But the people would not listen to Samuel's warning. "No," they said. "We must have a king over us, that we may be like all the other nations: Let our king rule over us and go out at our head and fight our battles." -I Samuel 8:19-20
I have been asked by a few readers to write about the flotilla incident, and even though I generally refrain from commenting on "national" topics, this seems a good case study for examining the dilemma of Israel-Diaspora relations. There is of course no unanimity in Israel regarding the incident; the various positions more or less fall where you might expect along the left-right spectrum. Here is a schematic catalog:
1. The Gazans elected a government that declares itself Israel's enemy and refuses to recognize or make peace with Israel. When in war, as in war. Israel is justified in blockading Gaza and enforcing that blockade by force if necessary. The ship carried terrorists who attacked the soldiers attempting peaceably to enforce the blockade.
a. The condemnations and calls for an inquiry - internal or external - are unjustified and hypocritical.
b. The decision of how to respond to the challenge was faulty, and a less risky approach should have been chosen. There should be an internal inquiry and/or the minister of defense should resign.
c. The operation was appropriate, but the implementation (intelligence, planning) was faulty. There should be an internal inquiry and/or the relevant official(s) should resign.
d. The operation was appropriate and successful; the failure was in the area of public relations and diplomacy - we won the war but lost the propaganda battle. There should be an internal inquiry and/or the relevant official(s) should resign.
2. The policy of siege on Gaza has proven over the years to be ineffective in changing either policy or public opinion, and it only leads to continued and escalated enmity on the part of the Gazans, and condemnation in the world. This operation is only proof that the policy is counterproductive and bankrupt. It is time to rethink our entire approach to the use of force in defining our relationship with the Palestinians.
I have not been reading polls, but my sense is that the majority of the population is clearly in the first camp, divided among the four sub-positions. While there have been opinion pieces supporting the second position, the voices are rather subdued and there have been no significant demonstrations from that sector. The nationalistic/patriotic position remains dominant, and holds a monopoly on the rhetoric of "defeatism," "betrayal," "self-hatred," applied to those who argue that the current policy and its implementation may be questionable, problematic, or even wrong. So the questioners keep a low profile. This situation hasn't changed much over the past decade or so, and if anything seems to have intensified. This debate may be frustrating, but I think it goes with the territory (i.e., with having a sovereign state with a foreign policy) just as the US struggled with the dilemma of Vietnam, with perhaps a similar internal dynamic.
The more difficult challenge, it seems to me, is what faces Diaspora Jews, who do not have the same level of commitment and risk as the citizens of the state, yet as Jews find it difficult simply to disengage and claim to the world that they have nothing to do with Israel's decisions and actions. And even if they want to, it is not clear that the world will let them. The more lurid the TV images, the more painful the jaws of this trap. I don't speak for the state, nor do you. Yet, somehow the state speaks for all of us willy-nilly, and none of us can escape some degree of responsibility for trying to steer it in the right direction, or at least for trying to figure out what the right direction is.