Analysis: Diaspora starts getting explanations

Slow motion angers, frustrates Jewish supporters.

June 2, 2010 06:41
IDF footage from the Monday raid.

gaza flotilla raid 311. (photo credit: IDF)


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The media shockwaves worldwide that followed Monday morning’s deadly clash aboard the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla were acutely felt in the world’s Jewish communities.

In the United States, Jewish organization officials struggled to understand what happened and to discover if Israel had indeed killed “peace activists” in the nighttime raid.

“We were up in the middle of the night [late Sunday], saw the first news reports, and were working furiously throughout the day [Monday],” said Ken Bandler, communications director for the American Jewish Committee.

But the organization was working without key facts. What caused the deaths? How many were killed? Why were the IDF commandos so ill-prepared?

“There are naturally people who will debate in the synagogues or organizations if [the Israeli operation] was good or bad, if Israel made a mistake,” Bandler said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all here working to support the Israeli people. This was a flotilla that was intended to help Hamas in Gaza. We’re not going to second-guess the actions of the Israeli navy or the IDF.”

Other officials were less gracious about poor Israeli planning and the country’s seeming inability to convey its message.

“There’s a lot of anger about the hasbara [public diplomacy], how it was handled,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Why did it take so long to get the films [of the ship-board violence] out? It appears [the soldiers] weren’t prepared for what they found, even though they knew what they were going to find.”

The Jewish community supports Israel, Hoenlein said. “People see the overkill against Israel, the biased reporting. Of course, every time the UN gets involved, Jews automatically [turn] against it.”

But, he lamented on Tuesday, “We’re only now coming to terms with the facts.” And that’s a shame, because “the facts make the case for Israel.”

“The real problem is that you guys need to investigate the incompetence,” said a senior Jewish official from another American Jewish group who asked to remain anonymous. “How are we supposed to explain to the world that you went on board these boats undermanned and armed with paint guns? Just because it’s true doesn’t mean anyone will believe us.

“The Jewish world gets its information the same way everyone else does,” the official continued. “At four in the morning [the hour of the boarding], we could have been given the information. But we weren’t, because your generals are bone-headed, like the generals in the 19th century who didn’t understand that machine guns had made cavalry obsolete. The Jewish communities are paying a price for this mistake.”

The two communities that may be most affected by Israel’s bad image are those deepest in the line of fire between Israel and its enemies: the Turkish and the Iranian.

Both took pains to distance themselves from Israel’s actions on Tuesday. The Teheran Jewish community released a statement to the country’s official Press TV news agency blasting Israel’s actions and calling for punishment to be meted out to Israeli officials.

“Teheran’s Jewish community condemns the inhuman act of the Zionists in attacking a non-military flotilla,” the statement read. “On behalf of Iran’s Jewish community, we firmly demand serious international action to punish the criminals and measures to prevent such catastrophes.”

Turkey’s Jewish community also criticized Israel’s actions. After two days of anti-Israel demonstrations in Ankara, and with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan labeling the Jewish state on Tuesday “a festering boil in the Middle East that spreads hate and enmity,” the community released a statement expressing agreement with Turkish public opinion.

The community “shares the reactions the operation sparked in our country” and was “saddened” by Israel’s actions, a statement from the community said.

As Israeli officials survey the diplomatic damage from the operation, parts of the government have begun to notice that the Diaspora, too, was left hanging in the wake of the operation.

Thus, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday – “a day and a half late,” in the words of one participant – the Prime Minister’s Office convened its first meeting with Diaspora representatives to offer information and hear complaints.

And at approximately 10 p.m. Israel time, the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Ministry published a letter to the Diaspora asking for help and apologizing for Israel’s failure to manage the crisis.

“We know that you, in the Diaspora Jewish communities, often feel that Israel fails to present [its case] adequately, and that Israel’s bad image is projected onto you,” the letter read. “We also know that Diaspora Jews are passionate defenders of Israel in its darkest hours...You too can take part in Israel’s public diplomacy, in showing clearly that while Israel may make mistakes, it is Hamas, Iran and other enemies who are perpetuating the war and thriving from the bloodshed they instigate.”

The letter called on Diaspora Jewry to help change “the simplistic images and narratives that appear in the media [that] do not reflect the complex facts on the ground in Israel or in Gaza.”

It accused the media of failing to present Israel’s side of the story.

“Few media outlets discuss Israel’s position that the blockade is based on the Hamas regime’s refusal to end its state of war against our country, and fewer still have shown the chilling footage available on the Internet of the Gaza-bound activists on one of the flotilla’s ships beating, stabbing, lobbing firebombs toward and even throwing overboard IDF troops sent to enforce the blockade on Hamas. Nor do these outlets note the fact that Israel sends 15,000 tons of goods and supplies into Gaza each week...

“For all the discussion of a terrible ‘humanitarian crisis,’ there is no hunger in Gaza... There is only tyranny, extremism and endless war sustained by the brutal rule of Hamas,” the letter said

It may all be too little too late.

“At this point, [Jewish organizations] are playing catch-up,” Hoenlein said.

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