Israel, Trapped in Plato's Cave

Published June 2, 2010

Commentary Web Exclusive

Like a rock emerging in a sea of lies, we know important facts about the confrontation that took place on Monday between Israel and a flotilla of ships making its way to the Gaza strip.

The blockade was justified by international law. (Egypt, by the way, had also imposed a blockade on Gaza because of the threat from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which illegally seized control of Gaza in 2007.) The Israeli navy first tried to warn the ships off verbally. The “peace activist” on board assaulted Israeli commandos (who were armed with paintball guns) with clubs, knives, metal pipes, stun grenades, and handguns; it turns out that many of them were recruited specifically to attack Israeli soldiers. The “humanitarian relief” the flotilla was supposedly bringing to Palestinians in Gaza was in fact no such thing (food, medicine, relief supplies, and electricity continue to pour into Gaza on a daily basis). And the “charity” that helped organize the flotilla was in fact the radical Turkish group IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which has longstanding ties to Hamas and the global jihadist movement. Yet somehow, some way, it is Israel that is condemned when it acts in its own self-defense.

This is not the first time the early narrative of an incident is heavily biased against Israel. Recall the “Jenin Massacre.” Jenin was a refugee camp in the West Bank that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) entered in 2002 in response to Yasir Arafat's second intifada and because it served as a launch site for terrorist attacks against Israeli towns and villages. But the supposed “massacre” by the IDF, which dominated much of the outraged attention of the world — and of course the United Nations, organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and the BBC — turned out to be nothing of the kind. In fact, what we learned is how careful and conscientious Israel was, with the IDF going door to door rather than destroying Jenin by air in order to keep civilian casualties at a minimum. (The Israeli army lost 23 soldiers in the process; for more, see this.) Yet the truth about Jenin never caught up to the lies. That will undoubtedly be the case with the confrontation that occurred on the Mediterranean Sea earlier this week.

Yet now, as then, some friends of Israel describe what its military did as a “fiasco” that will further damage Israel's “already tattered reputation.” Their point (as John comments on here) is that the standard Israel is held to is higher than that of other nations. That may be unfair, and Israel may even be fully justified in the actions it took, but that is just the way it is. Those are the rules of the diplomatic road; Israel needs to accept them and abide by them. So in the case of the commandos boarding the Turkish-flagged ferry Mavi Marmaraf, Israel should have done more of this and less of that. It should have acted sooner, or later, or not at all. Israel, after all, needs to avoid the traps and snares that its enemies have set in order to keep from becoming even more of a pariah state.

I get all that. And yet on a deeper level, what is being recommended is that Israel (and the rest of us) participate in a game that is rigged from the outset, the Middle East version of Plato's Cave, where we mistake shadows for reality.

Sometimes it is the duty of responsible people to reject the shadows in favor of reality. And in the case of Israel — not always, but often enough — the reality is this: it is being condemned not because of its actions; it is being condemned because of its very existence, because of its very nature, and yes, because of its Jewishness. The objections against Israel are not specific to this or that act; they are existential.

I say that in full recognition that many fine and intelligent people, including close friends of mine, view Israel in a far more critical light than do I. Reasonable people can certainly interpret facts and just causes in different ways. But for others, there is more, much more, going on than simply that.

The assault on Israel that we see emanating from some quarters of the American left and a few remaining pockets on the “paleo-conservative” right, in parts of Europe, in much of the Muslim world, and from international organizations like the United Nations and so-called human rights groups is too fierce, too hypocritical, too unqualified, and too preposterous to be explained by anything other than malignant motivations. These critics are far too eager to light the match — any match — that leads to an anti-Israeli conflagration.

Let's cut through the clouds of deceit and duplicity, shall we? Israel, more than any nation on earth, is held to an impossible standard. Its own sacrifices for peace, which exceed those of any other country, are constantly overlooked while the sadistic acts and crimes of its enemies too often excused.

Israel is far from perfect — but it is, in the totality of its acts, among the most estimable and impressive nations in human history. Its achievements and moral accomplishments are staggering. The U.S. must therefore keep faith with the Jewish state when it is under unfair attack. America and its leaders, rather than making their chief concern “containing diplomatic fallout,” must speak truth in the face of an avalanche of lies.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in a public life filled with magnificent moments, was never more impressive than when he served as the U.S. ambassador to the UN when a resolution declaring that “Zionism is racism” was adopted. A majority of the world's nations condemned Israel, claiming there was an “unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism.” Ambassador Moynihan rose to speak, not apologetically but clearly and courageously, declaring that the “United States … does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.”

Ambassador Moynihan called things by their rightful name. So should we.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He served in the Bush White House as director of the office of strategic initiatives.

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