Thursday, June 03, 2010

The question Israel's accusers have failed to answer

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?

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