Archive for June, 2010

The Mea Culpa State

Monday, June 21st, 2010

By David Isaac

Shmuel Katz (Jabotinsky poster in background)

On Yom Kippur, Jews say an “Al Chet” prayer – a confession of sins – ten times during the course of the services. Israel has managed to turn the annual “Al Chet” into a daily devotional, becoming a serial apologizer.

It wasn’t always thus. Think of Chaim Herzog as he tore up the “Zionism is Racism” resolution at the UN, a thoroughly appropriate response. When exactly the watershed occurred, and Israel reverted to a formerly ghetto mentality, is open to debate. The Sabra and Shatilla massacre is as good a starting point as any. Then, Israel apologized for a slaughter it didn’t commit.

Shmuel Katz, who boldly asserted Israel’s rights to the Land of Israel, would have been angered by the recent spate of apologetics spewing forth from the Netanyahu government, from freezing settlements – really an apology for being in Judea and Samaria at all – to falling over itself to apologize for building in its own capital.

Add to the list Israel’s collapse in the face of international criticism following the flotilla crisis. On July 14, Israel set up a commission of inquiry which, according to Netanyahu, “will make it clear to the entire world that the State of Israel acts according to the law, transparently, and with full responsibility.”

Naturally, this investigation will not satisfy the world which has already made up its mind despite overwhelming evidence that the flotilla was a set-up, with a gang of hoods lying in wait for the woefully unprepared Israeli seal team. Two foreign observers will participate in the investigation, a new intrusion on Israel’s freedom to run its own affairs. This sop to the world has been predictably dismissed as not enough by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who says Israel’s investigation lacks international “credibility”.

Again in an effort to subdue international pressure, the government on Sunday announced it would lift much of its land blockade on goods crossing the Gaza border. Even material that can (and will) be put to a military purpose will be allowed. Of course, the pressure continues unabated with the White House saying it wants “to explore additional ways to improve the situation in Gaza.”

Shmuel, who was a disciple of the great Zionist leader Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky, would have likely trotted out an excellent piece by his mentor written in 1911 titled “Instead of Excessive Apology.”

“We (the Jews) constantly and very loudly apologize…. Instead of turning our backs to the accusers, as there is nothing to apologize for, and nobody to apologize to, we swear again and again that it is not our fault… Isn’t it long overdue to respond to all these and all future accusations, reproaches, suspicions, slanders and denunciations by simply folding our arms and loudly, clearly and calmly answer with the only argument that is understandable and accessible to this public: ‘Go to Hell’?”

“Who are we, to make excuses to them; who are they to interrogate us? What is the purpose of this mock trial over the entire people where the sentence is known in advance? Our habit of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more. …”

“We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody’s examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them and will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change and we do not want to.”

Words to live by.

Energy Game-Changer

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

By David Isaac

“The sense of ‘dependence’ on the United States has time and again sapped the will of Israeli leaders and dictated to them a retreat from positions long and sincerely held, an abandonment of tested national, and rational, axioms basic to Israel’s security,” wrote Shmuel Katz in “Purse String Tangles” (November 12, 1982).

Shmuel often wrote about the pernicious effects of Israel’s sense of dependence on the United States. He would have been delighted to hear about the recent natural gas discoveries off Israel’s coast, which are poised to make Israel energy independent.

Last month, an enormous natural gas field aptly named ‘Leviathan’ was discovered off the coast of Israel by an energy consortium led by an Israeli billionaire. The field contains an estimated 15 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The find follows closely the discovery of another field named ‘Tamar,’ one estimated at 8.4 trillion cubic feet. Uzi Landau, Minister of National Infrastructure said that field alone could “supply all our needs for the next 50 to 70 years.”

But it’s the Leviathan field, 6.5 times the size of Tel Aviv and double the size of the Tamar prospect, that has everyone talking and will position Israel as a gas exporter.

The sea gave Israel a great deal of trouble recently in the form of the Turkish-sponsored flotilla. Happily, the sea is making up for it. Until now, Israel was facing a looming energy crisis as its fast-growing population was putting pressure on its supply. Israel’s options were limited, with perhaps the best being a joint project to construct a subsea pipeline with Turkey. Chances for that sunk after the flotilla incident.

As Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, explains in a recent column, “This discovery may provide Israel with security in terms of its supply of electricity, turn it into an important natural gas exporter and provide a shot in the arm of some $300 billion over the life of the field – one-and-a-half times the national GDP – to the Israeli economy, already one of the most resilient in the world.”

Luft suggests that Israel could create an energy corridor linking Israel to the Indian sub-continent. “Ironically, the biggest casualty of such an energy corridor will be none other than Turkey, which now enjoys an unchallenged status as an energy bridge between East and West. Energy transit fees are an important source of income to the Turkish economy,” Luft writes.

This would have been music to Shmuel’s ears.

Fighting U.S. Pressure

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

By David Isaac

In his Jerusalem Post column “Surrendering to Pressure” (April 11, 1986), Shmuel Katz wrote: “Surrender on vital issues to pressure – or the fear of pressure – has been a central feature in the behaviour of Israeli governments, from Labour to Likud. The examples could fill a bulky doctorate thesis; and each surrender has been followed by the unabashed pretence that nothing important had been sacrificed.”

Shmuel Katz frequently observed that Israel’s leaders often showed themselves to be unworthy of the people they led, who were far more resilient in character. Unfortunately, two events last month – one large, one small – demonstrate that Israel’s leadership still hasn’t found its backbone.

In both cases, Israel’s government did the right thing at the start, only to buckle as pressure was brought to bear. The first example is Noam Chomsky. Israel quite rightly prevented this moral invertebrate from entering via Jordan.

As Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor document in their book, The Jewish Divide Over Israel, “The central theme of Chomsky’s anti-Zionist propaganda – the idee fixe that underlies all his books, articles, speeches, and interviews on the subject – is that the Jewish State must cease to exist.” Yet, Israel back-tracked the very next day, calling the decision to stop Chomsky an error.

The second example regards the far more serious flotilla. When Israel’s raid to stop a fleet of ships from running its Gaza blockade went awry, Israeli spokesmen defended Israel’s actions as necessary, well within its rights and in keeping with international law. Prime Minister Netanyahu, during his press conference, came up with the memorable sound-bite, “This was no love boat.”

It appeared that Israel, despite the mounting pressure – or more accurately, the unhinged and madly disproportionate reaction of the world – would hold firm. It took less than a week for the international pummeling to soften Israel up, as the Wall Street Journal revealed in its front page headline “Israel Explores Easing Its Blockade of Gaza” on June 4th, a mere four days after the event.

The Wall Street Journal article explained that under mounting pressure, and with news that a dual Turkish-American citizen was killed, Israeli officials were reviewing their Gaza policy and would look for ways to make it easier for humanitarian goods to enter Gaza.* Israel is also considering allowing foreign observers to sit in on its investigation panel. From the article, one is left with the impression that a big factor in Israel’s change was U.S. pressure.

“Protecting the welfare of American citizens is a fundamental governmental responsibility and one that we take very seriously,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying. Never mind that the American citizen in question left the U.S. for Turkey when he was two-years-old and was probably as culturally American as a piece of baklava.

What would Shmuel say? One of the refreshing things about Shmuel’s writings is that he did more than just analyze a situation – he nearly always recommended a course of action. Given the dangerous penchant of this administration to pressure Israel, he likely would have offered the same prescription he did in “Surrendering to Pressure,” in which he called for the American Jewish community to put pressure on the U.S. government to ease up on the Jewish State.

Weakness of character in the Israeli government increases the responsibility of the American Jewish community to be supportive of Israel. Administration pressures can be countered. There is a tremendous body of support for Israel in the American political world. It stems from the perception that the U.S. and Israel share not only common values, but also common interests. …

Surely the role of the U.S. Jewish leaders is clearly indicated. … They must take direct issue with the administration on the subject of the bullying of Israel. They must assert their refusal to have their intelligence insulted, and to have their hands tied…

This demands a change in their policy – of pretending once Israel has given in, that “if Israel agrees, who are we to interfere?” If they recognize an obligation to stand up for the security of Israel, they should protest not only against the arms deal but also against Washington’s policy of “twisting Israel’s arm” to acquiesce in measures inimical to its security.

Such a bold move will also add heart to Israel’s political friends; and give direction to an all-too-often bewildered Jewish community.

That “administration pressures can be countered” has already been proven true with this administration. Jewish congressmen, feeling the heat from their constituents, recently sent a letter to the administration to ease up on its criticism of Israel, which led to a meeting with the president.

This pressure needs to be applied doubly by American Jewish organizations, whose responsibility is the Jewish community as a whole. This administration must be made to understand that its misguided Mideast policy is not only inimical to U.S. interests, but risks losing large Jewish financial and electoral support.

* Not only do these goods maintain Hamas in power, but Hamas is already getting all the aid it wants. The Gaza Strip is flooded with merchandise. As Jonathan D. Halevi reports, “Given the abundance of supply, the price of diesel fuel and gasoline, delivered to Gaza through pipes from Egypt, is half that of the price in Israel.”

How To Win The Information War

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

By David Isaac

Monday’s botched operation against the six-ship “aid” flotilla sent under Turkish auspices has become a public relations nightmare for Israel with the usual suspects coming together to condemn her for what one Associated Press headline terms a “bloody Israeli raid.”

The soldiers weren’t prepared for the violent greeting they received as they boarded one of the ships. Armed with paintball guns, they rappelled from the helicopter above to be greeted by “peace activists” on the deck, who beat them with metal bars, threw their commander to the deck below and fired on them. The Israeli commandos, slow on the uptake that these “peace activists” were nothing of the kind, yelled at one another not to shoot their sidearms – the only real weapons they had.

The Israeli commander, who was thrown down to the lower deck said from his hospital bed, “We thought we’d encounter passive resistance, perhaps verbal resistance – we didn’t expect this. Everyone wanted to kill us. We encountered terrorists who wanted to kill us and we did everything we could to prevent unnecessary injury.”

Israeli commandos sitting dazed on a deck spitting blood, not knowing what hit them, is a terrible image, but one that captures all too acutely the cluelessness of Israel’s leadership, and what Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick calls “a cognitive failure of our leaders to understand the nature of the war being waged against us.”

That war, as Shmuel Katz repeatedly pointed out, is an “incessant propaganda campaign being waged throughout the world against Israel… This propaganda is a powerful auxiliary to the aim of the physical elimination of Israel. It provides the infrastructure of justification in the mind of a brain-washed public for the launching of a future war to achieve that unchanging annihilatory purpose.”

The flotilla episode is further evidence, if such was needed, that Israel’s enemies have had the informational field of battle to themselves. Former Azure editor, David Hazony notes that the office of PA spokesman Saab Erekat had sent out a press release prepared well in advance, that activists on the boat were live streaming the event and even Tweeting on Twitter. The Israeli government was, Hazony observes, “wildly outmaneuvered by the Palestinian media commandos.”

How can we win the information war? Shmuel would urge nothing less than the creation of a Ministry of Information, one formidable enough – second only to the Department of Defense in size – to provide Israel the wherewithal to “cope with the gigantic challenge posed by the Arab and pro-Arab anti-Israel and anti-Semitic worldwide propaganda onslaught.”

Menachem Begin promised Shmuel that he would lead such a ministry. Though Begin reneged on that promise, Shmuel never stopped beating the drums for its necessity. “I had prepared a detailed plan for the structures and operation of such a ministry,” Shmuel wrote. “One of them predicated a high measure of cooperation, at predicated levels, with the Jewish organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere. Another element of the plan was its low cost despite its projected wide field of activity.”

Bloggers and columnists, like Caroline Glick, David Hazony and others, have focused on Israel’s informational failures in this latest debacle. Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Information and Diaspora Affairs – a ministry without a meaningful budget and hardly the kind Shmuel envisioned – has called for an improvement of “hasbara” communications between Israel and Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

That the problem is being discussed is promising. Unfortunately, such calls for action have been going on for a long time. Yet, there has been no change in the situation. What Shmuel wrote in his article, “Countering Propaganda” (Sept. 26, 1984) proves that this is a decades-long failure.

SOON THEREAFTER came the war in Lebanon – accompanied by the horrendous campaign of lies and incitement waged against Israel by large sections of the Western media – most effectively on television. That campaign engendered a voluminous literature of refutation and protest against the media in the U.S.

The articles and pamphlets – and a video film demonstrating visually the distortion and mendacities in the coverage of the war by one of the television networks – undoubtedly did much to reassure those friends of Israel who had been shaken and confused during the war.

Most of this counteraction, however, was the fruit of independent initiative by concerned Americans, writers like Norman Podhoretz, Martin Peretz or Joshua Muravchik or (as in the case of the film) of a pro-Israel organization – Americans for a Safe Israel; and almost all of it naturally came only after the war was over.

Never were the inadequacies of Israel’s organs of response more rudely exposed then during the war in Lebanon. Never were the friends of Israel, confronted daily by the vicious fabrications of journalists “on the spot,” rendered so helpless by the absence of ammunition for instant rebuttal.

Last year, at the annual “Dialogue” in Jerusalem, organized by the American Jewish Congress, a heartrending vision of that helplessness emerged from the description given by A.J.C. president, Howard Squadron, who was willy-nilly compelled to point to the glaring shortcomings of Israel’s information services. His colleague, Carl Spielvogel (a leading public relations expert in the U.S.) propounded the inescapable conclusion:

“I would urge the creation of a cabinet post dedicated exclusively to the communication and interpretation of Israeli policy. The appropriate minister would have to be supported by a staff of Israeli professionals, trained in the contemporary skills of communication. It is no longer enough to be right. You must explain why you are right.

“Almost everyone accepts the need for war colleges. Would it not make sense to have a similar college in Israel dedicated to training public affairs specialists who would develop what-if strategies and scenarios for a wide range of contingencies?”

Mr. Spielvogel thus touched on the crux of the problem – the evident failure of successive Israeli governments to grasp the simple theme: that Israel is confronted in the West not just by hostile criticism but by a many-faceted propaganda-war machine with long-range objectives, operating at every level of society.

Shmuel’s words, with little change, could have been written today. The failure is one of leadership and with each passing year it becomes harder to undo the damage wrought by the Arabs’ successful propaganda war. But Shmuel, who was an optimist, would say that even at this late date the tide can be turned. We have allies, Jewish organizations, an army of volunteers who would rush to Israel’s defense if they had the guidance, and most importantly, we have the truth.