Why befriending elites won’t work- Israel’s losing battle against the new world power

According to Israel’s influential Reut Institute, I’m a kind of general in the new battlefield for Israel’s survival. After all, I live and work in a “Hub of Delegitimacy” (the Bay Area); I write a blog that criticizes McCarthyism as it relates to Israel; and I am part of an organization (Jewish Voice for Peace) that actively supports divestment from companies that profit from the occupation, and defends the rights of Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists, including those who call for BDS.

A few weeks ago, Reut briefed the Israeli diplomatic corps about this new war of legitimacy in the realm of academia, culture, and politics, which Israel is not prepared for. I actually agree with Gidi Grinstein, Reut’s director, who suggests in Haaretz that without moral legitimacy, Israel is in existential danger. But of course, it’s Israel’s unaccountable status quo- of illegal occupation and legalized discrimination- which is at risk. It is repression and inequality, pure and simple, which thousands of people like me oppose-not Israel itself (which leads me to the conclusion that people like Grinstein actually believe, and this is the real issue that must be interrogated and challenged, that Israel literally cannot exist without occupation and discrimination encoded in its DNA. )

To be expected from someone in pathological denial, Grinstein attributes the global opprobrium over Israel’s human rights practices to a massive Iranian-Hezbollah-Hamas plot, sympathetically comparing Israel to a racist and a totalitarian regime:

Rather than seeking to conquer Israel, they would aim to bring about its implosion, as with South Africa or the Soviet Union, by attacking its political and economic values.

…Turning Israel into a pariah state is central to its adversaries’ efforts. Israel is a geopolitical island. Its survival and prosperity depend on its relations with the world in trade, science, arts and culture – all of which rely on its legitimacy. When the latter is compromised, the former may be severed, with harsh political, social and economic consequences.

The suggested response? (Thankfully, I spend my days safely in my “hub” and not in Israel-Palestine, so it doesn’t involve arbitrary detention or the confiscation of my computer.)

Israel’s delegitimacy is propagated in a few global metropolises – such as London, Madrid and the Bay Area – that are hubs of international NGOs, media outlets, academia and multinational corporations. Therefore, an extraordinary effort is required to respond to and isolate Israel’s delegitimizers. We must play offense and not just defense.

The most effective barrier to fundamental delegitimization is personal relationships. In every major country, Israel and its supporters must develop and sustain personal connections with the entire elite in business, politics, arts and culture, science and academia. This requires not only an overhaul of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and particularly of its larger embassies, by infusing them with significantly larger operating budgets, but also the mobilization of our civil elite in Israel and overseas for the task.

And this gets back to my new job title as general, and why this approach of befriending elites so they will act as ideological gatekeepers won’t work. The truth of the matter is that there are thousands and thousands of “generals” like me- from teenagers in Athens to Birthright graduates in Great Neck to church members in Ireland to grandmothers in Ramallah to college professors (and rabbinical school students) virtually everywhere.  We’re all generals and we all have an internet connection.

This is a force for change and accountability that cannot be “decapitated” through relationships with elites and exerting McCarthyite pressure. We’ve all bypassed the elites in the state/media/law/culture etc.. who have failed miserably to bring a just peace. The era of centralized power, and the associated power of the gatekeeper, is quickly ending. Today it is quick-moving, under-funded, decentralized, non-hierarchical, grassroots activism that is winning and unstoppable.

But still, the Israeli diplomatic corps simply cannot befriend enough of us, and give away enough free trips to Israel, to make a difference anymore. And now they know. Be prepared for a bumpy ride.
-Cecilie Surasky