In the court of international opinion, Israel will always lose by winning

Winning in the court of world opinion would entail a willful effort to be bloodied, to be humiliated, in short, to lose. I pass. Op-ed.

Douglas Altabef ,

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Once again, in the wake of the Guardians of the Walls operation in Gaza, there is the widely expressed lament that, while Israel prevails militarily, it inevitably loses in the court of world opinion. Israel is perceived as the bullying aggressor; Israel is incapable of generating sympathy for its cause, even when indiscriminate rockets are raining down non-stop upon its cities and towns day after day.

As these critics note, the Palestinian Arabs weave tall tales of unspeakable oppression, featuring dead or crying children and Israeli criminality, featuring destroyed buildings. The international community cheers them on and buys into their narrative, lock, stock and barrel.

By contrast, rocket fire on civilians notwithstanding, Israel appears as the soul-less military juggernaut.

When I was a kid in NY, there was this surreal daytime game show called Queen for a Day, in which three or four women would compete for who had the greatest tale of woe. An applause meter would determine who succeeded in portraying herself in the most pathetic light, thus winning the title of Queen for a Day, and walking home with a variety of prizes.

A “Mrs. Israel” would have flunked out of the interview to be on the show, let alone win the contest.

To our immense credit, we don’t do victimhood well; in fact, we recoil from it. We are unwilling to debase ourselves in order to elicit sympathy.

This in and of itself, puts us at a great perceptual disadvantage. In a world that intuitively feels the pain of the downtrodden and bedraggled (regardless of why they might be that way), Israel appears aloof and certainly not the underdog.

What about facts, reality, and truth? These concepts are under fire in the West today, and there are a great many who would dismiss the appeal to these criteria as spin, or point of view, or even irrelevant when there is a pronounced power imbalance.

During the height of the operation in Gaza, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, gave a masterful accounting in front of the General Assembly of Israel’s actions. Erdan told the unvarnished truth (including the ongoing hypocrisy of the UN), yet at every step exuded empathy for the Gazan people and distress that Israel had to use military force to protect its citizens.

As I watched his speech, I was impressed, pleased and proud of how he handled the situation; but I also found myself wondering whether it would have an impact. Would it speak to the elusive Middle, would it sway the undecideds or those of “open” mind?

The fact that I had that doubt was telling, since on its face what he said seemed irrefutable and compelling.

So, if an articulate accounting, straightforward yet sensitive to the plight of the adversary’s civilians would not necessarily carry the day, the real question is what would? What could Israel say on its behalf that might pry some of the emotion driven deciders to its cause?

Easier said than done, because winning over such opinion requires adherence to the criteria that determine worldwide public opinion.

One widely invoked fairness criterion is called proportionality. While, thankfully, we had far fewer casualties than Hamas did, in the Queen for a Day world, that is suspect; proportionality requires that we needed to suffer more.

But proportionality of casualties is just the beginning. Because Israel is the vastly stronger power, Israel should have been willing to absorb more blows in order to somehow level the field. Allowing the enemy to bloody your nose just seems fair if you are the stronger contender.

Of course, the Iron Dome made it all worse. By lowering our casualty count, the Iron Dome frustrated Hamas, prompting their need for more rockets. Since something close to 25% of Hamas rockets fell on Gaza, killing scores of Gazans, shouldn’t Israel have to be held accountable for these deaths too?

And because Israel had the Iron Dome, why would it have had to do any bombing at all? Rather, in the interests of proportionality, shouldn’t it have just sat there and absorbed the blows?

Of course, all this proportionality only works in one direction. So the fact that Israel fired no random, indiscriminate rockets into Gaza doesn’t count for much, since we did a lot of pinpoint strategic bombing.

Might it have been better to forego the pinpoint bombings preceded by inviting people to leave the targeted buildings, in favor of tit for tat random rocket fire?

And maybe, because of Iron Dome, we would have had to limit the number of random rockets in order to produce greater proportionality.

If all of this sounds ridiculous, that it is only because it is.

An attempt to win in the court of international opinion would have to entail a willful effort to be bloodied, to be humiliated, in short, to lose.

The unmistakable conclusion is that the quest for world sympathy is a fool’s errand. It means submitting to all the things we strive to prevent and avoid, all in the name of currying favor with those who probably would only shed a tear for us if it were over our graves.

At the end of the day, Israel has, and Israelis know it has, an exquisitely moral and humane compass, never seeking to start a conflict, but never shying away from one, when confronted with it.

And we will also recall the sound advice provided by Golda Meir in the wake of the Yom Kippur War: “I prefer to stay alive and be criticized than be sympathized with.”

Douglas Altabef is the Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization, and a Director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at dougaltabef@gmail.com.



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