Is Condemning Israel Helpful?

[tweetmeme]  The Israeli raid of the humanitarian aid convoy that resulted in multiple deaths has caused an enormous international outcry.  Regardless of who is at fault or whose story best conveys what actually happened early Sunday morning, the reality is that there has been significant anger directed at Israel from around the world.  Although there were somewhere between 9 and 20 activists killed by the IDF, the tragic events give the pro-Palestinian camp the PR advantage in the war for public opinion.  Yet, as with any complex situation, there is more than one way to spend the new political capital; careless handling of the PR situation could easily lead to unwise and counterproductive use of the public’s good will.

The condemnations of Israel have come from around the world and have really been aimed at four major points:

  1. The immorality and untenability of the blockade of Gaza;
  2. the effects of the Israeli raid on the current proximity talks;
  3. the relationship between the US and Israel; and to a lesser extent
  4. the legitimacy and efficacy of the Israeli state and government.

The first three are certainly issues that need to be addressed and questioned by the international community and there have been plenty of calls pushing for all three.  The fourth charge is where Palestinian activists have to be careful.  Israel’s blunders have put the public strongly on the Palestinian side.  If the post-Flotilla debate turns into one that questions the legitimacy of the Israeli state or even remotely resembles an anti-semitic attack (or is successfully framed as one), the precious weapon of public opinion will turn 180 degrees and will be aimed back at the Palestinians.  It is exactly for this reason that I argued that any retributional violence by the Palestinians – or by anyone else – would be a disservice to the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian activists must push forward non-violent ways to force Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, make peace with Palestine and reassess its ‘special relationship’ with the United States.  When commentators use the Flotilla attacks to say things like  “[t]he solution with Israel is military only” or ask why Hezbollah has not replied to the attack with force, they are only wasting the international goodwill Israel handed them.

US President Obama’s tepid response to the Israeli actions prove that making real progress on any of the first three issues will be difficult – especially when pro-Israeli groups and individuals are working hard to portray the international outcry as the fourth.  Accusations of  Antisemitism and bigotry have been heard repeatedly in any criticism of Israel in an attempt to de-legitimize those who stand opposed to certain Israeli policies.  Charles Krauthammer attempted just this in a Washington Post column today, relating the condemnations of the Israeli attack to the Holocaust and those making them to Jew-hating Nazis (my emphasis):

The whole point of this relentless international campaign is to deprive Israel of any legitimate form of self-defense. Why, just last week, the Obama administration joined the jackals, and reversed four decades of U.S. practice, by signing onto a consensus document that singles out Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons — thus de-legitimizing Israel’s very last line of defense: deterrence.

The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists — Iranian in particular — openly prepare a more final solution.

Clearly Krauthammer is trying to use Holocaust-guilt to throw fog over the entire event.  The problem is that many people read Krauthammer and take him seriously – people listen and believe (though Andrew Sullivan -also read by millions- points out the obvious flaws).  It may seem as though the pro-Palestinian camp has public opinion in its pocket right now, but it must be careful where, how and on what to spend this political capital.  The Krauthammers of the world are ready to pounce with Holocaust antisemitic accusations.  Push for the blockade to be lifted.  Push for an independent Palestine.  Push for the US to stop playing favorites.

Anything else would only push the Palestinian cause backwards.

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