Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Israel: marionette or schlemiel

Don't get me wrong. I think the attack on the Gaza Freedom flotilla was an insane adventurist provocation that may turn out very badly for Israel. But there are two narratives developing in the media, and among the commentariat, in which Israel is either a bungling, Frank Spencer-style dolt, well-meaning but overly eager, or a sort of mannequin with no animus of its own, pushed into action exclusively by external forces. The former narrative is most popular. Note the ubiquity of the phrase "botched raid" in the reporting. As if Netanyahu's cabinet didn't send the notoriously violent Masada unit (whose crimes against humanity usually take place in the locus of one of Israel's political jails, or in the vicinity of a peaceful Palestinian protest) to storm the Mavi Marmara on purpose. As if the whole thing wasn't planned for weeks in advance, in detail, from inception to denouement. As if the probability of murders wasn't accounted for.

The second narrative, the marionette tale, is more specialised fare, and it is perhaps telling that two of Israel's liberal "critics" should purvey it in different versions. Example one: Turkish Islamists used humanitarians as bait to "lure Israel into a trap, precisely because it knew how Israel would react, knew how Israel is destined and compelled, like a puppet on a string, to react the way it did." Example two: Israel had "no choice" but to murder the aid workers because they had "issued threat after threat against the IDF in the days building up to this morning's clash" and on the day used "iron bars and other weapons to assault the troops and giving the IDF carte blanche to respond with force against them". The aid workers compelled Israeli troops to kill them, gave them no options. Their every action was pre-determined from start to finish, and even if the results are regrettable, and even if Israel initiated the aggression and pulled the trigger, it bears no responsibility.

It has a venerable history, this idea. Golda Meir expressed it most pithily when she said that she would never forgive the Arabs for making Israel kill their children. In whatever variant it takes, it is surely revealing that the best defence (or least worst criticism) of Israel that such people can muster is that Israel is not a responsible agent.