השבעת הממשלה
השבעת הממשלה צילום: דוברות הכנסת, עדינה ולמן

Some aspects of the functioning of Israel’s current oversized government are even more bizarre than others. One of these concerns the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Trying to analyze developments there from outside the Ministry leads to many perplexities.

The role of the Ministry has always been somewhat confused. In October 2015, the security cabinet gave the Strategic Affairs Ministry the important responsibility to “guide, coordinate and integrate the activities of all the ministers and the government and of civil entities in Israel and abroad on the subject of the struggle against attempts to delegitimize Israel and the boycott movement.”

In May 2020, a new 36 member Israeli government was formed. Orit Farkash-Hacohen of Blue and White came in as Minister of Strategic Affairs. When a new minister is appointed in a professional area where she or he has no lengthy previous experience, one must assume that she receives many briefings by staff members in addition to information obtained from outside sources

In August, the minister gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post. One can assume that what she said is the essence of the understanding that she was able to synthesize in the short time she was in charge of the ministry.

For those who have an overview of the Western world’s antisemitic scene it is not difficult to prioritize the strategic challenges to Israel and the Jewish people in this field. Several studies show that there is a massive belief among European populations that Israel is "behaving toward the Palestinians like the Nazis" or "aiming for extermination of the Palestinians. Tens of millions of Europeans believe this. Nazis are the contemporary symbol of absolute evil in Western societies. The Ministry should have long ago focused on finding ways to confront this.

Yet the subject did not come up in the interview. The minister raised social media antisemitism, the anti-Israeli attitude of the International Criminal Court and the blacklist concerning the West Bank of the United Nations Human Rights Council. These are relevant issues but the omission of the prime issue was glaring.

The tens of millions of Europeans who believe that Israel is absolute evil are expressing a contemporary version of the extreme hate motif that Christianity developed more than 1500 years ago. The Jewish religion was considered to be absolute evil. Jews were being accused of having murdered Jesus. Under the Nazis the Jewish people also became absolute evil. The contemporary version of this has morphed into “the Jewish state as absolute evil.”

The notion of strategy was developed centuries ago for military purposes. In modern times it has been formalized in other professions, such as business and politics. Strategy deals with the priority of aims and with what resources are needed or available to reach these aims. Having worked for decades in business strategy consulting -- including with the heads of some of the world’s largest corporations -- I have learned that skills in this field are acquired only very slowly over the years.

The situation at the Ministry got even worse. On October 2, Minister of Tourism, Asaf Zamir resigned. There were enough candidates to take his place. Yet instead of leaving Farkash-Hacohen at a ministry where she was finding her bearings, she was appointed to replace Zamir.

Viewed from the outside the situation became even more absurd. The newly appointed Minister of Strategy Michael Biton of Blue and White had barely arrived when he said in an interview that he would happily be in favor of abolishing the ministry and consolidating it with the intelligence ministry and a few others. Apparently, Biton was not particularly well informed on priorities when he was interviewed by Army radio. He was quoted that the Strategic Affairs Ministry "has nice activities in the area of BDS but those can connect to an existing ministry."

The concept that an Israeli government body is the best tool to efficiently fight the country’s delegitimization is a major misconception, be it the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, the Foreign Affairs Ministry or the National Security Council. That requires a body of a radically different nature, an anti-propaganda agency. Yet this doesn't make the ministry superfluous.

To the contrary. Huge changes are taking place in the Middle East and in Israel’s place and status in it. These create exceptional opportunities to rethink how Israel positions itself in regard to opposing the huge verbal attacks in the West against it. This basically amounts to a semantics war.

Israel has been severely attacked by a large range of sources. These include media, politicians, the United Nations and associate bodies, academics, NGO’s, trade unions, church leaders, etc. This is combined with the current Israeli and Jewish version of the stream of masochism running through Jewish history. Together they have led to an inclination among Israeli authorities to take much of the verbal beating without responding. Apparently, they believe that the attacks are a contemporary version of more than a millennium of assaults on the Jews.

Today, even more than before the changes in the Middle East there is no valid reason to continue to allow ourselves to be verbally beaten up by a variety of people who look away from the extreme Palestinian criminality and the death culture that permeates Palestinian society and leadership.

There are now a variety of Arab sources who are far more critical of the Palestinians, their behavior and policies than of Israel. In the West though, major criticism of Israel perseveres. Israel shouldn't let itself be insulted by people who, if one pushes the analysis a bit further, are at least partly complicit with Palestinian murder promoters.

Here is potentially a great opportunity for the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Nothing so far indicates that there is any understanding of this there.If it all exists it has not reached the public domain.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has been a strategic advisor for more than thirty years to some of the Western world’s leading corporations. Among the honors he received was the 2019 International Lion of Juda Award of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research paying tribute to him as the recognized leading international authority on contemporary antisemitism. His main book on the subject is: The War of a Million Cuts The struggle against the delegitimization of Israel and the Jews and the growth of New antisemitism.