to their family members.
Many false negative opinions about Israel were hastily expressed by officials of various countries and international bodies.5 An anti-propaganda agency would have had no difficulty teaching a few of these a lesson and straightening out part of the misperceptions.
Yet the previous cases are minor compared to the findings of a study published in 2011 by the University of Bielefeld. This report showed that in seven EU countries large parts of the populations agree with the assertion that Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians. The lowest percentages of those who agreed were in Italy and the Netherlands with about 38% and the highest was in Poland with 63%.
This study and its potentially dangerous consequences was barely noticed in Israel. Yet it demonstrated what the anti-Israeli propaganda had achieved. No significant action whatsoever was taken by the Israeli government to expose the massive anti-IsraeI hatemongering in European countries that led to these opinions.
An anti-propaganda agency would systematically study, analyze and monitor Israel’s enemies in the propaganda field. It would propose actions against them to be approved by the government. One senior American Jewish leader told me that he has repeatedly suggested the establishment of such an agency to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (A more detailed description of how such an agency would function requires another article.)
Had such an anti-propaganda agency existed it would have started to prepare as soon as Omar and Tlaib announced their plans to visit. It would have collected opinions from experts who could assert with authority that it is the sovereign right of nations to decide who enters their country. Secondly, it would have prepared a collection of Omar and Tlaib’s anti-Israel remarks.6 Third, it would have established lists of people who were not let in by a variety of democratic countries.7 For instance, during the Cold War, the U.S. refused wholesale entry to communists and their sympathizers.
The Israeli government could then have made its reasoned decision public. Flip-flopping would have been avoided. It is doubtful whether President Trump would have felt the need to comment if Israel had been prepared in this way.
In the meantime, the next sizable public relations problem has emerged. The HBO channel is broadcasting – in collaboration with the Israel Keshet broadcaster — a series titled, “Our Boys.” It focuses on the exceptional case of the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager by three Jewish terrorists in summer 2014. This happened after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by Hamas terrorists.
The decision to focus on the murder of one Palestinian youth by three marginalized Israelis who represented no one but themselves and who were publicly denounced by all walks of Israeli society, rather than on the murder of the Israeli teens by the full-fledged terror group that rules the Gaza Strip is an extremely biased choice. In other words, the series has turned an extreme exception into a supposed rule while overlooking a longstanding murderous societal pattern. There are many cases of Israeli youngsters killed by Palestinian terrorists. Parents of Palestinian terrorists are often proud of the murderous crimes of their children
Israel’s response to the series so far has once again been amateurish.
Yet no opposition politician has raised in the Knesset the issue of the government’s failure to establish an anti-propaganda agency. Nor has it come up in the current election campaign. The radical failure to fight back systematically against the massive hateful propaganda assault aimed at Israel is highly demoralizing for the Israeli people and has serious negative impacts on the country.
7 See for instance: https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/barring-foreign-nationals/