Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Barry Shaw: Hasbara. A Tale of Official Neglect



Those of us fighting against the tsunami of anti-Israel haters were no surprised to read the State Comptrollers Report accusing government ministries of gross negligence in the fight against anti-Israel activism.
The headlines of one Israeli media outlet, covering the State Comptroller’s report, called the government “dysfunctional” and “failing utterly” in its fight against BDS.
What has been glaringly absence has been the total lack of involvement in local diplomacy abroad not only by our ministries but also by our overseas embassies. Officials both at home and abroad have abandoned Israeli supporters with an arrogance that is hard to explain.
I cannot begin to list the limitless complaints I receive from supporters who have been turned away by Israeli embassy officials when they have asked for minimal assistance in organizing pro-Israel events and actions as part of their efforts to take on the anti-Israel groups in their local towns. I personally can vouch for the lack of concern by certain key embassy people in my attempts to set up special Israeli advocacy groups in certain countries. I wasn’t asking for money, simply for them to arrange contacts and simple logistical help. Israeli hasbara at local level it seems is not their task, at least not with individuals or small local groups, despite the fact that these are the people who are our most avid and enthusiastic activists. 
Despite a newspaper headline in July 2015 that the Strategic Affairs and Information Ministry had been allocated one hundred million shekels to fight anti-Israel activism there is no clear action plan in place. Simply put, it is a case of throwing money at a problem but with no clear idea how to solve it.
With a lack of understanding what is happening abroad, it will be tempting for government ministries to take the easy road and form a coalition with the major Jewish organizations abroad including offering them funding. This may be a mistake for a number of reasons. 
Strengthening the ties between the Jewish state and the Diaspora is vital but, in certain countries, the major Jewish organizations that have been unable or unwilling to promote affirmative pro-Israel actions in times of Israel’s needs. Their role is to represent the domestic interests of their Jewish communities and not to act as agents or representatives of Israel.  It is their dereliction of standing up for Israel in times of crisis, even on a local level, that has led to the development of many grassroots groups who have taken to the streets to confront the anti-Israel protagonists when they have been demonstrating for Hamas, against Israel, or boycotting local stores selling Israeli products.  
Another reason it would also be wrong for the government to channel their actions abroad through national Jewish organizations is because, in many countries, the most affirmative action-minded groups have been Christian supporters of Israel. Two of many examples I can quote of brave pro-Israel advocacy have been set by Nigel Goodrich, a Scottish teacher and a Christian, who has built a coalition of twelve Scottish branches of Friends of Israel, and two Dutch girls, Brenda Aartsen and Sabine Sterk, who have voluntarily, and at no small cost and sacrifice to themselves, created Time to Stand With Israel. I spoke at one of their events which drew a large and enthusiastic Christian audience. They also led a group of both Christian and Jewish Israel supporters in a direct confrontation with BDS activists outside Amsterdam City Hall over the proposed cooperation plan between the cities of Amsterdam and Tel Aviv against which BDS was protesting. These two girls also organized a pro-Israel rally in Dam Square at the time of the 2014 Hamas terror assault on Israel. They are typical of the many Christians who rally unconditionally for Israel. 
It takes a network to defeat a network and our government really has to learn what is happening out there and use that knowledge with precision accuracy to support, particularly with funding, the NGOs and local groups who have the successful track records of achievements on behalf of Israel and not squander preciously short resources on heavy establishment organizations who have let our supporters down so badly and have been unwilling or unable to act for Israel when needed.
Our embassies must be manned by young enthusiastic diplomats trained and guided by our effective NGOs to assist the nimble local groups with material, logistical and budget needs as these are our first-line, rapid-response, teams in times of emergency. They know the territory and know the local enemy who are hyper-active in trying to defeat us. 
Readers will be amazed at the spectacular successes achieved by these local groups and NGOs. With greater help, these willing warriors can take the battle to our enemies and win many more victories because our cause is right and we have both the moral and legal rights on our side. 

Barry Shaw,
Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy, Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. Author of ‘BDS for IDIOTS’ and ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism.’