By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The received wisdom in Israel’s right-wing circles and among their supporters abroad is that, if Israel could only get its hasbarah (information/propaganda) right, the world would understand that what the Government of Israel under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is doing is morally beyond criticism and politically justified.
Many of us have long known that that’s a myth intended to whitewash seemingly unjust actions by those in power in Israel while, at the same time, seeking to describe every non-Jewish critic as an anti-Semite and every Jewish dissenter at home and abroad as a “self-haring Jew.” Now a report by the newly formed independent Israeli think-tank Molad has brought hard data that explode this myth.
Of course, the myth makers won’t be moved. They’ll note that the think tank is supported by the Anna Lindh Foundation, named after the former Foreign Minister of Sweden who was assassinated in 2003. Anything that comes from Sweden, indeed from anywhere in Scandinavia, is automatically branded as unfair and inimical to Israel.
However, the data speak from themselves and they’re being discussed in a long article in today’s Ha’aretz, another favourite target of the pro-Netanyahu lobby in Israel and in the Diaspora. The article, basing itself on the Molad report shows that, in fact, Israeli hasbarah is excellent. It’s the stuff that it has to inform about that’s the problem, particularly the current government’s policy with regard to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the orgy of intended expansion including in the most sensitive areas.
The Prime Minister, who once had the reputation as a persuasive spokesman on behalf of Israel, no doubt knows this as well as any of us. But he also knows that, unless he presents a hard line, his “friends” who’re his unrelenting rivals on the right (Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu with which Netanyahu’s Likud has now formed a joint list in the forthcoming elections and the new man on the right-wing block Naftali Bennet) will outflank him and chase him out of office for not being radical enough.
A large sector of the Israeli public supports the right-wing because it’s fearful of what might happen. The fears aren’t without reason: the Palestinian state may be taken over by Hamas the way Gaza fell for it; Egypt has become unstable; Syria is in turmoil; the Iranian threat hasn’t disappeared; Hezbollah may topple the government of Lebanon at any time; Jordan’s King Abdullah is at risk from within and without, etc. etc.
Yet fear mongering, even if understandable, is counter-productive. Precisely for the reasons stated in the paragraph above, Israel is more than ever dependent on its good standing in the international community, notably the United States and Europe but also Turkey, which is the Muslim state in the region that might remain sane and stable. But instead of maintaining close ties with these countries, Israel seems to go out of its way to antagonize them under one pretext or another.
Though many ministers in the Netanyahu government may be holding their noses when Foreign Minister Lieberman is around, they may, in fact, also want him in the job because he so consistently barks at foreign diplomats and berates his own ambassadors for not doing a better job at defending his and his government’s indefensible positions.
Once again, the greater fear isn’t of what others may do to us, but what we’re so mercilessly doing to ourselves.