Taking issue with Hirsh Goodman (Part 1)

by Maskil on 26 May 2009

Some weeks ago, I attended a briefing by Media Strategist Hirsh Goodman at the Beyachad JCC in Johannesburg. Hirsh (a former South African) was on a visit here to take part in the local Jewish community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations.

I didn’t take notes during his broad-ranging talk, so it was only when I jotted down a few points later that I realised how many issues I thoroughly disagreed with him on. While Hirsh is far better qualified (in terms of both his academic record and life course) than I to take positions on many of these issues, nevertheless I’m backing my own judgement. Of course, he may well have taken some of these positions just to be contrarian. Let’s look at a few.

(I realise I may be putting words in his mouth, and I’m open to correction on any of the points. I’m also not quoting chapter and verse to support either stance.)

Turkey. Hirsh still sees Turkey as an ally of Israel and the West (and saw the Davos incident as trivial). This may well be the case, but it’s less true than it was in the past, and is becoming less and less true, with the Islamist agenda of Erdoğan and the AKP biting deeper. Israel should not be making strategic plans that assume Turkey’s friendship. Turkey will not be the first or the last secular Muslim majority country to abandon secularism in favour of Islamism.

Water. Hirsh underplayed Israel’s water crisis, suggesting that it was a bureaucratic blip and that Israeli ingenuity and the Israeli “Boer maak ‘n plan” (a Boer makes a plan) attitude would be sufficient to overcome the problem. Other commentators, however, suggest that Israel is poorly positioned to drive a national strategy to tackle the water crisis because of the paralysis induced by Israel’s electoral and political system.

Missiles. Hirsh’s view is that Israel is better able to cope with more advanced missiles than with the less advanced, e.g. the Qassam, with the higher level of technology playing into Israel’s hands. Israel may still have something of a technological edge, but as we saw with various incidents in the 1st Hezbollah War (e.g. interception of Israeli communications), following orders can trump cockiness. A further example: despite Israel being a leader in the field of computer security, whose Internet Websites end up getting compromised during times of conflict? An army of script-kiddies can do considerable damage to a technologically superior opponent.

Settlements. His belief is that pretty much nothing can be done about the Settlements in Judea and Samaria. Once again, I disagree. While there is a hard core of Settlers who will not be dislodged without severely harming the fabric of Israeli society, I believe the majority can be persuaded to leave once permanent consensus boundaries have been delineated, and once services are withdrawn from those Settlements that do not form part of the blocs, and that are not destined to remain part of Israel.

IDF. Hirsh was relaxed about the increasing proportion of National Religious (dati’im) in IDF combat units and the officer corps, referring to them as the salt of the earth (which they undoubtedly are). Shouldn’t we be a little concerned, however, about which chain of command will receive their loyalty in a time of internal conflict; the official IDF chain of command, or chain of command that reaches up to the Almighty through their Rabbis? In an earlier phase of our history, Ben-Gurion disbanded the Palmach for exactly the same kind of reason (and despite their elite status).

Israel’s Arabs. Hirsh is justifiably proud of the fact that Israel’s Arab citizens admit they would prefer to remain a part of Israel. The writing is on the wall, however. This attitude is being eroded by Palestinian nationalism and militant Islamism, and the smell of blood is in the water. They may want to remain in Israel, but the Israel many now envisage is not one that most of us would be comfortable with; it is one stripped of its Jewish and Zionist fundamentals.

Gaza. Hirsh made light of the Jewish narrative in Gaza. While Gaza may be on the periphery rather than the core of the Jewish heartland – and while we may have all but relinquished our claim to her – we should not attempt to rewrite history and erase the Jewish narrative there. There are others all too willing to take this up and extend it to other parts of Israel.

Golan. I didn’t agree with his assessment of the importance of the Syrian track. I believe that only regime change in Syria will pry her loose from the Iranian orbit. Even in the age of remote control warfare, defensible borders and strategic depth still have meaning. I’m also a believer in Peace for Peace rather than Land for Peace when it comes to the Golan Heights and anywhere else.

In Part 2, I will look at the key issue of Iran, and also take a very brief look at the aspects of Hirsh Goodman’s presentation that I was in agreement with.

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