Why Israel needs a strategy to shape the narrative

The west blunders because of its fantasy that the world is shaped in its own image

By Melanie Phillips

A fascinating BBC TV series has explored the way in which Britain’s former Labour prime ministers, Tony Blair and his successor Gordon Brown, revolutionised their party to create the election-winning machine of “New Labour.”

In a moment of painful clarity, Blair reflects on the devastating mistakes that were made in the 2003 war against Iraq, which he helped lead alongside US President George W. Bush to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Saddam’s removal ushered in years of sectarian carnage in Iraq. On the programme, Blair says that the biggest mistake was the failure to realise that toppling Iraq’s strongman would remove the one thing preventing warring tribes from trying to obliterate each other.

Far too late, Blair had come to understand that, while for the west ruthless power is anathema, in the Middle East it may be holding back something far worse.

From Baghdad to Jerusalem to Beijing and elsewhere, the west gets it wrong again and again.

Over Iran, the United States is making a lethal mistake. As the west’s most dangerous terrorist foe sprints ever faster towards achieving nuclear-weapons breakout capability, America appears not only unwilling to stop it but to be going out of its way to empower it.

Although sanctions against Iran are still formally in place, the Biden administration has stopped enforcing them and even provided billions of dollars in direct sanctions relief. Instead of being weakened, Iran is now well placed to wring further concessions out of a supine United States at the nuclear talks restarting next week in Vienna.

The Biden administration is positively gagging for any kind of deal. Yet whatever form this may take, it will inescapably revive former President Barack Obama’s disastrous policy of funding a regime that has been waging war against the west for more than four decades while it proceeds inescapably towards getting the bomb.

The principal reason for these catastrophic errors of judgment is the inability of the West to understand cultures other than its own. In the words of Dan Schueftan, chairman of the National Security Studies Centre at the University of Haifa, the west in general and America in particular have consistently failed to understand radicalism.

They assume that such extremism amounts merely to empty slogans and that fundamentally “rational” leaders will act “pragmatically” when they will “have something to lose”. This, he says, is also how they also misunderstood Adolf Hitler, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to name but a few.

“A similar ‘cultural blindness,’ ” he writes, “has consistently failed Americans when they tried to bring democracy to Iraq, pluralism to Libya, acceptance to the Muslim Brotherhood, women’s equality to Afghanistan and peace to Palestinians”.

One reason for this failure is the west’s monumental arrogance. Believing it is the centre of the universe, it is unable to grasp that other cultures may have a totally different mindset from its own.

It assumes instead that every other culture is also governed by rationality and self-interest. It assumes that there is no conflict that can’t be resolved by compromise, for which the parties must have their heads cracked together by the superior intellects of the west until they achieve it.

This attitude has governed the west’s lamentable interference in the Arab war against Israel. America, Britain and Europe implacably believe in the “two-state solution” of a Palestine state alongside Israel.

Yet this is a solution to the wrong problem. For the issue in this century-old war is not, as the west tells itself, the equitable distribution of land between two sides with a reasonable claim to that land. It is instead about the aim by the “Palestinian” side, which has no legal, historical or moral claim to the land, to destroy the claim by the Jewish people which is the only one grounded in legality and history.

The west continues to get this wrong because it cannot understand that at the core of Palestinian rejectionism lie antisemitism and Islamic extremism.

And the reason for that is the west’s inability to grasp that antisemitism isn’t just a form of racism but a psychotic derangement; and as an increasingly secular culture, the west doesn’t understand the grip that religious zealotry can have on the mind.

Britain, where the security service is all but overwhelmed by thousands of radicalised British Muslims, remains mystified by Islamist extremism. While vainly trying to “de-radicalise” such extremists, it persists in downplaying or explaining away the Islamist factor.

It doesn’t realise the key point — that those Muslims who turn themselves into human bombs believe they are doing God’s work and are therefore wholly resistant to reason.

In similar vein, western liberals fail to acknowledge that the Iranian regime is dominated by religious fanatics who are eager to provoke an apocalypse that they believe will bring the Shia messiah to earth.

Yet Israel, the country that could do so much to awaken the west to these errors, remains remarkably unwilling to do so even to help itself. Its enemies have succeeded in framing it as demonic in order to delegitimise and destroy it. They have done this through a six-decade strategy of seeding public discourse with lies and blood libels.

This has not only falsely reframed the Palestinian war of extermination against Israel as the oppression by Israel of the Palestinians; it has also toxified anyone who supports Israel as tainted by association.

In light of this, it is absolutely astounding that Israel still has no centralised communications strategy. Instead, different agencies feud with each other to put out largely unco-ordinated responses to the propaganda onslaught that has hijacked language and all but rewritten the Jews out of their own historic story.

Israel needs to develop a strategy that shapes the narrative rather than — as at present— trying to defend itself on ground chosen by its enemies. Rather than merely responding to the onslaught, it should be constantly placing essential but rarely stated truths into the public domain.

It should be pointing out, for example, that there is nothing illegal about its “settlements” which are underpinned by international law. It should be calling out western governments for misrepresenting the Geneva conventions in the false claim of “illegal occupation”.

It should constantly be driving home the fact that that the Jews are the only extant indigenous people of the land. It should be publicising the Palestinian Authority’s Nazi-style portrayal of the Jewish people as bloodsuckers controlling the world — and pointing out that this vile agenda is actively supported and promoted by supposed “anti-racists” in the west. And so on.

Yet Israel has no such pro-active strategy.

Understandably, it is preoccupied with the need to fight off the immediate threats to Israeli lives from genocidal enemies bristling with weapons on its borders and on its streets. It’s also frightened of not playing by the diplomatic rules and thus upsetting its friends in the west, however false they may be.

More fundamentally, it believes that trying to influence Britain or Europe, with their terrible histories of endemic antisemitism, is a useless endeavour.

This is a bad mistake. In Britain at least, many support the Palestinian narrative of lies simply because they haven’t the faintest idea of the truth. And that’s because Israel doesn’t provide it for them.

America and the west ignore the reality about Iran or the Palestinians or the Muslim Brotherhood because they take refuge in the fantasy that the world is shaped in their own image.

Israel is in the unique position of being both of the west and at the same time of the Middle East. It is therefore uniquely equipped to educate the west out of this dangerous fantasy. That it chooses not to do so is a tragic mistake, both for Israel itself and for the world.

November 26, 2021 | Comments »

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