Meretz USA’s statement earlier this week on the Gaza flotilla incident generated plenty of strong reaction. We appreciate all your feedback during these trying times.
Most wrote to express appreciation for our nuanced perspective that fell prey neither to the Scylla of “Israel can do right”, nor the Charybdis of “Israel can do no wrong”.
There were, however, a few individuals who seemed to feel that we had presented Israel as the sole villain in an incredibly complex situation. That, of course, is far from our belief.
One possible explanation of this misperception is that these individuals did not take the time to give our statement a thorough reading. Those who did would see that we deplored the “one-dimensional and demonizing” language used by the organizers of the flotilla, which we characterized as “steeped in [political] provocation and animosity”.
More likely, though, the disquiet voiced by these individuals emanates from their deep and understandable concern that Israel is growing increasingly isolated in the international community. This is a concern that we share. The question, however, is what can be done about this ill-wind.
As opposed to some in the American Jewish community, who clamor for better, slicker PR, or who insist that the cure is wall-to-wall Jewish solidarity with Israel’s government, we believe that Israel can start to win hearts and minds by adopting better policy.
The Oslo process of the 1990s, for example, for all its imperfections, was an important demonstration of the world’s willingness to embrace an Israel that strives for peace and works together with the international community.
During that time, Israel established or renewed ties with over three dozen countries, including powerhouses such as China and India, and many members of the Arab League. Far from being boycotted, Israel became a focus for international investment, its economy took off, and, on the cultural scene, dozens of performers began stretching their European tours to include Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In other words, there have always been provocative, anti-Zionist, delegitimizing activists, but they don’t gain much traction when Israel offers a credible and legitimate vision of peace.
Sadly, delegitimizers of Israel have been able to feast on some of the current Israeli government’s gross diplomatic blunders: The televised hazing of Turkey’s ambassador; the public embarrassment of America’s Vice President during his trip in March; the Mossad’s reported use of forged British and Australian passports for a hit squad in Dubai; the Foreign Minister’s decision to broadcast his boycott of the President of Brazil.
But the more fundamental problem lies not in these examples of pugnacity and diplomatic insensitivity but in the disappointment created by a Netanyahu government that, from day-one, invalidated the results of the Annapolis conference, dissociated from the offers made by Prime Minister Olmert, and vowed to expand settlement construction; and that also insists on continuing an oppressive blockade policy which has clearly outlived its usefulness – if useful it ever was.
So with the government in Jerusalem showing no appetite for what Ariel Sharon once called “painful concessions”, it’s sad, but not surprising, that most of the world is no longer giving Israel the benefit of the doubt.
And that’s dangerous – because Israel faces a growing movement eager to mine worldwide frustration over the country’s West Bank and Gaza policies in order to stoke opposition to its very existence.
So we don’t criticize Israel because we wish to do her harm. We criticize, because we know that good PR can never gussy up bad policy. And because wall-to-wall solidarity is only as good as the policy it seeks to defend.
Israel’s isolation, after all, is not inevitable or etched in stone. It can be countered by brave Israeli diplomacy that offers necessary, far-reaching compromises while also protecting Israel’s most fundamental interests. We believe the American Jewish community has an obligation to say as much because the Israeli people deserve better.
We criticize, in other words, because we care.