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Escalating anti-Semitism: The blame Israel bears

There is a symbiotic link between the abysmal (mis)conduct of Israel’s public diplomacy and the building crescendo of Judeophobic frenzy across the globe.

A rally in solidarity with Israel and in protest against rising levels of anti-Semitism, New York City, May 23, 2021. Credit: Ron Adar/Shutterstock.
A rally in solidarity with Israel and in protest against rising levels of anti-Semitism, New York City, May 23, 2021. Credit: Ron Adar/Shutterstock.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

For nearly a decade and a half, there has been an ongoing and grinding effort to draw attention to the gathering storm clouds on Israel’s diplomatic—and strategic—horizon. Sadly, it was an alert that went unheeded, resulting in the blight, of which it warned, to fester and now turn septic. There is now little option but to cauterize it—lest it turn fatal.

Sins of omission rather than of commission

Of course, I realize some might find this article’s headline a little provocative, perhaps even offensive. After all, at a time like this, with Jews, their property and their institutions under escalating assault throughout the United States and around the globe, allegations that seem to suggest the Jewish state is complicit in fanning the flames of Jew-hatred might well be perceived as inappropriate, uncalled for—indeed, even harmful and hurtful.

So, I hasten to clarify.

The blame that can, indeed must, be apportioned to Israel is not the product of intentional malfeasance or unintentional misadventure, but of disastrous dereliction of duty over decades—not because of what Israel has done, but because of what it left undone. Thus, in terms of facilitating anti-Semitism, Israel is guilty far more of sins of omission rather than of sins of commission.

The appalling worldwide surge in Judeophobic incitement and Judeocidal attacks should come as no surprise—and hence the lack of any serious preparation to effectively confront it, contend with it and curtail it comprise an unforgivable strategic debacle—for both Israel’s national security and for its relationship with its kinfolk in the Diaspora.

Thus, encapsulating the widely felt exasperation and bitterness was the following Facebook response from a reader, to my rebuke of gross Israeli diplomatic lethargy in a 2013 piece titled “Deleriction of Duty”: “The State of Israel, the country that represents Jews throughout the world as much as its citizens, is slowly but surely abdicating its role by its action or perhaps better said inaction vis-à-vis public diplomacy.”

Anguish, not arrogance

Indeed, browsing through some of the many columns I have written over the years on the topic, it is difficult to escape an eerie sense of déjà vu and a feeling that what I wrote then not only applies to the events of today, but in many ways precisely predicted what is now being precipitated before us.

I underscore this not out of arrogance, but anguish, not to showcase any personal prescience, but to urge action to head off preventable perils. For, as I warned in the past: “It is difficult to understate how pernicious and pervasive the consequences of this inexplicable fiasco of impotence and incompetence are. They permeate all walks of national life, corroding the very fabric that binds the Zionist enterprise together.”

Indeed, more than half a decade ago, I diagnosed as a “strategic imperative” the need to establish “a political ‘Iron-Dome’ to intercept incoming barrages of demonization and delegitimization launched daily at Israel,” and stipulated the scale and scope of resources that should be allotted for such an initiative (1 percent of Israel’s state budget, or more than $1 billion)—as befits such a strategic enterprise.

Foreseeing that many might be aghast at the size of the specified outlay, I wrote: “A billion dollars!? I can almost hear gasps of disbelief and the dismissive snorts of derision. They would be sorely inappropriate and unfounded–detached from any factual foundation. For a billion-dollar public diplomacy budget might sound wildly exorbitant—until you compare it with the sums laid out for other purposes–like the air force or Israel’s anti-missile system”—on which billions are spent without arousing any significant protest or astonishment.

Political Iron Dome: Where will the money come from?

However. as I pointed out: “[W]eapons systems, that can inflict [potentially] dissuasive costs, are of little value if political constraints prevent/limit their use.”

Somewhat acerbically, I added: “[E]ven the sleekest super-duper modern combat jets with the latest hubba-dubba avionics and awesome destructive capability will be of little value if diplomatic pressures prevent policy-makers from allowing them to take off.”

To underscore this point, I invoked the frustrated puzzlement of Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, who exclaimed exasperatedly: “What good is having Apache helicopter gunships or Merkava tanks to defend your citizens against attack if you can’t even use them because the world thinks you’re always the aggressor?”

Accordingly, I reiterated: “For Israel … it is a strategic imperative to devise and deploy an apparatus that will not only protect Israel from the debilitating effects of the unrelenting barrages of malevolent delegitimization, to which it is continuously subjected, but generate the legitimization for the effective use of its military might to deter and/or eliminate threats to the national security of Israel and personal safety of Israelis—whether these emanate from Iran, Gaza, Judea/Samaria, south Lebanon or elsewhere.”

Concerning the funding, I pointed out: “Finding the funding is hardly an insurmountable challenge–as the subsequent figures clearly demonstrate. The miserly amounts allotted in the past for a strategic diplomatic initiative do not reflect a scarcity of resources, but a grave lack of awareness and resolve.”

Thus, I argued: “[T]o amass $ 1billion for the historic imperative of defending the legitimacy of Jewish national sovereignty, the lofty ideals of Zionism and the practical policies to preserve them, would require less than 0.5 percent of GDP, or about 1 percent of the state budget. … All that is called for is shaving off infinitesimal amounts from other budget items to generate the necessary resources.”

Jeopardizing Jews

Despondently, I wrote: “One of the gravest consequences of Israel’s virtual abdication from the public-diplomacy front is the effect this is having on Jewish communities across the world, and on the personal safety of Jews in the Diaspora. Perversely, instead of being a protective shield for Jews, it is exposing them to dangers by making them a focus of anti-Israeli hostility because of their imputed affiliation with the mendaciously maligned Jewish state.”

I cited a 2013 Jerusalem Post editorial, which referred to a study that found “an astounding number of Europeans feel a tremendous amount of opprobrium for anything connected to Israel. … And since visibly identifiable Jews are connected with Israel,” this anti-Israel animosity translates into anti-Jewish animosity.

Describing the dismal reality for many Diaspora Jews, I lamented: “From Scandinavia through Scotland and Spain to South Africa, throughout France and Hungary and across campuses in North America, Jews are being besieged and harassed largely because Israel has failed to convey its eminently conveyable case to the world. It has allowed itself to be portrayed as a dangerous pariah—and any association with it carries a price.”

I singled out one particularly egregious example: “This was vividly illustrated by the fate of Sweden’s Jewry—particularly in the city of Malmo. … Consider the following excerpt from a report by Haaretz: ‘[An] Israel solidarity demonstration in central Malmo ended in violence as participants were pelted with eggs, bottles and firecrackers. … [Mayor Ilmar] Reepalu suggested Malmo’s Jews could avoid anti-Semitism by condemning Israeli policy.’ … The message [was] clear: Disavow Israel, or pay the price.”

Both denial and defeatism spawn dereliction

The Israeli leadership has been afflicted by both denial and defeatism, both of which spawn the ongoing diplomatic debacle. Clearly, no problem can be dealt with effectively if one either denies that it exists or despairs of resolving it.

A telling example of the disturbing denial displayed by Israeli government representatives was on stark display at the 2014 Jerusalem Post Conference, in which I participated, by none other than the man then in charge of Israeli diplomacy, former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Liberman was addressed by a young pro-Israel activist, who explained the difficulty that he and his Zionist campus colleagues were experiencing because of their support for Israel and opposition to BDS.

He asked Lieberman what his ministry could do to help activists like himself in their pro-Israel campaign. Israel’s top diplomat’s response was as crass and pigheaded as it was undiplomatic, prompting me to write: “Lieberman’s response was dismaying, and should be a cause of grave alarm for all those concerned with the long-term future of Israel and its vital ties with Jewish communities across the world. … Indeed, it encapsulated all the misperceptions and mismanagement that have characterized Israel’s diplomatic strategy.”

Disapproving, I added: “Dispensing with any semblance of civility, and any expression of encouragement of the voluntary efforts of young pro-Zionist activists in defense of Israel on hostile campuses, Lieberman brusquely conveyed … that endeavors like his were essentially unnecessary, and largely a waste of time.”

Reproachfully, I summed up the exchange: “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.”

Denial and defeatism (cont.)

Regarding the unfortunately oft-heard claim that there is little point bolstering efforts to convey Israel’s case to the world, I commented: “Defeatism and dereliction go hand in hand. After all, a necessary condition to win a battle is to participate in it. With regard to public diplomacy—this is something Israel has refrained from doing with any efficacy.”

Elsewhere, I reiterated: “Not infrequently, the claim is raised that ‘no amount of PR can counteract anti-Israel acrimony,’ and more vigorous public diplomacy effort is futile because of the visceral anti-Semitism (I prefer “Judeophobia”) that pervades much of the public in many of the countries in the West. As someone who grew up in a small mining town in South Africa, and as the only Jew on my high school rugby team, where Judeophobic sentiments were always bubbling close to the surface, I do not wish to belittle the impact of irrational anti-Jewish enmity that prevails in much of the world. However, I suggest that in many cases, rather than anti-Jewish sentiments fueling anti-Israel sentiments, it is Israel’s failure to convey its case effectively and cogently that facilitates the burgeoning propagation of hatred against the Jews we now witness.”

Typical of this uncalled-for resignation to diplomatic defeat was a recent editorial in The Times of Israel. Thus, after listing a number of factors that matter greatly in rejecting a two-state solution, TOI editor David Horovitz asserted that they don’t matter, and Israel should embrace the two-state solution anyway, dubbing it “a viable framework for long-term peace and security for ourselves and for the Palestinians.” I kid you not!

Indeed, is difficult to think of anything that, over the last three decades, has proved less viable and more detrimental to long-term peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Despairing, Horovitz bemoaned that “ … even when facing an enemy so patently cynical, amoral and intransigent as Hamas, militarily strong Israel will be held responsible for the loss of life on both sides of the conflict.”

Remedy requires resolve, resources and resourcefulness

Such dour defeatism is misplaced and misleading. Indeed, the claim that because of the prevalence of ingrained anti-Semitism in the world, “no amount of PR can counteract anti-Israeli acrimony … is a canard that must be summarily dismissed.” For it is a claim that is only valid if one believes the truth can never vanquish falsehood, that malice and misrepresentation will always prevail over morality and scruples.

Moreover, as I have repeatedly maintained, there is a remedy. However, “It is a remedy that requires resolve, resources and resourcefulness. The failure of Israeli leadership to mobilize these elements comprises a grave dereliction of duty, bordering on the betrayal of Israelis and of Jews in the Diaspora.”

As I have underscored in the past, it is a remedy in which, the “Palestinian-Arab collective must be considered an implacable enemy—not a prospective peace partner … and it must be treated as such. It is a remedy that must channel resources and effort: To aggressively undermine, discredit, and ultimately, delegitimize the Palestinian narrative.”

For both common sense and intellectual integrity dictate an unequivocal conclusion: “[T]he Palestinian narrative and the Zionist narrative are, for all intents and purposes, inconsistent with each other. In other words, they are mutually exclusive narratives.

Accordingly, enhancing the legitimacy of one necessarily implies undermining the legitimacy of the other. (For a more detailed elaboration of this matter see: “Deciphering delegitimization.”)

Thus, it follows that “[o]nce the legitimacy of a Palestinian state is conceded, the delegitimization of Israel is inevitable.”

Attempting to deny, circumvent or blur this stark truth is nothing but a dangerous delusion that will certainly culminate in the evermore upward spiraling of trauma and tragedy

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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