Israelis should listen to the message of the Jewish flotilla

The Israel naval unit warned the “Irene” twice not to break Israeli law. The “Jewish flotilla” – actually just a single boat with symbolic amounts of provisions, continued sailing toward Gaza. The navy took over, and the boat ultimately anchored in Ashdod. The activists have been detained for questioning, the Israeli news reported. Yawn.

For the most part, Israelis will probably dismiss the Jewish flotilla as radicals, weirdos and eccentrics at best, self-haters, at worst. The quiet conclusion and low-key coverage will be easy to ignore.

It was left to the handful of relatives and supporters to create something quote-worthy. The mother of a leading activist, Yonatan Shapira, expressed fear about the IDF, as her son is reportedly being held for questioning (NRG reports that Israelis are being held at the Ashdod police station). “I don’t trust the IDF”  – that’s a headline in Israel. This was in Hebrew – the English version is decidedly more neutral: “Navy stops Gaza-bound “Jewish vessel

NRG too, the website of the Maariv daily newspaper, put her fears into the sub-headline – noting that she’s afraid something will happen to him. Turns out there was some reason for worry, according to Shapira’s account in Ynet. He claimed that, the reportedly quiet takeover and questioning involved violence and electrical prods.

But many Israelis will stop reading right at the top of those stories. The moment someone expresses subversive thoughts doubting IDF integrity, most Israeli minds will shut down. The IDF, recall, is consistently the most trusted institution in the country, by a longshot and this has always been the case.

By contrast, “Leftists” is one of the dirtiest words here these days, synonymous in many people’s minds with Israel-hating, possibly anti-semitism and treason. It is associated with other nasty terms like human rights and democracy, which are increasingly scorned as a result.

But I wonder, if people could divorce the messages from the trappings they despise – how awful are the things the protesters are saying? They sought to symbolically protest a destructive policy, without hurting anyone, through civil disobedience. Their signs said “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies,”  “Are prosthetics dangerous” – as the ship tried to bring medical equipment for the sick. They called to “End the occupation” – something most Israelis either want, or at least accept that. Ariel Sharon said it seven years ago already.

Further, the organizers say they protest the policy because it feeds hostility against Israel; they explicitly critique the siege as government policy, distinguished from anti-Israel messages –  and they seek to end Israel’s feelings of “isolation and persecution.” That sounds like concern for Israel, not hate.

Still, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson called it “a completely unnecessary media gimmick which should never have been born…a trick of hatred and publicity for people who don’t care about the love of Israel and don’t deserve more than a footnote.”

So how do Israeli authorities suggest improving Israel’s relations with the world? Ironically, the advertising banner above the nrg story about the Jewish flotilla proposes a different solution: Join israel’s propaganda efforts, run by the Ministry of Propaganda and Diaspora (the term Hasbara is also sometimes translated as public diplomacy in – well – diplomatic language). The ad shows a would-be female foreign reporter with demonic eyes demonstrating how Israelis cook their chicken skewers on primitive cooking fires.  The idea is that these evil reporters are the real sources of anger against Israel.

Blaming foreign reporters seems beyond desperate. Maybe it’s time to start listening to the Jewish flotilla.