In our last blog we discussed Israel’s abject failure in the realm of public diplomacy – dismal to the point of Israeli leaders stumping for President Barack Obama in a recent campaign video.
The information war was of paramount concern to Shmuel, who always considered himself “an information man,” and who had hoped to run Israel’s first Ministry of Information, a post promised to him, (but not given) by Menachem Begin.
It’s difficult to fathom Israel’s failure in this area. As Dr. Martin Sherman points out in “Comprehending the Incomprehensible,” (The Jerusalem Post, Jan. 13, 2012) Israel typically finds the resources it needs to ward off threats, whether investing in anti-missile defense or bunker buster bombs. But Israel can’t seem to do what’s needed to counter Arab propaganda. That, as the title of his piece says, is incomprehensible.
Dr. Sherman makes a strong case that at the heart of the problem is Israel’s elite, who have “the ability and the motivation to impose on the elected politicians – no matter what their electoral platform – an agenda that reflects their own unequivocally ‘PC’ (Palestinian-compliant) perspective on the conflict.”
Before Israel can deal with its informational shortcomings, he argues, it first needs to deal with this elite. “The remedy does not entail changing the elected political leadership, as two decades of disappointment from ostensibly hawkish candidates has depressingly demonstrated. Instead it involves fundamentally transforming the elite structure of Israel’s civil society and the discourse it generates,” he writes.
The creation of a counter-elite is no small feat, especially in Israel. Twenty years ago, this writer remembers Yoram Hazony, founder of the Shalem Center, saying in a lecture, ‘You think your Left is bad. Compared to Israel’s, America’s Left are pikers.’ Conservatives in the U.S. complain about the slanted mainstream media, anti-American professors at universities, and activist judges, but they pale in comparison to the virtual monopoly Israel’s Left enjoys in the state’s academic institutions, media and legal establishment.
Part of the reason is that the Left gained early success in the Zionist movement and had ample time to seal the doors to those who thought differently.
As Shmuel writes in “Lone Wolf: A Biography of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky,” by 1931, the Labor movement enjoyed “almost complete control of the Zionist economy and its near monopoly in job distribution and in Labor immigration…”
Labor used its power to good effect. At the Seventeenth Zionist Congress, for example, the Labor faction prevented the adoption of the Revisionist platform. As Shmuel writes in “Lone Wolf,” things were looking up for Labor’s opponents:
The results of the elections to the Seventeenth Zionist Congress were hailed as a great success for the Revisionists: the party jumped from 21 seats in the 1925 Congress … to 52 delegates (out of 254) … in 1931. What was no less significant potentially: the central ideas of Revisionism seemed to predominate throughout the Zionist movement.
When it appeared that Jabotinsky’s proposal defining Zionism’s aim as a Jewish majority “within the historic boundaries of Palestine” would be adopted, Labor resorted to dirty tricks. A telegram appeared, sent ostensibly from the Vaad Leumi, the Jewish National Council in Palestine, urging a cautious formulation of the Zionist aim. The cable was phony, but it had its desired effect. As Shmuel writes:
The gimmick contained in the cable was, of course, the use of the name of the Va’ad Leumi – designed to create a sense of urgency which, of course, every telegram creates, and of authoritativeness – to induce panic among uninformed people.
Labor then successfully tabled Jabotinsky’s proposal and would not let the Revisionists speak. In a move that has become part of Zionist lore, Jabotinsky stood on a chair, tore up his delegate’s card and shouted, “This is not a Zionist Congress any longer!”
There are lessons from these Revisionist efforts today, namely, how difficult it would be to take over existing institutions already run by the Left. They’re on the lookout for such attempts, as they’ve used the methods themselves.
In the U.S., for instance, radical Jewish groups have been very successful at infiltrating Jewish communal organizations. Dr. Rael Jean Isaac, in her monograph “The New anti-Jewish Agenda,” (AFSI, 1987) describes how the left wing group New Jewish Agenda “targeted Jewish community relations councils, seeking both to become part of local federations and to influence the policies taken at the annual general assemblies of these councils.”
Never mind left wing. In Israel, it’s difficult to take over rightwing groups. Rush Limbaugh, in an interview with Fox News host Greta van Susteren, pointed out that the Republican Party is not really conservative. The same can be said of Israel’s nationalist Likud Party – it’s not really nationalist.
For instance, it was the Likud Party that shut down radio station Arutz Sheva. Arutz Sheva was a valiant attempt at creating an alternative to Israel’s Left-dominated media. The station broadcast from a boat offshore for 14 years and reached one million listeners daily. In 2003, the boat was raided and shut down. Arutz Sheva now operates solely as an Internet site. In the final analysis, it was not the Left that shut down Arutz Sheva, (though it was instrumental) but Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who wanted to silence opposition to his plan to evacuate the Jews of Gush Katif.
This sort of counterproductive behavior goes way back. HaYom was a newspaper of the Gahal Party which presented a rare right wing perspective in Israel. Menachem Begin chose to close the money-losing newspaper down, deciding the party had him to communicate its ideas and so a newspaper wasn’t really needed.
Moshe Feiglin, leader of the Manhigut Yehudit, “Jewish Leadership,” faction of the Likud, and a religious nationalist, attempted to take over the Likud Party from within. He appeared to enjoy some success. On December 10, 2008 he was voted to the 20th place in the Likud primaries, ensuring him a seat in the next Knesset. The next day, he was unceremoniously demoted to the 36th spot. Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu was responsible for this outrageously undemocratic move.
Over the years, Shmuel chronicled Likud’s depressing slide. In “The Chimera of Coordination” (The Jerusalem Post, Dec. 22, 1978) he wrote:
The Likud, which promised the people a new, imaginative and sophisticated foreign policy and information service; which would repair the grievous errors of its predecessors; which was so conscious of the need for speed; and which promised to mobilize the best elements in the U.S. for the difficult task of creating a barrier against the application of the pro-Arab policies rampant in Washington — the Likud did not, on taking power, even make a start on fulfilling its undertakings.
On the contrary the government rushed off in the opposite direction, without recourse either to caution or to commonsense, or to the lessons of experience, in its effort to outdo the [Labor] Alignment.
In “Loves that Labour Lost” (The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 15, 1982), Shmuel wrote:
Since the Likud came to power, the momentum of the hostile campaign [of anti-Israel propaganda] has continued to increase. The Likud, like Labour, has had neither the wit nor the wisdom to assess its magnitude, nor to build up a machine adequate to resist its inroads in the world community.
In November, 2004, on the day the Knesset voted for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan, Shmuel said in an interview with the Hebrew daily Makor Rishon,
Today, the Likud has come to the end of its road. … Somebody should climb the stairs in ‘Metzudat Ze’ev’ [Likud headquarters] and remove the picture of the Founding Father. To remove it as well from all the offices of the ministers and the office of the prime minister. … From now on, there is no tie whatsoever between Ze’ev Jabotinsky and what Arik made from the Likud.
What this suggests is that those who would start an Israeli counter-elite face an uphill battle, to say the least. They’ll be taking on not just the Left but the so-called Right. Shmuel, however, would approve. As he said in the same Makor Rishon interview:
We need to start everything anew. To prepare the hearts, to renew and be renewed in the doctrine of the head of Betar, to open the youth clubs, to reach the universities, to build a healthy, continuing generation for Jabo. …
I hope that somebody will still one of these days raise the flag of Jabotinsky. Somebody will definitely rise, I believe.