Israel Needs its Own News Network
Outside reactions to the recent Israeli-Palestinian clashes have unequivocally revealed that Jerusalem is losing the fight for the mainstream media narrative. What had hitherto been peddled by a handful of politicised non-profits has since infiltrated public discourse across Europe. More than 30% of Britons reportedly harbour hostile views of Israel, and 20% consider it an apartheid state that endeavours to eliminate the Palestinian populace. In Germany, as many as 35% equate Israeli policies in the West Bank with the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
Worse still, such sentiments are already translating into legislation. For instance, Ireland’s parliament has unanimously denounced Israel’s administration of the West Bank as “de-facto annexation” amidst the Sheikh Jarrah controversy – a move most pundits do not regard as an irregularity. This does not bode well for the longstanding Israeli relationship with the West and international solidarity with Israeli citizens.
Another – and more pervasive – problem is the concomitant rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric and behaviour. According to a recent YouGov poll, some 45% of Britons converge around the idea that Jews instrumentalise the Holocaust for political advantage. Coincidentally, active instances of anti-Semitism have surged by 500% in recent times. At the same time, anywhere between 30 to 40% of European Jews have confessed to contemplating escaping this deteriorating situation and finding solace in Israel. Their exodus not only threatens to drive an undesirable wedge between Jerusalem and its traditional European partners, but also to despoil the former of some of the most influential pro-Israel advocates abroad.
Now that he is at the helm, Naftali Bennett has a golden opportunity to reverse the tide. At the cornerstone of his foreign policy should be plans to establish an Israeli news network, which would effectively convey the nation’s worldview to foreign audiences and counterpoise the unfavourable narrative. Realising this would help the incoming coalition accomplish multiple objectives at once. Firstly, this would unite Israelis after a period of severe internal fragmentation and all-encompassing frustration with local political institutions. Secondly, broadcasting educational content about Israel and Judaism and promoting a philo-Semitic perspective on current affairs that highlights Jewish contributions to our collective well-being could sway those without strong anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli convictions.
While increasing numbers of Europeans might hold certain questionable opinions about the Jewish people, the same polls that evidence this show that most of these people are inconsistent in their attitudes and could resultantly be persuaded. Thirdly, Bennett could use this to forge consensus with Jewish communities worldwide and deliver on his enduring promise to become a representative for his constituents and the wider Jewish nation alike.
Information warfare is nothing recondite in today’s world. Multiple governments, ranging from Russia and China to Germany and France, have undertaken to create their own television networks to explain their states’ geopolitical priorities to international bystanders. Although success varies greatly from one example to another, their presence has certainly made this information more accessible and likely at least to be considered alongside the dominant narratives in the target countries. State-supported media presence is such a treasure trove that India has chosen to allocate considerable resources towards launching a news channel to “project India’s voice globally,” while struggling to supply oxygen tanks and vaccines to curtail COVID-19 cases.
For Israel, being a latecomer is better than ignoring this important foreign policy dimension altogether. After all, its opponents already operate such news agencies. Thus, Qatar – which has assigned a permanent envoy to Gaza and transferred at least $1.1 billion to the Gaza Strip to support the construction of the local power plant and help Hamas make ends meet since 2015 – uses Al Jazeera to feed a combined Anglophone audience of 22 million suggestions that Israel is an imperialist state and that Israel had actually “benefitted from the Holocaust.” In the meantime, Turkey – rumoured to grant Hamas leaders Turkish citizenship and house their headquarters – relies on TRT World to advance its narrative and vision for the Middle East. Even Iran has its own, albeit relatively unknown, news network with permanent offices in Baghdad, London, and Beirut and more than 4 million followers across Twitter and Facebook.
Israel would also benefit from going on the offensive against such organisations as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and Electronic Intifada, which promotes the pro-Palestinian viewpoint in many Western democracies. These organisations might appear to be sidelined in most of our everyday conversations, but their profound influence on UK universities should be taken seriously and addressed accordingly. Israel cannot singlehandedly depend on the British government to address anti-Semitism, despite its efforts to impose the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism and crack down on the discriminatory policies promulgated by student unions. Governments come and go and their policies metamorphose to align with popular preferences and demands, and there is no guarantee that Whitehall would be just as willing to stand with Jerusalem on essential foreign policy matters in the foreseeable future as it has done previously. Such visible impediment to cooperation as Bennett’s reputation as a far-right nationalist could lead to counterproductive disagreements regarding what should be categorised as manifestations of anti-Semitism and how they should be tackled.
The risk of becoming a relative international pariah looms over Israel like the Sword of Damocles, as animosity towards Jews continues to burgeon in Western countries. A single, globally recognised voice for the Jewish people and the State of Israel is long overdue. The country’s geostrategic competitors have long recompensed their inability to confront it militarily with working to alter the media narrative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and convert foreign Internet users to their side. If Naftali Bennett wants to leave a mark on Israeli politics and show that Israel is ready to progress beyond the legacy of Benjamin Netanyahu, he must begin by acknowledging the obvious: Israel needs to regain ground on its rivals and critics in the realm of information warfare. The best option available to him is to launch a global news network and work to preserve and reinforce international sympathies for Israel.