Is it possible to contend with years of incitement?
Much has been said lately about the impotence of Israeli public diplomacy in contending with lies aimed at puncturing Israel’s international status and inflaming passions. Indeed, Israel’s public diplomacy is far from adequately fighting back against these lies. The problem, however, is much worse: the perceptual framework by which Israel’s enemies and adversaries internalize reality is a product of long years of indoctrination and incitement based on religious beliefs and core values of Arab and Palestinian nationalism that portray the Jews in general, the Zionists in particular, and the settlers all the more, as the ultimate evil.
For many Palestinians, the claim that Al-Aqsa is in danger is not just an incendiary slogan, but a deep-seated belief. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas sometimes explains that it was the Jews’ nature and their spheres of activity that caused their persecution in Europe. As Israel was observing Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), more than 200,000 Palestinian Muslims gathered on the Temple Mount to mark “Laylat al-Qadr” (the night on which the Koran was given to Muhammad), and they proclaimed: “In blood and spirit we will redeem you, O Al-Aqsa!” Some of them added: “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return!” (referring to the Prophet Muhammad’s killing of the Jews of the oasis of Khaybar). As Einstein put it, “It is harder to crack prejudice than an atom.”
In an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett strongly objected to the claim of symmetry regarding terror. There is no symmetry, either, regarding incitement and education for hatred. In contrast to Israel, in the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, education denying Israel’s right to exist and inculcating contempt for Zionists is a fundamental, institutionalized plank, both domestically and in public diplomacy. By leveraging the image of their victimhood, the Palestinians aim to infuse the international discourse with a narrative that denies the existence of the Jewish people and their right to a nation-state — not even on one grain of the soil of the Land of Israel. The Zionist endeavor is portrayed as colonialist activity and Israel as an apartheid state, accompanied by declarations that the Zionists are utterly evil and all disadvantaged groups must unite in the struggle against them. The claim that Hamas is behind this effort is only partially correct; the Palestinian Authority is leading it in the international sphere.
Benefits will not help
As part of this indoctrination, the Palestinians deny the existence of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. They have been able to advance resolutions in UNESCO, the United Nations General Assembly and even the UN Security Council that ignore the site’s holiness to Jews and the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. The most important of these is UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which the Obama administration promoted toward the end of its tenure. Moreover, the Palestinians make sure to use the name “Beit al-Maqdis al-Mazum” — a temple whose existence they falsely claim — whenever alluding to the Jewish Temple, asserting that despite its efforts, Israel has not managed to find archeological evidence of the Temple’s existence. Several years ago, I spoke with a senior Palestinian official well-versed in Jewish history, and I expressed bafflement about the insistence on denying a historical fact. He told me that he too had personally expressed perplexity on that score to the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat and was answered with the question, “What pension are you supposed to receive?” After that, he stopped asking hard questions.
Israel regards the Palestinian issue as a nuisance. With no possibility of reaching a permanent solution and seeking to ensure stability in the short term, it has decided to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and pacify the Gaza Strip with material benefits. It prefers to avoid a confrontation with the PA and Hamas on the issue of implementing sovereignty in Jerusalem and Arab population concentrations, and likewise around its international image. This approach indeed has certain advantages in the short term. However, it is likely to exact substantial costs in the medium and the long term because it creates a sense of achievement among our enemies, raises their hopes of further achievements in the conflict over who is right and erodes Israeli deterrence.
IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He formerly served as director general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the research division of IDF Military Intelligence.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.