Analysis from Israel

Yesterday’s press conference by Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab Knesset member who was on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos boarded it on Monday, should be studied by every journalist or human-rights activist who ever believed a Palestinian atrocity tale. Here is Haaretz‘s report of it:

According to Zuabi, when the flotilla was 130 miles from shore, 14 naval ships approached and opened fire without warning. Only journalists, nurses and a doctor were on deck; none of them carried weapons. All the other passengers were either in their rooms or fled there as soon as the shooting began. …

Over and over, she insisted that the passengers engaged in no violence, that the soldiers had come with intent to kill and intimidate, that it was all planned in advance.

When reporters confronted her with the video footage released by the army and the soldiers’ testimony, and with the fact that several soldiers were wounded, Zuabi first evaded the questions, then finally insisted, “This is what I saw.”

This is a classic example of the Big Lie: even faced with incontrovertible evidence of her story’s falsity — the video footage of those peace-loving “journalists” and “nurses” attacking the soldiers, the seven hospitalized commandos — Zuabi stuck to it. And without this evidence, most of the world would surely have believed her. As David Horowitz noted in analyzing the army’s scandalous decision to withhold the footage for 12 hours, the claim that civilians overpowered highly trained commandos is not instantly plausible.

The first lesson is that the army must film every encounter with Palestinians or their supporters and make the footage readily available. It should have started doing so long ago; perhaps the success of the Marmara footage — which Haaretz said was the second-most-watched clip on YouTube yesterday, beating the third-place clip, Al-Jazeera’s version of the incident, by 150,000 hits — will finally persuade it.

The second lesson, as Noah correctly argued, is that Israel must start playing PR offense, not just defense: it can’t win if it spends all its time refuting Zuabi-style Big Lies, especially since proof won’t always be available. In June 2008, for instance, Hamas accused Israel of bombing a house in Gaza and killing seven civilians; it later emerged that the house blew up because Hamas operatives were making a bomb for use against Israel, which exploded prematurely. But since Israel wasn’t involved, there could have been no exculpatory Israeli footage even if a “film-everything” policy existed.

Noah outlined a case against Turkey, but top priority must be the case against the Palestinians. That requires a PR offensive covering everything from Palestinian hate education to Hamas’s abuse of its own people to Israel’s own legal claim to the territories.

Israelis often assume that what’s obvious to them is also obvious to the rest of the world, and therefore doesn’t need saying. That is partly why the army felt no need to immediately release the Marmara footage: Israelis already knew “their boys” weren’t wanton murderers. But most people don’t know what Israelis know. And they never will unless Israel tells them.

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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