Analysis from Israel

Responding to last week’s column about the importance of stressing Israel’s achievements rather than its failures, a reader wrote that while she agreed with me, this alone wouldn’t suffice to fix Israel’s broken public diplomacy. And of course, she’s right, because that column addressed only one of two major flaws in Israel’s public diplomacy. The other is no less important: Quite simply, Israel needs to stop arguing the Palestinians’ case and start arguing its own.

I can’t think of another conflict in history where one side devoted so much time and energy to selling the world the other side’s narrative rather than its own. And then, after two decades of actively supporting the two most important Palestinians claims against it, Israel actually wonders why the world views it as the villain.

Claim number one is that the West Bank and Gaza are “occupied Palestinian territory.” This is a crucial issue, because if Israel is just a thief occupying stolen Palestinian land, then it has no right to retain any of this land or set any conditions on its return, and deserves opprobrium for even daring to pose such demands. In contrast, if Israel has a valid claim to these lands, then it’s being laudably generous in offering the Palestinians a state there and has every right to impose conditions on this generosity, like retaining certain areas or demanding specific security arrangements.

Official Israeli spokesmen don’t back this Palestinian claim in so many words. But they do talk constantly about the Palestinians’ “right” to establish a state in these lands, while talking only sporadically about Israel’s own legal and historical rights there. And needless to say, Palestinians don’t return the favor: They talk constantly about their own rights and never about Israel’s rights.

Moreover, Israel’s talk of Palestinian “rights” actually undermines the credibility of its own claims. After all, if Israel truly has the best legal claim to the land, why would Palestinians have any right to a state there? So by declaring that Palestinians do have such a right, Israeli spokesmen imply that even Israel doesn’t quite believe its own claim.

Thus for most of world, deciding who really owns the land becomes a no-brainer: The Palestinian claim looks much stronger. After all, both sides agree unequivocally that the Palestinians have rights there, so that must be true. In contrast, Israel asserts its own claims only half-heartedly, while Palestinians deny them outright; hence Israel’s claims seem dubious.

Or in other words, Palestinians are fighting the PR war full-time on their own behalf, while Israel is fighting only part-time for itself, and part-time for the enemy. And needless to say, that’s no way to win a war.

Claim number two is that Israel is the main obstacle to peace. Again, official Israeli spokesmen never back this claim in so many words. But they do constantly refer to the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, as “partners for peace” and other such terms, whereas they only sporadically accuse the Palestinians of being peace rejectionists. And here, too, Palestinians never return the favor; their official spokesmen relentlessly term Israel the principal obstacle to peace – and usually, a genocidal apartheid state to boot.

Moreover, even when Israel does try to claim that the Palestinians are the main obstacle to peace, the credibility of this claim is undermined by its constant talk of the PA and Abbas as partners for peace. After all, the Palestinians can’t simultaneously be genuine peace-seekers and serial peace rejectionists. Hence by constantly making the former assertion, Israeli spokesmen imply that even Israel doesn’t quite believe the latter.

Thus when the international community must decide whom to blame for the lack of peace, it’s a no-brainer. Both sides agree the Palestinians are genuine peace-seekers, so they obviously can’t be the guilty party. Hence the PA must be right that Israel is to blame.

Or in other words, on this issue, too, Palestinians are fighting the PR war full-time on their own behalf, whereas Israel is fighting only part-time for itself, and part-time for the enemy.

Admittedly, Israel’s public diplomacy is hampered by the fact that sizable portions of the Israeli left openly back both Palestinian claims. And since Israel is a democracy, the government can’t change this.

But it can and must change the way official spokesmen effectively support the Palestinian narrative every single day. Israel must stop pleading the Palestinians’ case rather than its own, and instead start fighting on its own behalf as continuously, unequivocally and single-mindedly as the Palestinians do.

Israel should relentlessly expound Israel’s own rights to the land (for a primer, see here), while casting its offers of Palestinian statehood as unprecedented generosity rather than a Palestinian “right.” It should relentlessly paint the Palestinians as serial rejectionists who have turned down every peace plan of the last 20 years. It should relentlessly highlight the nonstop incitement by senior PA officials and the official PA media – like Abbas’s award of a “military star of honor” last month to a terrorist who tried to blow up a movie theater; or a recent sermon declaring that Jews use children’s blood to make matzah, delivered at a venue (Al-Aqsa Mosque) where all activities require prior approval by the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs; or PA soccer association chairman Jibril Rajoub’s famous statement that “If we had a nuke, we’d have used it [against Israel] this very morning.” And it must relentlessly highlight the Palestinian refusal to acknowledge any Jewish connection to the land, to the point of blatantly falsifying history – for instance, its denial that the historically well-documented Second Temple ever existed.

Israel has one huge advantage in this war: All the claims it can and should be making against the Palestinians are true, whereas Palestinian claims against Israel are frequently egregious lies. But the Palestinians tell their lies consistently and wholeheartedly, never offering any support for Israel’s truths, whereas Israel tells its truths sporadically and half-heartedly, while offering frequent support to Palestinian lies. And as long as that continues, the lies will be victorious. You can’t win a PR war by fighting on the enemy’s side.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post on June 11, 2015

5 Responses to You can’t win a PR war by fighting on the enemy’s side

  • david latner says:

    Hi Ms. Gordon. I’d suggest that rather than talking about a “Palestinian right of return” to Israel, people speak about the “demand of Palestinians for a right of unlimited immigration to Israel”.

  • CigarButNoNice says:

    Another step toward retaking control of the narrative would be to lose the Arab-Soviet propaganda invention “Palestinians” and employ the term “Arab colonists” in its place. Arab imperialist aggression is unjust and cannot stand!

  • JKupferberg says:

    Ms. Gordon, though I agree with the thrust of your argument, I regret to inform you that you have unwittingly undercut your own position in the same manner that the State of Israel has consistently undercut its position over the past two decades.

    By touting Israel’s “generous” concessions and offers to the Palestinians over the course of the Oslo Accords, you’re effectively legitimizing those offers, which, if accepted, would have put Israel in a horrible and irreversible strategic position.

    I am well familiar with the history of the Oslo Accords. In the late 1980’s, a group of influential American Jewish activists (Rita Hauser and her fellow travelers) sought to coach Yasser Arafat in presenting just the right kind of politically correct rhetoric sufficient to induce Israel to irreversibly concede a portion of the West Bank – later termed as Areas A & B – to the legal guardianship of the PLO. No matter how many breaches Arafat subsequently committed, each concession by Israel has been treated as irreversible under international law.

    The fact of the matter is that Israeli leaders have been frantically bargaining over these years to concede more rights and territory to the Palestinians in the remaining strategic portion known as Area C. Fortunately for Israel, the Palestinian leadership has begged off from boxing Israel in with these bird in the hand offers, holding off for the proverbial two in the bush.

    So what’s on offer? In general, the Israeli leadership – Netanyahu included – have signed onto the Geneva Initiative, otherwise known as the Bush Road Map and the Clinton Parameters. It entails a two-state solution with a one-to-one swap of Israeli territory to the PA in return for the incorporation into Israel of the settlement blocs hugging the Green Line, with Jerusalem to be either divided between two capitals or administered by an international trusteeship arrangement.

    We know that Netanyahu has signed onto this due to the fact that he has effectively frozen building in East Jerusalem, along with settlements outside the blocs to be incorporated into Israel.

    The danger, then, is that one day Abbas mouths the words “I recognize you,” setting up the world to argue that Netanyahu has gotten the one substantive concession he ever really requested of the Palestinians – which is not a concession at all.

    What you failed to mention is that the real fight is over Area C, which comprises 60% of the West Bank and which is sparsely inhabited, yet with a Jewish majority.

    In the end, by legitimizing and praising Israel’s “generous” offers, and by grouping Area C into a package with the West Bank, you have effectively echoed the framework pushed by the CFR and its Oslo Accords. If Abbas ever decides to play nice – tactically, for those irreversible territorial concessions – the world will expect Israel to rewarm those former concessions, which would be a strategic disaster. And yet you counsel your readers to effectively praise those concessions as generous”, and not as the foolhardy giveaways that they are.

    The problem is the two-state solution paradigm. The world could care less about whose “narrative” is genuine when all they see is a bulk territory called the “West Bank” that is occupied by a vast majority of Palestinians. By gerrymandering Area C as part of this “West Bank State” , the world thereby understands the Palestinian claim as superior due to “majority rules” democratic principles.

    But once you define this Pal;stinian “state” – or self-governing entity, if you will – as only encompassing at best Areas A &B, and then point out that Area C has never been possessed by the Palestinians, then the “majority rules” doctrine turns in favor of the majority Jewish residents, whose formerly internationally guaranteed rights of settlement in Area C – as opposed to Areas A & B – have yet to be extinguished by any succeeding population taking effective sovereign possession.

    Put simply, the declaration of a second Jewish State in Area C – by the majority vote of its residents – puts an end to the two-state solution and its Venn diagram known as the “West Bank.” It then becomes a matter of the Palestinian State of Area A &B working out terms of association with the Jewish State of Area C.

    Despite the moral and strategic blindness of Jews on all sides of the political spectrum – both left and right – one could reasonably suspect Divine Providence in the way the chess pieces have lined up so nicely for the Jews, if only they are clear-sighted enough to take this opportunity that has been held open for them.

  • Wanami says:

    Sheldon,I agree. The killing of beratndyss is certainly a predictable result of the bloodfeud approach to problem-solving. The entire exchange is cast as one “public good” against another, which treats each side as a single person internalizing all costs with full consent.In fact, I think what’s missing from the typical analysis of the story is an anarchist perspective. By that I mean a recasting of the analysis away from Israel-v-Palestine to States-v-People. What you have are a lot of people, Jews and Arabs alike, dealing with the pain and betrayed desires that are the predictable result of the state “representation”; they are locked out of any real chance at solving their problems or manifesting actual dissent.

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Israel’s constitutional crisis has been postponed, not resolved

After years of leftists crying wolf about democracy being endangered, Israel finally experienced a real constitutional crisis last week. That crisis was temporarily frozen by the decision to form a unity government, but it will come roaring back once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

It began with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to let the newly elected Knesset vote to replace him as speaker and culminated in two interventions by the High Court of Justice. I’m one of very few people on my side of the political spectrum who considers the court’s initial intervention justifiable. But its second was an unprecedented usurpation of the prerogatives of another branch of government, in flagrant violation of legislation that the court itself deems constitutional.

Edelstein’s refusal, despite its terrible optics, stemmed from a genuine constitutional concern, and was consequently backed even by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who had opposed Edelstein many times before and would do so again later in this saga. The problem was that neither political bloc could form a government on its own, yet the proposed new speaker came from the faction of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party that adamantly opposed a unity government. Thus whether a unity government was formed or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government continued, the new speaker would be in the opposition.

But as Yinon told the court, speakers have always come from the governing coalition because an opposition speaker can effectively stymie all government work. And once elected, he would be virtually impossible to oust, since 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members must vote to do so. An opposition speaker would thus “hurt democracy,” warned Yinon. “We’re planting a bug in the system, and this, too, undermines our constitutional fabric.” That’s why Edelstein wanted to wait, as Knesset bylaws permit, until a government was formed and could choose its own speaker.

Yet despite this genuine and serious concern, the fact remains that a newly elected majority was being barred from exercising its power. Moreover, it had no parliamentary way of solving the problem because only the speaker can convene parliament and schedule a vote. Thus if you believe majorities should be allowed to govern, the court was right to intervene by ordering Edelstein to hold the vote.

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