Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s made bashing Israel a spectator sport for Israel haters, raised some eyebrows recently when he blithely referred to Zionism as a “crime against humanity.” Secretary of State John Kerry issued a mild protest, saying, “We not only disagree with it. We found it objectionable” and that it made peace work more difficult.
Light as they were, Kerry’s commments were praiseworthy, according to author and commentator Shmuley Boteach, because they represent one of the few times a senior official has made any effort to counter Erdogan’s vile rhetoric at all.
Boteach’s larger point, however, is significant and worth looking at more carefully. The lack of response from Israel over many years of blistering verbal attacks from its enemies and their supporters has played a key role in Israel’s low status today.
It is my strong opinion that overlooking incendiary rhetoric is exactly what led to the global deligitimization of Israel from which we suffer so severely today. The Jewish State is trapped not only in a war of bombs and missiles but primarily in a war of verbs and words. Its major defenses can no longer include just tanks and helicopter gunships but eloquence, articulateness, and factual fluency.
How did Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy, which respects the rights of women, gays, and everyone in-between, become one of the most maligned and hated nations on earth? How is it possible that Israel retains, in a global poll of citizens of 22 countries conducted by Globescan, the same negative rating as North Korea (50) and is seen more negatively then even Iran, which stones women to death?
The answer is that Israel has paid lip service to the verbal assault against its reputation for decades. Israeli hasbarah has been a monumental failure not because Israel cannot enunciate but because it failed to understand the importance of words. While Israel was developing advanced radar and the Iron Dome defensive shield, the Arabs were unleashing a global army of articulate spokespeople on campuses, the BBC, and CNN. Arab leaders who were Israel’s ostensive allies were criticizing Israel daily at the UN. It did not take long before Israel – defenseless and silent – became one of the great pariah nations of the world.
And the only way to combat now and reverse the growing deligitimization it is to create an army of words warriors who employ the power of spoken truth to champion Israel’s cause.
There is never a cease-fire in the battle for hearts and minds. Just look at activities taking place on campuses in the name of Israel Apartheid Week and the constant onslaught from the BDS Movement. We must speak up for Israel with the same tenacity Israel’s enemies have in delegitimizing it.