Much ado about flytilla
The protest’s real victory will be an unflattering picture of Israel flashed across the world's media headlines.
Detained 'flytilla' activists at Ben-Gurion Airpor Photo: Avi Ohayon / GPO
Making predictions in a newspaper column is a risky business, but anyway, here
At the time of writing over the weekend, Israel Police and the Shin
Bet (Israel Security Agency) are putting together the final pieces of their plan
to block the planned “fly-in” of leftwing activists to Ben-Gurion Airport, from
where the activists intend to travel to the West Bank to demonstrate their
solidarity with the Palestinians.
My prediction: the police will succeed
in arresting and deporting the majority of the activists with little trouble and
hardly any disturbance to the airport’s normal operations. The scare-mongering
reports of the past few days concerning this massive security operation will be
seen to have been a gross exaggeration, encouraged both by the lack of real news
over the Pessah holidays and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s determination
to fan fears of “the whole world is against us,” which is so central to his
By the time you read this, it will be clear whether or
not this part of my prediction is correct. I’m also pretty confident that the
next part of my prediction will also turn out to be true: the activists will
have succeeded in painting a picture to the world’s media of Israel as a police
state, where peaceful protest is muzzled the minute a person steps off the
plane. “Israel blocks Air Travelers to Palestinian Conference” ran the headline
in the New York Times last year, and we can expect to read similar headlines
this time around, too.
THIS WILL be the protest’s real victory, an
unflattering picture of Israel flashed across the world, accompanied by
statements from Palestinian spokespeople saying that the whole episode “exposes
Israel’s draconian anti-Palestinian policies,” as Fadi Kattan was quoted as
saying at a Bethlehem news conference following last year’s operation.
course, Israel, like any other country, has the right to refuse entry to people
it determines endanger its security or pose a risk to law and order. The
Interior Ministry acted correctly in giving foreign airlines a list of known
activists who are denied entry into the country because of such suspicions, and
who the airlines would have to fly back, at their own expense, should these
passengers be allowed to depart for Ben-Gurion.
But not all the
protestors are hardcore, anti-Israel demons and it is hard to understand the
problem in allowing these travelers to land at Ben- Gurion and then make their
way to Bethlehem, as the organizers had planned, “to lay the foundations of an
elementary school, plant trees, renovate wells in villages and inaugurate a
If they break the law when carrying out any of these activities,
or create a public order offense immediately on landing, then they deserve to be
arrested, but to summarily deport them before they have stepped foot in the
country is hardly the expected behavior of a country that prides itself on being
the only democracy in the Middle East.
ISRAEL’S SELF-HARMING lack of
tolerance for external criticism also came to the fore in the recent Gunther
Grass affair where, yet again, the government’s handling of the issue only
caused the country more damage than Grass’ poem merited. Instead of having the
Israeli Embassy’s cultural attaché in Berlin pithily respond to Grass’ attack on
Israel as a threat to world peace, thus dignifying by what all accounts is a
pretty poor poem with the disdainful response it deserved; Israel went into
overdrive, with the prime minister himself issuing a lengthy
Following Grass’ belated admission in 2006 that he had served
in the Waffen SS, the 84-year-old Nobel Prizewinning author has lost much of his
moral authority in Germany. A one-line comment from a low-level diplomat slamming
the ramblings of a former Nazi would have been sufficient to put to bed any
further discussion of Grass’ poem and let the issue die in rightful ignominy.
But first Netanyahu had to enter the fray, igniting further debate over whether
Israel is more of a danger to the world than Iran, and then Interior Minister
Eli Yishai felt compelled to issue a ban preventing Grass from entering the
According to all reports, Grass had no immediate travel plans to
visit Israel (not even to take part in the fly-in demonstration), so Yishai’s
ban was purely symbolic and a cheap way for the interior minister to gain an
easy headline. But his ban has succeeded in allowing Grass to claim the moral
high ground, and compare Yishai’s actions with a similar restriction once
imposed on him by the leader of East Germany’s Stasi secret police and the
authorities in Myanmar. At a stroke, Yishai has turned a former Nazi into a
victim, with Israel in the role of the bad guy.
And my last prediction
for today: Israel’s leaders, sadly, won’t learn from either of these two
unnecessary episodes and will continue to rise to the bait of unimportant
provocations in a wildly misguided sense of what is needed to guard the national
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.