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More on the Reut Institute’s Fight Against Delegitimization of Israel

We had a visit from one of the authors, Calev Ben Dor, of the Reut Institute’s paper on the strategic threat to Israel of the foreign anti-Israel activism that has grown in impact and frequency over the past years. Our readers know we’ve been covering many of these activities on Jewlicious, and when the article about this Reut report came out, I took the liberty of trying to break down some of what we’ve been covering, putting it into broader context and offering a somewhat different prescription than suggested by Reut.

In broad terms, there are two differences in my approach. The first is identification of the culprits. I don’t believe they are operating entirely independently. I believe they have a modicum of assistance from the PA and perhaps some Arab or Muslim government. It is “hands off” assistance and may even be indirect, but it is there.

The second difference is that I strongly resist the involvement of Israeli officialdom in fighting this fight. That is the road to losing the war. The way to win is to make this a grass roots fight where if Israel plays any role at all, it is merely as a repository of information that can be tapped by the local supporters of Israel when they need sources for their advocacy.

I have now read the Executive Summary of Reut’s report. First, I want to congratulate them for writing a cogent and important report that touches on many issues that Israel truly needs to address immediately. Second, the report is far more detailed and nuanced than the Ha’aretz article indicated, which leads me to believe that Reut’s vision and my vision are not so far apart. Third, there remain some differences and in this post, I will try to review them. Fourth, I do this with no hubris. Reut has an impressive group of people working for them and they have obviously invested a great deal of time and energy in analyzing the situation and coming up with solutions. My voice is nothing more that of a single individual who wishes to offer his own opinion.

The blocked sections below come from the Reut report.

16. On the other hand, Israel must cultivate its own network on the basis of the diplomacy establishment and a network of ‘informal Ambassadors,’ comprised of individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Israel must empower these catalysts and harness NGOs in order to act against those NGO that advance delegitimization. In addition, the Histadrut’s international department should be invigorated.

All of these are fine ideas and certainly in line with the notion of a grass roots fight. However, as I noted, some of these organizations, like CAMERA and Stand With Us, while doing excellent work, can serve as resources but should not be on the front lines of this fight. It is precisely their success and size that undermine their involvement because they appear to be professionals and in fighting with the “regular people” on the other side, they come off looking like bullies. They should serve as resources and nothing more in this particular aspect of the fight.

17. Brand Israel – The perception of Israel as a violent country that violates international law enables delegitimizing forces to portray the country as an apartheid, pariah state. Israel’s re-branding can yield strategic implications which will improve its ability to communicate its message and reduce the Delegitimization Network’s ability to achieve its goals. In this context, the importance of international aid should be emphasized (in addition, of course, to its clear moral value).

This brings up some seriously bad memories of how the Toronto anti-Israel campaign operated. It used as a battle-cry the idea that ANY cultural activity that appeared to make Israel look good was part of the “Brand Israel” campaign that a former Israeli general (Gissin) bragged about to some newspapers. We could not find a scintilla of evidence that Israel, its Foreign Ministry, Gissin or any official body had anything to do with the Israeli activities in Toronto last year that became the center of deligitimization attacks on Israel, although we were able to find PA connections to the attacks. Not only didn’t we find any evidence of a Brand Israel campaign, even after the attacks became internationally known, Israel and its overseas offices had no solutions.

The point being that, once again, any such campaign, if run by Israelis, will be a meaningless waste of money and could potentially undermine Israel by providing an easy target that conveniently taints all Israeli and pro-Israeli activities, cultural, scientific, economic and otherwise.

18. Relationship-based diplomacy with elites and ‘influentials’ – An effective barrier against delegitimization is a network of personal relationships. Working within identified hubs, Israel should aspire to maintain thousands of personal relationships with political, financial, cultural, media, and security-related elites and influentials.

Sure, good idea.

19. Harnessing the Jewish and Israeli Diaspora communities – There are a significant number of Israelis abroad, such as academics, business people, and students. These communities should be harnessed to Israel’s cause before they embark on their international interactions. Additionally, Israel should make a concerted investment in Jewish communities, without taking their commitment for granted.

There is harnessing and there is harnessing. Again, any Israeli involvement will only undermine the efforts of these people. Let them form their own groups and their own means of doing good for Israel. Any canned or pre-planned efforts, guided by some Israeli ministry, will not be as effective as letting people do things themselves. Where a ministry might be helpful is, again, by providing a website as a resource with much of the relevant information that these people could draw upon.

I would like to see more about what is meant by the suggestion to make a “concerted investment in Jewish communities” and will wait for the detailed report to comment. This is something we’ve been talking about for years on Jewlicious.

20. Responding to the delegitimization challenge requires a reorganization of the foreign policy establishment. It is clear that the current budget demands dramatic increases on the basis of newly emerging needs (Wishes to Budget). It is also crucial to initiate comprehensive reform within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as within leading bodies in the foreign policy establishment in terms of recruitment, management, and the cultivation and deployment of human resources.

If I have a major disagreement with the Reut report’s suggestions, it is with this idea and the idea that the Israeli government can and should tackle this problem directly. They are simply not competent enough to do it and will muck it up. Does anybody really think that some action by the Israeli Foreign Ministry will garner the favorable press, or the amount of press, that Naomi Klein can generate in Canada? Does anybody believe that the Ministry has the ability to identify, recruit, cultivate and deploy someone equivalent to Naomi Klein and do so in a way that wouldn’t undermine that person’s credibility in the first place?

Wouldn’t it be better to let a local group form and have them use their own resources, creativity and contacts to attract and deploy people who could fight that fight? Maybe Israel could ensure that there’s some money for them if they need it, and a repository of information that they can draw on? Maybe Israel could have the Ministry serve as a catalyst by requesting that the local Jewish community identify an appropriate person and let them run with the program? That’s about all Israel should do.

That would be my approach.

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