I could hardly bring myself to read the accounts of the raid on the Mavi Marmara ship in the British press on Monday. It was simply too painful.
First, it was obvious that by opening fire Israel had committed a fatal strategic error, walking into a trap set by the so-called “peace activists”. How could it have been so stupid?
But beyond that, it was the media’s demonisation of Israel — its insistence Israel was evil in intent, not merely inept — which felt unbearable.
Israel was routinely accused of enforcing an “illegal” blockade (though it was legal), and of targeting saintly aid workers (ignoring the terror connections of many passengers). Multiple outlets blasted Israel for attacking passengers with “primitive weapons” (ignoring the metal bars, knives, explosive devices, and guns snatched from the soldiers), and mocked its claims that it was forced into violence (though the soldiers’ main weapon was paintball guns). Then Israel was accused of “kidnapping” British citizens.
Is it any wonder that, according to a YouGov poll this week, only 18 per cent of Britons believe the Israeli forces acted out of self-defence?
Israeli analysts have tried to figure out whether the media strategy could have been better handled. But it seems unlikely that the tone of the coverage would have been substantially different if only the IDF had released its footage a couple of hours earlier.
Facts did not seem to matter — because the battle for the hearts and minds of the West is no longer about facts. It is about values. And the values which Israel must live by are increasingly incompatible with some of the key values shaping the West.
European citizens, in particular, are anti-warfare and anti-military; many are practically pacifists. Israel, continually fighting for its citizens’ physical safety and indeed its own existence, can never meet this standard.
During conflict, the underdog is always favoured. Rich Israel will never be perceived this way as long as it fights poor Palestinians, no matter how many enemies surround it, how many of its citizens are killed or how often it offers to settle the conflict.
Nationalism is passé in Europe, busily trying to subsume its individual countries into the EU project. But it is the very basis of Israel’s existence.
Most of all, Europeans appear to want to appease Islamists. Israel does not, and cannot, if it wishes to survive.
Now, I am convinced that it is Israel which holds the moral high ground here; that the European attitudes are redolent of a declining continent, too lazy — intellectually and physically — to fight for true liberal values.
But ultimately, this is cold comfort. It doesn’t matter how right Israel is. As long as it remains out of step with the zeitgeist, it will remain on the path towards pariah state.