A War of Words with Deadly Intent

In Dublin for a short visit, Dr. Wilf spoke to an invited audience on the strategy behind what she terms “the poster wars”. Placing the anti Israeli rhetoric in both it’s present and historical context, she suggests very little has changed over the preceding century. Even if the weapons of war for the internet age have become words rather than rockets, the strategy is still the same: the destruction of the state of Israel.


I am truly humbled to be here today. I am humbled to be here with Boaz and Nurit who are without a doubt – and I travel and speak around the world often – the best ambassadorial team out there. It’s not just that they are in a difficult neighborhood, but they have shown that with persistence and a fighting spirit, you can get results. They are truly the kind of foreign policy teams that we need to have at each and every one of our embassies. I am particularly honored that they work here. If we are to send them anywhere in the world to be ambassadors for Israel, it must only be to a difficult neighborhoods. So I am humbled to be working with them and I am humbled by your presence, by your coming out here today to express your support and your love for Israel. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you; to thank you for standing up for what is right and for what is good and for what is true. So truly thank you, thank you, thank you.

What I want to do this evening is to lift the veil from what is really going on in fight for Israel. This fight is not about a PR, it’s not about criticism, it’s not about Israel’s image and improving it. What we currently experiencing is a war, and it’s not a war waged by means of tanks or airplanes or tunnels or rockets; it is a war waged by means of words and images and ideas. To some, this seems to be a war waged by means that are non-violent, and that is supposedly something we should celebrate, right? We speak so often about non-violent resistance. We think about leaders that lead non-violent resistance. We think about Ghandi, about Martin Luther King. So we think that if the Palestinian means are also non-violent, then so too are their ends. But there’s no relation. You can have a violent struggle for a noble cause, and you can have a non-violent struggle for a very sinister one. And this is precisely what we’re seeing here. The cause is the same that it has always been, even when it is waged by non-violent means. The goal of this non-violent battle is the undoing Zionism and the undoing of its primary and most important crowning achievement – the establishment of the State of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.

There have been efforts to achieve this end by military invasions, by terrorism, by economic strangulation. All of them failed. Not only have they failed, Israel has emerged stronger from these challenges. Israel’s need to physically defend itself means that we have developed one of the best fighting forces in the world, and its society is mobilized to its own defense. The Arab boycott, meant to strangle the fledging Israeli economy, meant that we realized that we need to trade with the US and Europe and India and China. So, Israel is the only country in the world that does not trade with the countries that share its borders, and yet we have one of the world’s strongest export economies. We had no choice. Israel has also learned how to beat terrorism – not that it has been vanquished completely, but it has diminished to a point that we can continue to live our lives, enjoy our lives, and even celebrate our lives.

So, due to all our challenges, we have emerged stronger. But, the other side has never given up. Each time we successfully counter the challenges thrown at us, we have become stronger, and the Palestinians merely changed tactics. So, when people now celebrate that the other side uses diplomatic means, means of non-violent resistance, popular boycotts, we must understand that this is no reason for celebration since their end goal has stayed the same. The Palestinians have not given up on violence because they have seen the light and have realized that they are truly pacifists. Instead, they are renouncing violence because violence has failed them. So, they are trying something else. The Palestinians are currently waging a non-violent war for very violent ends. I call it the placard war. I’m sure you’ve seen those placards and demonstrations everywhere. They say “Zionism=…..”. Now you might know that Zionism = the inspirational idea of the liberation movement of the Jewish people, the return of the Jewish people to establish a sovereign state in their homeland. However, on those placards it reads Zionism= racism, colonialism, imperialism, apartheid, and (recently joining the group) genocide. People who know nothing about Israel and Zionism will believe these placards. And I have met these people in high schools and colleges around the world; Students who believe they understand the situation will ask questions like “What do you have to say about that apartheid wall?” I can assure you that many know nothing else. “What do you have to say about Zionism’s colonial practices?” they will ask. But they know nothing more about the situation.

So, this has been a very effective strategy for the Palestinians. Don’t be fooled. this has not been an accidental strategy. It has a clear purpose. The purpose is not criticism of Israel nor a discussion of the issues; the purpose is to paint Israel and Zionism as the ultimate evil. These words are chosen because they have become associated in the global mindset with evil. If Israel and Zionism are the ultimate evil, then shouldn’t people of good will do something to make sure that that evil is erased from the face from of the earth? Even the Nazis were convinced they were doing something good. Their minds had been prepared to such an extent that they believed that by eliminating the Jewish people, they were in fact serving the world; doing something good for the world, ridding it of a disease. So, if you think about it and history, the greatest atrocities have been preceded by the preparation of people’s minds. This is what we’re seeing today. This is the nature of this war.

Don’t think that it’s about independence for Palestine. If it had been about independence, this war would have been waged by other means and, by the way, Palestine would have existed a long time ago. This is a war that is waged to ensure that Zionism is rolled back, that the State of Israel as the national expression of the Jewish people no longer exists. People’s minds are being prepared for this reality. If Israel and Zionism are truly so evil, then something must be done. If you’re a person of good will – and I can assure you that many people who are involved in these campaigns believe that they are persons of goodwill- and you’ve been told day in and day out that Zionism and Israel are evil, then you do whatever you can to make sure that that that evil no longer exists.

This is the nature of this war. It’s amazing the extent to which it has been successful. Recently, a young man in a college in Virginia confronted me to ask what I had to say about the fact that Zionism is colonialism, I had to teach him a few basic historical facts. So, I asked him if he could name one colonial movement in history that was sent by no one to a country with zero natural resources – and I can assure you 150 years ago they didn’t know we would find natural gas. So, the history of modern day Israel is about  people coming of their own volition to a place with no natural resources, purchasing land, having an idea of working the land with their bare hands, and employing no one else to do it for them, and above it all in their minds, believe that they were coming home. I’m not aware of any other such colonial movement in history. I can tell you, this young man had no idea that this was the story of the birth of the State of Israel.

People speak of apartheid. But how many people are aware of the context, of the fact that there is a national struggle in which one side – the Jewish people – have been willing to settle for something (less than everything) and therefore they have something and another side which has refused to settle for anything other than everything, and therefore they have nothing. That is the essence of this national struggle.

Some people would give an excuse that there is an inflammation of passions given the difficult images we saw on television this summer. Let me explain something about these images. While they are harrowing, they are not accidental. They do not tell the story about Hamas militants operating from densely populated areas. Have you wondered why there are no images of fighting between soldiers and Hamas militants – but only “civilians” from Gaza?

Israeli soldiers returning from the battle saying “If this is not war, we don’t know what is.” They were fighting Hamas militants, well-armed by a combination of locally produced arms and Iranian-shipped arms, yet we saw none of that. Hamas had a clear strategy. Hamas knew that with all due respect to the rockets and the tunnels, the real war was taking place on the television screens in millions of homes across the globe. They knew this was the real battleground and they made sure they have a totalitarian control of the Gaza Strip.  They made sure that no image of Hamas militants crossed those screens. Journalists later testified to that. They [Hamas] made sure that no image of rockets being launched from near schools or densely populated areas were aired. So, all that remained on television screens were images of women and children dying. So, what is the story people see? They see that Israel is senselessly killing women and children for no good reason, just because it enjoys it – that Israelis are baby killers.

That is an essentialist argument; it’s not about civilians dying in war, it is about Israelis in their very essence being baby killers. Now, at least in the ancient blood libels, the Jewish people were blamed for killing children in order to use their blood to make matzos for the Passover Seder. I sarcastically say that at least when they made up this story, they also provided us with a use or the action. In this new libel, there is no purpose, just sheer enjoyment when perpetrating genocide. Well, sometimes things are so outrageous you need to use a little bit of humor. I don’t know how effective it is, but one of my favorite articles, albeit a mock article, I saw after the claim of genocide began to appear, was that Israel’s Minister for Genocidal Affairs had to quit over repeated failures. Again, I’m not sure that this is sufficient to explain the claims against us, but it does give you a sense of the frustration of what we’re being charged with because it’s not about inflamed passions, it is purposeful.

There are a lot of uses for blaming Israel for committing genocide. Let’s say that Israel was only accused of colonialism or apartheid. If you blame Israel for apartheid, then all you have to do is bring down the Zionist regime, but the Jews can stay. If you accuse Israel of colonialism, then the Jews need to go “home”, but they can live somewhere other than Israel. If you blame Israel and Zionism for genocide, nothing but total war for their annihilation will do. And then it also serves other purposes because if the Jewish people are committing genocide then the genocide against them was not so bad, even justified – retroactively justified. That’s another great use of this word association. Another completely accepted but wrong idea is that if the Palestinian people are experiencing genocide, then the word will give them a state and be on their side.

There is a phenomenon which I call Zionism denial. We all know what is Holocaust denial. Zionism denial is the story that the State of Israel was given to the Jewish people – the remnants – after Europe realized it had failed in its Final Solution. They were given some random piece of land from its empire (because it felt guilty, of course) and that’s why the Jews have a say and that’s why they pushed out the Palestinians. As such, Europe has a responsibility towards the Palestinians because they are the secondary victims of Europe’s crimes. Well, this explanation is not only utter nonsense, it is the complete denial of the history of Zionism. Before World War II, Israel existed in everything but name.

Israel has come into being not because guilty Europeans gave it to them. Israel exists because the Jewish people willed it into being. This is the history that the Palestinians have yet to understand; that a state is not given, not handed over, you have to will it into being through positive action. This is the story of Zionism. But, if you tell the story of genocide, well, maybe a guilty world will give you a state and, in the process, get rid of the ‘genocidal Jews.’

If you think that these accusations disappeared with the summer, you are wrong. I just came from Belfast where I met a senior member of Sinn Fein who told me that the genocide Israel committed over the summer is a “shame, shame, shame”. I explained that Israel took unparalleled and unprecedented measures to limit civilian casualties, both its own and those of the other side. And then he said “we’ll agree to disagree.”’ And I said no, this is not a minor point of disagreement where we agree to disagree; you will retract what you said. And we were at it for a while until he had to end the meeting. But, this is the essence of how this war is being waged, and these things stick. If we don’t fight, they stick, and in the age of the internet what you don’t fight sticks and speads.

If a Norwegian politician says that the Mossad was behind the shooting of the young Norwegians on an island and no one says anything because the story is insane, the misinformation will stick. If people say that Israel set up this remarkable field hospital in Haiti in order to harvest organs, that too will stick. So, we need to understand that this is the situation currently going on. Nothing less. And nothing here is accidental. Nothing here is about ‘inflamed passions’; it is with a very sinister purpose.

So what needs to be done? First, we need to recognize what this new war is all about: that the non-violent means say nothing about the fact that the end goal is a violent end. We must recognize the need to mobilize. That’s another reason I speak so highly of Boaz and Nurit: because they are mobilized. Not enough of our foreign service members are mobilized. We don’t need diplomats anymore, we need warriors, we need people to fight because this is a war. As such, we need your help to mobilize and to enlist. Now, when we have to defend ourselves physically, we established what was called the Israeli Defense Forces. Now, I argue we should create the IIDF, the Israeli Intellectual Defense Forces. This is what we need today. We need intellectual warriors; people who wield words and images and ideas to win this battle. The beauty is that each and every one of you can self-enlist. In fact, you are here because you have already self-enlisted, you have already done something to fight.

This is a long haul battle. While we have emerged stronger from all our challenges, it didn’t happen overnight. It took us 25 years to get the militaries of Arab countries to finally decide not to try to mobilize their militaries against Israel. It took us decades to build Israel’s export-based economy; it took us decades to figure out how to deal with terrorism; and it will take us a while to win this war, but we will win and I will tell you why. I will first tell you what victory will look like because you might wonder what victory looks like in a war of words and images and ideas. Victory will come the day that those who hold anti-Zionist views, that those who hold the placard with views that I discussed, will have the social acceptability of neo-Nazis. That’s my definition of victory because right now they enjoy social acceptability. You have already taken the first step by being here tonight. This is where it starts, and then it becomes bigger and wider. However, right now the other side has the social acceptability. That is the entry into polite society. It’s almost difficult to preserve your place in polite society when you speak for Israel. That has to be reversed. That is the essence of victory.

And we will win, ultimately. After making many mistakes in the process, and after it is going to take us quite a few years, but we will win for the same reason we have won all the other wars and challenges: because we have no choice. Ultimately, I will say that if there is any war that the Jewish people and their friends around the world should be able to win, it is a war of words.

Thank you.