Even before the facts were clear about the battle between Israeli commandos and the pro-Hamas flotilla, we were told by The New York Times website, and dozens of other online media, that Israel was being “condemned.” Indeed it was.
In Iran, suddenly in sync with the community of nations, the Tehran Times reported that “Israel added another shameful chapter to its long history of blatant disregard of international law… [It was] a wanton act of state-sponsored terrorism” against Hamas. Israel was guilty of killing “unarmed civilians in an act of unprovoked aggression on the open sea.” That is the consensus political and media opinion around the world.
In a second piece, the Tehran Times informed readers of the good news that “the great majority of the younger Jewish generation in the U.S. opposes the policies of the Israeli government and is becoming more and more alienated from Israel,” as was discussed last week by Peter Beinart in The New York Review of Books. In Tehran, such news is good to know.
Those Jewish readers who are not alienated from Israel might be encouraged to know that many journalists, if a minority, did in fact take positions sympathetic to the Israeli government.
In China, two days before the sea battle happened, the Chinese People’s Daily Online did not frame the story as Israel challenging anyone but that “Turkey challenged Israel.” Turkey has increasingly been an ally of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announcing four days before the flotilla that Turkey would be shipping gasoline to Iran in violation of the suggested sanctions. Now, said the Chinese Daily, Turkey was trying to break Israel’s sanctions against Hamas.
Israel’s blockade, explained the People’s Daily, was “an attempt to prevent weapons smuggling. Gaza terrorists have previously used incoming ships to smuggle arms, and have used the sea to transport bombs to the coast of southern Israel.”
Here in the United States, the Washington Post editorial (June 1) questioned the worth of the Israeli blockade, let alone the obvious fact that the Israeli commandoes “were totally unprepared for what they encountered. But the Washington Post was clear: “We have no sympathy for the motives of the participants in the flotilla — a motley collection that included European sympathizers with the Palestinian cause, Israeli Arab leaders and Turkish Islamic activists. Israel says that some of the organizers have ties to Hamas and al-Qaeda. What’s plain is that the group’s nominal purpose, delivering ‘humanitarian’ supplies to Gaza was secondary to the aim of provoking a confrontation. The flotilla turned down an Israeli offer to unload the six boats and deliver the goods to Gaza by truck….”
Jackson Diehl, the Washington Post columnist, blogged on the Post site that Obama would have some room to maneuver diplomatically, except “Obama has already exhausted his margin for quarreling with Israel…. Hanging over the administration’s deliberations are the gratuitous spats with Netanyahu that Obama has blundered into. Twice the president chose to launch pointless and unwinnable battles to freeze Israeli settlement construction in Jerusalem.”
“Just last week,” added Diehl, “Obama chose to side against Israel in the final deliberations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference…. Another public rift between the United States and Israel is the last thing the White House needs as it tries to wrest concessions from [Prime Minister] Netanyahu in Middle East peace talks — and as midterm elections approach.”
Diehl’s analysis might seem to contradict Beinart’s in The New York Review of Books, the other week. If, as Beinart claims, most American Jews, particularly the young, are alienated from the Israel lobby’s right-or-wrong support for the Netanyahu government, why should the president have any worries about Jews and the midterm elections?
An interesting split between Beinart, who sees himself reflecting the liberal Jewish community, and other journalists who are outside the Jewish community, was played out in the online Daily Beast, where Beinart, a senior political columnist, had a piece headlined, “Israel’s Indefensible Behavior.”
Beinart challenged the Conference of Presidents for “repeating a common ‘pro-Israel’ talking point” – the identical point made by China’s People Daily – “that Israel only blockades Gaza to prevent Hamas from building rockets that might kill Israeli citizens. If only that were true,” writes Beinart. “In reality, the embargo has a broader and more sinister purpose: to impoverish the people of Gaza and turn them against Hamas.”
However, the most popular story on The Daily Beast (as ranked by the The Daily Beast), was not Beinart’s piece but its opposite, Leslie Gelb’s “Israel Was Right.”
Gelb, a former New York Times columnist, and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes, “Israel had every right under international law to stop and board ships bound for the Gaza war zone late Sunday.
Israel was also strongly supported by Canada’s National Post, which pointed out, “If Israel truly had wanted to ‘massacre’ the Hamas sympathizers and fellow travellers… the operation would not have been complicated.” Israel could have simply torpedoed the ships “and watch them sink to the bottom of the sea.”
For most of the world, adds the National Post, “facts won’t matter: Like the bogus Jenin massacre, this episode will be used as just another stick to beat the Jewish state.”
Even as so few in the media mentioned one man in Gaza – Gilad Shalit — who could use a humanitarian visit, never seemed to come up in the media. And yet, Haaretz reported that “It is clear that public opinion is broadly in favor of punishing Gaza for the continuing captivity of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.”
It was reported in Israel that Noam Shalit, the prisoner’s father, prior to the flotilla sailing, that he would support the humanitarian mission to Gaza if they would ask to visit his son, or deliver a package to him, after nearly four years of Hamas denying any humanitarian visits to Shalit whatsoever. The humanitarians leading the flotilla refused.
There were many tragedies in the early Monday hours on the dark sea, but as sad a story as any might be Shalit’s loneliness and slow death in Gaza, not far from the sea, and the callous refusal of almost anyone – humanitarian or journalist — to care even the slightest about what it must be like to be Shalit or his parents.