Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yes Israel, We Still Love You At 64

Israel has embraced the Beatles song "When I'm 64" as a theme on the eve of the 64th Hebrew anniversary of its birth (Thursday the 4th of Iyar).  As the celebrations in Israel begin, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, and editorialists at Arutz Sheva, Times of Israel, Haaretz,  and a host of others have riffed on the theme.

That Israel is 64 years old is remarkable.  The founder of Zionist ideology, Theodore Herzl, never lived to see anything approaching the success that Israel has had today.  And yet, the history of the State has just begun.  64 years is a long time for a person, but it is only a drop in the bucket for a country which has waited 2000 years.  

At the same time, as people age, the way we love them changes.  Children need different kinds of love from their peers than do adolescents, who need different kinds of love than adults and senior citizens.  64 may be the beginning of seniority for a person, but it is merely adolescence for a country.  

As with a person, there is considerable confusion over what love for Israel means in this age of its adolescence.  Some are of the opinion that love for Israel means unconditional support.  Some believe it requires honesty.  Some believe it requires tough love.  Some believe, sadly, that Israel is not worth loving.  And as with real adolescents, the conversation about these issues is often over-emotional, melodramatic, and nasty.

But on this Yom HaAtzmaut, we can take heart in the fact that despite the real challenges Israel faces, and despite the real mistakes it has made, it has hundreds of thousands of friends, each willing to play a supporting role in their own way.  Having only one kind of friend would be problematic because it would leave so many different needs unfulfilled.  A plethora of friends of different backgrounds, political persuasions, and motivations ensures Israel's survival long into adulthood.  Friendship may not always be the romanticized notion we see in movies (or policy conferences).  But it underwrites the daily struggles Israel faces to improve itself and the world around it.  And that is a struggle in which any friend of Israel can be glad to play a role.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Israel Goes 1 For 2 on Hasbara

Israel had one success and one failure today regarding its public image.  The mixed record indicates that the has come far, but also has a long way to go in order to present itself successfully in the international arena.

The success was in regards to a Youtube video showing IDF Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner thrusting the bottom of his M-16 rifle into the face of an activist in the West Bank.  The action was unprovoked by the activist and constitutes completely inappropriate behavior by a military officer.

The Israeli Government successfully understood the potential of this video to harm Israel's image (not to mention the professionalism of its military).  It acted quickly in responding to the events.  Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the attack hours later as having "no place in the Israeli Defense Forces and in the State of Israel."  IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also said that the incident would be thoroughly investigated.  He will likely follow through on this statement.

Of course, a video of a soldier viciously attacking a (notably Western-looking) civilian is not doing any favors for Israel's public image.  However, Israel has taken the first important steps for damage control, not to mention for the preservation of its liberal values, which are decidedly against such assaults.

On the other hand, Israel had mixed success with regards to the Flytilla - activists who planned to fly into Ben Gurion airport and make their way to Bethlehem.  Given that many of these activists were prevented from flying to Israel by their home countries, Israel's response is at least partially a success.  At the same time, Israel's response to protesters at the airport only serves to amplify their cause in the news space.  Arrests of protesters whose intent is peaceful speech tarnishes Israel's appearance.  In addition, the snarky letter that the government handed to protesters may be funny to some, but fell flat with the key audience Israel should have been targeting.  Many of the points the letter makes about worse human rights violations occurring in Syria and Gaza are true.  However, the letter itself looks arrogant, immature, and petty to those who believe that Israel's treatment of Palestinians is a serious matter.

The contrast between the two responses indicates that Israel is effective at hasbara under two conditions.  First, when it prioritizes values in the same way as the international community.  Second, when the government is willing to take action (such as an investigation) to demonstrate a credible commitment to these values.  Given these two conditions, Israel should design an improved hasbara strategy to 1) Frame its actions in terms of values which resonate in the international arena and look for points of agreement 2)  Integrate policy and kinetic actions into its hasbara strategy to signal a credible commitment to these values.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mofaz Party Platform A Waiting Game

In the 10 days since the last post on this blog, the political platform of newly-elected Kadima party chair MK Shaul Mofaz has not crystallized.  In comments to the Jerusalem Post today, Mofaz both expressed concern over the rise of a bi-national state, and criticized President Obama for allegedly supporting a civilian nuclear program in Iran.

Adding more confusion to his policy platform, MK Mofaz discussed the potential for a military strike on Iran, but also outlined a plan for total withdrawal from the West Bank.  Obviously these are not mutually exclusive positions.  However, the contrast of liberal and conservative positions raises questions as to who in particular Mofaz sees as Kadima's core constituency for the next election.

The answer to this question may not become clear until Prime Minister Netanyahu is either forced into a leadership challenge, or forces other party leaders to take sides.  The latter option is not likely to occur in the short term given that the Prime Minister faces no immediate crisis of confidence.  It is in his interest to wait out MK Mofaz and see whether the new chairman will be political friend or foe.  For his part, MK Mofaz has every incentive to dissemble because it will mitigate the damage his win caused to the party's image on the center left given Tzipi Livni's credibility there.  He is not likely to lay his cards on the table any time soon.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

GOP To Run Candidate In Egypt's Elections

The Republican Party made shockwaves around the Globe today, April 1st, when it announced intentions to run a candidate in Egypt's presidential elections.

Its choice for the race: Sarah Palin.

"Sarah is a strong woman with a can-do attitude," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus explained to reporters this morning.  "You all wondered why she wasn't running for president here in the United States.  Well, today, you have your answer."

Palin expressed excitement about the bid, brushing off concerns she was disliked by most of Egypt's citizens.  Speaking to David Gregory on Meet The Press, Palin excoriated those making such claims saying,  "This is just a typical hummus-job by the lamestream media.  The Egyptian people have a good friend in Sarah Palin, and I have a whole lotta expertise on the country.  I've seen pretty much every movie featuring Omar Sharif.

As President, Palin expects to be able to see Cyprus from her house, and promises her press statements will be issued in Hieroglyphics as well as English.

For their part, Egyptians expressed concern.  "We spent days camped out in Tahrir and overthrew Mubarak for this?" asked 24 year-old Ali Moussa.  "If she gets elected, I promise you there will be hundreds of thousands of people in Tahrir chanting, "As-shaab yureed isqat al-Hockey Mom."

The Muslim Brotherhood expressed cautious optimism.  "We believe Khairat al-Shater will be a strong candidate for the presidency.  However, we still have some concern, given that his legs are not nearly as nice as hers," explained the group's leader Mohamed Badie.

Field Marshall Tantawi could not be reached for comment.

Back stateside, U.S. Republican presidential candidates expressed support for Palin's run.  "Sarah will be a fine choice for the Egyptian people," former House speaker Newt Gingrich told a crowd in Milwaukee.  "She's one of the most intelligent, smart, no-nonsense, and value-loving people in the world.  Second only, of course, to me."  

Rick Santorum also supported the move.  "For the past 5,000 years, there has been a slow decline in the role religion plays in Egypt.  Now that the Pharaohs are gone, religion is under attack.  President Obama let this happen on his watch."

Frontrunner Mitt Romney also expressed excitement.  "I hope to host President Palin at my place in Giza.  It's literally a pyramid that I bought.  It also has an elevator for my camel, which I fired.

Elections in Egypt are scheduled for May 23-24 of this year.