Emphasize shared values and Israel’s desire for peace, and don’t be embarrassed by Israel’s strength.
I conducted two speaking tours in Europe this summer, where I was confronted with the challenge of justifying Israel’s actions on the Gaza border and even the country’s very legitimacy as a nation among nations.
This is not easy, considering that radical progressivism has captured much of the political discourse in Europe, which makes people very uncomfortable with the use of force by nation-states in almost all cases. Israel’s “over-dog” position and its frequent recourse to military action to defend itself is then magnified and manipulated by malign actors to skewer the Jewish state.
Nevertheless, I found that there were five approaches that had some impact on my interlocutors.
First, bolster the Israel brand by emphasizing the democratic and open nature of Israeli society; its freedoms, vitality and creativity. When people see their values and way-of-life reflected in Israel, they become open to political support for Israel, too, in the face of threats to its security.
Second, always emphasize Israel’s desire for peace. Unfortunately, Israel’s record of peace-making efforts simply isn’t known out there. Even sophisticated observers of international affairs don’t know Israel has placed three full-scale peace proposals on the table over the past 15 years involving Palestinian independence and almost-complete West Bank dominion. Yet Mahmoud Abbas rejected all these offers and preferred to fight on, even denying Jewish history in the land of Israel.
No matter how ridiculously self-evident it seems that Israelis deeply desire peace, the repetition of this truth is extraordinarily important.
Third, don’t play the victimhood game. The recounting of Arab atrocities, no matter how egregious, doesn’t wash. European liberals simply don’t see Israel as the underdog. In fact, knowledge of Palestinian failures – terrorism, rejection of Israel’s right to exist, missile attacks, use of human shields, etc. – has not been found to correlate in a significant way with support for Israel. Alas, it is entirely possible for people to believe all the negative charges against Arab and especially Iranian enemies of Israel, but also believe Israel does terrible things.
Fourth, speak about justice and the Jewish nation. It is simply not enough to explain Israel’s security dilemmas or revisit Israel’s diplomatic generosity towards the Palestinians. What’s needed is a much more basic restatement of Israel’s cause and purpose. Speak it loud and clear: Israel is a grand historic reunion of people and land, and a just and moral actor in the medieval and violent Arab Middle East.
Fifth, and most important of all, don’t be embarrassed by Israel’s strength. Admit to it. Celebrate it. As counter-intuitive as this may seem, especially in contrast to the “outstretched hand for peace” narrative described above, never apologize for using “disproportionate” force. Instead, articulate the reasons why and the circumstances under which Israel must use force to defend its homeland, and don’t be shy about it.
Largely, this means sharing Israel’s dilemmas with your audience. It’s okay to agonize a bit over the need to be a ferocious military power; dwelling on this is truly Israeli and it is humanizing. But never ask for forgiveness or suggest that Israel will pull its punches just to win a nice-guy award.
Forthright, unashamed talk has salutary impact. Without being nasty or unfeeling regarding our adversaries, one can convey a deep sense of sincerity and believability by verbalizing Israeli red lines and enunciating core Zionist commitments. People are forced to respect that, even if they won’t impute to you awe-inspiring humanity. Better shock and awe than shrink and whimper.
Published in the Columbus Jewish News 21.09.18