Thursday, August 21, 2014

Should Israel Defend Itself?

Should Israel Defend Itself?

by Meir Yedidya

As a close observer of, and someone who is concerned with, the recent Israel-Hamas war, and with the knowledge that such a war is as much about winning the world’s support and sympathy as it is defensive and offensive, I find Israel’s PR strategy disheartening and insufficient.

Here are Israel’s “talking points”, repeated by Israeli officials, without fail, every time they get in front of a camera:

• Hamas is a terrorist organization.

• Hamas use Human Shields.

• Hamas fires rockets targeting innocent civilians.

• Israel has the right to defend itself.

• Israel is the only Democracy in the Middle East.

• While Israel accepted numerous ceasefires, Hamas rejected them all.

When examined, we find they are all arguments of tactics, not issues. Evidently, Israel made a decision that to win the PR war they must point to the abhorrent tactics of Hamas, instead of the reasons for the war: the “Occupation”, “Blockade”, plight of the “Palestinian People”, or alternatively, the Jewish people’s G-d-given and historic rights to the land, and its need for preventing another Holocaust-type event from ever occurring. Israel decided to deal with the How, not the Why; With Tactics, not Truth.

Admittedly, Israel has good reason to think so. First, people have short-term memory, especially in matters of foreign policy. People do not want a History lesson; they want something immediate and tangible; clear contrasts to make quick decisions.

Second, addressing the Truth is messy and fraught with risk. Facts are often disputed; Truth often ambiguous. Why engage in a debate on the merits when we can win on the tactics. Once we win the Here and Now by delegitimizing the tactics, the debate will not matter; people will tune out to the complex practical and moral issues. Why pay attention to sophisticated positions and narratives when we can make a fast and easy decision. When presented with a choice between a terror organization and a Democracy defending innocent civilians – who wouldn’t choose the latter?

Third and perhaps most important, Israel is betting on a fundamental flaw in human nature. People prefer peace over war; stability over turbulence; resolution over conflict. A parent or teacher who witness children fighting won’t bother finding out what happened (if they do it is to comfort the children, not to choose who is ‘right’), instead, they seek an immediate ‘ceasefire’ to restore peace and calm.  It’s because they aren’t in the fight. When there’s conflict on the international stage, the United Nations call for a peaceful resolution and for both sides to halt the aggression. When intra-Hasidic factions are at each other’s throats, those on the sidelines find it all contemptible and call for an end to the petty stubbornness on both sides, while labeling it “just politics”. It’s the knee-jerk reaction we all have in the face of conflict – let’s make peace, let’s stop the violence, let’s broker some kind of deal. We neither care about nor are interested in whether one side is the bully, or the victim, or which side is which. We are not part of the fight, merely bystanders with little time or will to know, let alone litigate all the nitty-gritty details. We make clichés to justify our callousness. ”It takes two to tangle“, we say, “no one side can be 100 percent right” (“we call on both sides to exercise restraint”, sound familiar?). Yet, when it comes to a conflict that we care about, and more important, that we dare to know about, we inevitably take a side. Our side. We then wonder why others are so indifferent to the facts of the conflict, and where they find the audacity to admonish both sides or propose resolutions to something they know almost nothing about. This is the human condition. A hypocrisy so natural we often deny its existence – until we are involved; we then boil with anger and righteous indignation.

The further one is from conflict, the more likely one is to condemn both sides, instead of attempting to discern which side is right and Just. Worse yet, one comes to believe that no side can be right and Just.

And here comes the zinger: as a natural consequence of rejecting the validity of either side emerges a vigorous examination of tactics with a strong distaste for anything that appears smacks of ‘impropriety’. As if the conflict has turned into a game of chess or soccer, where as long as both sides play by the rules they are both equal and legitimate, but the moment one side cheats – that side becomes the villain, the moral devil, worthy of contempt and hated by all.

Hence the incessant cry of Israel’s ‘disproportionate’ reaction by those who consider themselves ‘balanced’ and objective, and the Israelis intense focus on tactics. As most peoples of the world are ‘unaffiliated’ with either side of the conflict, they by default see both sides as equals, and upon learning of one sides ‘cheating’ in the game of war, accuse them of bullying, thereby exonerating the other as the victim.

However, herein lies the rub: with three wars within recent memory and the media’s non-stop, detailed reporting of them, the ‘unaffiliated’ group is rapidly shrinking and will likely soon disappear. As more people become familiar with the conflict, they cease to consider tactics as the measure of morality, and instead thirst for real answers to their newfound, deeper questions. In fact, this phenomenon turns matters on its head. It’s well known that believers in a cause will justify all tactics in proportion to their solidarity with the cause. History is full of examples, from using terror attacks against the British to found the state of Israel, to violently protesting the Vietnam War in an effort to end it, it’s always the case that the more one believes in the cause, the more variable their tactical options, up to the point where all tactics are on the table. if we look into ourselves, we will probably find some of our own ‘the ends justify the means’ rationalizations. This is well-documented human behavior.

Accordingly, when Israel talks Tactics and the Palestinians talk issues, viewers walk away having heard one side – the Palestinians – defend a cause, thereby rendering Israel’s ‘tactical’ arguments impotent, and the other side – Israel –  not addressing the issues but tactics, which by now are either irrelevant or already justified by the Palestinian Cause’ need for them.

Moreover, unlike in most conflicts where evil tactics are justified in the pursuit of a nobler cause, in this conflict, Hamas’s tactics aren’t even seen as a necessary evil unless examined from the Israeli perspective. When viewed from a critical and objective perspective, they’re perceived as anything from ludicrous, to being completely beside the point, occasionally even backfiring at Israel. Here’s how someone who’s merely open to the possibility of being sympathetic to (though not a part of) the Palestinian cause understands Israel’s talking points:

”Hamas is a terrorist organization.” Sure, Israel leaves the Palestinians no other choice. In fact, Israel is so oppressive that Palestinian children want to kill themselves rather than live in Gaza. The Israelis are creating terror by refusing to negotiate peace for many years now. The Palestinians have tried every other peaceful avenue and realize that this is what’s left. It’s their last hope to gain independence.

”Hamas uses Human Shields.” This one is laughable. Hamas is a grassroots movement of Gazans. They are ordinary men and women who wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, climb up on the roof to fire a rocket, and go to work. Of course they are shooting from populated areas. Should they build racket-firing ranges ten-minutes driving distance from the city? Maybe they should paint a sign for the IAF that reads “Bomb Here!”? The people live in the cities, and it’s the people who lead a life of resistance. Do we criticize Chicago gangs for using ‘Human Shields’? Or do we take it for granted that they live in the city, shoot at each other in the city, and other people also live in the same city – and get shot in the cross-fire. If criticizing their use of ‘Human Shields’ we should more accurately criticize their lack of an organized Army. In addition, it’s the more effective, nay the only effective option for any chance of a sustainable resistance against the powerful military that is the Israeli Army.

“Hamas fires rockets targeting innocent civilians.” Again, if someone is merely open to the possibility that the Palestinians have a Just cause then he sees this as the only recourse they have to get to the negotiating table. The goal here is to shake-up Israel. To put them on edge. Moreover, there are many who doubt Hamas’s targeting capabilities. They argue that ‘indiscriminate fire’ not ‘targeting civilians’ is the accurate term.

“Israel has the right to defend itself.” Ones right to defend themselves isn’t categorical and applied in all instances, rather is limited by the broader circumstances and conditions. Can a bank-robber shoot the approaching police and claim “the right to defend myself”? Surely not. Can one putting himself in harms-way proceed to eliminate all perceived threats? Israel loses its right to defend itself the moment it admits the Palestinians have any claim to the land. The right to defend itself from what? “End the ‘Occupation’”, they say, “and you won’t need to defend yourself”.

“Israel is the only Democracy in the Middle East.” And the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. This isn’t an appeal to moral Truth or Tactics, but to a sympathy that’s unrelated to the conflict. Everyone likes Democracy and therefore Israel is the good-guy in the region. They are also held to higher standards, and wouldn’t occupy other peoples while withholding from them basic human rights.

“While Israel accepted numerous ceasefires, Hamas rejected them all.” This is a classic ploy to win over those who champion Peace over Justice. Putting aside for a moment the nonsensical concept that is a ceasefire, the devil is always in the details. What were the terms of the proposed ceasefire that Israel accepted? If Israel accepted, does that not suggest that Hamas would reject it? After all, the war must have started from some serious gripe, and abruptly ending it won’t address any grievances. Moreover, being that Hamas started the war, ending it without serious negotiations and agreements will necessarily only benefit Israel – the party that felt no need to start a war – and not Hamas. Thus, any (unconditional) ceasefire is a win for Israel and a loss for Hamas. Could that be why Hamas rejected it?

Israel’s fallacy in applying ordinary psychological principles to their own conflict is exacerbated by the peculiar condition that is a JEWISH state. As many have noted, attention directed at Israel from world Governments and the Media are shockingly disproportionate and excruciatingly detailed when compared with other impactful events, which often far exceed in both casualties and political drama. Everything from Bashar-Al-Assad’s murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians in Syria, to ISIS’s transforming of the Middle East as we know it should have all been of far greater interest than a small country eliminating a few terror targets.

Yet, when it comes to the Jewish people, there was never any proportionality. The Media isn’t unfairly targeting Israel for extra coverage, it is merely offering what their audiences want, indeed expect. How astonishing that everyone seems to have an opinion on Israel – a country of seven million people that isn’t powerful or influential in any meaningful way. I will not go on stating the obvious; it no longer confounds that ‘The World’ is obsessively interested in the Jewish People, it’s par for the course. As Mark Twain famously observed,

If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race.  It suggests a nebulous puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way.  Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of.  He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.

This nonpareil distinguishes Israel’s plight from all others; it frustrates its PR efforts directed at the distanced who know little of the conflict, for there are few such people.

Bearing this in mind, should Israel not adapt a substantive message of moral superiority based on truth? When finally given a chance to make its case directly to viewers, bypassing the Media and its professional spin-craftsmen’s ‘objectivity’ – should it not communicate the essence of the conflict with clear contrasts of right and wrong? Dare they not dispute the lies so entrenched in the fabric of our culture as to be considered fact – with real facts?

So what are the facts?

• Israel is G-d’s gift to the Jewish People, as is stated numerous times in the Bible.

• The entire land has always been ours. It never belonged to any other Nation or People, only world conquering empires.

• There aren’t any ‘Disputed’ or ‘Occupied’ land. A People can’t occupy its own land.

• There never was a country called ‘Palestine’.

• There isn’t a ‘Palestinian People’. They are merely a mix of Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese who (encouraged by the British) immigrated to Israel relatively recently.

• There is no such place as the West Bank. That name was given after the British Mandate in the last century. Yehuda and Shomron have been there for three Millennia.

Some point to Israel’s stable favorability ratings in the US as confirmation that it is doing something right. In reality, those Polls are misleading. Upon closer examination, a worrisome picture emerges, pointing to shifting dynamics in politics and US public opinion. Whereas in the past support for Israel was bipartisan, a recent Gallup poll finds that 47 percent of Democrats believe Israel’s actions are unjustified while just 31 percent believe they are justified. By contrast, a full 65 percent of Republicans believe they are justified with only 21 percent believing them unjustified. Those are big numbers, and when put in proper context, put on full display the corrosive results of Israel’s failed ‘Tactical’ messaging.

As anyone who follows American politics knows, there’s a foundational difference between the worldview of Democrats and Republicans. This difference uniquely manifests itself in their views on Foreign Policy. This isn’t the place to delve into detail and nuance, but the gist of it is quite simple: Republicans care more about National Security and whether our policies bolster America’s influence in the world, be they real or perceived. They aren’t in the business of eliminating malaria or solving global hunger. America should do what is best for itself. Democrats, on the contrary, feel a responsibility toward the less fortunate peoples of the world, and world salvation as a whole. A strong America is justified if it’s used to help others.

Applying those sentiments to our discussion, we find that Israel is losing the PR war – and losing big. Republicans’ 65 percent support doesn’t reflect their opinion on who is right in the conflict, but rather, what America’s best interest is. The Justice of the any cause is not as important as whether America and her allies are winning. The issues matter little, if at all. For Republicans such as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul or Rick Perry, (all rumored to be harboring presidential ambitions) the message is “We stand with our ally – Israel”, Issues notwithstanding. Adversely, Democrats stress the “Right to defend itself” line, acknowledging that issues matter, while denoting that the Palestinians are quite possibly correct both in their cause and  tactics – but Israel has the right to defend itself.

Accordingly, the true barometer of messaging effectiveness are Democrats, and considering Israel’s current approach, it’s not surprising that Democrats (who look for the injustice) after hearing the arguments and the posturing, confidently conclude that Israel is the villainous occupier, and the Palestinians are those who want to live peacefully in their natural homeland – ‘Palestine’.

Israel should not take this lightly. Should the Israeli-Palestinian conflict become – as it’s fast becoming – a partisan issue in American Politics, the dreadful effects cannot be overstated. The only way to counter this debilitating trend is to debunk myths, state truths, answer questions; completely address the substantive issues; clearly and unequivocally declare our moral superiority and their moral debasement in terms of Rights to the land.

While it’s nice to focus on tactics, if people have a different set of facts they don’t care about tactics. Israel should focus on the truth just as much, if not more than the tactics. If Israel deems it necessary to stress their “tactical” talking points on the world stage in order to evoke world support and sympathy, than we should be the ones doing the dirty work of standing up for the facts and the truth. Unlike the State of Israel, we don’t need to, nor should we, dilute our message out of concern for Political Correctness. Especially when it comes to Israel, we can’t take anything for granted.

Am Yisroel Chai!

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