Surely if there is one thing we can all agree upon it is that Israel is losing the war for hearts and minds in the international community, and that its enemies have invested significantly to advance on all theaters of battle: on campuses, in international organizations, in the media. This has become especially apparent over the past month with the UN resolution calling for Israel to remove all of its citizens living beyond the Green Line, the EU condemnation of Israel following the E1 decision, and the looming case against Israel at the International Criminal Court. These developments threaten Israel’s progress on economic cooperation with the EU and regional allies, harm the brands of Israeli companies in key markets, and wound the pride of Israelis and Jews around the world.
Whether it was the mishandling of a justified decision by Israel to boycott the UN Human Rights Committee, or the decision of the Government to build in E1, or the (on-going) challenges arising from Israel’s justified strike on Syria, international forums and news channels are saturated with criticism of Israel’s handling of current affairs. Israel has, as its course under the current leadership, responded passive-aggressively: quietly ridiculing international bodies but stopping short from offering an alternative, muttering under its breath worries about the implications of the declaration of a State of Palestine but not describing a path to negotiations, whispering warnings to its allies about regional threats that come from Assad’s chaotic downfall while silently attacking whatever it was that was attacked. Like most passive-aggression, Israel’s current strategy has gotten under the skin of the international powers that be, and have almost ensured that the world will see Israel as a nuisance as opposed to a champion of progress, of global values, and of human development that the Jewish State could be.
Since Israel is and will remain a small country far off from its primary markets in need of the good will of other nations to enable its economic and cultural well being, and since the Zionist movement has always aspired to the Jewish State providing more than a ‘normal life’ to its citizens – a Light Unto the Nations – it is time we change strategy. It’s time we took the offensive.
Here are three ways Israel can take the offensive on the international stage without moving one warplane off the ground: First, Israel should declare itself a ‘Tax Free Zone’ for companies doing research and development on alternative energy technologies that will obviate the world’s reliance on oil. Second, Israel should destroy the unified brand of the “Arab/Muslim Middle East” by openly championing those other minorities in the Middle East who are fighting Arab colonialism; Third, Israel should take its place as the champion of the Abrahamic faiths by enabling religious equality in Israel and convening regular dialogue and cooperation between the spiritual children of Abraham. Let me unpack these three below.
1. Canceling the Oil Card: It is no surprise that those countries who are most in need of easy-to-access energy happen to also be those countries who are developing the fastest, have the largest economies, and amass the most power in the global system. It should also be no surprise that those countries will understand it to be their national interest to keep oil prices down, so that their citizenry and industry will have easy access to energy. And we all can agree that since 1973 Israel’s enemies have made it quite clear that they understand that the oil card is the strongest card in their hand against Israel. As long as oil is king, Israel will be fighting a losing battle. This means that for Israel to change the balance of power, it must first and foremost obviate the oil card.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly acknowledged the need for Israel to develop alternative energies, but has failed to advance this agenda. While Israeli technologies lead the world in alternative energy, they often do so outside of Israel since the Israeli market simply does not support them: the Electric Company refuses to provide favorable conditions for alternative energy producers to pump power into the grid, thereby reducing the resources those companies have for R&D and business development, crippling their growth. If our government would like to significantly impact this space, and ensure Israel has a hand in toppling the oil cartel, it could do two simple things: first, declare all of Israel a tax-free zone for alternative energy companies, providing massive incentives for those companies world-wide to move their R&D and headquarters to Israel. Second, Israel should mandate the electric company to provide favorable rates to alternative energy producers, and to develop its own alternative means of electric generation as part of its national goals.
2. Free the Middle East: It may surprise some readers that one of the main issues playing into Turkish-Syrian-Israeli tensions has to do with the Kurdish aspirations for independence. Or that Iran is only a small-part Persian, and that within the country there are a number of minorities who seek independence and have been granted de-facto autonomy by the Persian government. Or that one of the reasons that the fighting in Syria is so fierce is that, most probably, the Alawite People knows that if they lose power they will most probably be massacred. While news broadcasts and university classrooms generally teach that Israel is a blight on an otherwise Arab/Muslim Middle East, and the governments of regional governments speak of a unified block of Arab/Muslim powers against the ‘colonial’ Jewish State, the truth is that the Middle East is composed of dozens of minority peoples who have been persecuted and forced to covert and assimilate since the Arab conquest of the region in the middle of the first millennia.
Students of Zionism might remember the call for the Zionist movement to return to the land so that we may become ‘the last of the Jews, the first of the Hebrews.’ It is time we heeded that call: just as we Hebrews were always a minority in the region, so too are there other tribes and peoples among us who face similar battles, and are opposing a similar occupying party. That occupying alliance has representation in the Arab League, and has a clear strategy to complete its conquest of the region by opposing the independence of groups such as the Kurds, the Copts, the Assyrians, the Berbers, amongst others. We Jews are but one People who have successfully gained freedom from occupation. If Israel would like to win the battle for hearts and minds, it could do so by building overt alliances with others in the region who seek what Israel has: self-determination. A first step would be for Israel to provide aid and support to the members of the UNPO (the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization) in the region. A parallel step would be for Israel to declare its borders and cease its own occupation of non-Jewish Peoples. By going on the offensive on the battle against Arab colonialism, Israel can work with others to call the UN to task for aiding the Arab occupation, publishing its own human rights reviews for how regional colonialist powers are treating their occupied nations.
3. Celebrating Abraham’s Legacy: Of the billions of people around the world who follow in the spiritual footsteps of our forefather Abraham, few have visited Israel, and even fewer feel that the country is enabling their personal spiritual journey. This is a huge strategic loss for Israel economically, diplomatically and spiritually. Our forefathers were never promised to be a ‘normal nation,’ and our prophets warned us from being materially and internally focused. Our purpose as Am Israel is to shine the light of justice, and to share the wisdom of our tradition. This cannot happen while Israel’s religious sector is under the control of a small sect of individuals who worship the social conventions of the past. It can also not happen so long as Israel does not put the goal of becoming the world center for the Abrahamic faiths high it its lists of priorities.
Israel can and should strive towards building Jerusalem as the City of Abraham. Doing so would provide Israel with much needed support in its most sensitive needs. For example, instead of passively-aggressively opposing the Waqf’s destructive excavations, an Israel which serves as a champion of the Abrahamic faiths would call upon the world’s Christian community to join it in protest that the site where much of early Christian life was based around would be harmed by our sister faith. Israel could start the process of transforming its relationship with its Abrahamic brothers and sisters by creating a high council in Israel of leaders of the many faces of the Abrahamic tradition, which would be consulted on matters that may impact the spiritual affairs of their followers. Israel could build a version of Herzl’s envisioned Temple of Peace in Jerusalem where all major faiths would be given space for cultural and spiritual events, and where spiritual leaders from all three Abrahamic traditions to come together to discuss ethics, morals and theology in an age of rapid change. But most importantly, as Yossi Klein Halevi so wonderfully described in his book At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden, it is time for Israel’s leaders to break away from a Diaspora mentality of minority status and instead start taking leadership as the Champions of Abraham.
By moving forward along these three strategic avenues – obviating oil, building regional alliances, and transforming Israel’s spiritual role – Israel may be able to nullify the advantages its enemies have gained over the past few decades of mainly cold, and sometimes hot, war. None of these three suggestions would require massive additions to the State’s budget; none of these suggestions would require the use of military force. All of these suggestions would cease Israel’s passive-aggressive international strategy and put Israel on proactive footing. What we lack in geographical strategic depth we must gain in diplomatic initiative. Whether our government applies strategies such as these or others, we should all hope our government is up to the task of taking the battle for hearts and minds to the enemy’s home turf.