As the storm of blood libels continues apace and Israel’s detractors shriek their usual blizzard of clichés about civilian casualties, settler-colonialism, apartheid and so on, many of us are yet again forced to wonder why Israel so rarely gets a fair hearing.
The problem is not a new one. For decades, the media, academia and the activist industry have adopted the most radical tropes of Palestinian ultra-nationalism and dressed them up as universalist humanitarianism. Against the relentless bias of this anti-Israel establishment, supporters of Israel often feel frustratingly helpless.
There is a tendency to blame Israel for this and lament that it is very bad at what is variously called hasbara, public diplomacy or just PR. It feels as if the Jewish state is constantly outfoxed by genius Palestinian propagandists. This prompts the question: Why is Israel so bad at making its case?
In fact, Israel isn’t all that bad at it. Certainly, it is better at it than its enemies. Generally speaking, Palestinian propaganda is terrible: crude, obvious, bloviating, blatantly dishonest and often straightforwardly racist and genocidal. Israel may have a PR problem, but its enemies are hardly media savants.
In fact, the reason Israel has a problem making its case is that its case is not permitted to be heard. Israel could come up with the most brilliant public relations campaign in history and it would still be ignored by the media, silenced on campus, drowned out by armies of bots and professional haters online, demonized by activists and NGOs, and ultimately consigned to the memory hole. The best lawyer in the world cannot defend his client if the judge tells him to shut up.
This is a structural and political problem. The anti-Israel establishment is fervently dedicated to the most extreme forms of progressivism and, thanks to the howling mobs of demented Hamas supporters who recently polluted the streets of America and Europe, we now know what this progressivism thinks of Israel and of the Jews in general. It should be no surprise, then, that the Palestinians need not improve their propaganda skills. The job is being done for them.
The establishment silences Israel and its supporters for obvious reasons. It knows very well that if the public knew the details of the Palestinians’ genocidal racism, their century-long legacy of unspeakable atrocities and Israel’s inherent geographic vulnerability, it might think Israel has something of a point. It is better to silence Israel and let people conclude that Israel is killing Palestinians for no reason at all.
This is connected to a much larger issue. For the most part, progressivism’s approach to any information that might cast doubt on its rectitude is to silence it. While there are noble exceptions, progressivism today operates very much like a cult that not only suppresses heresy but prevents its members from knowing that heresy even exists.
This is not new either. It is a totalitarian culture of intellectual paranoia that I remember from my childhood in a very progressive American suburb. When we were growing up, we did not just oppose conservatism, we could not understand how anyone could be conservative. The existence of a rival point of view was incomprehensible to us. The reason was that we had never heard a single conservative argument.
We were taught, for example, about the evils of McCarthyism, but not that Soviet intelligence had successfully infiltrated parts of the U.S. government during the 1930s and ’40s. Had we known this, we might have concluded that, whether or not Sen. Joseph McCarthy was a monster—and, in many ways, he was—the “Red Scare” had at least some basis in reality. Instead, as was intended, we saw McCarthyism as nothing more than a satanic force erupting out of America’s corrupted psyche.
Given this strategic imposition of silence, the most important question is how can Israel counter it. The answer, it seems to me, is invective. That is, Israel should start calling the anti-Israel establishment what it is: racist, chauvinist, pro-terrorist, corrupt, derelict, unprofessional, mendacious and nihilistic. In other words, attack the ambush.
There are two good reasons to think this might work: First, an establishment that has enjoyed near-total impunity for years is unused to losing it. It can handle critics so long as they show proper deference to its members’ power and rectitude. A critic who does not, however, throws them into paroxysms of fear and loathing in which they, almost without fail, make fools of themselves. This is fatal to any establishment. The halo effect can survive many things, but it cannot survive laughter.
Second, nongovernmental establishments have very particular neuroses. George Orwell once noted, “Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.” The reverse is true of a nongovernmental establishment. It does not care about physical force, because it can always fall back on government protection or proclamations of martyrdom. It very much does care about moral force, because an establishment’s power is predicated on the “noble lie” that it deserves that power. Usually, very few members of any given establishment have actually earned their positions, but it is essential to them to believe they have done so.
This is why the members of almost all establishments, of whatever political bias, tend to consider themselves something like a caste of saints composed of the finest and most moral people who have ever lived. We can put the comical aspects of this aside and simply note that saints don’t deal very well with being told that they are not particularly saintly. When this is pointed out to them in no uncertain terms, the effect is emotionally devastating, and the saints usually rush to mollify their accuser by actually doing their jobs with some degree of integrity.
It is not certain, of course, that any of this will work. What is certain is that Israel has put up with quite enough from these people. Reasonableness and respect have not worked, nor do the members of the anti-Israel establishment deserve them. Direct confrontation might at least shame them into acting with some measure of decency. If it does not, it will nonetheless leave them looking very silly. That, in itself, is a kind of victory.