Gaza Flotilla: It is not enough for Israel to be right; Israel also needs to be smart. Still, we cannot loose sight of the fact that Israel was right – and has a right – to maintain the military blockade.

Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
– Psalms 94:3

This week we have been shocked, confused, angered, dismayed and disappointed at the recent fatal clash on the seas as Israeli soldiers attempted to board and search a ship heading towards Gaza. The stated mission of the ship and those aboard was to run the blockade of Gaza and deliver needed humanitarian supplies to the residents of Gaza. The other goal – stated yet ignored by the world – was to provoke Israel into a confrontation which would again portray Israel in the most unfavorable of lights and open Israel up again for another round of international condemnation. Indeed, prior to the mission, Al Jazeera broadcasted that members of the organization IHH – a pro-Hamas organization which was heavily involved in the flotilla – were preparing a surprise for the Israelis and were preparing themselves for martyrdom. The pro-Hamas forces set a trap for Israel and, tragically, Israel fell into it.

In the words of Aaron David Miller, the raid on the ship was an unmitigated catastrophe. It fell right into the hands of the Palestinian propaganda makers, it elevated Hamas’ status in the world and elevated the position of an increasingly Islamist Turkey on the world stage.

To be clear, what Israel did in boarding a ship in international waters as it was attempting to run a blockade by one country towards another hostile country, was consistent with international law.  But the way they did it in this particular case was less than effective, indeed, in the 20-20 vision of hindsight, counterproductive.

As a noted Israeli has said time and time again, it is not enough to be right; you also need to be smart. Israel is for the most part, right, but was not smart. I agree with David Horowitz of the Jerusalem Post and Jerusalem Report that Israel made two critical mistakes. First, the Israeli Army should have known what it was walking into, and indeed indications are that they did. They should have known they were falling into a propaganda trap. They should have expected that on this ship – as opposed to the others which they successfully boarded – there was going to be violent resistance and found a way not to play into it. Second, when the incident occurred, Israel should have immediately seized the public relations moment, get its story and its video out there first, and not allow the other side to spin the events to their advantage. The other side is not right, but they are very smart. And in a world which is glued to the news 24/7, which is prone to seeing the world through the lens of the big lie that Israel is the evil, apartheid state and the sole cause of Palestinian suffering, being smart works better than being right.

In this particular war, Israel is fighting on the battlefield and the Palestinians are fighting in the press and on the streets – and they are winning.

While I criticize Israel for these missteps, I in no way condemn Israel.

My condemnation is reserved for those who set Israel up for failure, and for Hamas which perpetuates and exploits Palestinian suffering for its own goals by keeping humanitarian aid from reaching the people of Gaza or by confiscating it and selling it to the people for whom it was to be given free. My condemnation is for those who fuel and buy into the pro-Hamas propaganda machine which excuses its countless acts of terrorism and aggression against Israel and against its own population. My condemnation is for what Prime Minister Netanyahu called the “intellectual hypocrisy” which uses every instance of Israel’s defending itself as an opportunity to delegitimize the existence of the Jewish State, but which is deaf, dumb and blind to the suffering of millions of others in the Arab Middle East and throughout the world who are living under much harsher and crueler conditions than the residents of Gaza. My condemnation is for those who put full responsibility for the blockade on Israel’s shoulders, while the participation of the other party of the blockade, Egypt (the largest Arab nation in the world) goes totally ignored. Finally, my condemnation is for a world which puts Israel’s “aggression” on the front page headlines, while the UN report that Iran now has enough material to produce two nuclear weapons on page four. (International Herald Tribune). The UN called an emergency meeting to talk about the flotilla incident. When will the emergency meeting be called about Iran’s new nuclear capability? And what meetings have been called in the aftermath of Hamas’ recent closing of a number of NGOs in Gaza, including UN related groups, and confiscation of their records and equipment?

Hamas: Let us be clear: Hamas is driven by theology, not ideology. Peoples of differing ideologies have the possibility of compromise. People’s of differing theologies, differing and opposing views of the will of God, brook no compromise. Hamas has at its core a radical and fundamentalist Islam and sees as its unique mission to rid the Arab Middle East of the Jewish State. According to Yossi Klein Halevi, as long as Hamas is in power in Gaza, there will be no peace between Israel and Gaza, indeed no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The vast majority of Israelis believe in the necessity of creating a Palestinians state. For Israelis, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank is an existential necessity. It will allow them to end the occupation which has been so costly in so many ways, as it will preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It will take international pressure off of Israel. At the same time, for Israel, the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank is an existential threat, so long as there exists the possibility of that Palestinian State being taken over by the likes of Hamas and their ilk.

The role of Turkey: Turkey has been Israel’s strongest Muslim ally in the Middle East, at least until recently. Turkey was brought into the modern world through reforms which kept it from being another Muslim theocracy. But the recent elections have put into power a Prime Minister from an Islamic party who is realigning Turkey with rejectionist states such as Iran and Syria, garnering credibility in the Muslim world by being “the protector of the Palestinian People.” For the most part, the Turkish military establishment and a sizeable part of Turkey’s secular population are still essentially pro-Israel. The current governmental leadership is pulling Turkey in the opposite direction. Hence its involvement in the flotilla which was designed to provoke Israel. Hence it’s swift and total condemnation of Israel following this week’s events. Israel will need to work hard to regain its traditional ally.

Regarding the blockade: This incident has strengthened the hands of those who call for a complete end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. I too would like to call for such and end to the blockade, but I cannot at this time. While much of the world is well-meaning and most of the supplies heading towards Gaza on those ships is humanitarian, I have no doubt that were there a free unimpeded flow of materials into Gaza, there would be more – and more sophisticated and higher flying – rockets aimed at Israel’s population. If Israel were to end the blockade now, not only would weapons from Iran reach Gaza, it would be a victory for Hamas, further legitimizing their role as defenders of the Palestinians, and embolden them even further in their stated goal of destroying the Jewish State. The blockade will end when there is a regime in Gaza which renounces the armed struggle against Israel. Are there better ways to effect the blockade or even ease it in some ways? I certainly hope so and Israel is now exploring different ways of doing it, including asking other countries to board the ships for the inspections.

When Israeli officials claimed that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, to be frank, I was skeptical since it sounded so self-serving.  However, when a person like respected activist like Anat Hoffman of the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center said it, then I allowed myself to believe it.  To the extent that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Israel is not the cause of it. True, it seems that Israel is not allowing many things into Gaza which do not apparently have any military usage. However, what is being allowed in is more than enough to avert a humanitarian crisis. The fact is that the UN is closely monitoring what is going into Gaza, literally counting calories. Israel allows in or brings in approximately 2200 calories a day per resident of Gaza. Residents of Gaza are brought into Israel to be treated at Israeli hospitals. Most of the electricity in Gaza comes from the Israeli power grid. To be sure, none of us would change places with the average Gaza resident. But compare a picture of a child in Gaza with a child in Guatemala or other impoverished areas and you will see that, as humanitarian crises go, the one reported to be in Gaza is significantly less of a crisis.

What can we do?

Demand that Hamas release Gilad Shalit immediately, and if not that, allow him to be visited by international agents.

We need to stand up for Israel – not only because it is the Jewish State and we are Jews, but because logically, morally, and strategically it is the right and necessary thing to do.

We need to ask our own elected officials to speak out strongly in favor of Israel’s right to defend itself and against the hypocritical double standard by which Israel is constantly judged, demonized and delegitimized. There is no moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas – none!

We need to continue to educate ourselves, listen to divergent opinions, maintain the ability to see that none of these issues are black and white, that both Israelis and Palestinians (mostly Palestinians) need to find new and better ways of living together.

We need to strengthen within Israel the hands of those who work to keep Israel safe, democratic, pluralistic, prosperous, productive, and last but certainly not least, just.

Here is an AP report on IHH

Here are further resources provided by the UJC / Jewish Council for Public Affairs

For a detailed analysis on the incident and its broader implications, please click here to read a piece published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented on yesterday’s incident. To see his statement, click here.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, commented on yesterday’s defensive naval operation by Israel.  To see her statement, click here.

The UN Security Council released a statement that condemned Israel’s actions and called for an impartial investigation into the confrontation.  Similarly, the statement called Israel’s blockade of Gaza unacceptable and counterproductive.  To read a summary of the proceedings at last night’s emergency session at the UN Security Council, click here.

To read the remarks by Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, Deputy Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations, at the Emergency Session of the Security Council, click here.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Lieberman spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the flotilla incident following the UN Security Council Resolution.  To read more, click here.

JCPA Member Agencies Respond:

For the Anti-Defamation League’s resources on this incident, click here.

For the American Jewish Committee’s statement, click here.

For B’nai B’rith’s statement, click here.

To read the URJ statement, click here.

To read the JCRC of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda, and Contra Costa Counties’ statement, click here.

To read the Boston JCRC statement, click here.

To read the JCRC of Cincinnati statement, please click here.

To read the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington statement, click here.

Responses from Israel:

For the most up to date resources from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, clickhere.

For the full statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the flotilla incident, click here.

For the statement made by Israeli President Simon Peres, click here.

To read excerpts from a press conference with Defense Minister Barak, Chief of Staff Ashkenazi and Naval Commander Marom, click here.

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