Palestinian Hasbara

This article originally appeared in Times of Israel here.

The image of the State of Israel is deteriorating in the eyes of the world, while anti-Semitism is on the rise. Students are demonstrating on campuses against us, people are marching in the streets of major cities in protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Last week, the UN General Assembly approved a decision by a large margin that calls for Israel to immediately expose its nuclear plans for international supervision.

The similarities in the deterioration of Israel’s image are almost identical everywhere. It starts with the legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies, turns into the vilification of Israel and it eventually evolves into a campaign to delegitimize our very existence. All of our attempts to reverse this process have completely failed. We have reached such a dire situation that in March 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to create the Ministry of Public Diplomacy or “Hasbara” as we call it in Hebrew. Unfortunately, this unique ministry funded by the Prime Minister’s Office, has been unable to counter this increasingly worrisome trend.

In my opinion, all of the efforts to advance hasbara throughout the world are destinedto fail for this simple reason: hasbara is a defensive action. The literal meaning of the word “hasbara” means explanation, and this entire initiative isbased on an effort to explain ourselves. We are attacked with outrageous accusations,  in international journalism and academia, and our response to these assaults is too often unconvincing explanations.

Simply put: anti-Semites attack, and we explain. Palestinian activists attack, and we explain. We have become experts in answering difficult questions in a desperate attempt to justify our very existence. As long as they are attacking, and we are explaining, the right to define the boundaries of the debate is left entirely their hands. Eventually, we find ourselves in ridiculous situations. Why should the state invest public funds to explain why Israel is not an apartheid? Why Zionism is not racism? How IDF soldiers don’t actually murder Palestinian children in cold blood and harvest their organs? Please, do me a favor.

Everyone knows that on the battlefield, just like the basketball court, or a court of law: the best defense is a good offense. The only way to win the battle for the public image of the State of Israel is to create a line of offense in the enemy’s territory, to locate and strike at its weakest point. In other words, it is time to jettison the concept of diplomatic hasbara, and embrace a policy of diplomatic offense. We, as Israeli citizens should demand that the Palestinian leadership and activists start explaining themselves. I want them to hear some hasbara from them.

The Arab leadership in the Middle East should have to explain why after 65 years they are unwilling to grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees, their children or grandchildren, despite a common ethnic and religious heritage. Let them explain to the world why a Palestinian apartheid exists in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Why Palestinians in those nations cannot vote, hold public office, own property, learn in public schools, and in some places many need to receive special permission from the government to leave their respective refugee camps.

The Palestinian leadership who is demanding statehood, should explain to the world why they violate Palestinian human rights on a daily basis. Let them explain arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions without trial, the routine discrimination of minorities, silencing of journalists and the non-prosecution of honor killings to name a few.

Mahmoud Abbas should explain how he claims leadership of the “State of Palestine” when he cannot even enter Gaza for fear of his life, and why accordingly he is prevented from visiting 40% of his coveted state. Furthermore, most of the social services of the Palestinian people are not provided by the Palestinian Authority, but by an international organization called UNWRA. Let this organization explain why it is unwilling to transfer these responsibilities to Abbas’ government. Is it simply their unwillingness to let go of billions of dollars in aid money per year?  Is this what proper administration of a sovereign state looks like?

The Palestinian Authority needs to be held accountable by the international community for more than 25 billion dollars that has been given to the Palestinian people since the Oslo Accords, and should explain why the vast majority of Palestinian people still live in abject poverty. This aid money designated to build the socio-economic infrastructure necessary for an independent state has been squandered irresponsibly. Widespread corruption has ensured that the massive fiscal investment into the Palestinian economy and sustainable infrastructure has been embezzled into private bank accounts, financed terror networks, the purchasing weapons and has sponsored an educational system that teaches intolerance, hatred, violence and anti-Semitism.

They should explain themselves.

At the core of the Zionist movement is the decision to take our destiny into our own hands, and not to remain subject to the whims of other peoples. Fortunately, this task does not require an extraordinary level of creativity. We do not have to create something from nothing, or to promote half-truths and fairy-tales like those who hate us consistently do. The facts are in front of us and we must use them effectively. It is time to take up the challenge and initiate an effective diplomatic offensive.