How was it possible? Only 30 years ago, we were still being hailed as the greatest success story of the 20th century. We were regarded as the people who rose from the ashes of the Holocaust and resurrected ourselves into an independent democratic nation, an oasis in a region dominated by tyrannies and despotisms. We were applauded for having successfully resisted the violent efforts of our neighbors to destroy and deny us our right to exist as a sovereign Jewish nation. Yet today, even in Western Europe, we are reviled as the greatest threat to world peace, just behind a rogue state like Iran. What happened? Why and how were we so effectively vanquished in the battlefield of the war of ideas?
In the early days, the Zionist leaders and founding fathers of Israel were at all times conscious that the war of ideas was a critical element in the struggle to establish and retain a Jewish state.
Prior to the Oslo Accords, when Israelis presented their case to the world, they did so with undiluted passion, convinced beyond doubt that justice was on their side. In those days, our diplomatic representatives were recognized as being among the most outstanding in the world. They were invariably dedicated idealists and also capable of articulating the case for Israel with style.
The 1967 Six Day War was a turning point. Until then, as the plucky little country struggling for survival against overwhelming odds, we enjoyed the support of most Western nations. But we were always sensitive to the fact that the world was traditionally more inclined to comfort Jews as victims rather than admiring them as victors.
Indeed, between the Six Day War and the Oslo Accords, the global support we had enjoyed eroded dramatically. That did not happen simply because Arabs had assumed a new underdog role. It was largely a consequence of the attitude of the newly empowered sabra elites, who displayed open contempt for hasbara, arrogantly asserting that military strength was the only factor to be considered. They dismissed the war of ideas as so much hot air.
The Israel sea change occurred at the onset of the Oslo Accords. Land for peace negotiations with the Palestinians bitterly split the nation. Despite all evidence to the contrary, our government became frenetically obsessed in trying to persuade the people that Arafat was a genuine peace partner. In desperation, it began covering up and making excuses for the criminality of the Palestinians. It even resorted to creating false illusions about our “peace partner,” highly reminiscent of what we are witnessing today.
In addition, then deputy foreign minister Dr. Yossi Beilin persuaded Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that Diaspora Jews lobbying on behalf of Israel were hindering Israeli negotiations with the Arabs. Rabin brutally told AIPAC and other Jewish groups that their interventions on behalf of Israel were counter productive and instructed them to butt out.
At the same time, the high standard of Israeli diplomats eroded dramatically virtually overnight, as jobs for the boys and seniority rather than merit became the main criteria for key ambassadorial postings. Simultaneously, Beilin engineered early retirement for many old timers in the Foreign Ministry, replacing them with people fully aligned with his approach. The new diplomats were instructed to concentrate on promoting the peace process, explain the need to accommodate the rights of two peoples to the land, and avoid acrimonious debates. As a consequence, Israeli spokesmen tended to avoid confronting Arab lies, and instead conceded that both sides had made mistakes, suggesting that the time had arrived to move forward and avoid dwelling on contentious issues from the past.
It was truly a sea change. From passionately promoting our case, we had turned a full circle. Not only did we recoil from repudiating falsehoods, but when Arab casualties incurred as a consequence of IDF efforts to defend targeted Israeli civilians, the government began instinctively apologizing instead of blaming the murderers.
The final nails on the coffin were struck when Haaretz, the prestigious Israeli daily newspaper, launched an English print and Internet version which inter alia published articles implying that Israel had been born in sin and radically disparaged, even demonized, Israeli policies. Prior to this, mainstream Western media outlets rarely carried such articles.
Haaretz effectively provided the mainstream Western media with a kosher certification to incorporate the most extreme anti-Israeli content. “If Israeli papers can publish this, why should we be less inhibited?” became the standard response of numerous editors when accused of anti-Israeli bias and double standards.
To make matters worse, most foreign embassies in Israel began relying as an authority on the English Haaretz version, and its radical post-Zionist critiques were incorporated into reports dispatched to their governments.
Our global standing plummeted as international public opinion began to regard us as a rogue state. I recollect discussing this with Prime Minister Rabin and his successors, who were all either unwilling or unable to relate to the problem. Their eyes simply glazed over whenever the subject of the war of ideas was raised.
The situation worsened under Ehud Barak’s premiership, when cabinet responsibility collapsed and individual ministers began publicly contradicting one another on crucial issues. In contrast, the Arabs and their allies became more disciplined and ensured that their spokesmen all parroted the same falsehoods. Regrettably, other than Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli leaders failed to appreciate the importance of refuting these lies. Soon, the distorted Arab narrative not only received greater global prominence, but became increasingly accepted in many quarters as the true one. Israel’s interests were further undermined when Education Minister Yuli Tamir gave greater credence to the falsehood that Israel had been born in sin by agreeing to incorporate the Nakba (the Palestinian day of mourning for the creation of Israel) into the Israeli Arab state school curriculum.
Yet in retrospect, despite this self-inflicted denigration, our government’s greatest failure was its reluctance to expose to the world the criminal nature of our Palestinian neighbor, the PA no less than Hamas. To this day, we continue understating the barbaric culture of death and the ongoing anti-Semitic incitement which permeates every sector of society under the jurisdiction of our Palestinian neighbor: mothers joyfully dispatching their own children to Paradise as suicide bombers; schools (even kindergartens), mosques and media inciting to kill Jews; Mahmoud Abbas, our peace partner, providing pensions for families of terrorists; spontaneous street celebrations erupting whenever terrorists succeed in killing Israelis in restaurants or shopping malls. The failure by our government to internationally expose such barbaric behavior reflects its slavish denial of reality.
In fact, despite all the evidence to the contrary, we ourselves still promote the lie that the conflict with the Palestinians is a struggle between two peoples over land. Were that so, we would have achieved a peace settlement many years ago. It is Islamic xenophobia denying the Jewish people the right to sovereignty which remains the root of the conflict. This was even reaffirmed as recently as Annapolis, when Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his determination never to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Over the past few years, matters have sank to an all time low. To pave the way for the unilateral disengagement, Sharon became the first Israeli leader to formally describe the Jewish presence over the Green Line as “the Occupation.”
Annapolis was the final straw, when Olmert, desperate to please President Bush and appease the Palestinians, endorsed the Arab narrative on refugees. Feeling empowered, the impotent Mahmoud Abbas refused to concede anything. Just recently, in an interview with a Jordanian newspaper, Abbas brazenly stated that “At this time I am against armed struggle because we cannot achieve it, but things might be different in the coming stages.” That the Olmert government failed to even condemn and alert the world after such an outrageous statement by our duplicitous “peace partner,” who has described our efforts to protect our civilians from rocket attacks as “worse than the Holocaust,” demonstrates the depth of self delusion we have reached and exemplifies why we continue losing the war of ideas.
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