Israel's Ministry of Strategic Failure

Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir
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Demonstrators hold placards outside the Spanish Government Delegation in Barcelona, in 2015.
Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir

How symbolic it is that the government’s decision to close the unnecessary Ministry of Strategic Affairs – a ministry that was supposed to fight the anti-Israel boycott movement but in practice became a perk for politicians – was made shortly before Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would stop selling its ice cream in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” If anyone needed proof that this ministry had failed, there it was.

And in fact, Israel never really contended with the BDS movement. We got an abundance of populist responses by politicians to an interview in which singer Noga Erez praised the BDS movement. But strategy? There was none.

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The ministry’s shady business plan was clear ahead of time. When I once asked during a session of the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information what the ministry did with the approximately 300 million shekels ($92 million) it received, ministry officials were so panicked that they tried to pass an amendment to exempt it from the Freedom of Information Act.

Later we discovered that it had given enormous amounts of money to the media to obtain flattering coverage, and then to right-wing organizations in the West Bank as well, like the Samaria Regional Council. How could that organization fight BDS? If anything, it encourages it.

Former Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan flew to luxurious conferences overseas even as the Foreign Ministry, whose budget had been cut, was rightly crying that it was being prevented from doing its job. Hundreds of millions of shekels that could have been used for truly important matters were instead appropriated for perks and jobs for political hacks.

The BDS movement must be defeated. It’s a threat to Israel’s interests, fundamentally antisemitic and is managing to mislead even potential partners who desire our wellbeing and a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It has caused some of our partners in the democratic world to distance themselves from us and be wary even of cooperating with Israelis who work for peace. In the meantime, rightist politicians are exploiting its existence to create a false identification of settlers’ interests with those of Israelis living inside the Green Line.

To date, efforts to stop the boycott have consisted of nothing but handing out falafel at American universities and screaming about the antisemitism at the heart of the BDS movement. But this isn’t enough to truly contend with people who are trying to challenge the way progressives talk about Israel.

To deal with this problem, we have to move from reacting to taking the initiative. The first address should be progressive elements in the United States, which are growing stronger within the Democratic Party.

Israel’s liberal camp has quite a bit in common with them on economic issues, climate change and the desire for peace. These connections should be strengthened, in part with help from nongovernmental organizations, which could forge ties with progressive elements in the United States and recruit them to advance a solution to the conflict. The goal is to convince them that we’re all on the same side and that we need the international community’s support to advance a solution.

At the same time, the business community could draft economic peace plans together with international companies and build leadership and connections among young leaders in the Middle East. Companies that want to brand themselves as warriors for justice would be able to join such initiatives rather than the BDS movement.

Over the long term, it’s clear that the only way to end the delegitimization is through a real diplomatic solution that sets a border between us and the Palestinians. Once this happens, even if we have to take military action in the future, the war will be between two sovereign states and therefore won’t undermine our legitimacy. Initiative and a clear policy instead of playing the victim – that’s how we’ll win the war.

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