Featured atop the “Home” page is a button link, the only one placed at this blog. It connects to the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) – www.strategic-israel.org/, and its prominence is wholly relevant to the mission at hand.
In this regard, Part One of an interview series with Dr. Martin Sherman, its distinguished founder, can be found here – adinakutnicki.com/2013/01/01/presenting-a-strategic-based-policy-interview-with-dr-martin-sherman-founder-of-the-israel-institute-for-strategic-studies-iiss-by-adina-kutnicki/…and Part Two can be gleaned within – adinakutnicki.com/2013/01/27/presenting-part-two-a-strategic-based-policy-interview-with-dr-martin-sherman-founder-of-the-israel-institute-for-strategic-studies-iiss-by-adina-kutnicki/.
Now in its 10th month of operation – with several hundred thousand viewers and climbing – this blog is pleased to present Part Three to an urgent, ongoing strategic policy discussion.
‘WHY YOU SHOULD SUPPORT ISRAEL’S INTELLECTUAL WARRIORS—DR. MARTIN SHERMAN EXPLAINS THE RATIONALE OF THIS STRATEGIC INTELLECTUAL ENDEAVOR’
AK: Dr. Sherman, you set up the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in early 2011. Can you give our readers a quick overview of what the IISS is about, what its aims are and what the rationale for its inception was?
MS: The Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is a non-profit organization (US tax exempt 501(c)(3) entity) established to promote joint values shared by Israel and the United States.
At IISS we firmly believe in the practical value and moral validity of the founding principles and ideas of Zionism, and in the imperative of preserving their essence and renewing their vitality.
Moreover, IISS sees a significant confluence between the ideals on which the Zionist movement was established, and those articulated by America’s founding fathers and enshrined in the US Constitution.
In this regard, IISS activities are guided by the sentiments espoused by Justice Louis Brandies in 1915:
“Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent….Every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement …, [even] though he feels that neither he nor his descendants will ever live there, will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so. There is no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry”.
AK: I understand that since then, perhaps the major difficulty you are experiencing is in raising sufficient funding required to achieve the impact you believe the IISS can and should make on Israeli policy making. What makes IISS different, and why should it merit support from benefactors who are already supporting pro-Israel causes?
MS: Although at IISS we are keenly aware that there are numerous worthy pro-Israeli organizations, engaged in laudable efforts on behalf of the Jewish state and the Jewish people, our initiative is a distinctively ambitious strategic endeavor which is qualitatively different from other ongoing pro-Zionist activities that I know of.
While the success of many other commendable initiatives will—by their very nature of their objectives—be focused on specific issues and therefore have a limited localized impact both in terms of scope and duration, IISS adopts a comprehensive strategic approach. In other words, it attempts to direct its energies into channels that will have the potential to “leverage” the efforts of its operation by producing “knock-on” effects that will be both wide ranging and long lasting on Israel’s overall strategic orientation.
AK: Don’t similar institutions already exist in Israel?
MS: Not really.
Perhaps the best testimony to the lack of – and the necessity for – an entity such as IISS, are the endorsements of the IISS initiative by prominent public figures in Israel and abroad, who feel that there is a pressing need for precisely such an enterprise.
AK: So who has endorsed your initiative?
MS: The IISS initiative have been endorsed by an impressive array of prominent public figures, from Israel, the US and EU. The list includes:
- Lt. Gen. (res) Moshe (Bogey) Yaalon - Vice Prime Minister and Minister For Strategic Affairs, former Chief of Staff, IDF
- Maj.Gen. (res) Yaakov Amidror - Head of the National Security Council & former Commander of the IDF’s Institute for National Security
- Dr. Uzi Landau - Minister of National Infrastructures
- Baroness Caroline Cox, Member of the British House of Lords
- Prof Robert (Yisrael) Aumann - 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate
- Hon. Fiamma Nirenstein, until recently, member of the Italian Parliament; Vice-president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Chair of the Committee for the Inquiry into Antisemitism
- Dr. Daniel Pipes – President of Middle East Forum
- Ambassador (ret) Yoram Ettinger
- Hanna-Leena Hemming former Member of Parliament, Finland
AK: Getting back to what you mentioned earlier about IISS’ aims of impacting Israel’s overall strategic approach, isn’t that a little overly ambitious for a nascent private organization?
MS: Well, clearly it is an extremely ambitious undertaking but that does not make it any the less imperative.
Its success depends on correctly identifying, and then concentrating efforts on what I would call strategic“tipping points” and targeting strategic “epicenters” to achieve the “leverage” and “knock-on” effects that I mentioned earlier.
AK: So what would IISS diagnose as such strategic “tipping points” and “epicenters”?
MS: Almost without doubt, IISS sees the accelerating delegitimation of Israel and the clear failure of the nation’s public diplomacy to contend effectively with the alarming degradation of the county’s image abroad, as the issue requiring the most urgent and comprehensive attention.
Indeed, the damaging effects of the delegitimization of the country can scarcely be overstated. It is the source of devastating corrosion of Israel’s national cohesiveness and coherence – critically compromising its ability to sustain itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
This is something that impacts far more than “aesthetics” of Israel’s image.
In fact, as I pointed out in one of my previous interviews on this blog, some pundits have warned that Israel’s ineffective response to the threat “not only restricts Israel’s strategic options, it would be detrimental to its ability to survive in an increasingly intolerant and hostile world which thinks [little of ] sacrificing Israel’s vital interests or even the state itself”.
AK: I take it you agree with this dire assessment?
The ongoing delegitimization and its public diplomacy failure (which are in fact two sides of the same coin) does in fact “restrict Israel’s strategic options”. By limiting Israel’s perceived freedom for formulation of national policy, it imposes constraints – real or imagined – on its scope of choices across a wide range of fields – both military and civilian.
These extend well beyond conventional security issues and include direct and indirect influences on housing policy and population distribution, the ability to protect the environment, the security of Israel’s transport infrastructure (particularly land and air) as well as the safety of those utilizing them – to name but a few.
Accordingly, eliminating – or considerably reducing – these constraints, by effectively countering the delegitimization offensive (i.e by qualitatively enhancing Israel’s public diplomacy performance), will enhance the spectrum of perceived policy options available to decision makers in numerous areas of national life, where unwarranted international anti-Israel opprobrium comprise an artificial constraint.
It is for this reason that the IISS considers combating the ravages of the delegitimization and contending with the ineffectiveness of Israel’s public diplomacy is not only a crucial and immediate diplomatic imperative in itself, but an objective that will generate significant positive effects well beyond the scope of its immediate diplomatic focus.
This is precisely what I mean by generating “leverage” and “knock-on” effects by focusing on strategic “tipping points” and “epicenters”
AK: Yes, I see what you mean. But what do you foresee if such enhancement of public diplomacy is not forthcoming?
MS: Well, if the current situation is allowed to continue unchecked and unchallenged, grave consequences are inevitable.
AK: Such as?
MS: Consider the following:
- The ongoing degrading of the legitimacy of Zionism and Israel as the nation-state of the Jews will unavoidably erode the morale of the country—particularly the youth.
- Inevitably this will erode the motivation to defend the country against its enemies militarily, and to repulse its detractors diplomatically, as well as erode the resolve and robustness with which such defense is pursued.
- Indeed are disturbing indications that this malaise is undermining the organizational culture of the IDF where the notion of “victory” increasingly is depicted as a cognitively invalid concept and as an operationally unrealistic – indeed even undesirable –objective.
- The lack of conviction as to the moral validity of the Zionist cause – and hence the lack of confidence as to moral vindication of actions in its defense –is undoubtedly one of the major, arguably the major, reason for Israel’s dismal performance on the international stage and for the severe degradation of its international standing.
AK: A grim prognosis. But can an organization like yours rise to the challenge?
MS: Of course, as an NGO the IISS cannot play a direct role in formulating and implementing practical policy. Accordingly, it sees its role as that of a catalyst for sparking and invigorating the public discourse on issues of crucial importance on the national agenda.
To discharge this “catalytic” role effectively, IISS must seek the elements that have the most far-reaching and fundamental impact on this public discourse and devise approaches as to how to apply the greatest leverage to them.
AK: Can you be a little more specific?
MS: Certainly. To be effective IISS needs to be provocative and controversial.
However, this means more than merely “blowing off steam”. Provoking productive public controversy requires inducing a response from ideological adversaries, who would otherwise prefer to disregard any opinions discordant with their own—and thus avoid any open discourse that might challenge their positions in the eyes of their followers. Indeed, it is only by compelling them to “engage” can their fallacies and hypocrisies be revealed and repudiated.
After all, It is virtually axiomatic that one cannot be victorious over one’s adversaries unless one engages them in combat. If one’s adversaries are ideological they must be engaged on ideological combat.
So unless this is achieved, you essentially end up “singing to the choir”. Accordingly, IISS considers it vital to formulate its positions in a manner, convey them through channels, and propagate them among audiences that its ideological adversaries cannot apriori ignore, dismiss or discredit because of its mode of formulation, or physical location of its origin, or the organizational affiliation of its authors.
AK: Would the primary thrust of your effort be directed principally toward foreign sources of delegitimization?
MS: No, not at all. One of the major sources – and arguably most pernicious one – is domestic:The post/anti-Zionist academics in the Israeli universities –a.k.a. tenured radicals.
Indeed, entrenched faculty in Israel academe have in many respects become the epicenter of the forces for the delegitimization of Israel and the demonization of anyone who dare supports it. In the past I have expressed my concern publicly on this matter (see By thy own hand, Academic Freedom and the Shape of the Earth , Dishonest or incompetent? , and most recently A Giant Pall of Shame ); as have others who share my sense of foreboding ( see Academics on rampage , Mount Scopus or Mount Olympus?and Academic Brainwashing: Anatomy of Israel Higher Education, 2010 (translated from the Hebrew in “Maariv”). Also see the brilliant interview with Melanie Phillips on Israeli TV.
AK: How bad is the situation?
MS: Several recent studies have shown that virulent anti-Zionist themes have become an overriding – or at least extremely common – feature of much of the teaching and research conducted in the social sciences and humanities faculties throughout Israeli academe. Indeed, in many ways it has become accepted as the sole – or at least dominant – standard for academic wisdom.
This cadre of anti-Zionist academics have become – whether directly or indirectly – the dominant provider of intellectual input for many individuals and institutions – including those in Jewish communities across the globe. This in turn has resulted in the exacerbation of hostility towards Israel among its enemies, and an erosion of support among its friends.
Unless this phenomenon is confronted, curtailed and counteracted, no form of Israeli advocacy can be effective for:
- It undercuts all pro-Israel messages and amplifies all anti-Israel ones.
- It lends credence to the venom of Israel’s foes and undermines the credibility of Israel’s friends.
- It serves as “proof”of Israeli fiendish malfeasance and is exploited to dismiss any evidence disputing this.
After all, if Israeli professors/intellectuals are saying this, it must be true
AK: How can this problem be addressed?
It is a problem that can be only addressed in an effective and timely manner from within the existing academic frameworks – i.e. by of taking the battle to the adversary’s territory.
AK: It sounds like you are applying the principles of the“Ben Gurion Doctrine” for military warfare of “taking the Battle to the Adversary’s territory” for conducting intellectual warfare.
MS: There is a definite parallel.
It is crucially important that such facilities be set up inside, and that their intellectual output emanate from within, existing mainstream academic establishments. There are several reasons for this.
Although there are a number of noteworthy –and praiseworthy –endeavors to set up alternative independent centers outside the regular academic system, the public impact of such institutes will almost inevitably be limited. As I hinted at previously, the reason for this is that they will be vulnerable to accusations by opponents of being biased and ideologically tainted because of their geographical location, institutional affiliation (or lack thereof) and so on.
As a result their work is often intentionally ignored -or if that fails – disdainfully denigrated precisely because they lack “establishment credentials”.
Moreover, a significant time period is likely to be required for such nascent centers to acquire adequate public stature and prestige, creating a detrimental delay in bringing their influence to bear on the public discourse.
AK: So how do you deal with that?
MS: By contrast, locating a substantial policy research center with a countervailing pro-Zionist orientation within, or interfacing with, the current academic establishment will do much to circumvent – or at least greatly reduce – these difficulties, since neither its geographic location nor its organizational affiliation can be used to disqualify or disparage its work.
Accordingly, IISS seeks to amass sufficient resources to enable it to offer an existing academic institution and/or its faculty members, sufficiently attractive financial inducements to facilitate its inclusion of affiliation with such an institution . This the real challenge at the moment. We are convinced we have the right message and sufficient motivation. What we need now is the ability to acquire an appropriate “megaphone”.
AK: How would the IISS differ from say the various “Monitors” that are active today, such as the NGO Monitor, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) , MEMRI, IsraCampus and Israel Academia Monitor (IAM)?
MS: The IISS sees it role extending beyond that of a monitor.
There are a number of organizations doing sterling work in exposing vindictive and malevolent slander being directed against Israel from both domestic and foreign sources –like the ones you have just mentioned. However – by their very mandate as a monitor – they are reactive bodies rather than proactive. They respond to the initiatives of Israel’s detractors rather than embark on initiatives of their own.
Moreover, monitors–again by their very nature– do not deal with formulation of policy proposals or strategies for the nation. So, while IISS will indeed devote effort to rebutting unwarranted attacks on Israel and Zionism, a considerable portion of its efforts will be devoted to formulating proactive policy paradigms for the conduct of the affairs of the nation—mainly, but not necessarily exclusively, in the realm of security (broadly defined) and foreign policy.
AK: So wouldn’t you be merely just another “think-tank”?
MS: Again, as before, IISS sees it role extending beyond that of the usual “think-tank”.
It will be more orientated to policy prescription than policy analysis. It will focus more on the efficacy of the durable impact it can generate on the public discourse rather than on the volume of works it produces or the publicity of the events it holds.
As mentioned at the outset, IISS firmly believes in the value and the validity of the founding principles and ideas of Zionism and in the imperative of preserving their essence and renewing their vitality.
Accordingly, I suppose we could say that IISS sees its role as a policy entrepreneur promoting Zionist-compliant policy proposals over a range of strategic issues in both on domestic and foreign policy.
As such IISS operations will involve rigorous mobilization of the accepted tenets of the disciplines of political science, international relations and strategic studies to generate a Zionist- compliant conceptual envelope for the formulation of the nation’s strategic agenda. This will then be vigorously promoted—again subject to funding–as a viable alternative to current determinants of Israeli policy, which often appear misguidedly myopic and demonstrably dysfunctional, reflecting what can only be described as “intellectual surrender” by the Israeli decision-making echelons to the dictates of anti-Zionist political-correctness.
AK: As we near the end of the interview, what would you like to say in summation?
In a recent article entitled, “On the need for an avant-gardein strategic studies”, prominent scholar Professor Louis Rene Beres wrote: “Many of the principal assumptions associated with current strategic studies need to be challenged by a new intellectual vanguard, by an eager avant-garde.”
This is precisely what IISS strives for — to fill a glaring gap in Israel’s intellectual landscape which will provide a nucleus within, or interfacing with, the existing academic establishment around which countervailing pro-Zionist elites can coalesce, and raise a banner around which the hitherto hesitant can rally to mount a challenge to dominant—but dysfunctional—paradigms of today.
AK: Dr. Sherman, it is always a great honor, as well as a pleasure, to associate with such a clear thinker. A visionary of sorts. Indeed, supporting IISS embodies the ultimate support for Israel – for Zion’s sake.
Dr. Martin Sherman acted as a ministerial adviser in the 1991-2 Shamir government. He also served for seven years in various defense related capacities and taught political science at Tel Aviv University. His works have been published in academic journals such as Journal of Strategic Studies, Journal of Theoretical Politics,International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence and Nations and Nationalism. He is the author of two books on international conflicts (Macmillan UK).