Ron Radosh

The Flotilla Crisis and Israel's Would-be Friends

The truth about Israel and the terrorist flotilla is now apparent for anyone who wants to see. The problem, however, is the one various people, like Max Boot, have alluded to. Israel, by the way it dealt with the problem, handed Hamas and its opponents a major propaganda victory.  Daniel Pipes makes much the same point.  Nevertheless, this leaves no excuse for the various left-wing and liberal commentators who have seized the moment to find new reasons to bash Israel, and to portray it as the aggressor.  As Boot points out, “The so-called Gaza flotilla, comprising eight ships and roughly 800 participants, was not put together by peace-loving humanitarians primarily worried about relieving the suffering of Gaza residents.” Rather, it was a project of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi, an ally of various global jihadist terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

So what Israel got was a PR disaster, from which it is now trying to recover. Nevertheless, some clearheaded mainstream foreign policy observers have seen the truth without a problem. Leslie Gelb is one of them. Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations and former New York Times top foreign affairs correspondent, writes:

Israel had every right under international law to stop and board ships bound for the Gaza war zone late Sunday. Only knee-jerk left-wingers and the usual legion of poseurs around the world would dispute this.(my emphasis) And it is pretty clear that this “humanitarian” flotilla headed for Gaza aimed to provoke a confrontation with Israel. Various representatives of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the main organizers of this deadly extravaganza, have let it slip throughout Monday that their intention was every bit as much “to break” Israel’s blockade of Gaza as to deliver the relief goods.

The problem is evidently that there are more “knee-jerk left-wingers” around than Gelb imagines. And many of them think of themselves as mainstream liberals who would not consider themselves part of Gelb’s category. So let us look carefully at the arguments and analysis of this ever growing group.

First, once again, comes Andrew Sullivan. The guilty party of course is both Israel and — you guessed it — the dreaded neo-cons. Writes the brilliant pundit, the people on board the flotilla were defending themselves from invaders. He does not mention that the Israeli commandos carried only paint guns they were told to try and avoid using, and pistols which they had to get permission to use. He claims that the analysis of people like Noah Pollak and Jennifer Rubin “is a function of a mindset warped by paranoia, enabled by utter arrogance, fueled by a sense of impunity.” Sounds like a case of the pot calling the kettle black to me.

On Sunday, Sullivan conceded that the “activists’” violence was “pretty abhorrent,” and that they are not “not followers of Gandhi or MLK Jr.” But he goes on to say that “it is in response to a dawn commando raid by armed soldiers. They are engaging in self-defense.” Sullivan, evidently now an expert in international law as well, sees the Israeli act as the Turkish government does, that of “inhumane state terror.” And Sullivan continually repeats that “the attack took place in international waters,” implying that fact in itself makes it illegal.

Again, as Gelb explained, “blockades are quite legal. The United States and Britain were at war with Germany and Japan and blockaded them. I can’t remember international lawyers saying those blockades were illegal — even though they took place on the high seas in international waters. There would be a general violation only if the hostile actions against the ships took place in waters under the jurisdiction of another sovereign state. Thus, for example, if the Israelis stopped the ships in Egyptian waters, that would have been a violation.”

That point was emphasized as well on Sunday night on the PBS NewsHour by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who pointed out: “Under international law, when there’s a case of a military blockade against a hostile entity — and we are talking about a hostile entity … Hamas in Gaza, a country under Article 51 of the United Nations charter…has a right to defend itself. By the same articles of war, the United States blockaded Germany during World War II in the open seas. Israel was well within its international rights.”

Next comes the indefatigable Peter Beinart, whose self-proclaimed commitment to Israel and liberal Zionism seems more and more to mean joining the anti-Israel group and abandoning any support of Israel in favor of  portraying  it as the aggressor.  Beinart blames not the commandos, whom he agrees were attacked by a mob, but the Israeli government and its American supporters.  Beinart says the Israeli embargo of Gaza is not meant to keep out arms — how Beinart knows this is something he evidently is alone privileged to have found out — but is meant instead to “to impoverish the people of Gaza, and thus turn them against Hamas.”

If that is the case, why does Israel regularly allow in aid of a humanitarian nature to Gaza, and why did it offer through a week of negotiations to search the ships for arms and then deliver the food and other items of a humanitarian nature to Gaza itself? As Oren noted, “Israel vowed to transfer that aid to Gaza. About 100 trucks of humanitarian aid, food and medicine go into Gaza every day. There’s no shortage of food in Gaza.”

Beinart’s analysis pales in comparison to that of commentators like Reza Aslan, who argues that the flotilla was made up of “800 humanitarians, peace activists, and aid workers.” Score another member of Gelb’s group of “knee-jerk left-wingers” and “poseurs.” Maybe Daily Beast columnists should wait to read their colleagues’ entries before they post their own. Previously, Aslan writes, the so-called “Free Gaza” movement was turned back when they tried to get a ship through that carried, among others, former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. Now that’s a credit to their movement. Perhaps Aslan is not familiar with McKinney’s flotilla of conspiracy theories and overt anti-Semitism that led to the end of her political career. If anything, the presence of people like McKinney and Free Gaza’s spokesman Adam Shapiro, also a founder of the extremist International Solidarity Movement of Rachel Corrie fame, says much about the group’s actual agenda.

As further evidence for his claims, Aslan cites none other than Jimmy Carter, and endorses his claim that the Israeli blockade is a “crime and an atrocity.” And Aslan calls the Israeli government’s argument “predictable as it is absurd.” As for me, I’ll take Michael Oren’s explanation and defense of Israel anytime over anything said by Jimmy Carter.

Aslan concludes by asking that we “put politics aside” and do something about “the suffering of our fellow human beings” in Gaza.  He should address his concern to Hamas, which continues to do all it can to honor its pledge to destroy Israel and wipe it off  the face of the globe, as it is already not shown on Hamas maps of the Middle East.  As for putting politics aside, his own comments are proof that he should look to his own words first.

Finally, one should pay attention to the deluded leftists who blog on the Huffington Post. Take as one example Robert Naiman, policy director of a group called “Just Foreign Policy.” Naiman writes:

In the face of an effective act of nonviolent resistance, the oppressor faces two unappetizing choices: concede ground, thereby undermining the image of absolute power the oppressor wants to project, and therefore encouraging further resistance; or resist with force, thereby projecting the image of “brutes,” and therefore encouraging further resistance.

The dilemma Naiman faces, as anyone can see immediately, is that “nonviolent resistance” was hardly in play. From the moment the commandos landed, they were faced with serious attacks of a violent nature, as the IDF’s released videos make very clear. But for bloggers like Naiman, facts evidently do not have an effect on his analysis.  He concludes by writing that we  “are confronted with a choice: whether to help or allow the resisters to prevail, at least in the short-run, or whether to stand publicly on the side of brutality.” True enough, which is why many of us know that we have to stand with Israel against Hamas and its defenders.

To the credit of the Huffington Post, they also print bloggers who know why Israel is in the right. Check out the articles by Rabbi Daniel Gordis. Gordis answers a friend who wrote to him and made points similar to Naiman.  He responds:

As for “peace activists,” David, how much do you know about the IHH? It’s a terror support group, supported by Turkey (among others) and it was meant to provoke. If they just wanted the goods to get to Gaza, they could have agreed to transfer them to an Israeli ship, or to unload them in Ashdod, as the Navy personnel asked them to. But they didn’t want that. They just wanted to break the blockade. Why? For food? Even a few Palestinian journalists with some guts are reporting that there’s no humanitarian food crisis in Gaza. No, it wasn’t about food. They want the blockade broken so that after that, non-humanitarian items (read weapons) could be brought in. Why should Israel allow that? So that they can be better armed the next time we have to send our kids into Gaza?

And read as well the post today by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who writes: “Like any government, Israel’s first priority is to protect its citizens from brutality and murder. It has no choice but to defend itself against violent protesters who try and murder its soldiers by attacking them with knives and clubs and hurling them thirty feet to near-certain death. Facts are stubborn things and the videos of the assault against Israel’s soldiers are posted on the Internet for all to see.”

Yes, there are two narratives, and only one of them can be right. The truth can not be evaded by false portrayals of Hamas controlled Gaza as innocent victims or by columns that espouse moral equivalence between Israel and its opponents.

Finally, the question that must be addressed is what will the response be of the Obama administration? Will it bring substance to the recent charm offensive to American Jews by backing Israel and helping expose the phony peace flotilla, or will it join the rest of the world in condemning Israel for trying to defend its own interests? As of this moment, we are waiting for an answer.

One thing is clear. It is the indecisiveness and timidity of the Obama policy in the Middle East that has emboldened Israel’s enemies. Lee Smith (author of the very important book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations) wrote the following today in an e-mail to me:

Some commentators are saying Israel handed Hamas a political victory, but it was rather Obama who did so with his even-handed approach that erases any distinction between a US ally and Hamas and a Turkish government that with this act, among others, has identified itself as an adversary. You’d think the White House would understand that it is actually in the interests of the US for Israel to enforce  its maritime blockade of a terrorist organization, but apparently that’s a bridge too far for these guys. If Washington doesn’t back Jerusalem, then no one will. The Israeli command foolishly made their own soldiers vulnerable, hanging them from helicopters like human piñatas and dropping them into mayhem armed with crowd control devices, but it’s Obama who made the state of Israel vulnerable to the international community today.

That is why I wait in trepidation for the administration’s next step.