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The reactions to the first article about Israel's Battle for Hearts and Minds prove that there is a problem and help to define it. These can roughly be classified into these categories:
- There is no problem, it is just "media manipulation."
- Israel's image doesn't matter - ignore the criticism.
- It is the fault of a particular political party that is too soft/hard or of a particular policy.
- Yes there is a problem, but there is nothing to be done about it because it is due to "anti-Semitism."

The signs of the Israel's image problem are so clear, and the effects so obviously pernicious, that denial borders on behavior pathology. In the space of a week, following Operation Cast Lead, Time, Newsweek and the New York Times published the sort of reports about Israel that in former times one would expect from the Syrian government newspaper Tishreen or the Egyptian extremist journal Roz el Youssef: atrocity stories bordering on blood libel, published without verification and without reserve. These are not fringe journals in Europe, but the heart of USA journalism that used to be solidly on the side of Israel. Today they unapologetically distribute propaganda not for the moderate PLO, but for the genocidal Hamas. This alone should have raised alarm bells in every Israel advocacy group, in the Israel Government Press Office, the Office of the IDF Spokesperson and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was instead virtually ignored, as just the latest step in an inexorable progression.

In happier times, "ZOG" the Zionist Occupied Government, was the slogan and ideology of lunatic white supremacists and Neo-Nazis. Its successor, the mythical "Israel Lobby" that supposedly controls the press and the government, is accepted as a fact. It publicized by a former president and by university professors. The same philosophy is held, it seems, by the apparent new head of the National Intelligence Council, Charles Freeman. Freeman should be barred from accepting a sensitive intelligence post because of his intimate, compromising ties with the Saudi government. But any criticism of Freeman is quickly dismissed as "Zionist" propaganda. "Zionist" is an epithet sufficient to discredit any person or idea, regardless of merit. It has the status that "communist" did in the 50s in the United States. That is true even among Jews. Organizations prefer to call themselves "pro-Israel" in order to avoid the Z-Word, just as reform Jews referred to themselves at one time as persons of the Mosaic faith, to avoid the J-word.

The erosion of Israel's image and legitimacy is not a new process, and in fact goes back quite a few years. The PLO was recognized by the UN as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian People at a time when the PLO openly announced its intent to destroy Israel. In the same period, the UN Zionism is Racism resolution was passed. However, these resolutions did not represent the policy of the European governments and the United States, and were widely condemned by public opinion in Europe, North America and Oceania. Since then, the situation has steadily and inexorably worsened, so that today European governments are contemplating recognizing the Hamas and tacitly accepting its program of genocide for the Jews.

The damage to Israel's image must unavoidably have real consequences. It cannot be ignored, because Israel exists only in virtue of world opinion and legitimacy. The first Zionist congress sought a national home for the Jewish people, guaranteed in international law. This goal was achieved and embodied in the League of Nations British Mandate for Palestine and restated in UN General Assembly Resolution 181. Looking back at the progression of world opinion, it is probably safe to say that that 100 years ago, few in the Western world would have disputed the historical title and moral entitlement of the Jewish people to the "Holy Land." Today that is no longer the case. Not only moral and social norms have changed. Hostile propaganda has created an "alternate narrative" in which Jews never existed in ancient times or never lived in Judea and Samaria.

Until not long ago it was understood that an ancient people had returned to their homeland and found a neglected desert, which they turned into a modern state. The Bible was the deed of the Jewish people to the land. The Arabs were viewed as opportunistic interlopers who had overrun the land by force. The reports of Marx and of Mark Twain and many others described the desolation of 19th century Palestine. The reports of UN commissions and tourists and experts attested to the extraordinary renewal wrought by the Zionists, and the Arabs themselves bore witness to their own obstinate aggressive bellicosity and proud alliance with the Nazi movement. Zionism was considered to be at the forefront of progressive enlightenment.

Now it is just as widely believed that Palestine under Turkish rule was a cosmopolitan paradise thanks to the industry and thrift of its Arab inhabitants. The claim of the Arab inhabitants to have lived here since time immemorial is readily accepted. The opinion taught in universities and believed by many "right thinking people" is that Israel is a "historic mistake:" After World war II, with no warning and no legitimacy, the descendants of Khazars flooded the land and evicted the peace-loving Arabs for no reason, appropriating for themselves unjustly the fruit of the labors of the innocent victims. Zionism is considered a colonialist imperialist reactionary movement and the Ulema of Gaza and Tehran are thought to be at the vanguard of progressive thought. "International legitimacy" once supported a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Today it is used to support genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Jews.

It is this gradual basic change in the way Israel and Zionism are viewed, rather than any specific action, issue or claim, that has had, and is having, a devastating effect on the perception of Israel and on the readiness of the world to support Israel against Iranian threats, Hamas and Hezbollah. It is not tied to the policies of any party or the personality of any leader. The moderate Ehud Barak is vilified almost as much as the bellicose Ariel Sharon. The withdrawal from Gaza, which turned into a disaster for the Israeli left and center, and which should have been viewed by the world as an awesome and generous gamble for peace, has instead turned into an awful nightmare and a pretext for accusing Israel of "genocide" and "occupation." Occupation or withdrawal, warmongering or peace loving, Israeli policies and actions become grist for the propaganda mill of the enemy.

In Operation Cast Lead as in the Second Lebanon War and in the diplomatic arena against the PLO, Hamas, Iran and Syria, Israel is being beaten time after time. It is never being beaten by a weapon, but rather by public relations and diplomacy. The "fluff" of image and narrative is as real as the steel of tanks, real enough to force important concessions and to seriously erode Israel's position.

The first step in repairing the problem is to recognize its existence and importance. The erosion of Israel's image is not a peripheral issue, but rather a central strategic threat that requires the urgent attention and resources of the Israeli government and the Zionist movement.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2009. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000663.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 5 Comments

Damn right, Ami.

But look, we'll be hated no matter what we do now. We go to absolutely ridiculous lengths to avoid harming civilians and are widely accused of genocide; we almost tear the country in two by forcibly removing Jews from their land so that we could give it to Arabs and we're accused of being occupiers.

It could be the antisemitism ingrained in the European culture (and its child cultures). It could be the remarkable disintegration of sanity and self-respect in the West (to the point of horrible self-denigration). It could be the outcome of Arab investment in genocidal propaganda.

Either way, we should just accept being hated, and work from there.

Abu Sa'ar, Monday, March 23rd

jaywhite -
Your response and commentary serve as a sad yet important reminder that some of Israel’s most passionate supporters are determined to self-destruct in the battle for hearts and minds by losing friends and influencing people - against Zionism.

Jonathan, Sunday, March 1st

Jonathan; I don't agree with any of your contentions.You obviously don't know what your are talking about. Israel made an incredible effort to avoid harming civilians. The number of civilians killed or injured was actually much less than reported. Secondly, Newsweek and similar rags only have value to clean a certain anatomical area. You think being nice will get Newsweek to change it's warped views? They publish anti-Israel articles because of the threat of violence from Arabs. Their so-called reporters are Arabs who are in jepordy of their lives if they don't follow the script. Maybe you have narcolepsy and slept through all of your history classes. Jews are the international scapegoats and remain so. Only when Israel shows strength and balls, do other nations respect them. Israel's weapons exports have made Israel 1000x more "friends" than anything you suggest. For example, China was inplacably hostile to Israel until they began buying Israeli made weapons. When Arabs complained about China being too friendly with Israel they were basically told to F--- Off. It's amusing you think $900 miltlion Us dollars to Gaza will benefit Israel. Hamas is like the mafia. All of the money will end up in Hamas' pockets. Anyone in Gaza who doesn't agree will be floating face down in the Meditterean.

jaywhite, Sunday, March 1st

You know, I have read these two articles – “Battle for the hearts and minds…” – twice now, the conclusion of which is summarized in one sentence which “is to recognize its existence and importance” and I have reviewed some of the comments which bewail anti-semitism, the “bigots”, that Jordan is about to attack us, that the Palestinian leadership no longer believes in a two state solution. The rhetoric coming out of this discussion is shrill, hysterical and if anything, certainly bears witness to the fact that there is no lack of recognition of this “battle”, but rather thorough weakness and impotence in the face of an unforgiving world opinion. Sorry but it looks this way.
I would like to offer a different perspective:
Lets start with the idea propounded that Palestinian leadership no longer believes in a 2 state solution. In a recent interview with Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayadd http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3677599,00.html he unequivocally affirms and confirms the need for a 2 state solution, peaceful coexistence and outlines the progress made in the last several years in terms of reigning in violent elements in the WB. A recent poll from December 2008 conducted by PSR (before Cast Lead) shows a majority of Palestinians support this concept of a 2 state solution, albeit, the Saudi proposal.
We work here within constraints. One of those constraints is that the western world judges us according to a higher set of standards than those of the Janjaweed in Sudan or the Chinese. When we enter into conflict, the fallout consequential to our actions is enormous for Israel. Indeed, should not “recognizing the existence and importance” of this battle be then a part of the decisions and operational strategy? How many lessons does it take to learn that when you bomb civilians in their homes - clearly without intent - but also carelessly, you can expect a weakening of support, and an outcry. We do ourselves no service by bawling like spoiled children that no one loves us, and that we can therefore do as we wish because in any event we are hated.
The facts point to the contrary. Israel and events in the Middle East are at the epicenter of international affairs. We have the US, Russia and the EU forged behind the roadmap and Annapolis, all of whom refuse to recognize the Hamas regime. We have a new president in office in the US who has nominated one of the most profound and successful negotiators, George Mitchell to urgently begin to find a solution. The US, despite its financial woes is now pledging close to one billion dollars in aid to rebuild the destruction in Gaza in order to offset an Iranian aid plan that gave so much credit to Hizbollah after the second Lebanon war.
No amount of articulate columnists in prestigious publications or fine Zionist advocacy on US campuses can reduce the realities: Right now Israel rules by force, governs a stateless people, and has arrogated land at will for settlement in areas which are populated almost entirely another people. The stubbornness in not removing illegal settlement and the continuation of new settlement in areas of dispute make any commitment to peace by Israel, whether at Oslo, in ’93, or the Roadmap or Annapolis simply a farce. In this respect Israel has abused the trust of its greatest ally, the US, and it has demonstrated to the Palestinian people and its neighbors that it has no long term vision for coexistence. Mostly this undermines the “battle for the hearts and minds” both among friends and a young emerging socially-aware diasporah Jewry.
Its time to get out of the time warp. There is a new president in power and a new set of rules. Stop bleating about how the world hates us and start thinking about solutions – the first step of which is a full and complete moratorium on all settlement activity in occupied territory and the final phase of which will be a negotiated 2 state solution, whether we like it or not. Israelis must internalize this and face up to it – the hearts and minds of world opinion might just follow.

Jonathan, Saturday, February 28th

The article does not address the (true) assertion that anti-Israel propaganda is fueled by antisemitism and is therefore resistant to rational rebuttal. This has an important implication. When addressing hateful anti-Zionist propaganda, one has to focus on the objective at hand and avoid at all costs listing what one sees as Israel’s faults. Too often in the Western press I see apologetic pro-Israel articles where the writer feels the need to go off on a tangent and mention that he also happens to “deplore” Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, without giving any reason for this position. While such opinions are perfectly legitimate, using them to ingratiate oneself with bigots is both cowardly and self-defeating from a tactical standpoint. The nature of anti-Israeli sentiment, rooted as it is in an ancient prejudice, is such that those who speak for Israel must never give ground.

Stan, Saturday, February 28th

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