What do many Americans think of Israel? My guess is that the overwhelming emotion is exasperation. In the Israeli-Arab equation, the Israelis are supposed to be the good guys. The problem is they don’t act their role. After all, Arab groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are recognized nasties who deserve their comeuppance. So the Israelis giving them a shellacking should be easy to applaud, but this becomes difficult because in almost every confrontation, the Israelis come off as the bully boys.
Consider the recent fracas when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship (ostensibly) carrying humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza; and killed nine activists/terrorists depending on which side was defining them. Israel may have succeeded in asserting its authority, but it was a public relations disaster of epic proportions. Even worse, it put Israel’s traditional well wishers in an embarrassing position. The ship belonged to Turkey, a NATO ally of Israel’s chief patron, the United States. America could not placate one friend without alienating the other. So it resorted to the age-old diplomatic ploy of double speak: mouthing platitudes that meant absolutely nothing.
Not surprisingly, Turkey and fellow Arabs made much capital of the ostensible reason the ship was heading towards Gaza: carrying humanitarian aid to a population suffering deprivation – obligingly amplified by the Palestinians to the world media. True to form, the bleeding heart liberals who seem to be proliferating in continental Europe and the Scandinavian countries joined in the condemnation. And the Israelis played into their hands by sending military commandos to board a civilian ship that was ostensibly on the side of the angels. Their argument that all assistance to Gaza had to be routed through Israel, subject to inspection and clearance, cut no ice with the international community. It is always morally and spiritually satisfying to side with the underdog and the Palestinians, egged on by its Arab patrons, played their part to perfection. Israel, either wilfully or unwittingly, doesn’t seem to get this. Even assuming a few weapons did manage to sneak in the guise of humanitarian aid, the limited damage Hamas would be able to inflict with them would be an acceptable trade off for Israel not becoming the international community’s whipping boy.
Israel’s dilemma is that, even three generations after the Holocaust, its citizens have not rid themselves of their persecution complex. Some would argue that after 2000 years of wandering in the Diaspora, the Jews are justified in the belief that they can rely only on themselves for survival. If, in the process, they often come across as gung-ho cowboys, that’s a price they seem prepared to pay. However, the reality is that in the 60 years of its existence as an independent nation, Israel has not only survived, but thrived. Nobody buys the image of Jews as victims any more.