Senseless & spineless: Speaking truth to power

Into The Fray: Israel’s abject apology to Erdogan conveys an unequivocal message to both friend and foe: If confronted with sufficient resolve, the Jews will capitulate.

Thanks Erdogan for Israel apology billboards 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
Thanks Erdogan for Israel apology billboards 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
...Shut up. Go back to Auschwitz!
– Radio transmission from the 2010 Gaza-bound flotilla, in response to the Israel Navy’s warning that it was entering area under maritime blockade.
God forbid we apologize. National pride is not just something people say on the street... it has strategic significance. If Erdogan goes around afterward and says that he brought us to our knees, he will appear as a regional leader.... He won’t leave it alone, even after we apologize.
- Moshe “Bogey” Ya’alon, Haaretz, August 17, 2011 – then deputy prime minister
You can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you cannot take the ghetto out of the Jew.
– A derogatory dictum of undetermined origins.
This is a column I write with a profound sense of sadness and bitter disappointment – bordering on despair – with people I have held in the highest regard. It is a column I would have preferred not to write, but events dictate speaking truth to power.
Stupid and servile
Indeed, given the recent apology issued by Prime Minister Netanyahu to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one is compelled to question whether there is any limit to the depths of selfdefeating stupidity and self-debasing servility that the Israeli leadership is willing to sink to.
No less troubling – and depressing – than the ignominious decision itself, is the warm endorsement it received from virtually all government quarters, including those that in the past expressed vigorous opposition to it. Indeed, given the vehemence of previous denunciations of any apology by senior government ministers, who now seem to have elected to underwrite it, we are once again compelled to question whether there is any principle they will not sacrifice in order to preserve positions of personal prestige and power.
For it is difficult to imagine how this unbecoming climb-down could result in any substantial upside for Israel – other than a brief, condescending pat on the head for obsequious obedience.
By contrast, the potential for a downside is enormous – and is immediately beginning to manifest itself.
Submission of the infidel
Israeli officialdom has scrambled to try and explain the reasons for this inexplicable debacle and provide excuses for this inexcusable capitulation. It is a futile effort.
The verbatim text of the PM’s apology, the possible nuances of mitigating interpretations that can be ascribed to it, or any allegedly extenuating subtext that can be read into it, are of little relevance.
Attempts to invoke them ring hollow.
What really counts is the big picture. And they speak for themselves, without accompanying clarifications to convey their significance.
For the undeniable portrait that is being publicly conveyed – and internalized – is one of a triumphant Erdogan, on the one hand, and a humbled Israel in humiliating retreat, on the other.
Having wrung the unwarranted apology from Netanyahu, the Turkish Islamist premier is not only backing away from his commitments to normalize relations with the Jewish state, but is brashly strutting around, brandishing his achievement of coercing the infidel adversary to submit to his will. Even more gallingly, he is declaring himself the adjudicator of Israel’s good behavior, according to which he will deign to honor his normalization pledge – or not.
Unsurprisingly, Israel’s enemies across the region are jubilant. Indeed, one can hardly conceive of a better boost for the morale of the myriad of malevolent malefactors who wish it ill. By submitting to Erdogan’s demands, Israel has sent an unequivocal message to its foes and friends: If confronted with sufficient resolve, the Jews will capitulate to the will of their adversaries, no matter how absurd or outrageous their terms.
Collapse of credibility
All of this seems to have provoked a belated expression of justifiable exasperation from newly appointed minister Naftali Bennett, who hitherto has expended much of his energies on boycotting haredim and empowering Yair Lapid, rather than bolstering Netanyahu’s right/hawkish flank.
Bennett remarked: “It seems that since [Netanyahu’s] apology, Erdogan is doing everything to make Israel regret it,” sternly warning, “It must be clear to Erdogan that if Israel encounters any future terrorism, our response will be no less severe [than against the Mavi Marmara flotilla in May 2010].”
And that is precisely the problem. What possible weight can any proclamation by any Israeli minister have, after the government’s systematic retreat from one firmly stated position after another over the past two decades. It first prohibited, then endorsed, negotiations with the arch-terrorist Arafat and his murderous PLO; it first opposed, then embraced, the establishment of a Palestinian state; it first firmly forswore, then conceded to, Hamas’s demand for mass prisoner releases in exchange for Gilad Schalit.
It has stood by while the Palestinians violated virtually every clause of the agreements with them – from Judeophobic incitement in their education system and official media; through the size of their armed forces; to the kinds of weaponry they were to be armed with.
Moreover, after virtually every coercive encounter with terror, no matter how severe the losses/damage inflicted by the IDF, poor political leadership has left the terrorists better off than they were before.
Thus, the 2006 Second Lebanon War left Hezbollah in a perceptibly enhanced position, both militarily and politically – with its arsenals replenished and its influence on government in Beirut increased; the Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense operations in Gaza in 2008/9 and 2012, respectively, left Hamas firmly entrenched, having won wider international recognition and with far-reaching benefits for local farmers and fisherman in the wake of the fighting; even the Gaza-flotilla interception, undertaken to enforce the quarantine of the Hamas-held territory, resulted in substantial easing of the blockade.
Collapse (cont.)
Israel has given its adversaries little reason for concern. For, if war is, as Clausewitz remarked, merely the continuation of politics by other means, Israel has been defeated resoundingly and repeatedly.
True, it has forced both Hezbollah and Hamas to regroup, redeploy and rearm.
But that should not be confused with having deterred them – for their will to fight remains undiminished.
In this regard, Israel’s latest display of submission is particularly untimely and uncalled for. It is untimely, because it can only raise the spirits and stiffen the resolve of those seeking to undermine its security and the safety of its citizens. It is uncalled for, since the Gaza flotilla incident was one of the rare occasions in which Israel was accorded at least partial justification by a UN-entity for coercive measures it undertook to ensure its security.
In a rare display of something approaching balance, the UN-appointed Palmer Commission determined that “Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza... The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”
Although the commission did determine that Israel used “excessive” force (leaving one to wonder precisely what level of force would be “appropriate” to prevent oneself from being disemboweled by a frenzied lynch mob such as the IDF commandos encountered on the Mavi Marmara), the report stopped significantly short of calling for an Israeli apology.
Likewise, prominent legal experts – Professors Alan Dershowitz (Harvard), Eric Posner (University of Chicago), and Ruth Wedgwood (Johns Hopkins) – have endorsed this position, stipulating that the naval blockade and boarding in international waters were in accordance with long-standing international law and precedent.
Both Dershowitz and Posner defended the specific use of force as legal.
In a stroke, this has been sacrificed.
Rather than seize the access to the high moral ground it had been granted, and fight for its honor and good name, Israel opted for surrender, pleading guilty despite being largely exonerated – eroding even further whatever remains of the country’s badly shredded credibility.
Myth of “common interests”
The unanticipated ignominy of the apology left many Israelis shaking their heads in bewilderment, and hanging them in shame.
Reflecting these sentiments is this remark from The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon: “Not Netanyahu, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz, Naftali Bennett, who is charged with public diplomacy, or even Tzipi Livni, the justice minister... bothered to explain to the Israeli public why Israel said it was sorry, and what – indeed – it was sorry for.”
In an unpersuasive endeavor to rationalize the apology, the idea that rapprochement between Israel and Turkey is necessary because the countries share “common interests” has been widely invoked. This should be summarily dismissed for the claptrap that it so obviously is.
Indeed, we have seen incontrovertible proof of how little store the regime in Ankara places on those alleged “common interests.”
After all, it proved willing to forgo these much-vaunted “interests” if such an apology was not forthcoming – underlining how hopelessly precarious any alliance with it will be.
In the past, I have staunchly supported a Turco-Israeli alliance. But that was when Turkey was a secular, Western-oriented Kemalist state. But virtually the only thing that has remained unchanged since the ascent of Erdogan’s party to power is its geographical location.
Today, moving steadily toward an Islamic theocracy, Turkey is a very different country, with very different interests. Few, if any, of them are concomitant with those of Israel. As I pointed out in a previous column, “Turkish tantrums” (September 10, 2011): “The loss of Turkey as a strategic ally is a huge blow. But it is a result of what Turkey has become, not what Israel has – or has not – done.” It is futile and foolish to believe otherwise.
Not the “responsible adult”
Some claim that Erdogan’s hostility is unrepresentative of overall sentiment in Turkey and that Israel has much latent support in many sectors of the population.
Even if this is true, one can hardly conceive of a more counter-productive move than meekly handing him what is perceived as a huge victory.
After all, this can only serve to elevate his status and further entrench his antagonistic regime in power, making the chance of empowering more supportive elements commensurably more remote.
By acceding to Turkish demands and US pressure, Israel has not assumed the role of the “responsible adult.” Responsible adults protect their interests. They do not bow to puerile petulance.
Moshe Ya’alon was absolutely correct when, as deputy PM, he rejected any idea of apology, declaring: “National pride...
has strategic significance.”
Regrettably, as minister of defense he seems to have retreated from that commendable position, opting to support Netahyahu’s untenable move.
Sadly, disregarding the strategic significance of national pride is likely to have strategic consequences far more tangible than the mere loss of prestige entailed in national humiliation.
Obama an excuse not a reason
Of course, apologists for Israel’s apology will protest that it was the result of pressure from Obama. But US pressure is a poor excuse, not a persuasive reason.
After all, leaders are elected to resist pressure, not to submit to it; to sidestep it, not to succumb to it; to divert it, not to yield to it. With Israel’s favorable ratings at almost unprecedented highs in the US, one would have thought that transforming this popular support into commensurate political clout would not be an insurmountable challenge.
One would hope that after seven decades of independence and staggering achievement, Israel and Israelis would have emerged from the clutches of the pliant galut exilic mentality. One would hope Israel would no longer conduct itself as some servile shtetl-state that can be bullied into submission. One would hope...
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.