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June 20, 2016 2:40 am

Fighting a Siege War

avatar by Jon Haber

The BDS logo. PHOTO: Wikipedia.

The BDS logo. PHOTO: Wikipedia.

Once you start thinking about the war Israel and its supporters find themselves in as a drawn-out siege (as I’ve argued before), rather than a series of pitched engagements, a number of seemingly inexplicable phenomena become understandable.

Why didn’t the Arab states (with a few important exceptions) make their peace with Israel after losing one war after another? How can Palestinians pass their misery onto their grandchildren and great-grandchildren when options for a peaceful future (including a state of their own) have been at hand for decades? Why would anti-Israel propagandists bring their BDS proposals to the same organizations year after year after year, regardless of how many times they are told “no?”

Such choices only make sense once you see them not as discrete conflicts but as individual battles in a single war – a siege war – waged by an enemy sure that time is on its side.

At a certain level, behaving in such a way is rational. After all, Israel is a small country surrounded by dozens of large, powerful and wealthy rival states. Those that support the Jewish state (notably the Jewish people) are not without resources and alliances, but nothing like the resources and alliance network of her foes. There are not, for example, 50 Jewish states taking control of the UN and other bodies in order to turn them into weapons of aggression against their enemies.

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With those kinds of resources to draw upon, a siege can go on indefinitely, especially since Israel’s disinterest in completely destroying foes with whom they ultimately want to live in peace means those foes do not risk destruction if they lose one or more battles.

History also plays a role in this dynamic, since there is ample precedent for winning a war by simply outlasting your rivals. For instance, the reason the Crusades loom so large in Arab myth-making is not because they represent Christendom’s invasion of Muslim lands (Christian and Muslim empires were grabbing each other’s territory all the time before and after the Crusades, after all), but because it is perceived as a siege that Muslims eventually won after dedicating two centuries to dislodging their Christian rivals.

But history also includes ample precedent of the besieger losing a war, or getting so drained by maintaining their siege that they become vulnerable to external enemies or internal instability. In one sense, today’s chaos of the Middle East can be seen as a besieging army succumbing to its own internal contradictions while the victim of the siege (Israel) goes from strength to strength.

There are a number of variables that can change this equation, of course. Some combination of missiles and terror might finally pierce Israel’s defensive walls, for example, or an Iranian atomic bomb might make those walls irrelevant. But given that our side controls of so few of these variables, it is in our interest to help Israel maintain and strengthen itself against all possible attackers while those besiegers deal with dynamics of their own making.

In the Middle East itself, those destructive dynamics derive from toxic brew of radical politics, religious fanaticism and European-style totalitarianism that is at the heart of every civil war breaking out across the region.

You can find similar divisions and conflicts within anti-Israel organizations working abroad where surrogates for different warring parties within the Middle East struggle for control of these groups, creating inherent instability.

For example, when divestment petitions first started appearing in colleges and universities in the early 2000s, this form of anti-Israel activism was driven by an organization called the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM), a group similar to today’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) that is causing so much trouble on today’s college campuses.

As PSM achieved prominence through the headlines it generated and perceived momentum, activists with competing radical agendas began to join with the goal of taking over the group and turning it towards their own ends. These attempts at infiltration became so numerous and time-consuming that PSM finally shut its doors, rather than devote the majority of its energy fighting off hostile takeover attempts.

This kind of instability is inherent in anti-Israel politics where groups tend to form, fall apart and then reform every few years under new names and leaders, but largely with the same foot soldiers. If leadership within normal political organizations flows to those who are the most dedicated and assertive, within the radical world of anti-Israel activism fanaticism and aggression are the tickets to power. And, as history has shown, there is always someone more fanatical, ready to turn their aggression on allies in order to bend an organization to their will.

This instability offers an opening to those of us dealing with the propaganda weapon in the besieger’s arsenal. For while both Israel and its supporters want to ultimately see the Jewish state living in peace with stable and successful neighbors, none of us has any stake in living at peace with propaganda organizations like SJP and its ilk. No one misses (or even remembers) PSM, after all, and if other anti-Israel groups similarly fall to pieces due to their own unstable nature, so much the better.

In fact, it is in our interest to exploit the weaknesses inherent in local anti-Israel projects like BDS since, unlike influencing what goes on in the General Assembly of the United Nations, on-the-ground activists can and have succeeded in turning back BDS again and again. And whenever a BDS project goes up in flames, this helps to delegitimize the entire effort to delegitimize the Jewish state.

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