Israel's lost war
Published in: Jewish Chronicle
Everyone knows that Israel's public relations are terrible. Few, though, probably appreciate just how terrible they are.
Severing relations with the BBC was merely the latest example of Israel's maladroitness. Not, of course, that its fury was anything other than wholly justified. The unbalanced TV programme on Israel's weapons of mass destruction was merely the last straw. BBC coverage of Israel is consistently hostile, prejudiced, ignorant and unfair.
Even so, moving against the BBC was utterly counter-productive. This, however, is nothing new. Israel's consistent failure to put its case effectively, merely sounding defensive and ineffectual against hostile attack, perplexes many. This is not the fault of the press officers at the Israel embassy, who do the best they can. But they have to work against the background of Israel's strategic failure to grapple with the British public's now incendiary hostility to Israel.
You can hear it in the way Israeli spokesmen consistently fail to hear the real, unspoken question - 'Isn't Israel's very existence indefensible?' -- behind the questions they are asked by British interviewers. Apart from the occasional protest letter to newspapers, Israel's government expresses no high-profile outrage at the demonisation of Israel that is now routine in Britain.
It makes no attempt to educate the British about Israel's history by correcting their innumerable misapprehensions. The only Israeli writers who appear in British newspapers tend to be those who either themselves misrepresent their country's history or ignore it altogether.
A steady stream of attractive and high profile Palestinian thinkers regularly addresses MPs and peers. Israel provides virtually no-one, except the odd predictable politician.
After meeting a number of Israeli officials in the last few months, I find it hard to exaggerate both the depth of their incomprehension of British animosity and their inability to grasp that this needs to be taken seriously.
Of course, they know about the Guardian, Independent and the BBC. They therefore think the problem is limited to the political left. When told that conservative Middle Britain, no less, now believes that Israel is the world's true rogue state and the fundamental cause of world terror, the officials' jaws hit the floor.
But worse is the impression that some don't actually care. Since Israel will always stand alone, they say, and Britain and Europe will never come to its aid, why should it bother to tackle such attitudes?
Others appreciate that such a dismissal of British public opinion is desperately stupid. They understand that the vilification of Israel threatens its economic interests and its security. If its case is not effectively made in Britain, there is far less chance of forcing the EU to stop funding Palestinian terror and incitement; far less chance of reversing the gathering global consensus that Israel is a pariah state, a consensus which will eventually infect even America.
And the case Israel has to make is no less than for its very existence. Officials protest that this would cede to their enemies the intolerable idea that there are indeed questions to be asked over its existence, which would be asked of no other country. In theory, this is true enough; but it ignores the fact that what is feeding the virulent British hostility is the view, now openly expressed, that the creation of Israel was a terrible mistake.
The main reason for this is almost total ignorance by the British of Israel's history, a gap which has allowed propaganda, lies, libels and distortions to take deadly and virtually unchallenged hold.
But what hope is there when by all accounts the Israeli government - and particularly the foreign ministry - is such a hotbed of factional in-fighting, petty rivalries and vested interests that no coherent approach is possible? It is almost beyond belief that the government of a country fighting for its survival should so resemble amateur night at the Hendon Hippodrome.
The result is that it lurches from one desperate extreme to the other - from displaying arrogant indifference to its public image abroad, to suddenly slamming the door in the BBC's face in a fit of temper.
It is hard not to see in this the pathological damage that has been done to Israel's sense of itself: the profound weariness and disorientation from more than half a century of bombardment, the introversion arising from a permanent state of siege - and most lethal of all, the creeping demoralisation from the nagging fear that the vile things said about it may be right.
Such internal weakening is, of course, the strategic purpose of terrorism. This long, long Arab game that is being played, applauded by an ignorant and gullible world, is having the effect laid out decades back by Arab strategists, who saw how to destroy Israel through a pincer movement both from within and without. In Israel's lamentable public presentation, therefore, lie the seeds of terror's victory.