WAR CABINET minister Benny Gantz meets with US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill, last week. The writer asks: Can Israel make its case to Democratic supporters in a less strident tone, showing more flexibility, transparency, and a willingness for pragmatism?(photo credit: REUTERS/Anna Rose Layden)

Let’s be clear: you are not going to change the hatred of the Squad, but there are many Democrats, moderates, and independents whose ears are open if only provided with facts in context. 

Israel will never get a fair shake from most of the world. Some 69% of protests in the first week after Hamas invaded Israel were against the Jewish state. This, despite Hamas causing the worst loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, with unimaginable sexual violence. And the Jewish state hadn’t even started its ground operation. Trying to convince those who are so obviously predisposed against Jews is not worth the effort. 

However, the United States has remained a strong ally of Israel in good and bad times, with President Joe Biden showing true grit in continuing to support the Jewish state against anti-Israel voices in his party. 

Ross Douthat, writing in The New York Times, describes the double standard used against Israel in its war against Hamas compared to the American-led attacks against ISIS. “The world is fine… with American arms supporting a grinding war against a fanatical Islamist movement, leaving cities leveled and thousands dead – so long as the fanatical Islamic movement killed Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims.

“But if an Islamist organization slaughters and rapes and kidnaps Jews, as Hamas did on October 7, then (they argue) a new standard drops: The rules of engagement are suddenly much stricter, you can’t demand unconditional surrender, you need a ceasefire now. 

“Israel sits at an intersection point for various ideologies: not just overt antisemitism but also the wider anti-whiteness and anti-colonial discourse on the Left that treats it as presumptively guilty, no matter what its enemies might do.” 

Israel will soon enter the final and most sensitive phase of its war with Hamas, eliminating the terrorist organization’s four remaining battalions in the southern city of Rafah, which is filled with hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians. Hamas’s leadership is intact and protected, hiding under a shield of Israeli hostages in addition to its usual shield of Palestinian civilians.  

Without Israeli control of the Rafah crossing and the Philadelphi Corridor, Hamas’s supply lines would remain open, and Israel would have lost this war. 

President Biden still says Israel has the right to destroy Hamas but, paradoxically, also calls for a resumption now of the two-state solution, which would be viewed by Israelis as a reward for the terrorists’ heinous massacre and taking civilian hostages. 

To appease his party’s Israel critics, he has disproportionately magnified the threat posed by rogue Israeli settlers in the West Bank, allowing hardline anti-Israel media to redirect attention from the unfinished business of destroying a terrorist entity to a narrative that casts Israel as the obstacle to peace.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was always the master of talking to American audiences. However, today he prioritizes his message to a domestic audience, pandering to extreme elements in his coalition, whose agenda infuriates the administration. Speaking to his Israeli audience in maximal terms for political gain undermines the message he wants Americans to hear. 

CAN ISRAEL make its case to President Biden and Democratic supporters of Israel in a less strident tone, showing more flexibility, transparency, and a willingness for pragmatism? 

With Bibi’s rhetorical skill and understanding of American society, he can reframe the discussion. But is he willing to show more nuance in messaging, choosing to be more diplomatic in his response to sensitive issues, presenting Israel’s vulnerabilities that would allow Americans to sympathize with the Jewish state? Members of the Democratic party are already saying Israel is committing genocide, war crimes, and purposely starving the Palestinian people.

It will take masterful public relations skills, as Israel is a traumatized society and does not want to appear weak to Arab eyes, and the government must keep Israeli morale as high as possible for months more of war.

In a world of 20-second clips and binary choices, victim and victimizer, it is hard to get across messages like the one from John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at West Point, who wrote: “I’m an expert in urban warfare. Israel is upholding the laws of war.” To many Americans, October 7 is ancient history, and even when they acknowledge its brutality, it appears to them that Israel is now the one using disproportionate force.

So, how could Netanyahu have better handled the president’s call for an immediate resumption of a two-state solution, dealing with the settler issue, and the deaths of Palestinian civilians? Let’s be clear: you are not going to change the hatred of the Squad, but there are many Democrats, moderates, and independents whose ears are open if only provided with facts in context. 

It would also be in Israel’s interest to use female English-speaking spokespersons instead of harsh Israeli men.

Unknown to Americans, most Israelis are people of color, not white, as portrayed by woke critics. Being proactive and diplomatic, and managing controversial issues unrelated to the war effort allows you to control the narrative, not always being on the defensive. 

The settler issue

Concerning the settler issue: Acknowledge there are settlers in the West Bank who are committing criminal acts and that they are going to be dealt with to the full extent of Israeli law. Once you are transparent, you explain this is a minimal number of people. Then, you can define this threat in context to the much more significant threat Israelis face from Palestinian terror emanating from the territories.  

When the president started to call for a path to a two-state solution immediately, to give Palestinians hope, the response should have been reframed from an automatic “no” to shaping a different narrative. Say it is in Israel’s interest for the Palestinians to have a pathway toward independence and economic prosperity. But first, the Palestinians need the rule of law, freedom of the press, ending payments to incentivize terror, and protection of minority rights, including LGBTQ. 

This avoids confronting the president, who won’t be disabused of his goal for two states now, while shaping a different narrative requiring the Palestinians to change from corruption and terror if they want a path forward.

Humanitarian aid and the displacement of civilians with a too-long delayed plan to move the civilians out of Rafah are self-inflicted wounds. In the world of war, if you break it, you are responsible for it. Netanyahu should have managed the entirely predictable humanitarian crisis better on the ground and in his messaging. Taking action to move Rafah civilians to a more secure location before the next phase of war should have begun a month ago and been coordinated with the US and Egypt. 

Hamas manufacture Palestinian suffering

As for the charge that Israel is starving the Palestinian people: It should be known that it is Hamas that is stealing and reselling the food, and that the human rights organizations have not set up the infrastructure to handle the adequate food supply coming from Israel. This would require letting journalists, who are not biased, into dangerous areas on the Gaza side of the checkpoints to see the situation for themselves. Americans can’t fathom anyone purposely starving its people as a weapon of war to manipulate Western sensibilities.

Israelis believe showing vulnerabilities is a sign of weakness. But to American eyes, in a war of images, with October 7 in the rear-view mirror, showing the pain, displacement, trauma, and wounded of Israel as a consequence of October 7 would explain to Americans why you are continuing to fight.

Unknown to Americans are the thousands of wounded reservists, many with injuries that will last a lifetime and affect their ability to support their families. They are accountants, construction workers, waiters, and sanitation workers fighting in their backyards. Americans can then relate and understand the sacrifices of Israelis, not just of Palestinians. That is a story that will buy goodwill, since Israel needs more time to dismantle Hamas’s infrastructure.

It is up to Netanyahu and the Israeli people to determine their course. However, it is important to shape your narrative and avoid self-inflicted public relations dilemmas that undermine Israel’s path to victory.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on March 11, 2024

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network and a senior security editor of The Jerusalem Report. He regularly briefs member of Congress and their foreign policy advisers about the Middle East, and is the director of Mandel Strategies, a consulting firm in the region. 

By mepin