Josef Olmert

On how not to do Hasbara-Netanyahu, Temple Mount and the Golan

The Golan Heights are very meaningful for me personally, having spent 208 days there as a reservist soldier
during the Yom Kippur war. Syria is my country of academic research and interest, and it was one of the greatest
days of my life, when on 4 November 1991 I was included in the Israeli delegation for peace talks in Madrid, sitting around the table with my Israeli colleagues and ten Syrians, discussing peace. Almost nothing came out of all that, but for the decision of the then Syrian dictator Hafiz Assad to allow the remaining 4000 Jews of Syria to leave their country of residence, long become their country of captivity. Many of them ended up in their true and only homeland, Israel. Nothing is more important than redeeming suffering Jewish brothers, and while peace is a great thing to achieve, if possible and if real and lasting, the saving of these poor Jews was worth every effort . The option of surrendering the Golan to Syria was not on the agenda of our boss at that time, P.M Shamir.

The old, great man specifically told me that he would never contemplate such a deed, as “the Golan is ours. Period”. Other Israeli P.Ms may have thought otherwise, including P.M Netanyahu, who in 1998 made far-reaching offers to the Syrians, using the good services of Ron Lauder as his envoy. Barak and Ehud Olmert made even more far-reaching proposals. They were wrong. Shamir was right. As we are on the eve of Pesach, let us use the Hagadah and remind ourselves, that GOD hardened the heart of Bashar Assad and his father before, and they refused even the most generous Israeli proposals, and we are still and hopefully for ever in the old Jewish Golan which was liberated in 1967. Just imagine the Golan under Syrian control nowadays, with the civil war going on there.

With all that in the background, I argue that Netanyahu show in the Golan few days ago, with the ringing statements about that land being forever under Israel was a childish mistake, an example of how not to conduct policy, of how not to do Hasbara. Who really needed it? What was the target audience? Yes, there are rumors about all kinds of possible Russian-American proposals to create a federal Syria, and maybe Netanyahu wanted to state, “we are here”, so take us into account. But then, if this is the case, there are so many other, subtler ways to prove the point, and do it without unnecessary provocations. Surely I know, that no country has ever recognized the Golan being Israeli, but it is as certain, that no one has shown any real interest in that. Let the dogs sleep, and refrain from arousing them. But Netanyahu, who can be a great statesman is also a show man, relishing his days as the chief spokesman on CNN . He is no more. He is the P.M, and his agenda should be far wider than that of so-called Hasbara. But then, if Hasbara, and I am all for it, what about the shameful UNESCO decision about our Temple Mount?

The UNESCO decision is nothing short of a declaration of a religious warfare against us, Jews. A complete negation of our history, the worst international decision against us since the notorious “Zionism is Racism” resolution. And where is the reaction? Some feeble statements from Netanyahu, almost nothing from Jews abroad, including Orthodox Jews, and no world interest in our justified protest. Instead of shaking the entire world with rage, mobilizing all our troops, Jews and non-Jews alike, there is near complete silence. So where is the connection to the Golan statements? So simple, so trivial in the world of PR or Hasbara. Netanyahu chose the wrong subject at the wrong time, wasted his ammunition on Syria, scored a huge own goal. Many in the world do not need an excuse to be against us, so why provide them with a free lunch? Many others in the world do resist Muslim claims over Temple Mount and Jerusalem, so why not provide them with a golden opportunity to start a campaign against UNESCO, in fact against this modern manifestation of old anti-Semitism? But no one talks now about that, and almost all talk about the Golan. You cannot pick two simultaneous big campaigns to conduct, you have to choose the most important one, and Netanyahu’s choice was wrong.

In order to remove any doubt-Temple Mount has been Jewish for 3000 years and will remain so for ever, while respecting the rights of others as well. The Golan should continue to prosper under Israeli control, and as we say, “veba Lezion Goel”.

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