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|Thu Jun 10, 2010 12:44 pm What will the nations think?
|The Gaza flotilla incident has brought to the fore an age-old question that has long confounded Jewish decision-makers:"What will the nations think of us?", and to what extent should this determine our policies and actions.
Clearly, Israel can and should care about what others may think. For better or worse, we live in the information age, where image and appearance are critical components that must be borne in mind as part of any governmental measure or initiative.
But, as I suggest in the column below from the Jerusalem Post, there is a world of difference between taking the international community's reaction into account versus allowing it to fundamentally dictate what Israel's policies can be.
Which comes first: saving Jewish lives or soothing the nations? The answer, I think, should be obvious.
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The Jerusalem Post, June 10, 2010
What will the nations think?
By Michael Freund
Over the course of the last week, in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla incident, a scenario that harks back to our distant past began playing itself out all across the Jewish state.
Mustering all the atavism at their disposal, various pundits and commentators alike 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 Israel's strategic and national security interests, a chorus of characters instead sought to convince the public that our overriding policy consideration must be nothing less than what others, pray tell, might deem to say about us.
Some, such as former Meretz minister Ran Cohen, writing in 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 in the area.
Israel, Cohen asserted, simply has no choice but to do so, because otherwise "the world will end up endorsing Hamas."
Others, such as Zev Segal of Ha'aretz, practically pleaded with the government to establish a high-level committee of inquiry, with the inclusion of international observers, in order 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, that's likely.
I don't know about you, but all this pitiful pandering is like something straight out of a second-rate 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 nations think?"
Indeed, the most extreme and shocking example of the return of this mentality was on display on Israel Army Radio last week.
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 Israeli commandos, rather than the so-called 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 is a factor that 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 components that must be borne in mind as part of any governmental measure or initiative.
But there is a world of difference between taking the international community's reaction into account versus allowing it to fundamentally dictate what Israel's policies can be.
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, where the ultimate goal is to be well-liked. For Israel, it is a matter of survival and endurance, 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 that he may have overstated the case. By suggesting a dichotomy between the two, 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 and criticized 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 which occurred, 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 and largely inelastic.
With Congressional elections just around the corner, this is something that has great political and diplomatic value, and it undoubtedly serves as a brake on some of the harsher Israel-related instincts of 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 of 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.
When and if these two goals ever clash, there should be no question as to what takes precedence.
Saving Jewish lives, rather than soothing the nations, must always come first.