‘What will the nations think?’

International relations is not a high-school popularity contest. For Israel, it is a matter of survival.

Gaza Boat 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Gaza Boat 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Over the last week, in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla incident, a scenario that harks back to our distant past began playing itself out. Mustering all the atavism at their disposal, various pundits and commentators took to the airwaves and the opinion pages, wringing their hands and wracking their brains as they tried to figure out just how we can maybe, possibly, hopefully, get the world to like us again.
Tossing aside any pretense of rationally assessing the country’s strategic or national security interests, this chorus of characters instead sought to convince the public that our overriding policy consideration must be what others might say about us.
Some, such as former Meretz minister Ran Cohen, writing on Ynet, argued that the IDF needs to lift the naval blockade of Gaza, even though this would effectively allow an unrestricted flow of weapons to terrorists. Israel, Cohen asserted, simply has no choice, because otherwise “the world will end up endorsing Hamas.”
Others, such as Ze’ev Segal of Haaretz, practically pleaded with the government to establish a high-level committee of inquiry, with international observers, to investigate the flotilla affair. After all, Segal concluded, “It should be obvious to the prime minister and his advisers that the world will not be against us if we take real action to investigate what happened.”
Yeah, sure.
I don’t know about you, but all this pitiful pandering is like something straight out of a shtetl soap opera. It is as if we have reverted back to the days when Jewish public policy was dictated first and foremost by the age-old lament: “What will the goyim think?”
INDEED, THE most extreme and shocking example of the return of this mentality was on display on Army Radio.
I could hardly believe my ears when the host of a popular late-morning program actually toyed with the idea that in terms of Israel’s image, it might have been better had the commandos, rather than the socalled “Turkish “peace activists,” been killed aboard the Gaza flotilla. Does he really think that the life of even one Jewish soldier is worth a slightly less critical headline on CNN?
To be sure, the manner in which Israel and its actions are perceived around the globe must be considered in the formulation of government policy. About this there is no dispute. For better or worse, we live in the information age, where image and appearance are critical and must be borne in mind as part of any governmental initiative. But there is a world of difference between taking the international community’s reaction into account and allowing it to dictate Israel’s policies.
The former is a sign of healthy common sense, while the latter is nothing less than a recipe for disaster.
International relations is not a high-school popularity contest. For Israel, it is a matter of survival, of staving off threats to our existence and countering those who seek our destruction.
It was David Ben-Gurion who famously declared that “it doesn’t matter what the gentiles say; what matters is what the Jews do.”
While there is a great deal of truth in this, I think he may have overstated the case. By suggesting a dichotomy, Ben- Gurion made it sound as if we can only have one or the other.
Yet reality suggests otherwise. Consider the following: Despite a week of media malevolence in which Israel was roundly condemned in nearly all quarters, a new poll suggests that most Americans continue to stand by the Jewish state.
A survey conducted by Rasmussen found that 49% of US voters believe that pro-Palestinian activists on the Gaza-bound ships were to blame for the deaths, while just 19% said the fault lies with Israel. The other 32% said they weren’t sure.
Does this “matter”? Of course it does. It is a sign that support for Israel among the American public remains durable. With congressional elections just around the corner, this support has great political and diplomatic value, and undoubtedly serves as a brake on some of the harsher Israel-related instincts of President Barack Obama and his crew.
So by all means, we must continue to make Israel’s case with vigor and resolve and cultivate the friendship and understanding of the American people and others. We can and should care about what others may think of us, but at the end of the day we must do what is necessary to ensure our security.
If these two goals ever clash, there should be no question as to what takes precedence.
Saving Jewish lives must always come first.