An old Chinese proverb, invented by Benjamin Netanyahu and Gilad Erdan, says that when someone sets out to blacken your reputation, beat him to it. Don’t worry if you’ve missed the boat, the main thing is to get hold of large amounts of black stuff and spread it lavishly on the goyim. Which goyim, exactly? Perhaps Americans in colleges, in explicit violation of David Ben-Gurion’s prohibition against spying in America against U.S. citizens. Will goyim be the only targets? And who will guard the tarnishers? All that remains to be seen.
The demon confronted by the Netanyahu government is the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. While the Israel Air Force has precision-guided munitions, the war against BDS calls for new tools. Not, heaven forbid, for changing the policies which so upset many people across the world, who make a distinction between Israel proper and the settlements.
Nor does the state comptroller delve into the distinctions among Israel, its government and its policies. He was oblivious to the underlying roots of the world’s reservations regarding the latter, which do not imply a disqualification of the former. The comptroller’s approach is to keep his head down, asking only how much and not why, as if there were a direct causal relationship between action and result, and standards for success. This spring the comptroller published a rather negative report on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance since returning to office seven years ago, with regard to the “diplomatic and media campaign against boycott movements and the expressions of anti-Semitism overseas.”
The comptroller described a pendulum movement between three ministries. The first is inherently weak but is in charge of relations with the world, while the other two are devoid of substance but are run by ambitious politicians who yearn to bask in the glow of “security matters.” We speak, respectively, of the foreign, strategic affairs and diaspora affairs ministries. The words are all meaningless natterings: “to focus,” “to guide,” “to coordinate,” “to integrate.”
To prevent crises within or between political parties, there is a search for something to occupy superfluous organizations that compete for control over other superfluous organizations. Ultimately, the comptroller recommended strengthening the tools available to the Foreign Ministry, which has missions distributed throughout the world and which collects their reports.
Netanyahu ignored the criticism in favor of giving Gilad Erdan a toy in the form of the strategic affairs portfolio, a counterweight to the toy the prime minister gave Yisrael Katz in the form of the intelligence and atomic energy portfolio.
In his main job, as public security minister, Erdan did not stop at importing Roni Alsheich from the Shin Bet security service and appointing him — in a move that proved disastrous — as national police commissioner. (The Shin Bet’s greatest achievement in recent years, according to agency veterans, was preventing Alsheich from becoming head of the organization, so far.)
Early last decade, while engaging in counterterrorism in the Shin Bet’s Arab division, Alsheich formulated undercover activities aimed at shaping public awareness, including among Israeli Arabs. The Shin Bet’s legal counsel, alarmed by the infringement of democracy, blocked this initiative. As police commissioner, Alsheich has established a new public liaison unit. Yuval Gat, who as an army officer also dealt with affecting the consciousness of opponents and their associates, was hired to head. Alsheich and Gat are attempting to survey public attitudes toward the police in order to better shape the force’s public image. Their success so far has been less than zero, with regard to the force as well as its commander. However, they have found their soulmate in Erdan. He has set out to infuse a combative spirit into the anti-BDS forces, intending to dispatch them against those who call for sanctions and for withdrawing investments from Israel.
Fortunately for Erdan, the designated coordinator of these efforts was the former ambassador to Britain, Daniel Taub. Israel has no convincing arguments with which to combat the arguments made against it, so it relies on skilled debaters and on personal attacks against those making these arguments, hoping to silence them — shaming and countershaming in the struggle against anti-Semitism. The problem is that Taub, with some earlier embarrassing conduct, provided the kingdom’s police force and spy agencies with ammunition which could well be used against him. His appointment was therefore shelved, along with his wish to become the foreign ministry’s legal counsel.
Taub was slated to have a post equivalent in rank to a ministry director general. His replacement, not yet found, will be less senior. There may not be too many contenders for this new post of a head of a tarnishing unit in a ministry for strategic affairs and information, for which Erdan is inviting applicants. The mission is “counterdelegitimization,” in an effort to oppose groups seeking to delegitimize us, beating them at their own game.
It’s hard to believe that these brilliant minds who will spar with those malicious opponents overseas will explicitly call themselves “tarnishers,” but it’s true. If so far we’ve had an agency dealing with (money) laundering we’ll now have one for tarnishing.
Last week an official tender was published, number 61-2016, calling for someone to be the “head of a tarnishing unit, with a 41-43 rank in the social sciences ranking.” This rank is equivalent to a colonel in the army or a department head at the Shin Bet. It seems that these are the target groups of this tender — someone who was in Military Intelligence or the “awareness-changing” department of the operations directorate, or someone from the Mossad or Shin Bet. The candidate could be a recent retiree from one of these organizations, and if he or she has experience in advertising, public relations or related professions, with knowledge of how to feed the media beast, so much the better.
As proof, the minimal requirements for the position, “in addition to postsecondary education and passing the requisite security screening, is four to seven years’ experience in intelligence, operations or communications.” Other desired qualifications include “a background in formulating strategies, familiarity with and understanding of the digital world, strategic thinking, ability to work under stress, familiarity with the international scene” as well as two indistinguishable qualities termed “creativity” and “creative thinking.”
The lucky winner of this tender, the creatively thinking candidate, will be charged with responsibility for “leading a campaign against groups seeking to delegitimize Israel, with regard to all media and consciousness aspects, in order to create a counterdelegitimization.” In addition, this person will be “responsible for analysis of these groups and for studying their characteristics and their modes of activity, as well as defining a strategy for combating them. In addition this person will need to define important items that need to be brought to the attention of Military Intelligence.”
In order to achieve this, the chief tarnisher in the ministry of propaganda and disinformation will “develop and implement new tools and media channels, including indirect ones, through extra-government agencies.” In other words he will establish, hire or tempt nonprofit organizations or groups not associated with Israel, in order to disseminate the sullying material. This activity is defined in the tender as “recruitment and promoting coordination between different groups in Israel and abroad.”
Much remains hidden. “Projects and steps in multidisciplinary areas, including action taken to implement the determined strategy, directly and through nongovernmental organizations, government ministries, private groups in Israel and abroad; initiating and directing contacts with nongovernmental agencies in order to carry out complex projects while defining plans and strategies for individual action; participation in steering committees for defining recommendations; other tasks, according to need and instruction by the person in charge.” What else? Not according to need and in defiance of such instructions? After all, this is a well-ordered country.
Work location: Jerusalem, but moving to Tel Aviv in the coming year. Why? No explanation is given. Maybe because Jerusalem is the home of the Foreign Ministry, the rival of the tarnishing ministry. Tel Aviv is also the hub of the defense establishment.
Applicants haven’t yet been requested to fill out questionnaires with possible suggestions for tarnishing techniques. That’s too bad. One should explore their creativity in solving realistic problems. For example, if the head of the longshoremen’s union in Britain refuses to load munitions onto a ship bound for Ashdod, a campaign hinting at embezzlement of union funds should put him on the defensive. A professor at a California university is about to speak at a student rally against Israel’s policies? The candidate for heading the tarnishing unit will propose leaking to the Los Angeles Times embarrassing details of the professor’s relations with women. Not a great novelty — the FBI did this to Martin Luther King Jr. Sometimes it works. Invasive surveillance will be required, espionage in fact. As a footnote, the candidate can recommend a quote from the social media suggesting that the professor corresponded with the Orlando shooter. This leak could first be made to an Israeli newspaper, not directly to the Times. Perhaps to a daily used to praising Netanyahu.
Another contender could provide a blueprint for action to be taken against the Israeli counterpart of that professor, a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University. He too will be placed in the crosshairs, tarnished and sullied. He may not be suspected of any security or criminal offense — otherwise the police or Shin Bet would be on his case — but he can be harassed anyway. And so it goes, the more tarnishing the better. There is no need to tell only the truth, or all of it.
This is playing at psych warfare, intelligence warfare or at awareness-changing. It’s playing with fire. Erdan refutes this. “These are ungrounded conclusions,” he said last week. Registration for the post of chief tarnisher ends in one week. Hurry up, and bring some black stuff from home.