This was supposed to be the easiest week in the tumultuous tenure of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He had settled key differences with US President Barack Obama, received an invitation for a kiss-and-make-up session at the White House and come to Canada for a large pro-Israel rally and a meeting with Stephen Harper, perhaps the world’s most pro-Israel prime minister.
Instead, he had to deal with American support for a UN resolution supporting a Middle East nuclear free zone, IDF commandos under fire on the Mavi Marmara, and the international condemnation that came in reaction to the lives lost on the flotilla. He spent the night at Harper’s official residence in Ottawa but ended up convening marathon meetings with seven advisers and got no sleep.
It is no wonder that Netanyahu concluded his week frustrated,
delivering an exasperated address in which he accused the world of
hypocrisy. Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office pointed out that he
concluded his speech differently when he read it in Hebrew and English.
The Hebrew version ended with a plea for unity, which was important to
stress when the blame game was getting into high gear. The English
version concluded with an appeal to the international community to
treat Israel fairly, which was Netanyahu’s reaction to the UN Human
Rights Council’s vote for an international commission of inquiry hours
“This may sound like an impossible plea, or an impossible request, or
an impossible demand, but I make it anyway: Israel should not be held
to a double standard,” he said. “The Jewish state has a right to defend
itself just like any other state.”
The speech came exactly 48 hours after the first broadcast of belatedly
released footage showing soldiers being beaten. The hope was that
during those two days, the international pressure that had built up
when the available evidence pointed to Israel as the aggressor would
dissipate. The clip convinced even the most skeptical Israelis that
their first impression was wrong and that the people the commandos
fought were anything but human rights advocates, but its impact on the
world was disappointing.
The most obvious reason why the film failed to fix Israel’s
international imbroglio was that the world is obsessed with numbers. No
matter who was right or who attacked first, nine Mavi
passengers and no Israelis are dead. Another reason
is that by the time the clip was broadcast, the world’s mind was
already made up.
Sources close to Netanyahu gave a deeper explanation. They said that
Israelis see the situation in Gaza in a more nuanced manner than the
ISRAELIS DIFFERENTIATE between the Hamas and the people of Gaza, who
they see as victims of Hamas aggression just like Israelis in the
South. The fact that the flotilla organizers who have ties to Hamas
refused to allow the humanitarian aid on the ships to be transferred to
Gaza via Israel or Egypt and that Hamas has not allowed the aid into
Gaza since then reinforces that for Israelis.
But much of the international community has not internalized that
anything that helps Hamas hurts both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
That’s why the declared aim of the flotilla organizers to push for
lifting the blockade on Gaza was echoed around the world, while no
Jewish Israeli politician called for lifting the blockade all week.
Meretz issued two statements this week, one condemning the handling of
the flotilla and lamenting the loss of life and the other calling for a
commission of inquiry. The party would prefer a different solution that
would encourage Gilad Schalit’s release and preventing rocket fire from
Gaza, but even it didn’t call for lifting the blockade this week.
The international community’s condemnations suggested that Israel’s
handling of the flotilla would harm the proximity talks with the
Palestinians, while Israelis understand that it was those very
condemnations that make it harder for Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas to withstand pressure from Hamas to break off the talks.
In a week in which Netanyahu’s decision-making has been questioned, one
move he made proved to be prescient. He asked his spokesman for the
foreign press, Mark Regev, to remain in Israel and not accompany him on
Normally, it would be obvious that a prime minister’s English-language
spokesman comes with him to Canada and Washington DC. But not in a week
in which boats of supposed humanitarian activists were bound for Gaza.
“He told me I had to stay back because there was potential for a
problem,” Regev said. “I enjoy travelling with the prime minister, but
he was 100 percent right. The s--t hit the fan, and I was here.”
Regev, who weathered very aggressive questions from the foreign press
from the moment the flotilla raid began, said on Thursday that the
questions have started becoming easier and much of the international
community has finally internalized Israel’s side of the story.
He pointed out a story in the notoriously anti-Israel British
Guardian> newspaper defending Israel and a report in
The Times of London investigating the IHH
organization that was behind the flotilla. Foreign Ministry officials
singled out pro-Israel editorials in The Washington
Post and the Chicago Tribune.
“International understanding of the situation today is greater,” Regev
said. “We will never get a fair hearing at the UN Human Rights Council,
but in Washington DC, London, Canberra, Paris, Rome, Ottawa and even
Moscow, they can get it. I think we are creating a situation of greater
understanding among the key international actors, and we are turning
If that happens, perhaps Netanyahu will have an easier week next week.