Hearts and Minds: Israel and the Bat­tle for Pub­lic Opinion

Nach­man Shai
  • Review
By – September 17, 2018

Has­bara, or Israel’s social diplo­ma­cy, is the focus of Knes­set mem­ber Nach­man Shai’s excel­lent study Hearts and Minds, win­ner of the 2013 Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Mil­i­tary Lit­er­a­ture. Accord­ing to Shai, has­bara is what Israel’s lead­ers have nei­ther tak­en seri­ous­ly enough, nor imple­ment­ed well enough through­out the country’s existence.

Mov­ing chrono­log­i­cal­ly, Shai ana­lyzes how Israel’s lead­er­ship has dealt with con­flict. Though Israel has won many vic­to­ries on the mil­i­tary front by exer­cis­ing hard pow­er, in the are­na of soft pow­er, or has­bara, Shai argues, resources have been either inef­fec­tive, reluc­tant­ly employed, or nonex­is­tent. There are recent signs, how­ev­er, of shift­ing atti­tudes. Pub­lic and pri­vate media and non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions are play­ing a grow­ing role in the bat­tle for hearts and minds.”

Too fre­quent­ly, argues Shai, Israel is tak­en by sur­prise by anti-Israel pro­pa­gan­da cam­paigns — even though the state is rarely blind­sided when it comes to the hard pow­er dimen­sions of nation­al secu­ri­ty. Shai’s analy­sis of the Israeli reac­tion to the BDS (Boy­cott, Divest­ment, Sanc­tions) move­ment is remark­able in its inci­sion and pas­sion. In 2010, sev­er­al years after the for­ma­tion of BDS, the Israeli gov­ern­ment pro­posed that the prime min­is­ter cre­ate pol­i­cy to con­front BDS pro­pa­gan­da. Why did it take so long to reach this stage? Shai claims that even when the neces­si­ty of pub­lic diplo­ma­cy has been under­stood and prop­er­ly val­ued, Israel’s suc­cess has been lim­it­ed due to its frag­ment­ed approach.

Through Shai’s high­ly per­sua­sive and con­struc­tive crit­i­cisms, he also reveals the inter­nal rival­ries that hin­der effec­tive pol­i­cy. Con­sis­tent­ly, but with civil­i­ty, he points out who has con­tributed to has­bara, and who has imped­ed progress. Names are named. Shai is, after all, a politi­cian. How­ev­er, he is also an impas­sioned schol­ar. His clar­i­ty and thor­ough­ness — includ­ing exten­sive notes and ref­er­ences — make this book an impor­tant read for all who care about Israel’s future.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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