Analysis from Israel

As Michael has noted, the UN inquiry into Israel’s raid on last year’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza largely exculpated Israel. Yet the fact an otherwise balanced report found it necessary to accuse Israel of “excessive and unreasonable” force says a lot about the warped fashion in which the West now views any use of force.

After all, as the report itself acknowledged, Israeli soldiers “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers.  Several others were wounded.”

Specifically, the first 14 soldiers to land on the ship were attacked by dozens of passengers “armed with iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots, and there is some indication that they also used knives.” Passengers later seized some of the soldiers’ guns, and two soldiers were shot; while it isn’t certain they were shot by passengers, “there is some reason to believe” they were, and certainly, the soldiers thought so at the time.

Nevertheless, the report declared the “loss of life and injuries resulting from the [soldiers’] use of force” to be “unacceptable,” insisting there was “no satisfactory explanation” for “any of the nine deaths,” and particularly for the fact “most of the deceased were shot multiple times.”

This begs an obvious question: How were the soldiers supposed to subdue this much larger group of heavily armed opponents, whom the report itself admits posed a threat to their own lives, without causing any injuries or deaths? The report provides no answer, because in reality, it’s simply not possible.

Moreover, as any soldier knows, a wounded opponent can still kill. Shoot a man in the leg, for instance, and he can still kill you with his iron bar, stave, chain, knife or gun. The Israelis also had no way of knowing what other weaponry passengers might have – whether, for instance, some might have wired themselves with explosives, as Islamic fanatics (which by this point the soldiers knew they were facing) often do. Under such circumstances, no soldier worth his salt shoots once and hopes for the best; he keeps shooting until he’s sure his opponent is out of action. In a fight of this kind, the unpleasant truth is shooting someone multiple times is often a necessary precaution to make sure your opponent doesn’t kill you first.

Granted, the soldiers might never have been in this situation had the raid not been so poorly planned and executed. But once they were attacked in a way that required them “to use force for their own protection,” nothing they did was “excessive and unreasonable”; they did what was necessary under the circumstances to protect themselves.

Thus the report’s implication is that injuring or killing another is never acceptable, even in self-defense; it’s always “excessive and unreasonable.” But if soldiers on a legitimate mission – which the report says enforcing the Gaza blockade was – can’t use lethal force even to save their own lives, then something is badly wrong with the West’s attitude toward the use of military force.

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In Europe, Israel needs a bottom-up approach to diplomacy

For years, I considered Europe a lost cause from Israel’s perspective and decried the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Euro-centric focus, arguing that it should instead devote more effort to places like Africa, Asia and South America, which seemed to offer better prospects for flipping countries into the pro-Israel camp. But the past few years have proven that Europe isn’t hopeless—if Israel changes its traditional modus operandi.

This has been evident, first of all, in the alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed with several countries in eastern and southern Europe, resulting in these countries repeatedly blocking anti-Israel decisions at the European Union level. Previously, Israeli diplomacy had focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe. Netanyahu’s key insight was that conservative, nationalist governments seeking to preserve their own nation-states would have more instinctive sympathy for a Jewish state than the liberal universalists who dominate in Western Europe, and whose goal is to replace nation-states with an ever-closer European union.

But as several recent events show, even Western Europe isn’t a lost cause. The difference is that there, conventional high-level diplomacy won’t work. Rather, the key to change is the fact that most Europeans, like most people everywhere, don’t really care that much about Israel, the Palestinians or their unending conflict. Consequently, small groups of committed activists can exert a disproportionate influence on policy.

For years, this has worked against Israel because the anti-Israel crowd woke up to this fact very early and took full advantage of it. Take, for instance, the 2015 decision to boycott Israel adopted by Britain’s national student union. The union represents some 7 million students, but its executive council passed the decision by a vote of 19-12. Or consider the academic boycott of Israel approved in 2006 by Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which no longer exists, having merged into a larger union). The association had some 67,000 members at the time, but only 198 bothered to vote, of whom 109 voted in favor.

Yet it turns out pro-Israel activists can use the same tactics, as in last week’s approval of a resolution saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by the lower house of France’s parliament. The resolution passed 154-72, meaning that fewer than 40 percent of the National Assembly’s 577 deputies bothered to vote, even though 550 deputies were present earlier in the day to vote on the social security budget. In other words, most deputies simply didn’t care about this issue, which meant that passing the resolution required convincing only about a quarter of the house.

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