In his speech at the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu scolded the UN for singling out Israel unfairly for decades, quoting the Lubavitcher Rebbe calling the UN house of lies. This was obviously not meant to gain him friends in the UN, but to show how connected he was to Jewish tradition. He put the blame on failed negotiations completely on the Palestinians emphasizing the destructive impact of radical Islam.
In this speech Netanyahu continued the tradition established in 1955 when Ben-Gurion coined his saying “Um-Shmum,” the expression of disdain against the UN that was followed by, “It doesn’t matter what the Goyim say, but what the Jews do.” This may have been charming when Israel was a young country, and when Dayan’s not wearing a tie was seen as refreshing chutzpah. The disdain for the international community is now turning into Israel’s tragedy and failure with the Palestinian bid for UN recognition.
As Netanyahu has pointed out in his speech on Friday, the UN has, of course, given Israelis many reasons to think that it is biased against Israel: the infamous resolution that Zionism is racism; the dismal record of the Human Rights Council with its preposterous bias against Israel and the anti-Israel spectacle of the Durban racism conference. Many Israelis have come to see human rights discourse as nothing but a cynical ploy used by Israel’s enemies to score diplomatic points.
This view, while correct in certain respects, has led to dangerous myopia. Research by Israel’s foreign ministry has shown years ago that the global creative class’s attitudes are critical for Israel’s standing in the world, as it comprises most of the world’s opinion leaders: most serious international journalists, commentators and filmmakers; most academics in the social sciences and humanities, and the majority of Liberals in the Free World including the majority of liberal Jews, for whom insistence on the sacredness of human rights is the main lesson from the Holocaust.
This global class takes the human rights paradigm very seriously indeed, and sees it as a moral vision in which individual rights are truly sacred, meant to prevent national sovereignty to be used as cover to kill and torture citizens. Ideally the global human rights regime should, in the future, be able to prevent genocide and human rights abuse worldwide, even though we are far away from this ideal, as the international community’s lackluster response to Assad’s carnage in Syria shows.
Israeli politicians aware of the importance of this class’s attitude towards Israel often ask me what PR trick could get Israel out of the negative spotlight of the international media because of my research on the global creative class. They tell me things like “Brazil’s image is good, despite its terrible social conditions and high crime rates; why can’t we get them to talk about our beaches instead?”
My answer is best summarized in the words of Joseph Nye, a Harvard political scientist who coined the term “soft power” referring to a country’s the ability of to get what it wants beyond its military and economic power: “Even the best advertising cannot sell an unpopular product. Policies that appear as narrowly self-serving or arrogantly presented are likely to prohibit rather than produce soft power.”
The Netanyahu government has depleted Israel’s ability to influence world opinion to an absolute low. Nye’s description of soft power makes it easy to understand why: “The soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority.)”
Israel’s foreign policies, particularly the occupation of the West Bank and the siege on Gaza, are seen neither as legitimate nor as having moral authority, and its political values are seen as chauvinist. As simple as it sounds, this is something that the current government seems incapable of understanding. As a result they behave with arrogance, assuming that the world is too stupid to realize how right they are: Netanyahu’s lectures Obama; Lieberman’s offends foreign diplomats and politicians, and Amidror’s pontificates to foreign Ambassadors.
Israel does have an attractive culture with artists respected worldwide like Amos Oz, David Grossman, Daniel Barenboim and Idan Reichel. But none of this increases Israel’s soft power, because these artists represent the politically disenfranchised minority of Israeli liberals that is diametrically opposed to the Netanyahu government’s policies.
The price of this government’s myopia in terms of Israel’s credibility, standing and popularity is phenomenal. Whatever the exact result of the Palestinians’ UN bid will be, we must not let Netanyahu spin that Israel scores a moral victory if some major European countries will vote against it or abstain confuse us: Israel’s loss of soft power is no less than a catastrophe.
When it comes to the economy, Netanyahu perfectly well understands that Israel has to adhere to international standards, but he has never understood that the human rights paradigm is the new global gold standards in international politics. As a result Israel’s financial rating has gone up to A+, but its political rating is sinking towards the analogue of bonds issued by the Greek government.
Netanyahu has, throughout his career, aimed to prevent a viable Palestinian state, and he has one captive audience in the world: US Republicans. By playing them well, he has succeeded in ascertaining a US veto in the UN Security Council. Obama’s domestic weakness did not allow him to withstand Republican pressure to apply it. As a result the Palestinian bid for statehood will certainly not be a full success. Netanyahu will celebrate this as a political victory. But for Israel and its citizens, this will be a Pyrrhic victory indeed, and we will pay a heavy price for it.
If the Palestinian bid for statehood yields no tangible result, this may well mark the beginning of the end of the two-state solution. Already now, it is very difficult to implement because of the large number of settlers. An ever growing proportion of Palestinians think that the two-state solution is passé; that the Palestinian Authority should be dissolved, and that the Palestinians should demand citizenship in the state west of the Jordan, whether it be called Israel, Palestine of Isratine. Abbas hinted at this option when he said that if he does not achieve recognition, the Palestinian Authority might be dismantled.
Paradoxically, in the one-state solution, both Israel’s ideological right and Palestinian rejectionists will seemingly win by not ceding an inch of land. But all will end up losing. As yet I have never seen a credible blueprint for the one-state solution. Most Israeli Jews will insist that the state have a Jewish character, but they can’t explain how this character can be maintained with democratic means, if there will be almost as many Palestinian as Jewish citizens.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wrote in a NYT op-ed published a few days ago that if the two-state solution is not implemented very soon, chaos and destabilization of the Middle East will be the inevitable result. Netanyahu’s worldview is making sure that such chaos is drawing closer when the two-state solution will have been lost for good. Israel’s liberals have tried everything to prevent this scenario, but the day when global public opinion will consider Israel another South Africa and push for sanctions against Israel is drawing ever closer.
(www.huffingtonpost.com / 28.09.2011)