Israel is currently facing a formidable challenge – the latest (third) phase of the long-term strategy to obliterate the Jewish state’s existence.
Her enemies launched their project with conventional warfare (hard power), proceeded to the intifadas (terrorism), and – in light of the limited impact of these approaches – a global campaign of delegitimization (soft power). All three phases overlap and are synergistic.
Originally published as a collection of articles in Israel Affairs (volume 27, issue 21, 2021), editors Dana Barnett and Efraim Karsh have curated a long-overdue academic review of a relatively neglected phenomenon of the soft threats to Israel’s security. These include the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its associated tactics of demonization and lawfare.
Gelber sets the scene by describing Israel’s failed struggle to win the propaganda war following the 1967 victory. Two weeks after the war, prime minister Eshkol called a meeting to discuss Israel’s rapidly deteriorating position in world opinion. Director-General of the PM’s Office Yaakov Herzog noted in his diary that the event had been “a totally depressing get-together.” In the ensuing years, state-initiated hasbara efforts were equally dispiriting.
Kramer warns that BDS is at least as much of a problem for diaspora (particularly American) Jews as for Israel. US Jews are a key target of BDS as they are perceived as “over-represented” in American academic specialties that are downsizing. Many Jewish scholars now have to pass a litmus test of acceptability by denouncing Israel and approving of BDS. This is classic antisemitic scapegoating in the guise of human rights.
In a dispassionate but devastating dissection, Steinberg exposes the anti-Israeli agenda of Human Rights Watch with its eye-watering $92 million annual budget. This highly influential NGO, led by Kenneth Roth since 1993, regularly hurls bile-laden accusations against Israel at the expense of far more egregious human rights violators in the MENA region and elsewhere. Roth denies accusations of antisemitism, yet his behavior suggests otherwise, such as his deployment of the old antisemitic eye for an eye trope in condemning Israeli actions.
Friesel’s chapter on Jewish (including Israeli) anti-Israelism is especially disturbing. It demonstrates the extent to which traditional Christian-based Western Jew-hatred has been internalized by many Jewish intellectuals. These self-proclaimed “progressives” appear to have lost the capacity for critical, evidence-based analysis of Zionist history and lack insight into the way their own insecurities are exploited by non-Jewish antisemites. Their negative Jewish identity borders on a collective psychopathology that is neither classically antisemitic nor adequately characterized as Jewish self-hatred.
In three chapters that cluster conveniently together, Gilboa, Mandler and Lutmar, and Derri offer powerful critiques of the ruthless methods Israel’s detractors have employed to misappropriate the foundational values of key international agencies such as the United Nations (notably its Human Rights Council) and the International Criminal Court in pursuit of their relentless and highly productive effort to vilify Israel.
Yahel – in describing the exploitation of Bedouin grievances by a variety of NGOs – reveals the multifaceted drive to portray Israel as a brutal settler apartheid state that purposely discriminates against indigenous residents and systematically violates international law. This has proved so useful to anti-Israel activists that one suspects that the Bedouin issue (now rebranded as Palestinian), like that of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, has been deliberately sustained as a running sore through the rejection of successive attempts by the Israeli government to find an equitable solution.
Stellman’s overview of the various strands of modern antisemitism – far Left, far Right, Islamist – describes how strange bedfellows bury their differences to prioritize their hostility to Jewish sovereignty. He proposes a counter strategy, namely, to turn the age-old accusation of a global Jewish conspiracy on its head by highlighting the synergy and collaboration that disparate groups of antisemitic anti-Zionists pursue in their common goal of defeating Israel through demonization.
In the penultimate chapter, Torpor suggests that those waging this covert war on Israel are attempting to tighten the noose, not only around Israel, but the Jewish world as a whole. The inevitable convergence of BDS with delegitimization and antisemitism completes the circle of hostility to the Zionist roots of the Jewish state at precisely the point at which it began: unbridled hatred of Jews both individually and collectively. Torpor calls for the dark underbelly of the BDS movement to be exposed and for further research into the transformation of legitimate criticism of Israel into antisemitism.
Atlan rounds off proceedings by tracing the history of the modern BDS phenomenon to Russian and then Soviet political warfare that laid the ideological groundwork for much subsequent anti-Israeli propaganda, particularly from the political Left, which is so familiar to us today.
This book should be compulsory reading for every Israeli politician and official with a remit for Israel’s security. By mapping out in forensic detail a growing source of serious danger to the country, one that has been quietly incubating for many decades in the shadows, these authors are sounding the alarm loudly and urgently. Is anyone listening? ■
Soft Threats to National Security
Antisemitism, BDS, and the De-legitimization of Israel
Editors: Dana Barnett, Efraim Karsh
206 pages; $153.85