Hirsh Goodman
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
January 5, 2012 - 1:00am

Israel’s legitimacy, over the past few years, has become the battle cry of Israel and its supporters. With no wars, suffering, mass immigration and other heart-wrenching situations to flesh donor dollars out of ever-tightening wallets, saving Israel from those who seek to delegitimize it has become the new cause; the new war.

The pre-occupation with delegitimization has been accelerated by the preponderance of ministries created to cater to the political needs of the current coalition, such as the Strategic Affairs Ministry, the Ministry for Information (Public Diplomacy) and several others, which have more staff than ideas, and budgets they need to justify.

For them delegitimization has fallen as manna from heaven. Here was no one’s turf and everyone’s turf, where the new strategically oriented ministries could claim a piece of the action without stepping on anyone’s toes and, at the same time, justify their existence.

Fighting those who seek to channel Israel into a parallel identity with apartheid South Africa with the goal of crippling it through isolation and sanctions is a national imperative. Israel is dependent on trade, allies, imports and support of the world’s democracies currently happy to be identified with Israel in the international arena. Those who proactively work to remove Israel from the family of nations, cast it as a pariah, and place next to North Korea on the axis of evil, want to achieve through manipulation and lies what the Iranians are threatening to do by force: Bring Israel to its knees and, ultimately, make it another short chapter in the tempestuous history of this region.

Their war has been immensely facilitated by the age of ever-developing new media, which make the opportunities for dissemination endless and responsibility for content nonexistent. The horizons of this battlefield are limitless and unlike Iran’s threats, which are bare knuckled, coarse and easily identifiable, delegitimization is smart, bloodless and, critically, impervious to deterrence. And whereas conventional war, even the most advanced versions of it, has defined dimensions – land, sea, air, cyberspace – here there is none. All the world’s a stage for this new type of warfare, and way beyond.

Obviously it is impossible to compare the damage to Israel physically from a military onslaught to one of words, laws and instruments of hatred being applied against Israel’s legitimacy, but the potential for damage, if the phenomenon is not clearly identified, understood and contained, is great.

This is smart, persistent warfare against Israel’s foreign relations, economy, alliances and image, which is amorphous despite its often pinpoint impact, as when senior Israeli officials could not travel to England, for example, and the boycotts and strikes of Israeli products and academics in several parts of the world.

The danger with delegitimization is that both the attacks and the responses to them are all over the place, from the countless NGOs that claim the subject to be theirs, the new ministries that have taken to the challenge like a bee to honey, the defense establishment and the Foreign Ministry, always mindful of their turf, and those abroad raising money in the name of dealing with the new demon.

There does not exist, however, to the best of my humble knowledge, any single responsible, authoritative and unified national body dealing with it, where the potential damage to Israel is assessed and its trends analyzed, where a doctrine and strategy is being worked on, where information is shared and the hundreds of smatterings on the subject are brought together in some cogent way.

The war to delegitimize Israel can only become more intense with time. The tools for this warfare are constantly improving, free, intellectually challenging and converge to serve a host of Israel’s enemies from anti-Semites to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and had better be clearly understood.

Israel has been very good at fighting its physical battles and its wars. It has managed to contain Iran in a serious way. The attacks against its legitimacy have until now been sporadic and non-coordinated. One of these days, however, someone smart is going to understand the dimensions and potential of this new weapon, and Israel would be very well advised to concentrate its efforts on being prepared. Smart threats require smart responses, and these cannot be found when everyone is dealing with the subject and no one seems to be cooperating.

Obviously the Prime Minister’s Office has to be the leader in this. It has the organizational capacity, the authority and the budget.

Israel has paid a terrible price for the lack of coordination between government agencies when facing threats in the past, among them in the public diplomacy realm during the Second Lebanon War and the second intifada. Here, despite the alarm bells and frenetic energy being expended on the issue, no coordinated preemptive effort seems to be in the works, and history seems to be in the process of repeating itself.

It truly is time to get smart.

The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book is The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, published by Public Affairs, New York, in the fall.


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