The question Israel's accusers have failed to answer


By Miriam Shaviv
June 3, 2010
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A confused editorial, I think, in the Times today.

The bulk of the leader is spent explaining why the passengers on the Mavi Marmara were a "lynch mob" who were clearly out to kill Israeli soldiers, there not to deliver aid but to gain publicity. It also asks some difficult questions of the Turkish government and its role in this episode (though in my opinion, not difficult enough).

So far, so good - in fact, so refreshing.

What I have a problem with is the first and last paragraphs. They read:

The Israeli raid on a flotilla bound for Gaza, which left at least nine dead, was a disaster. It was poorly conceived, incompetently executed and entirely counter-productive.

Israel has a right to defend its borders, but also a responsibility towards its citizens and friends to remain a beacon of civilised conduct in the Middle East. When it fails in this responsibility, the problem is not its alone. Israel’s friends believe in Israel because they believe in the ideals that it represents. On Monday morning, Israel fell short of these ideals....

None of this is to provide an apologia for Israel’s cack-handed actions, or to diminish the tragedy of those who died. But Israel’s greatest mistake, in behaving as a villain, has been to create an environment in which its enemies can be portrayed as not villainous at all. The truth is very different.

The problem is that the Times has singularly failed to show how, exactly, Israel behaved as a "villain", failing to show "civilised conduct". The the operation was "Poorly conceived, incompetently executed and entirely counter-productive" - yes. But how exactly does this add up to uncivilised conduct? To some kind of moral stain?

This is nothing more than a slur, which The Times (whose Israel editorials are often extremely balanced and fair) has lazily recycled from conventional wisdom.

The question I would like the Times (and all those accusing Israel of immoral behaviour on deck) to answer is this. After spending over 40 minutes being stabbed, thrown off decks, confronted with explosive devices, hit with metal rods, having their guns snatched and turned against them, seeing their helicopter tethered to the deck - being, as the Times itself admitted, met by a "lynch mob", and in fear of their lives, what exactly did it expect the Israeli soldiers to do?

COMMENTS

Joshua18

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 15:25

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"what exactly did it expect the Israeli soldiers to do?"

What they generally expect Jews to do: die.

Jews walking into a gas chamber is an event worthy of tears and memorials. Jews fighting back is an abomination.

Paul Mirengoff over at Power Line has got it exactly right: better by far to be hated than dead. In fact it is impossible for Israelis to win the battle for hearts and minds and also remain alive. An extract from Paul's article:

"To what extent, then, should Israel factor PR concerns -- which these days necessarily amount mostly to the desire to avoid condemnation -- into its strategic decisions? The historical record strongly suggests that Israel should largely ignore PR when deciding how to protect itself.

For example, Israel became less safe when it pulled out of Gaza -- a move that was popular with the Bush administration. It subsequently became more safe when, in a move that brought the same kind of harsh condemnation on display now, it invaded Gaza and waged a successful war there. Afterwards, the dogs barked for a little while longer, but the caravan moved on.

Israel became less safe following its offer in 2000 to permit the creation of a Palestinian state on a very substantial portion of the West Bank. The Clinton adminisration was pleased by the offer. However, it was followed by, and arguably helped precipitate, a bloody intifada. Israel subsequently became more safe when it launched a widely-condemned military action (Jenin and all that) in the West Bank that helped break the back of the intifada. The end of terrorism inside Israel was well worth the short-term PR hit.

Israel's enemies tout PR wins not because they are valuable, but because they are usually the only victories attainable. Israel seems to understand this, even if its friendly critics don't.

To hold its own in the PR wars, Israel must adopt, at least to some extent, the narrative of those from whom it seeks decent publicity. But that narrative casts Palestinians as victims of Israel, or at least of Israel's creation. To allow a narrative that casts Israel in the role of the villain to affect Israeli security policy would be a step on the road to national suicide."

http://tinyurl.com/2dlk2q4


mattpryor

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 16:10

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It's as I've always said - Israel's enemies (including those in Britain and elsewhere) will always hate Israel no matter what. Anything Israel does to placate that hatred makes them appear weak (in their eyes) and will only make them hate Israel more.

The Israeli government would be better served reaching out to Israel's friends around the world than wasting time trying to appease those who wish them ill.


Joshua18

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 16:40

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"The Israeli government would be better served reaching out to Israel's friends around the world than wasting time trying to appease those who wish them ill."

Precisely.


Jonathan Hoffman

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 17:06

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The reason it is confused is simple. Most journalists are so predisposed to badmouth Israel that when the evidence turns out in Israel's favour - like it has done since Monday - it makes them look stupid.

Today's Times editorial is an attempt to recount the facts but still put the blame on Israel. And that is not as logical position. That's why the piece is internally inconsistent.


Blacklisted Dictator

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 19:14

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Miriam,
To answer your question...
"Make love, not war"
(of course, I am not suggesting that the Israeli navy rape the women on board. No, not for one moment, as that would be a serious crime. But, I do think that they could have used a bit of shmooze. And who knows where that would lead.)


Miriam Shaviv

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 23:21

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You're not serious. You don't have time to 'schmooze' people who are tethering your helicopter to a ship and attacking you with metal poles as you board!


Blacklisted Dictator

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 06:58

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Miriam,
Ok, so no shmoozing on Mavi Marmara.


Jon_i_Cohen

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 07:59

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Exactly Miriam!
The Israeli commandos showed incredible restraint under the utmost provocation, it was some considerable time before the order was given to use live rounds.
In the meantime, as we know, a soldier was thrown overboard and others suffered serious injury.
BBC's radio 4 Today interviewed Sarah Colbourne who was pushed hard and Colbourne struggled to argue against the video footage, her "defense" was exposed by the interviewer and full of inconsistencies.


Joshua18

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 08:11

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Blacklisted Dictator writes:

"I am not suggesting that the Israeli navy rape the women on board. No, not for one moment, as that would be a serious crime."

I think there is another far more important reason: you know, like it is very, very wrong.

Miriam Shaviv writes:

"You don't have time to 'schmooze' people who are tethering your helicopter to a ship and attacking you with metal poles as you board!"

You should be advising Obama. He has been attempting that on the world stage.


JC_Reader

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 17:02

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Miriam, you miss the point. Obviously the soldiers were entitled to defend themselves (though equally they would have saved lives by retreating/jumping overboard rather than shooting). The point is that they should never have been put in that position where they had no easy means of evacuation and were heavily outnumbered, with only deadly weapons to defend themselves.

The protesters were not armed with firearms, and the Israeli navy for instance could have either:
(a) incapacitated it without boarding it and then offered to evacuate the protesters, or
(b) boarded it from another boat with sufficient numbers of police or marines that they did not need to resort to firearms to control the crowd.

And they could have waited till the boat was in Israeli territorial waters so that there would be no question about the legitimacy of the raid. As it was, while it is possible to justify the boarding on the basis that it was enforcing a pre-anounced blockade, it is also a casus belli to attack the neutral shipping of another state . For instance, the War of Captain Jenkins' Ear, the 1898 Spanish-American war and the entry of the USA into World War One were all justified on that basis. It was clearly a botched operation.


Joshua18

Sat, 06/05/2010 - 08:15

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"As it was, while it is possible to justify the boarding on the basis that it was enforcing a pre-anounced blockade, it is also a casus belli to attack the neutral shipping of another state"

Suddenly everyone and his dog is a lawyer. You know no more about public international law than I do nuclear physics, and that is precisely zip. Now here are the opinions of one of the world's leading lawyers:

Israel obeyed international law: Legally, the Gaza flotilla conflict is an open-and-shut case

http://tinyurl.com/37dgzeh

Israel's actions were entirely lawful

http://tinyurl.com/39e4her


Miriam Shaviv

Sat, 06/05/2010 - 22:51

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JC_reader - I agree that it was botched, as is clear from my post.


Blacklisted Dictator

Sun, 06/06/2010 - 22:02

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Miriam Shaviv agrees with 'The Times' that it was "poorly conceived, incompetently executed and entirely counter-productive", although she does NOT outline what she would have done, if she had been in charge. She writes: "I agree that it was botched, as is clear from my post."

Perhaps she is keeping that information to herself, just in case she is asked to organize Israel's response next time round?

But if she is just working as a journalist on The JC, my question to her, and everybody else is "What should Israel have done?"

I particularly would like to hear the views of anybody with military/naval experience. If you have had to board a similar boat, please get in touch and tell us where Israel went wrong.

Of course, Miriam Shaviv's allegation is extremely damaging to Israel. It implies that Israel's military leadership is incompetent and lends succour to those who are determined to undermine the state.


Yvetta

Mon, 06/07/2010 - 07:35

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There's a pro-Israel poster on Jon Snow's Snowblog called Adrian Clarke who comments, inter alia: "In answer to those who describe it as Piracy,i was on HMS Berwick Iin 1965,patrolling the Indian Ocean in international waters on the Rhodesian oil blockade at the behest of Harold Wilson, when we put an armed boarding party onto the tanker SS Manuella trying to run oil into Beira in support of Rhodesian UDI" - pity he doesn't come aboard this blog.


Blacklisted Dictator

Mon, 06/07/2010 - 09:54

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Miriam,

I think that when you think about it, you might conclude that your piece is also "a confused editorial".

Of course, it is your prerogative to write whatever you like. Freedom of expression is paramount. But it is certainly worth thinking very carefully before making sweeping generalisations. I think that you have certainly jumped to a very unfair conclusion when you state that the Israeli naval operation was "botched".

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