Gerstenfeld’s The War Of A Million Cuts OR How Israel Should Combat Antisemitism
One small paper-cut on a finger is painful and distracting; a million of them inflicted onto one’s entire body surface would be unbearable. And that is what the Jewish People face today — with growing virulence.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld has a singular ability to tackle this topic in a way not many others could. He has academic degrees in chemistry, economics, environmental studies and Jewish Studies. With such a broad interdisciplinary background, he brings to the examination of any topic both scientific method and goal-oriented processing of presenting problems. His experience as an economic analyst and consultant for large international and Israeli concerns rested upon and further cemented a holistic approach to problem-solving and most likely a way of thinking that can best be characterized as being “outside the box”.
Gerstenfeld Defines the Problem
The first step in solving a problem is defining it. Is the problem growing antisemitism? Is it reawakening of antisemitism that has lain dormant, in at least part of the world, for a few decades after World War II? Is it the metamorphosis of antisemitism into anti-Israelism? Or are these just facts of life whereby the problem should be defined as the lack of an effective approach to combating antisemitism/anti-Israelism?
Why does this make a difference?
If the problem is antisemitism, then we are going to spend a lot of time studying the issue of antisemitism. If the problem is lack of an effective approach to combating antisemitism, then the focus of our attention is directed toward studying alternative pathways for fighting it. This may seem like a small distinction it seems the time is ripe for a focus on action.
I can make this clearer with a specific example: Defining the problem as antisemitism per se results in forums that come up with the kind of recommendations we find summarized in The Action Plan for Combating Antisemitism in 2013 and Beyond. A distinguished group got together in Jerusalem for three days at the end of May 2013 and drew up recommendations for fighting global antisemitism. I doubt whether action was, in fact, undertaken to any great extent. That is because no overall encompassing strategy was defined with evaluation procedures in place for assessing results and failures. This is a recipe for inaction.
Success in the anti-Israel propaganda war demands a sustainable program with the budget necessary for mobilizing all the resources that can be brought to bear in the international arena in which the war is being waged.
Gerstenfeld’s Recipe for Action
In his Introduction, Gerstenfeld defines the problem when he states:
It is the responsibility of Israel’s government to defend its citizens from all types of attacks. This should be true for the propaganda war – also called “political war” – as well. However, despite the great intensity of this major battle against Israel in the current century, no comprehensive and systematic approach has yet been undertaken by the Israeli government to fight it. (page 14)
And in the final chapter, a blueprint is laid out before us detailing what needs to be done and how to do it in order to successfully overcome our enemies on the propaganda battlefield. No other country is dealing with hate and demonization as Israel is. Therefore, Israel needs to invent something out of nothing, and Israel has proven itself to be quite good at that.
The substance of the book is a treatise on a modern history of antisemitism and conflation of open antisemitism with anti-Israelism, whereby symbols easily recognized as antisemitic have been transformed and used in the demonization of Israel, the Jewish state. The material covers the playing fields in which Israel’s legitimacy is attacked: national and international bodies, academia, the media, faith groups and more. Its impact on Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are examined as is the phenomenon of Jews joining the fight against the Jews. It is a well researched and documented compendium of the contemporary situation.
Each chapter, covering a distinct section of the propaganda war, can stand on its own. In fact, I was unable to read more than one chapter at a time. While I am no stranger to the phenomenon of antisemitism in both its pure and its recent anti-Israel form, I needed time to digest each chapter separately before going on to the next. For many Jews involved in either Jewish community life or some form of pro-Israel activism, the material will not be totally new and will perhaps trigger, as it did for me, memories of personal encounters with antisemitism, making it heavy reading; at the same time, the wealth of information provides a depth of understanding and a wider context within which to comprehend the nature of Jew hatred and battle being waged against us. This context and depth of knowledge is important for each operator in the battle.
Fighting Contemporary Antisemitism — A Proposal
In contrast to extant approaches to fighting antisemitism, characterized by responding to events of the past and present, Gerstenfeld puts forward a structure that would, in addition to this, promote strategy and planning developments that look to the future. This resembles military strategizing. In fact, he suggests that the body in charge of the anti-Israel propaganda war approach it in the same way as the Israeli security forces are now tackling cyber warfare.
While it may seem natural that the Foreign Ministry and the diplomatic corps engage in this war, our diplomats cannot be involved, according to Gerstenfeld. They have a distinct role to play on the international stage and cannot participate in anything that may negatively affect the relationships they need to build in other nations. The anti-propaganda efforts must be run by professionals who are expert at dealing with an enemy and not with making friends.
The structure of the body fighting antisemitism/anti-Israelism would include three branches, each with its own personnel and tasks. These three branches would be: Research to identify key players in antisemitic propaganda and the means by which they operate, Monitoring to establish a database containing information on all acts of incitement and violence, and Operations to devise campaigns to combat antisemitism and coordinate among those best suited to carry them out.
Gerstenfeld also describes broad strategic principles that should underlie the anti-Israel propaganda war. I will list a few of these:
- No more free lunches – every attack will be met by a counter attack.
- Sunlight is the best disinfectant – establishment of local blogs would make valuable material available in English and other languages in order to facilitate exposure of anti-Israeli inciters in each locale.
- Use clear language – stop referring to the land beyond the armistice lines as “occupied territory” and call it “disputed territory”, call the armistice lines just that, and not borders, refer to Jordan as the first Palestinian state and the current negotiations as considering giving rise to the second (Palestinian Authority-ruled) Palestinian state and possibly a third (Hamas-ruled) Palestinian state.
- Expose the lies and manipulations of a small number of big players (journalists, media outlets, politicians, NGOs, church leaders, academics) with the aim of destroying their reputations and many others will think twice before attacking Israel.
- Use resources efficiently – select the battles wisely.
- Encourage promising individual activists.
Is the Israeli Government Up To This?
In May 2015, Gilad Erdan was appointed Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information. He has a budget of about 100 million shekels for the year 2016 and a staff of about 11 people, including office staff and professionals. In December 2015, he appointed Ret. Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil as Director-General of the Ministry. With academic degrees in Middle East and National Security Studies, she brings 30 years experience in air force intelligence and ten years as the IDF chief military censor; Vaknin-Gil seems to be the kind of professional Gerstenfeld himself might have chosen to lead the war against demonization of Israel. She certainly can claim to have sufficient background in the kind of military thinking that must be applied to this endeavor.
In his speech at the May 2016 “Stop the Boycott” conference in Jerusalem, Erdan stated that every time Israel has been threatened in the past “we knew how to come together and fight it and we will do so now as well.” He was proud to announce that all government ministries are cooperating with the efforts of his office and that they are in the advanced stages of designing a working strategy.
It even felt to me as if he was paraphrasing Gerstenfeld when he said: “Until now those who delegitimized Israel got away with it. That is about to change – there will be a price to pay.”
At a round table discussion at the same conference, Vaknin-Gil talked about coordinating the activities of all organizations, government and otherwise, so that each contributes what it does best. “We have not succeeded yet in getting our [Israel’s] message across because we do not yet have a unified message.” As a first step in gathering together a team over and above ministry staff, she said that 300 people came forward when a call went out asking for volunteers.
Vaknin-Gil said that antisemitism cannot be overcome if we deal with it on an emotional level. Those who demonize Israel, she said, “operate experientially and emotionally and we will work cognitively.”
If the public is ever made privy to more details about the structure and strategy of the team Erdan and Vaknin-Gil are putting together, we will have an idea how closely they pattern their design along the lines suggested so clearly by Gerstenfeld in the final chapter of The War of a Million Cuts.
Israel has become a world leader in cyber warfare and intelligence. Using the experience gained from our increasing cyber warfare capabilities as an example, Gerstenfeld notes that “offensive” and “defensive” operations have had to be redefined and that organizations formally involved in various seemingly separate areas of activity have become interlinked and are now cross-fertilizing. The same has to happen in order to succeed in the global war against anti-Israelism. The few public remarks I heard on the parts of Erdan and Vaknin-Gil give me confidence that this is the new direction and that they are strongly motivated to take a stand on the international stage, both overtly and covertly.
I can think of no better way to conclude this review than by quoting Gerstenfeld, himself in his penultimate page of this weighty tome. He declares that if the delegitimization process with its million cuts is successful,
. . . it will have an additional consequence. Except for those committing the actual murders, few will feel responsible for what has happened. Not the many enemies who can claim that their individual contribution to the million cuts was insignificant, not the false friends who will say that they did not attack Israel, nor the many bystanders who looked away from the clear genocidal intentions proclaimed in parts of the Muslim world. At the same time, Israel will be accused of being responsible for its own fate because it turned the Palestinians – in reality a crime-permeated populace – into victims. All these lies together may flourish in an increasingly opaque society.
None of this has to happen. There is no reason to be fatalistic unless the present Israeli incompetence in the propaganda war endures. It is not too late to turn the tables on Israel’s enemies. It requires, however, an effort that is radically different from what is taking place at present. (page 406)
Let us hope that Erdan and Vaknin-Gil are making just that effort.
This is an abridged version of a review that was originally published in The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism.