Paris and Hasbara in one hand, two aces in the other

Before dedicating himself to grass-roots peacemaking, Inon Dan Kehati was a semi-professional poker player. An Ashkenazi-Yemenite Israeli from Tel Aviv, his labor intensive stint in Las Vegas taught him a thing or two about unconventional game theory. Ask and he’ll explain: “I always say Israel begins with two aces. It’s all a question of how we play our hand.”

A self-proclaimed pro-Palestinian Zionist, Inon finds himself fighting for a better tomorrow on many fronts. He’s managed to rack up quite a number of opponents along the way, but his greatest challengers completely ignore him. After all, if Inon’s activism comes to light, entire diplomacy and advocacy industries will soon be exposed as inauthentic, aloof and disconnected from the very people they claim to represent.

Today’s Paris Conference is a perfect example. The nations of the world have gathered to discuss Israelis and Palestinians behind their backs. Falling in step with UN Security Council Resolution 2334, today is yet another global attempt to coerce a two-state-solution on unwilling parties. Yet, while Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel’s Foreign Ministry are up in arms, Inon and his growing cadre of activists are unfazed. This evolving breed of grassroots volunteers takes comfort in a deep understanding that peace will inevitably be a bottom-up process.

As with the other opening speakers who have appeared on the TALK17 stage, Inon dismisses the efforts of the West to impose political machinations on cultures they do not understand. Keeping his cards close to his chest and carefully revealing only that which needs to be spelled out, Inon’s critique of foreign governments suggests a subtle condemnation of the advocacy organizations who follow suit.

It doesn’t take much to know what Inon thinks of BDS — the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement which disenfranchises the very people it claims to support. Due to his extensive relationships with Palestinians, he has never been fooled into thinking that boycotts are helpful to the Palestinians who lose their jobs when Soda Stream is forced to move to the other side of the Green Line. But Inon is similarly disenchanted with traditional ‘Hasbara’ Israel advocacy groups, who inadvertently join the international hand that’s played against Israel.

All things considered, the Paris Conference, BDS and Hasbara are all playing a sophisticated game of narrative development. To be fair, whereas the conference and BDS are aligned in their messaging, establishment Hasbara is a reluctant participant. The international community has long pointed to ‘the settlements’ as their primary focus of their anti-Israel bias, while the Hasbara community has done all it possibly could to shift the focus to Israeli high-tech, beautiful beaches and tasty hummus. When the chips are down, avoidance tactics are a feeble and failed strategy. International pressure continues to mount against Israel, and it may be too late for the Hasbara community to draw another card.

Fortunately for Palestinians and Israelis, Inon and his numerous affiliates have been outflanking Hasbara and BDS for years. The Home NGO, which he founded after his return to Israel from Vegas, brings Israelis and Palestinians together for everything from dialogue to social action. Their leadership and activists are Palestinian refugees and Judeans (Inon doesn’t like the term ‘settlers’), residents of Gaza and Bet-El, religious figures and secular anarchists. Their “Cleaning the Hate” campaign, as with all of their operations, is predicated on the simple premise that Jews and Arabs will continue to live side by side forever, and that our efforts need to be driven to improve that developing reality.

Is your favorite Hasbara agency even aware of what Inon and his team are doing? Does the BDS movement even care? At the start of 2017, 50 years after the Six Day War, Inon’s TALK17 message is instructive; the people of Judea-Samaria/West-Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem should, can, and will heal the conflict that the rest of the world continues to exacerbate.

Though Inon and his friends have authenticity and sincere optimism on their side, it may be scary putting your trust in a poker-playing professional; it’s certainly more common to place your bets with the organizations, not to mention governments, with the big budgets. But when the dealer keeps playing a losing hand, you might want to ask yourself whether the international community and its associates are ‘the house,’ or the cigarette-butt-cleaning Israelis and Palestinians of the Home NGO are more fit to fill that role. And when looking towards the next 50 years, be sure to keep in mind that we already have two aces in our hand. We just need to figure out how we play them.

About the Author
Avi Zimmerman is the President and CEO of the Integrated Business Roundtable and the President of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry.