Josef Olmert

On Hasbara and the Iran deal

It has become a ritual in Israel, and in the pro-Israel community at large, particularly supporters of Likud and the Jewish Home parties, to pin every Israeli diplomatic debacle on the lack of proper Hasbara.

What an intoxicating word , the wonder cure to all our problems. If we just told these Gentiles what REALLY is the problem, opened the eyes of these ignorant naive, out of touch Western politicians, then everything will be rosy and cozy.Just send them the right spokesman, say somebody called Bibi Netanyahu[Yes, this guy…] and who can resist the lucid explanations.

Well, not so fast. Yes, P.R or Hasbara is important and many people in Madison Avenue even make good money out of that, among them some good Jewish fellows, but it is a question , is this is indeed our biggest problem?. Is this is how we can solve such ”simple” issues such as the Iran nuke deal,just by polishing a message ?

To start with, Israel has never had a real Hasbara machine. It has had great speakers, just remember Abba Eban, move all the way to BIBI, who is a great speaker , a great masbir. Then the question is, so what? Hasbara machine is what it is, an organizational structure which operates from bottom to top, not the other way around. One brilliant speaker is essential, but the legion of informed , knowledgeable , articulate people on the local level, in campus, in civic and professional organizations, on line and in social media are those who appeal to many more potential interested people than the ONE wiz kid of the day.

Still, even if we had all that, and we do not, it will not be THE solution. Why?, because unlike many of us, I believe [in fact, with some actual experience in real time], that even the best Hasbara machine is just a tool of policy,and subjected to the spirit of the time[ZEISTGEIST IN A LANGUAGE WHICH I DO NOT LIKE]. It is policy or lack thereof which is our problem with regard to Iran.

Let us start with the fact, that to this very moment, it is not clear, whether Israel figures Iran as an international problem, or only an Israeli problem? The policy regarding that question has fluctuated so many times, that just to follow the twists and turns is a sure recipe for a severe case of migraine. If this is an international problem, then Israel, surely in the last 6 years, when Netanyahu is the P.M , had to closely coordinate its efforts with friendly countries, chiefly the US, particularly if this is an existential issue as is it presented by Netanyahu. The US is a friend, unless we succumb to the notion [false and so damaging], that some kind of a Manchurian Candidate conspiracy is in place at the White House designed to help the Islamic world destroy Israel.

Sure, the US usually, as it should, pursues its own policy, based on its own reading of its interests, and this is not only the White House which acts like that, but also the friendlier Congress. The problem is, that P.M Netanyahu has not given this course of action any real chance. You want to have a listening ear in the White House, then listen also to what they tell you. In the equation of the relationships, Israel is the Junior partner, a matter of numbers, size and some other not so minute details… Then, it is always possible, that no matter how collaborative Netanyahu could be, the Obama Administration would have done what it wants, regardless even of Israel’s minimal requirements. I, for one, doubt it, and believe that the Israeli impact could make a change, but Israel should have presented an alternative, show support for the concept of an agreement, rather than pushing for an inevitable conflict. Sadly, Netanyahu did not follow this course of action. When President Obama asks , as he does, where is the Israeli alternative, he is right, and while it is painful to admit it, the reality is , that most people believe , that Israel’s alternative is WAR, and most people, including Jews and our other best friends do not want war. This is where the spirit of the time is becoming so significant. Yet, Israel can go against it if feeling that its very survival is on the line. That is always an option.

Let us assume however, that our Right Wingers, the anti Obama at all cost crowd are right, and there is NOTHING that Netanyahu could do to thwart” the 2015 Chamberlain, a.k.a President Obama” from his ”peacenik” policy, so then what? Here again a question ;when exactly was Netanyahu struck with the terrible revelation that President Obama wants to sell Israel out? Was it on 3 March 2015 in Congress?, is it just now , in July 2015? If we follow the line of Israeli messages and policy in the last 3-4 years, we can see that the P.M displayed in public, and very bluntly so, a deep mistrust of the Obama policy about Iran.

Then the question is, why did not he act unilaterally? what did he wait for, if it was so obvious that Israel is doomed to go it alone? some stories in the Israeli press, which were never denied, may provide the answers to these questions. All was ready for an Israeli military action 3 years ago, the only missing in action was the P.M Who did not give the orders.

So, let us be honest about it all. If Israel, for all kinds of reasons, did not want to take a unilateral action, then it had to join its friends and try to influence them. You can’t beat them, then join them. Not my idea, an old rule of diplomacy.

And just for the record; The deal with Iran is bad, Iran is an existential threat and Israel can still take its own course of action, starting by less speaking and whining. Menachem Begin talked and talked, but then he acted in Iraq in June 1981.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina