One of the keys to strategic thinking is to never ignore or pretend away things that are objectively true, even if they represent a setback for your cause.
With that in mind, there is no way to consider last week’s decision by the European Union to uphold labeling of products originating in disputed territories as anything other than a setback. While it is not clear how EU member nations will respond to this latest outrage from regulators in Brussels, or whether such a labeling process will have any actual economic impact on the Jewish state, the notion that EU officials would bend their own rules in order to enact something so manifestly unfair is not a good sign regarding Israel’s relationship with the continent (currently its largest trading partner).
In many ways, the decision is quintessentially European, illustrating the chasm between the principles its leaders profess and the ones elites on the continent actually live by.
If you were to ask anyone who claims faith in multi-national governance, they would no doubt wax poetic about how the EU has replaced rule of force by rule of law, turning a continent that was once the focal point of global mayhem into a set of states ready to negotiate, rather than go to war over political differences. Yet by voting to label goods from one and only one “occupied” territory (with those same bureaucrats determining what that words means) and never even considering using that decision to establish a general principle (which could get them into trouble with powerful nations like China and Turkey – a country that occupies the soil of an EU member) the EU has effectively walked away from the rule of law that is its reason to exist.
Taking action against the truly powerful usually brings immediate consequences, which is why the “courageous” leaders of Europe tend to avoid ticking off those who might respond in forceful or costly ways. China, after all, has far more economic clout than does tiny Israel (regardless of the Jewish state’s recent economic success) and has shown willingness to come down hard on anyone who criticizes them. And Turkey not only continues to occupy European territory in Cyprus but has already threatened to flood the continent with refugees if their political behavior is punished in any way.
In contrast, Israel can only lodge complaints alongside similar ones voiced by diaspora groups pointing out the hypocrisy of Europe’s latest foray into Middle East politics. Even with high levels of support in the White House and, at least for now, Congress, it is unlikely the US will prioritize creating a price tag for Europe’s latest outrage against both Israel and the rule of law. This leaves Israel and her supporters relying on forceful arguments and moral suasion in a fight against bureaucrats using those words to dress up a power play.
Now there are other cards Israel and her friends can play in such a situation. For example, the recent labeling attack on Israel might be a way to give European leaders cover as they continue to reevaluate decades of investment in their Palestinian “partners” through massive infusions of cash into organizations like UNWRA. In an era when the US and several European countries have decided that corrupt organization no longer warrants support, we might be reaching a moment when UNWRA’s long-overdue abolishment (or folding of the organization into the other UN refugee agency UNHCR) might actually be on the table.
For NGOs and others pushing such an agenda, the EU’s labeling decision could be used as leverage to push the EU into investigating UNWRA funding by claiming such an investigation would give the Union the opportunity to demonstrate “balance” given their seemingly one-sided take on the labeling issue.
Another strategy would be to present the recent labeling decision not as an attack on Israel, but as an attack on the very principles that underlie the credibility of the EU itself. Given the mayhem caused by one nation (Britain) deciding that it no longer wants to have its affairs managed by Brussels, getting more European countries to question the legitimacy of EU dictates would be a consequence even the most anti-Israel bureaucrats would find hard to ignore.
At the end of the day, there is but one Jewish state and a mere twelve-million Jews worldwide, most of whom are not mobilized for war against even those who have declared war against us. This means we should not fantasize about having options only available to the more numerous, rich, powerful, and highly mobilized enemies. We will not be able to get the UN to pass dozens of resolutions condemning our foes on an annual basis, nor are we likely to get Europe to start using our vocabulary (such as “disputed” vs. “occupied”) by leveraging our numbers or our power, both of which are highly limited. Nor should we ever expect those institutions to fess up to, much less act to reverse, their hypocrisy.
But we can use what influence we have strategically, just as the Israeli military has combined its military power with creative precision to defeat far more numerous and powerful enemies for generations. For victory goes not to those who win every battle, but to the those who wins the most important ones (including the last one).