Israeli Right-wing Assault on Leftist NGOs Is 'Stab in the Back' Gambit

Just like the German generals of World War I, the politicians most responsible for Israel’s isolation are trying to scapegoat saboteurs at home.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The word hasata in Hebrew has two different spellings and two different meanings. Hasata with a tav, means incitement, while hasata with a tet, means diversion. Both senses are combined, however, in the Israeli right-wing’s relentless assault on foreign-funded, left-wing NGOs: They incite against these organizations and blame them for Israel’s growing international isolation, and by doing so they also divert attention away from their own clear-cut culpability.

Ask yourself which bears more responsibility for anti-Israel criticism and the increasing threat of boycott: 46 years of occupation of the Palestinians or the New Israel Fund? Incessant Jewish building in the territories or Adalah? Israel’s shrill, xenophobic, rabble-rousing and sometimes racist parliamentarians or the former Israeli Defense Force soldiers of Breaking the Silence? Price Tag settlers and African migrant baiters or some godforsaken non-profit that you’ve never heard of but which gets a few thousands dollars from the European Union every month?

And another query: Can it really be a coincidence that the same people who are leading the march to ostracize the NGOs and to legislate them out of existence are the chief champions of the settlements, the main purveyors of prejudice, the supreme spreaders of the bile and the hate and the “we can do no wrong” mentality that is corroding the core of Israel’s body politic? Is one not a consequence of the other?

“It’s not settlements, it’s not the settlements,” Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly assured the recent Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial in San Diego. As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned, Netanyahu is absolutely right: It is a much more complex and complicated affair than just the settlements. But as for the international mistrust of Israel and its steadfast plunge into pariah state status? One is tempted to say “It’s the settlements, stupid,” but for the fact that Netanyahu may be a lot of things, but stupid he’s not.

The settlements belie Netanyahu’s protestations of peace. They fly in the face of his supposed support for a two-state solution. They are viewed as physical evidence that pulls the rug out from whatever new gimmick Israeli hasbara comes up with, from "branding" to "rethinking" to "start-up nation." They portray Israel as a conniving country that is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community and is ruled by a government that contradicts its public statements by its own actions on the ground; “one in their mouth and one in their hearts,” as Rashi wrote of Joseph’s brothers.

Settlements, of course, didn’t start with Netanyahu. They grew under Labor just as they thrived under Likud. But they have steadfastly consumed Israel’s credit on the international goodwill market and it is Netanyahu’s bad luck that under his watch Israel is fast approaching a point of insolvency, as far as its international image and stature are concerned.

It would be one thing if the elected representatives of Jewish settlers and Israeli supremacists would bravely stand up before the public and say: These are our policies, this is what we believe in, and if Israel must pay a price for its principles, so be it.

But that would be political suicide, as they very well know: Most Israelis tolerate the settlements only because they have been led to believe that the price to be paid for their continued expansion is minimal, that they can have their cake and eat it too. Now that it is beginning to dawn on more and more Israelis that this may not be the case, however, the right-wingers are reacting with a two-pronged policy, aimed at convincing Israelis that: 1) the world, from President Obama downwards, is anti-Semitic at its core and 2) there is a treacherous cabal of foreign-financed saboteurs, aided and abetted by a disloyal press, that is secretly guiding this inherently Jew-hating world and sending it signals when and how to gang up on Israel.

It’s an old political gambit that’s been tried before. It is known as the “stab in the back” syndrome, and it’s most infamous modern manifestation was in the so-called “Dolchstosslegende” disseminated in the immediate aftermath of the First World War. This was the pretext used by German hero-generals Eric Ludendorff and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg to shift attention away from their own strategic miscalculations and mishandling of the German Army in 1918 and to finger scapegoats who could be blamed for the German surrender at Compiègne and the subsequent "capitulation" at Versailles.

Instead of blaming himself, Ludendorff accused “the parties and men ever ready for peace, with their destructive, unstable mode of thinking, the men who doubted the power of the people of their own nation”. It was not the reckless generals who were at fault but “a pacifistic, international, anti-military and revolutionary undermining of the army” that was to blame, as the official Reichstag commission declared. It wasn’t the overwhelming industrial superiority of the Allies over the Central Powers, or the fact that fresh American troops were pouring in to Europe at the rate of 10,000 a day to face tired and demoralized German soldiers, but the socialists, the republicans, the revolutionaries, the trade unionists, the Catholics and above all, the Jews, those shifty Jews, with their clannishness and their cosmopolitanism and their ideological ties to the Bolshevik Soviet Union and their financial links to international Jewry as a whole.
These were, as Adolf Hitler later described them, the “November criminals” who had brought Germany to its knees.

The “stab in the back” maneuver is not confined to Germany. It is a trusted political ploy traditionally used by the right to attract votes, impugn the loyalty of their rivals or find an alibi for their own failings. Eastern Europe would not have been lost to the Communists were it not for the “fifth column” in the State Department that Richard Nixon spoke of in 1951, just as the war in Vietnam, you must remember, would have been easily won were it not for the draft-dodging, grass-smoking, bra-burning, back-stabbing hippies back home and Spiro Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativism” that supported them.

Writing in Harper’s Magazine almost a decade ago, as President Bush accused “politicians in Washington” of “pulling the rug out” under U.S. troops in Iraq, author Kevin Baker described the American right-wing’s habitual “stab in the back” machinations: “The right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.”

In Israel, for the time being at least, it’s working like a charm.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

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