Category Archives: America

The battle over Israel’s brand narrative

The battle over Israel’s brand narrative

You might call it 3 narratives for 1 peoples, or 3 states of brand.
There are three distinct yet interlinked narratives of Israel:

The Start-Up Nation

The Comeback Nation

The Occupation Nation

The Start-Up Nation positions Israel as being about technology and innovation that makes the world a better place; a tiny place with huge brainpower, a nation that has more Nobel Prizes than all of its neighbours combined; about a liberal democracy, the only democracy in the Middle East, where gays are not beheaded, where Arabs are represented in parliament and the courts; a multicultural melting pot, with bright people who have a bright future.

The Comeback Nation is about our ties to this land – historical, Biblical, legal and moral – roots to our ancient homeland. We are an ancient nation that was exiled from its home into the cruel Diaspora, where we suffered untold evil and humiliation for 2,000 years, culminating in the Holocaust. We were defenceless, we had no army, we relied on others to protect us, a reliance that failed time and time again. But we kept our traditions, and eventually returned to our homeland, and the Jews’ return from exile is one of the most enthralling human dramas of all time. We keep on uncovering evidence of our past here and we celebrate each discovery. Now we are fighting for our biblical/ historical rights to parts of this land. Under this narrative, Israelis are not “settlers” nor “occupiers” as “one cannot be an occupier in one’s own land.” If anyone is illegally occupying the land, it is the Palestinians.

The Occupation Nation paints Israel as an usurper state taking what does not belong to it, an Apartheid state that is denying basic rights to the “original inhabitants” of the area – the Palestinians [I put original in quotes only to contrast it with the Comeback Nation narrative]. It negates the first two narratives: Israel is not the only democracy in the Middle East, it is, in fact, not a democracy at all because it doesn’t allow the Palestinians living under its rule the same rights as it allows Jews; and it negates the Comeback Nation narrative by denying the Jews’ have any rights to any part of the Holy Land. It is from this narrative that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign springs. There are some shades to this narrative: not everyone who ascribes to the Occupation Nation narrative believes Israel shouldn’t exist within the 1967 borders.

These three narratives are all vying for the coveted title of “the truth” – the one that actually frames “what Israel is.” And there are serious professionals working tirelessly to promote each narrative, mostly working against each other – like the three-headed Cerberus they try bite each others’ heads off while all connected to the same neck.

But the truth is more complex

The truth is that Israel is all three.

I also find it interesting that Naftali Bennett, the new leader of the Habayit Hayehudi settlement party, is an embodiment of all three narratives: a technology start-up guy who now represents a sector that lives in what they believe is their ancient homeland; he wants to perpetuate the occupation – i.e. deny the Palestinians the right to a state of their own. All three narratives in one. Quite remarkable, and perhaps a first in Israeli politics.

The truth is that anyone who sells you just one of the narratives is selling you an incomplete picture.

The complete picture is that:

We are creating a future with startups that are as alien to the region as the region’s inhabitants see us.

We are a start up nation with deep, legitimate rights and roots in this ancient land and we are not letting go of many of our ancestral places.

We are an occupation nation because the people who lived here while we were in exile can’t live in freedom from our rule.

The problem is that we can’t keep on being all three.

We even managed to convince the leader of the free world to adopt our Comeback Nation narrative, and move him away from his previous notion that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. But in his speech in Jerusalem last week, Barack Obama painted an accurate picture of Israel as a complex country with three competing narratives: Start-Up Nation, Comeback Nation, and Occupation Nation.

If we persist in being the Occupation Nation we could lose the narrative of Start -Up Nation as Israel focuses more and more of its finances, resources, morality and international standing on denying the Palestinians a state. Who will we sell our start-ups to if the Occupation Nation narrative gets stronger and we are boycotted more and more? We can win the third intifada and the fourth and the fifth until the only thing left to win is a permanent branding of Occupation Nation. If we persist in the Occupation Nation we will also lose our legitimate rights as the Comeback Nation, because we will never get the world to accept this narrative in its entirety. The key is to hold on to realistic aspects of the Comeback Nation, strengthen the Start-Up Nation, and ditch the Occupation Nation.

A light unto the nations?
A light unto the nations?

What Israel’s friends are saying

Recently while in London, I spoke with several high level political, diplomatic and security officials from countries that are very friendly to Israel. Their main message was: “Listen, we are your friends, but you are making it increasingly difficult for us to remain your friends.”

Our friends are saying to us that Israel is a bastion of western civilisation and the only pluralistic democracy in the region. “Your values are our values,” our good friends say.  But the corollary to that is that “you must stay a vibrant democratic state for us to still be able to say that our values are your values.”

But what will happen to this if the two state solution doesn’t pan out and Israel slowly, in effect, becomes a non-Jewish and non democratic state? As Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at a recent meeting: “When the moment of truth comes and we have to choose between Jewish or democratic we will choose Jewish over democratic because we are the world’s only Jewish state.”

And as I have argued in a previous post, I think that this dichotomy is a false one, because if we don’t somehow separate from the Palestinians, and we continue to be ruled by ultra-Orthodox zealots, we’ll be neither a Jewish nor a democratic state. And if that comes to pass, what happens to our friendship with countries like England, Australia, Canada, France, and the US?

What happens to our shared values? Already, with America, we are moving away from a relationship based on “shared values” to one based on “added-value.” And in the long run, this is dangerous.

The ‘occasional disagreements’ we’re having with our friends over settlements are now coming thick and fast. We announce settlement building every time the Palestinians announce their own unilateral moves. We’re in an escalating diplomatic duel with them, and I’m not sure where this will all end up. What I am concerned about is the fact that our good friends in the world are telling us that we need to move toward a two-state solution, whether we, or the Palestinians, like it or not.

We have a good case against the Palestinians: they don’t want to negotiate, they don’t want to compromise, they don’t want to declare an end to the conflict and an end to all claims, they continue to incite etc. Our case against them is solid. But what are we gaining from this? Are we looking for a solid case against them, are we looking for an elegant way out of the two-state solution; or are we looking for a solution? And if we’re not looking for a two-state solution, then what are we looking for? What do we, as a nation, want? What direction do we want our next government to take us?

When you vote, think about what you want, not only for yourself, but for your country.


Israel and America: Going from ‘shared-values’ to ‘added-value’?

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minis...
President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliver a press conference following their meeting in the Oval Office. Screen-shot from official White House video. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s almost complete agreement among serious political analysts that Israel’s next government will not last out its term.

There will simply be too much external pressure on Israel to advance a meaningful peace process with the Palestinians, and too much internal coalition pressure to advance meaningful socio-economic structural reforms [equal sharing of the burden].

The one caveat to this is a drawn-out security situation, like war with Iran and/ or intense skirmishes along the Sinai, Golan, and Jordan borders with Islamists. Assuming the latter doesn’t happen, the next government will most likely be made up of Likud-Beytenu, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties, Habayit Hayehudi led by Naftali Bennett, and perhaps a ‘fig leaf’ party from the center left [Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Livni’s Hatnuah, and Kadima if it passes the electoral threshold].

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main messages, as outlined in weekend interviews, are that the settlement issue is not the central factor blocking Israeli-Palestinian peace [contrary to world opinion], and furthermore, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not central to the upheavals and processes playing out in the Arab world and Iran – processes which are much more important and fateful than the Palestinian issue.

While some in the Likud apparatus say that US President Barack Obama’s comments to Jeffrey Goldberg [Israel doesn’t know what its best interests are…Netanyahu is a political coward] are the result of encouragement by Livni and Ehud Olmert, and constitute meddling in Israeli elections, another school of thought posits that Obama’s comments, when taken at face value, constitute an attitude of benign neglect emanating from past disappointments and future priorities.

Obama has bigger fish to fry: his economy, his economy, his economy, Afghanistan, China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran. Obama’s attention is elsewhere, and so if Israel wants to make its mistakes, it should be allowed to do so. This is a sentiment shared by Olmert too, who believes the next government will fall quickly, and fall hard, and that Israelis should be allowed to make this mistake for themselves and, hopefully, learn from it.

Make no mistake, security and intelligence cooperation will continue, and will continue to expand. These relations have never been better. And that’s what worries me: that we are increasingly basing our relationship with America on “added-values” interests instead of “shared-value” interests.

 Take this comment from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in today’s Israel Hayom:

 “The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is very strong. We are in full cooperation on defense and intelligence. David Ben-Gurion had disagreements with U.S. Secretary of State [George] Marshall when he announced the establishment of the State of Israel. [Prime Minister Levi] Eshkol had disagreements with [U.S. President Lyndon] Johnson over lifting the blockade on the eve of the Six-Day War. [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin had disagreements with [U.S. President Gerald] Ford over American demands for unilateral withdrawal from Sinai. [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin had disagreements with [U.S. President Ronald] Reagan over Iraq as well as the Reagan administration’s diplomacy plan. [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon had disagreements with [U.S. President George W.] Bush over immediately ending Operation Defensive Shield. Despite all these disagreements, the relations between the two countries only grew closer, because the shared interests and shared values are stronger.”

Yes, Prime Minister. There have been disagreements in the past. But the examples mentioned above had more to do with security and diplomatic issues, not with the core “shared-values” matrix.

With Obama saying that every time the Israeli government announces settlement expansion it moves itself further into “near-total isolation” and goes against “its own interests” – we are no longer talking about just security and diplomacy. We are talking about an American administration which sees its “shared-values” relationship with Israel declining. We are talking about a president who is losing interest in that relationship. We are talking about vetoes at the Security Council. We are talking about the declining perception of Israel as a democratic bastion in a wild neighborhood. We are talking about a polarization of Israel in American political discourse, with the president and his senior circle on the side that thinks “Israel doesn’t know what its own interests are.”

What worries me now is that the Israeli political establishment is paying lip service to the strength of the shared values relationship. And every time our shared-values relationship takes a hit, politicians here, and in America, talk up our “added-values” relationship, i.e. security, intelligence and economic cooperation. They talk about “Israel’s unique contributions to U.S. national security and the economy as a matchless source of cutting-edge technologies, a sterling beachhead in a vital region, a battle-tested laboratory, and the largest U.S. aircraft carrier which does not require U.S. boots on board,” as one conservative columnist puts it.

Even our former military attaché to Washington, Gadi Shamni, believes that the US will always ensure Israel’s military advantage. Political differences pose no threat to “very deep” defense ties, says Shamni. This seems to be a given, and thank God for that. But even Shamni concedes that the impasse with the Palestinians is causing problems for Israel in Washington. “I think we have no choice but reach a deal [with the Palestinians] because both of us are going to be here forever,” he says.

So increasingly, the chatter is not about shared liberal democratic values anymore [the values that Obama believes got him reelected], it’s about our distinctive ‘added value’ as an aircraft carrier here: intelligence-sharing, counter-terrorism, homeland security, missile defense, training, battle tactics, joint exercises, pre-positioning of military hardware, medical treatment of soldiers and civilians, research and development, space, commercial and defense industries and high tech in general.

I’m not knocking these things. They’re vital in and of themselves and we’ve earned this added value with blood, sweat and tears. I’m just pointing out that increasingly, our relationship with America is becoming more about this, and less about that.

And that worries me.

What if America successfully pivots to Asia and cuts its defense budget; will its ‘reliance’ on Israeli battle tech and intelligence increase or decrease? It could increase, and wouldn’t that be a good thing? Yes it would, to the extent that it increases in tandem with the shared-values relationship. Is it a positive or negative thing that the American administration increasingly defines its relationship with Israel along “added-value” lines, like battle tech? If Obama is not going to invest political capital in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather leave us all to our own devices, will Israelis and Palestinians be able to come to a two-state solution by themselves – the only solution, in my opinion, that allows Israel to be a Jewish and Democratic state [i.e. to hold onto the “shared-values” part of the relationship with America].

And if, God forbid, one day our relationship with America is no longer based on shared values, but rather on ‘added-value’, will it last? What if America no longer needs our added-value because it has largely disengaged from our region, focusing instead entirely on the Gulf and Asia? Or what if our ‘added-value’ takes a big hit, like it did after the Second Lebanon War? What happens to our relationship then? So while our strategic dialogue with the Americans is strong and getting stronger, our shared-values dialogue is decreasing.

While I personally believe that the Palestinians are far, far more to blame for the death of the peace process [no to Barak, no to Olmert, ignoring Netanyahu’s settlement freeze], and I believe it is important to deepen our cultural and historic ties to our ancestral homeland, I don’t think the American administration shares this view. For an America, whose gaze is becoming fixed over to the Far East, the Near East is going out of focus – and those Israelis and Palestinians are still going at it.

How do you say Two-State-Solution in Chinese?

As its neighborhood roils, Israel must work closer with America

Over the past few weeks there have been a growing number of signs that relations between Washington and Jerusalem are even more strained than they’ve been over the past few years.

The US Administration has gone out of its way to make it clear to the Israeli leadership that it believes sanctions against Iran are working and need more time to evolve. The US does not want Israel to launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and there exists a certain amount of unease at Israel’s opacity when it comes to sharing its Iran plans with America.

Where do Israel and America’s interests dovetail, and where do they part? Continue reading As its neighborhood roils, Israel must work closer with America

Absorption minister defends expat ad, but apologizes if Diaspora Jews were hurt

[Many thanks to Haviv Rettig Gur for providing the quotes straight out of the committee meeting.]

Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu) on Wednesday defended a controversial public relations campaign produced by her office, saying it was her job to return Israelis living abroad, but also apologizing if the campaign hurt the Diaspora Jewish community. Continue reading Absorption minister defends expat ad, but apologizes if Diaspora Jews were hurt

Netanyahu and Obama are running against each other

Some thoughts on the situation

1. Silvan Shalom, the Likud’s number 2 man, had no idea that PM Netanyahu was planning to bring forward the Likud primaries date. He was caught completely by surprise. And just for that, he doesn’t deserve to be Likud leader. In this profession, and in this neighborhood, if you’re not constantly trying to politically or militarily outmaneuver your opponents, chances are they will get you. The wolf and the sheep have not laid down together yet here. If Shalom doesn’t know that by now, he’ll never know it, and he can’t lead the Likud, or this country. Continue reading Netanyahu and Obama are running against each other

Can we officially become the 51st state now?

Let’s face it folks, we can’t make it in this neighborhood by ourselves.

We’ve lost all our friends, and we’re not making any new ones. And more and more, wild animals are taking the place of inspired revolutionaries. The Arab Spring is turning into a clusterfuck before our very eyes.

The 2010 Gaza flotilla organizers failed to reach their destination, but their ultimate goal of causing us major diplomatic harm has been achieved. The Islamic Jihad terrorists who last month killed 8 Israelis couldn’t have wished for a better outcome than 80 million Egyptians ultimately turning against Israel. Continue reading Can we officially become the 51st state now?

Netanyahu’s speech by the numbers

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tonight delivered a speech to a joint meeting of the US Congress.

A numerical analysis of the words he used most sheds, perhaps, some light on where Netanyahu placed emphasis, and just as importantly, where he did not. The speech consisted of 3,549 words in total, and lasted 46 minutes and 50 seconds. The Prime Minister received 30 standing ovations. Here is a list of the words most used, in descending order:

Israel: 67 [That could be just a coincidence, but ironic nonetheless]
Peace: 50
Jewish: 19
America: 14
Iran: 12
Middle East: 12
Palestinians: 11
Nuclear: 10
Arab: 9
Friend: 8
Defend: 7
Security: 7
Freedom: 7
Terror: 7
Borders: 6
1967: 6
Jerusalem: 5
Hamas: 5
Islam: 4
Democracy: 4
God: 3
Hezbollah: 2
Holocaust: 2
Territory: 1

A purely numerical analysis of the speech seems to suggest that Netanyahu’s message to Congress and the Senate went something like this: Israel, the Jewish state, wants peace. Israel is America’s friend. Iran destabilizes the Middle East and wants to go nuclear. If Iran goes nuclear there will never be peace and there will be another Holocaust. The Palestinians aren’t ready for peace. The Arabs in the Middle East want freedom but Iran wants to spoil that. Israel will defend it’s security. Borders are not an important issue, security is more important. Forget about 1967 borders. Forget about Palestinian refugees. Jerusalem will stay undivided under Israeli sovereignty. Hamas is Israel’s al-Qaida.

Here’s a word cloud courtesy of

Here’s a video from C-Span of the speech

And here’s the full text courtesy of the PMO:

May 24, 2011

Speech by PM Netanyahu to a Joint Meeting of the U.S. Congress Continue reading Netanyahu’s speech by the numbers

Can Israel avoid its own looming Nakba?

63 years ago Israel was born at the United Nations General Assembly. The Palestinians called it their ‘Nakba’ – catastrophe. In a twist of fate, history may be repeating itself.

Some thoughts on the situation.

Richard Goldstone can’t stop what he’s started. The brilliant, yet naïve jurist thought he was helping to make the world a better place, thought he could bring human rights to one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, thought he could get Hamas to abide by international law [he was so proud he got the mandate to include Hamas violations of human rights]. He was terribly wrong, and now he knows it, and wishes he could change it. It remains to be seen how far he’ll go to make amends. Goldstone may have retracted his war crimes charge against Israel, but his report has a life of its own. The damage has been done and will continue to be done. In September, just as the Palestinians will be asking the United Nations General Assembly for recognition of their new state, the UN Human Rights Council will be holding a scheduled status review of the implementation of the Goldstone Report. The fact that Hamas has done nothing – and will do nothing – to investigate its human rights abuses and war crimes charges [in Gaza they call outbound rockets ‘legitimate resistance’ and inbound retaliatory Israeli rockets as ‘war crimes’] will have no effect on Hamas. Israel’s dozens of internal probes and convictions will be lauded, but any open investigations will be used to hit Israel over the head with charges of non-implementation, which will then go back to the General Assembly, where, as I’ve just mentioned, the Palestinians will be asking for recognition of Palestine. Not that the Palestinians need the Goldstone Report to convince member states to vote in favor of their independence. Continue reading Can Israel avoid its own looming Nakba?

Some thoughts on the situation in Egypt

There is a battle for the control of the Middle East. The US-led camp, which includes Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Egypt is locked in battle against the Iran-led camp which includes Syria, Hizbullah-led Lebanon, Hamas, and Qatar. A new Egypt, without Mubarak, significantly weakens the US camp, regardless of what type of government emerges in Cairo. The Egyptian capital was, in the words of Aaron David Miller, America’s “first stop” on Mideast trips; the U.S. built its Mideast policy around Mubarak. Now American power in the region is on the wane, and its staunch ally has been deposed. Turkey’s strengthening ties with Iran and Syria is another significant setback for the US camp. Jordan, sensing that it may be on the losing side, has been gradually warming ties with Iran to hedge its bets. And the muddled, rumor-filled Saudi succession battle does not paint the Kingdom as a coherent, rising regional power. The events in Egypt have quickened the processes in the Middle East. Israel, increasingly isolated, is extremely worried about what the Egyptian uprising will mean for its security. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about a democratic uprising in Egypt when that country’s institutions are not perhaps ready for true democracy, and where the Muslim Brotherhood, determined to destroy Israel, will play a significant role in any new government. In the meantime, Iran’s nuclear program continues; Iraq remains fragmented and at the mercy of Iranian designs; and Lebanon has all but fallen into Iran’s orbit. Continue reading Some thoughts on the situation in Egypt

Two national unity governments for two peoples

Much of the international community’s hope for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians currently rests on the formation of two national unity governments, one in Israel and one in the Palestinian territories.

Both the Israelis [represented by the Likud and Kadima parties] and the Palestinians [represented by Fatah and Hamas] are currently absorbed in near-identical processes to unite their two largest ideological blocs. On the Palestinian side, one of the blocs is represented by a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel, disavow violence, or respect previous signed agreements. Its charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and the most it is willing to countenance is a long term truce, not a two-state solution. Hamas’ inclusion in a Palestinian unity government the world can engage with is by no means a foregone conclusion, nor is Israel’s engagement with such a Palestinian national unity government should it arise. Continue reading Two national unity governments for two peoples

A hard place and two fast-moving rocks

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that his government considers the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa as an inseparable part of Israel and will continue to build there. This comes just a few days before US Vice President Dick Cheney’s arrival. America sees continued building in the settlements and East Jerusalem as an obstacle to peace, and Cheney will definitely make that point when he arrives Saturday. So why is Olmert seemingly picking a fight with the US Vice President?

I think Olmert has found himself in a position in which he has to keep Shas inside the coalition in order for him to survive politically. Nothing else seems to be sticking: Annapolis [the sides are talking but nobody really expects a deal either side can implement]; electoral reform [nothing serious moving here]. Poll show that if general elections were held now, Olmert would lose and Kadima would crash. Now Shas is not monolithic, contrary to popular belief, with Yishai pulling out of the government and Attias trying to stay in. The real question is what Ovadia thinks, and Ovadia and Olmert are tight.

To keep Shas in, Olmert has to give them gifts, and keep on giving, like permits for haredi housing, cheap housing because many  haredim don’t work, and where do you get cheap housing? Over the green line.

The way I see it Olmert is stuck between a hard place [an implacable Shas] and two very fast moving rocks [the Labor party and the US administration] to stop pandering to Shas and start getting serious about Abbas.

A clash is inevitable, unless Bush, Condi, Cheney find some sort of formula that gives Olmert some leeway so that he can stay in power for now. I guess that’s what Cheney is coming for. Bibi winning an election within the next year will destroy any chance of Bush-Condi achieving even the slightest success in the middle east policy – and no legacy.

What to look out for is how much rope they Americans are going to give Olmert; how much do they think Bibi is a threat [polls show him winning big here]; and if Bibi himself is sending any messages to the US administration about his views for a peace process with the Palestinians.

Reaction on the Golan: A new leisure park and a women’s entrepreneurial course

Here is the latest news about the reaction on the Golan Heights to the attendance of the Syrian deputy foreign minister at the Annapolis conference: a new leisure resort park has been established near the Amir Junction, the new B’not Yaakov bridge has been completed, work on road 98 from the Magshimim Junction to the Bashan Junction is close to completion, an entrepreneurial course for women in the Golan has opened up, a new course to train the area’s community leaders kicked off, a new population absorption campaign has been launched, new playgrounds have been built in several communities, and the municipal pools in several communities finally closed after a long, hot summer. In the community of Hadnes near the Sea of Galilee overlooking the Jordan Valley, 150 housing units have been made available to eager residents, with the option of building two guest lodges per property to give the homeowner an extra source of income and encourage tourism to the area.  

Residents of the Golan Heights can be forgiven for not getting too excited about talk of returning the Golan to Syria and a resumption of the Syrian-Israeli track – they’ve heard it before, at several peace conferences during the past few decades.

Continue reading Reaction on the Golan: A new leisure park and a women’s entrepreneurial course