Leon’s Lament on Israel’s Self-Undermining Behavior


leon wieseltier.jpgNew Republic Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier is one of America’s chief gatekeepers on Jewish experience, culture and politics and has recently been one of those who has led in American journalistic circles in rebuking uncomfortable arguments by Peter Beinart and Andrew Sullivan about Israel’s self-destructive behavior.
But Wieseltier is now, partially, joining the ranks of Israel’s critics — stating the obvious — but this removes him from those who offer knee-jerk defenses of the IDF tactics in confronting the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla.
Read the entire essay, but he starts:

Israel does not need enemies: it has itself. Or more precisely: it has its government. The Netanyahu-Barak government has somehow found a way to lose the moral high ground, the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas. That is quite an accomplishment. Operation Make the World Hate Us, it might have been called.
I leave it to others to make the operational criticisms of the Israeli action, and will say only that even my amateurish understanding of the tactical challenge posed by the interdiction of the boats suffices to suggest that there were other ways to do this. I also will not pretend to a perfect grasp of what happened on board the Mavi Marmara. I have pondered the videos that both sides have released, and concluded that the Israeli soldiers sliding down that rope had no intention of attacking the people on board and that the people on board had no way of being confident of this. I cannot expect Palestinians and their supporters to believe the best about the Israeli army. (This is what Israeli hardliners call “the restoration of deterrence.”) I do not doubt that some of the activists on the ship welcomed a confrontation with Israel, but the Israelis should not have obliged them. In any event, what took place on that deck looks to me like a tragic misunderstanding. Yet there was no reason to think that anything else would have transpired.
The important point is that the killing of civilians on the Mavi Marmara–I understand that they were “armed” with metal bars and a knife, but still they were civilians, and soldiers are trained to respond unlethally to the recklessness of a mob–cannot be extenuated by reference to “asymmetrical warfare” and Israel’s right to defend itself. This was not warfare, at least of the physical sort. Israel was not under attack.

— Steve Clemons


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