Molad – or: what’s wrong with the Israeli left

In a post entitled “Confessions of a lapsed leftist,” I tried to explain more than a year ago why my lifelong allegiance to the left had begun to crumble. Of course, many Israelis who had supported “Peace Now” in the 1990s and who had hoped that the negotiations at Camp David and Taba would result in a peace agreement went through a similar experience in view of the fact that the Palestinians chose to respond to Israel’s offers with the long and bloody “Al Aqsa”-Intifada.

The historian Benny Morris has repeatedly described the unfortunate learning process that many of us went through, most recently last fall in a long interview with Ha’aretz. The problem is that Israel’s left – which represented the peace camp – has not been able or willing to go through the same learning process. As a result, there are lots of politically homeless people like me in Israel, and I think the dizzying proliferation of new parties over the past few years is at least in part a reflection of this widespread homelessness.

Personally, I can’t say that I find any of the new options attractive or politically convincing and sound, and it is perhaps for this reason that I felt particular frustration when I recently discovered that a new left-wing Israeli think tank that had been established a year ago is apparently resolved to continue the left’s head-in-the-sand-approach. The two posts I wrote about the new organization were first published in The Algemeiner and on my Jerusalem Post blog; they are cross-posted below with some minor changes.

Molad: The Embarrassing Debut of a New Israeli Think Tank

A recent report in Ha’aretz highlighted the first major study published by a new Israeli think tank that goes by the name of Molad. According to its website, Molad was established a year ago as “The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy” and one of its main goals is “to inject quality content into the Israeli public discourse.” Unfortunately, Molad’s first attempt to fulfill this mission is a dismal failure.

The just published study is entitled “Israeli Hasbara: Myths and Facts” and its main finding is that:

“Israel’s public diplomacy apparatus, contrary to its poor reputation, is well-coordinated and highly sophisticated. Israel’s diplomatic isolation, therefore, cannot be attributed to a mythic ‘hasbara problem’; it can only be a product of Israeli policy itself.”

This summary of the findings of the 60-page study already indicates one of the basic flaws of Molad’s debut work: the research focuses on Israel’s “hasbara” – which is meant to counter efforts to mobilize global public opinion in support of campaigns branding Israel as an illegitimate state guilty of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, brutal oppression and pretty much any other crime under the sun – but when it is time to draw conclusions from the research, there is suddenly a switch to a very different arena, even though it is utterly unrealistic to think that hasbara can do much about “Israel’s diplomatic isolation.”

Indeed, if this was a medical study, Molad is doing the equivalent of setting out to examine a flu medication and concluding that it was quite effective in combating flu, but then noting the persistence of cancer and suggesting that cancer was caused by different problems.

If such a completely nonsensical argument came from an unpaid blogger whose only qualification was an all-consuming fascination with Israeli hasbara, it would be pathetic enough. But the Molad study was done by Shivi Greenfield, a Research Fellow at Molad with a Ph.D. in Political Theory from Oxford University.

Perhaps Dr. Greenfield’s main problem is that he doesn’t know much about history. If he did, he would know that Israel’s diplomatic isolation has always been first and foremost due to the intransigent hostility of all the Arab and Muslim countries, which is amplified at the UN by groups like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the so-called Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Explaining the resulting Apartheid-style discrimination against the world’s only Jewish state and listing the relevant examples would fill a book; suffice it to note here that the UN has by and large done its best to prove that Abba Eban was right to quip that “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”

Over the decades, Israel has worked very hard to overcome its isolation at the UN, scoring some successes – most recently by joining the UNICEF Executive Board for 2013 – but without a doubt, there have been also failures.

The Molad study presumably tries to capitalize on recent concerns that Israel may be “loosing” Europe. These concerns were voiced when Palestinian efforts to be upgraded to the status of a UN nonmember state were overwhelmingly supported in the UN General Assembly. However, if Molad wants to argue that this outcome “can only be a product of Israeli policy,” the organization’s researchers would do well to read a related article by Jonathan Schanzer and Benjamin  Weinthal who explain the complex considerations – including domestic issues, EU-internal haggling about austerity measures, or the ambition to get a seat on the UN Security Council – that may have influenced the UN vote of some European governments.

But Molad obviously wants to drive home the simplistic message that no amount of Israeli hasbara will reconcile Europeans to the failure to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Unfortunately for Molad, the fact that this failure is indeed usually blamed on Israel is clear evidence that Israeli hasbara isn’t as fabulously effective as Molad would like us to believe.

A reality check shows that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas openly declared in May 2009 that the far-reaching offers made by Ehud Olmert in fall 2008 hadn’t been good enough and that he didn’t intend to negotiate with Binyamin Netanyahu, but instead preferred to “wait” until US pressure would lead to the collapse of the Netanyahu government. This is exactly what Abbas did – even when Netanyahu accepted an unprecedented 10-months settlement freeze and endorsed the establishment of a Palestinian state. In the meantime, Hamas continued to rain rockets on Israeli towns and villages near Gaza – and Europe continued to blame Israel for the lack of peace.

As far as Molad is concerned, this is apparently just as it should be – and in view of the fact that Molad describes itself as committed to a “progressive vision,” one could note that progressives everywhere tend to agree with reactionary Islamists and Jew-haters that Israel should not only be blamed for the lack of peace in the Middle East, but also for pretty much everything else that is wrong in the region.

Molad may be a new think tank, but its first study seems to suggest that it will offer the same old progressive pieties that have led so many Israelis to conclude that the far left is unable to deal with the reality of a Middle East that has so far preferred to respond with hostility and derision to Israel’s territorial withdrawals and offers for peace and win-win cooperation.

Even if we just consider developments since 2000, Molad’s argument that it “can only be a product of Israeli policy itself” if the world’s only Jewish state faces hostility and isolation is laughable. The latest efforts to revive the appalling “Zionism is racism”-mantra first gathered steam at the disgraceful Durban conference in September 2001 – barely a year after the Palestinians had decided to respond to far-reaching Israeli proposals for a Palestinian state with a murderous terror campaign. Similarly, after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the world was largely silent when the Palestinians decided that they would focus their energies and resources on making their territory into a launching pad for rockets. It was only when Israel belatedly moved to defend its citizens against the relentless rocket barrage from Gaza that the world took notice – and reacted by following the lead of the OIC that initiated the notorious Goldstone Report, which not only made a mockery of Israel’s right to defend itself but also insisted that Hamas-ruled Gaza was still occupied.

Moreover, if we accept that only “Israeli policy itself” is to be blamed when Israel is considered by so many around the world as a state beyond the pale, we surely have to assume that global support for the Palestinians is the reward for their conduct. The year that just ended provided an excellent example to test this notion: the 2012 Olympic Games in London marked the 40th anniversary of the massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorist during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. But while the Palestinian participation in the games got much enthusiastic media coverage, efforts to organize an official commemoration of the massacre were rejected, and it’s not hard to figure out why. As Jennifer Lipman put it:

“It seems clear that the IOC [International Olympic Committee] is worried about rocking the boat, angering Arab nations by honouring men who were killed by Palestinian terrorists. It’s afraid to take Israel’s side; it does not see it as a gamble worth the cost.”

Perhaps Molad’s think tankers believe that this kind of cost-benefit considerations could be easily changed by the right (read: far-left) Israeli policies – and they would have a point given the fact that there are quite a few progressives who think Israel shouldn’t exist. As it happens, this is a view that is widely shared by Muslims in the Middle East and beyond. Under the apt title “Muslims lament Israel’s existence,” the New York Times reported on a 2003 Pew survey, noting:

“at a time when the Israeli government has accepted the right of Palestinians to statehood, most Muslim populations surveyed believe by wide margins that the needs of Palestinians cannot be met so long as the state of Israel exists. […] The conviction that no way can be found for Israel and the Palestinians to coexist is strongest in Morocco (90 percent), followed by Jordan (85 percent), the Palestinian Authority (80 percent), Kuwait (72 percent), Lebanon (65 percent), Indonesia (58 percent) and Pakistan (57 percent).”

Another Pew survey from 2007 documented similar sentiments – which were apparently unaffected by Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

The progressives working in think tanks in Europe, Israel or elsewhere may prefer to ignore the implacable hatred for Jews and the Jewish state that is so widespread in the Middle East and the Muslim world. But it seems that most Israelis who have to do their thinking in their own spare time and rely on common sense instead of hyped research have rightly concluded that they can’t afford to ignore this hatred just to please an international community that has shown precious little concern when Israeli concessions are rewarded with terrorism and rocket barrages.

 

Recycling progressive pieties at Molad

In addition to the principal flaws of Molad’s embarrassing debut work, there is plenty of reason for further critical commentary, given that also other material on the center’s website indicates that Molad intends to recycle the same old progressive pieties that have led most of “Middle Israel” to conclude that the left has few answers for the challenges facing Israel in a region that is deeply hostile to the existence of the Jewish state.

Indeed, a survey sponsored by Molad in spring 2012 confirmed that “Israel’s left bloc has ceased to be politically relevant for substantial percentages of the Israeli public” because it is perceived “as alienated, weak on security, and unable to govern effectively.” A Ha’aretz report on the survey results put it even more starkly, noting that the Israeli public viewed the left “as being non-serious, irresponsible, not credible, elitist, alienated and devoid of realistic solutions to Israel’s security problems.”

Molad’s first major study will do absolutely nothing to change this negative image of the left. On the basis of deeply flawed research, the study concludes that Israel operates a formidable and effective hasbara apparatus and that the country’s negative global image could therefore only be blamed on Israeli policies. Predictably, this completely unsupported conclusion proved quite popular among the “Zionism-is-racism”-crowd, who seemed particularly pleased by an illustration of the global reach of “All the propagandists” that accompanied a Ha’aretz report on the study.

Haaretz illustration Molad

Screenshot of Ha’aretz illustration of Molad hasbara study. The dog-whistle message is arguably that Israel is real big when it comes to controlling information.

But by now, Ha’aretz has a report on a study by Tomer Simon of Ben Gurion University whose research indicates that during the recent fighting, Hamas “won” against the IDF on Twitter. Unfortunately, this is a more realistic assessment than Molad’s myth of Israel’s all-powerful hasbara, because just like in the UN, the playing field is also tilted against Israel when it comes to social media: even though the tiny Jewish state thankfully has many dedicated supporters, its detractors and enemies can easily marshal far greater numbers and resources.

It is indeed rather ironic that Molad’s study on Israel’s supposedly formidable hasbara operation is entitled “Myths and Facts.” One of the central myths propagated by the study is reflected in the quote that Molad offers at the very end of the conclusion. As a kind of triumphant exclamation mark, the study cites a statement by Matthew Gould, the British Ambassador to Israel, who is described as “a true friend of Israel:”

“Anyone who cares about Israel’s standing in the world should be concerned about the erosion of popular support. The problem is not hasbara. The British public may not be experts but they are not stupid and they see a stream of announcement about new building in settlements, they read stories about what’s going on in the West Bank and Gaza, they read about the restrictions in Gaza. The substance of what’s going on is really what’s driving this.”

These remarks are from an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 in early August 2012, and back then, both I and others pointed out that given the well-documented bias against Israel in the British media, Ambassador Gould was on very shaky ground with his claim that the British public was well informed about the “substance of what’s going on.”

By now, the view expressed by Gould – and propagated by Molad – is further undermined by the fact that recently, some influential voices have been willing to highlight the deeply flawed conventional wisdom that tends to dominate the media coverage and discourse about Israel’s policies.

One relevant example is a recent Washington Post editorial that objected to “Overheated rhetoric on Israeli settlements.” The editorial argued that the constant international chorus condemning any Israeli announcement on settlement planning or construction was “counterproductive because it reinforces two mistaken but widely held notions: that the settlements are the principal obstacle to a deal and that further construction will make a Palestinian state impossible.”

In the context of Molad’s claim that “Israel’s diplomatic isolation…can only be a product of Israeli policy itself,” it is also interesting to note that the Washington Post editorial emphasized that “appropriate” criticism of Israel’s settlement policies would be based on similar considerations as criticism of the recent unilateral Palestinian initiative to seek recognition as a state in the UN General Assembly. By contrast, Molad seems to believe that things are just as they should be when Israel suffers “diplomatic isolation” for its settlement policies while the Palestinians enjoy overwhelming international support when they take unilateral steps that can only complicate a negotiated peace agreement.

There is plainly little doubt that Molad is among those who cherish the “two mistaken but widely held notions” that the Washington Post editorial sets out to correct.

Another example that tackles some of the fundamentally mistaken but widely held notions that are so popular among progressives like Molad’s think tankers is a recent essay by Walter Russell Mead. Under the title “The Key to Peace: Selling The Two State Solution in Palestine,” Mead notes:

“Many people want to embrace the happy fantasy that the Palestinians are ready today to make peace if those nasty Israelis would just stop provoking them by building new settlements, and that if we in the West press Israel enough on the settlement question, peace will quickly come. […]

In our view, the real reason the peace process hasn’t succeeded in producing real peace is not that Israeli settlements keep Palestinians away from the table.

The real problem is exactly what it has been for sixty years: deeply rooted Palestinian opposition to a two-state solution. While many Palestinians are ready to accept that solution, many of those see it as only a temporary step on the road to a single, Palestinian state, and a very large group of Palestinians stands with the Hamas leadership in rejecting the legitimacy of Israel on any terms.”

But just like many progressives, Molad apparently believes that Palestinian rejectionism should be politely ignored; similarly, Molad seems convinced that the fact that the Hamas leadership categorically rejects Israel’s legitimacy shouldn’t prevent us from searching frantically – and of course successfully – for all sorts of signs of moderation and pragmatism. After all, compared to the frightening fanaticism and ideological rigidity of anyone right-of-center in Israel (or the US!), Hamas is obviously a very “complex” movement that shouldn’t be judged hastily on the basis of countless declarations and actions glorifying Jew-hatred and jihadi terrorism as religiously mandated principles…

Unfortunately it seems clear that as far as Molad is concerned, Israel fully deserves “diplomatic isolation” at the UN, while a Palestine that is in part ruled by a group that proudly celebrates every terrorist act and every war crime it manages to commit deserves overwhelming support for its bid to be recognized by the UN as a state.

One can only conclude that it is evidence of the common sense of mainstream Israelis if a left with these views is regarded as “non-serious, irresponsible, not credible, elitist, alienated and devoid of realistic solutions to Israel’s security problems.”

 

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