INTO THE FRAY: The anti-BDS effort: Symptoms or cause?

New anti-BDS plans target the symptoms but not the sickness. What to do.

The Palestinian narrative claims that the Jews of Israel are colonialist interlopers who stole the land from the Palestinians, its rightful owners. The narrative makes no distinction between Tel Aviv and Hebron. All of Israel is a crime against the Arab world. All of Israel is illegitimate.?-?Caroline Glick,?June 1, 2017.

I recently participated in a rather animated televised?debate?on the new English language channel, ILTV, dealing with the BDS campaign against Israel.

Given the objective time constraints of such a program, it is inevitable that one cannot fully elaborate on all the points raised in it, or adequately articulate arguments to underpin the positions taken on it. Accordingly, I should like to devote this week’s column to a more detailed, orderly and comprehensive presentation of the issues I broached in that debate.

Sign of a welcome change of attitude?

Late last month, it was?announced?that the Israeli government had approved a plan to set up a fund of $72 million to counter the ongoing international BDS campaign against Israel. According to this plan, the funds will be allocated to a yet-to-be-established?not-for-profit organization whose board will be made up of government officials and donors from abroad, and which will oversee what is reportedly to be the first major “civil-society infrastructure servicing the State of Israel and the pro-Israel community in the fight against the de-legitimization of Israel.”

The planned initiative appears to signal a welcome—and long overdue—change in the hitherto dismissive attitude of Israeli officialdom towards public diplomacy and towards the pernicious effects such disregard was having not only on Israel’s international standing, but also on the predicament it created for pro-Israeli advocates abroad.

This detrimental insensitivity was starkly displayed by none other than the person who ought to have been most alive to it – Israel’s then-incumbent Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman, a few years ago, in a?regrettable exchange?with a young pro-Israeli activist at an international conference in New York.

During question time from the audience, Liberman was asked by a young pro-Israel undergraduate activist (Justin Hayet of Binghamton University):?“What is the Foreign Ministry doing to stand with college students, like myself, to fight BDS on campus?

A small step in the right direction

Dispensing with any semblance of civility, and any expression of encouragement for the voluntary efforts of young pro-Zionist activists in defense of Israel on hostile campuses, Liberman brusquely conveyed to him that endeavors like his were essentially unnecessary, and largely a waste of time—since, according to the then-Foreign Minister, BDS should not be a great source of concern for Israel. (For Hayet’s impassioned and dismayed response - see?here)

Liberman’s response was, of course, disturbing and, as I wrote back then:?“it encapsulated all the misperceptions, and mismanagement that have characterized Israel’s diplomatic strategy. In particular, it spotlighted the incomprehension and incompetence Israeli officialdom has displayed in the conduct of our public diplomacy, going a long way to explain Israel’s growing international beleaguerment.”

Accordingly, the newly announced initiative appears, overall, to be a step in the right direction, and seemingly heralds a refreshing, new awareness of the vital importance of public diplomacy in the nation’s strategic arsenal.

Indeed, in some aspects it resembles—albeit on a far smaller scale—measures I have long?advocated.

Almost half a decade ago, I?called?for setting up an extra-ministerial “national authority?for the conduct of strategic diplomacy” which would “interface with Zionist NGOs and help finance their pro-Israel activities, enhance their impact and expand their reach – as a counterweight to the massive funding that post- and anti-Zionist NGOs receive from foreign governments”.

Moreover, given the strategic importance and urgency of enhancing Israel’s public diplomacy performance, I urged assigning 1% of the state budget (then $1 billion, now considerably more) for this purpose annually —far more (almost ten-fold!) than the budget planned for the newly envisaged entity.

“Intellectual warriors, not slicker diplomats”

In broad brush strokes, I set out the kind of activities, with which this strategic diplomacy authority would be tasked, and for which the prescribed budget would be utilized.

?• Its activities would be assertively offensive, geared to uncompromisingly attacking and exposing the mendacious and malicious nature of Israel’s adversaries – a necessary condition for international understanding of Israel’s policy imperatives.

• Its staff would not be professional diplomats but articulate and committed intellectual ideologues, neither bound by the constraints of diplomatic protocol nor versed in the niceties of diplomatic etiquette but rather adept in the mechanism of mass media, cyberspace and social networks (see my “Intellectual warriors, not slicker diplomats”).

• Their task would not be to interact with foreign counterparts but to wage diplomatic warfare, at home and abroad, with a $1billion. budget at their disposal to saturate the Web with polished, professional Zionist content – on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and by means of full-page “infomercials” in the leading printed media.”

In this, there is a fair amount of overlap between my prescription and the reportedly planned operation of the nascent anti-BDS non-profit initiative.

There are, however, some important differences—apart from those of scale—between the two proposals. These relate to substantive issues of scope, focus and ongoing proactivity....

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