After seeing, hearing and reading the flood of anguish and outrage that’s followed Israel’s decision to free 1,027 terrorists in return for one captured soldier, you might be astonished to learn that Israelis approve of the deal by a nearly 6-to-1 margin, according to a poll published in the Jerusalem Post October 18. The Dahaf poll showed 79% for the swap and just 14% opposed. The margin among women was 86% to 5%. The same article reported another poll, by the Midgam organization, showing a narrower but still hefty 69%-to-26% approval.
I learned about this from the October 18 edition of the Daily Alert, the news digest emailed to tens of thousands of American Jewish mailboxes every morning from Israel on behalf of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Since the Daily Alert is supposed to be a pretty comprehensive round-up of Israel-related news and analysis, I looked for an article that would explain what it was that Israelis liked about the deal. I couldn’t find one. The closest thing I found was a bit of backhanded praise by Elliott Abrams from the Weekly Standard giving all the reasons why it was a Hamas victory, but then gushing over Israel’s oh-so-Jewish concerns for its children’s lives.
Everything else in today’s Daily Alert was an open or veiled attack on the decision to deal with Hamas, with headlines like “Israel’s Deals With the Devils” (Robert Mnookin, Wall Street Journal) “Why (Almost) Everyone Loses in the Prisoner Swap” (Benny Morris, National Interest), “Turkey’s Acceptance of Terrorists Reveals Hamas Ties” (Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post), and a news piece from Haaretz about Mahmoud Abbas hailing the freed Palestinians as “freedom fighters.” The two previous Daily Alert editions, October 17 and October 14, were even more strident in savaging the Netanyahu government’s decision. And people wonder why American Jews are so much more hawkish than Israelis.
Yes, Virginia, there was a logic behind Israel’s decision, and not merely a soft-headed willingness to throw prudence to the wind in response to a mother’s tears. The Daily Alert must have accidentally overlooked that stuff. Or maybe they wanted to shield us from leftist propaganda. For example, this Jerusalem Post article by former Netanyahu bureau chief Ari Harow.
Published on October 17, it argued that the prisoner swap was a tough-minded agreement that proves Netanyahu’s ability to negotiate complicated deals that achieve far-sighted objectives while keeping Israel’s security needs in mind. His point: Don’t mistake Bibi’s hard bargaining on peace questions for unwillingness to close a deal.
Over at Ynetnews.com (Yediot Ahronot’s English-language website), also on October 17, retired Brigadier General Giora Inbar, a former commander of Israel’s erstwhile Lebanon Division, argued on October 17 that the same decisive leadership Netanyahu showed in negotiating the Shalit deal can and should now be directed toward Israel’s other crises, starting with the socioeconomic divisions that are tearing the country apart. His point is, like Harow’s, that Netanyahu showed his detractors another side of himself.
Also at Ynet on October 17, Yediot’s top military affairs analyst Alex Fishman explains in a must-read analysis that the deal was above all a strategic Israeli move related to the Iranian threat. Fishman’s sources appear to be telling him that Netanyahu wanted to minimize strains in Israel’s regional relationships wherever possible, in order to maximize its leverage in facing its real enemy.
Closely related is this piece by columnist/editorial writer Ian Black of The Guardian in London on October 18, arguing that the successful mediating role by Egypt’s new leadership, accomplishing what Hosni Mubarak couldn’t manage in five years, has returned Egypt to a position of regional leadership, “proving its value as an intermediary and key regional actor despite domestic turmoil and the deterioration of its relations with Israel.”
As for Hamas’s supposed outfoxing and humiliating of Israel, The Los Angeles Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief Edmund Sanders reported from Gaza on October 17 that Hamas accepted the deal under pressure, reflecting its mounting “panic” over its growing unpopularity at home and isolation in the region. It’s well reported and well worth a read.
And what October 17 coverage did the Daily Alert choose for our edification? Here is a complete rundown of its Shalit-related headlines from October 17, the day before the swap, when Shalit was all anyone was talking about:
Shalit Deal to Set Free Perpetrators of 2000 Lynching of IDF Reservists See also Shalit Deal to Set Free Perpetrators of 2000 Lynching of IDF Reservists See also Terrorist Who Drove Bus Off Cliff Near Jerusalem, Killing 16, to Be Freed See also Attackers Who Targeted Israeli Women See also Driver of Sbarro Restaurant Suicide Bomber to Be Freed See also Prisoner List Includes Planners of Mass Atrocities See also Prisoners to Be Released Include Notorious Terrorists Arab Press Hails Prisoner-Swap Deal See also Hamas Planning Huge Celebrations for Prisoners Gaza Blockade Unaffected by Shalit Agreement Freeing Gilad Shalit: The Cost to Israel No Wider Significance to Shalit Prisoner Swap
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).