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The Flotilla, the Israeli Moral Imagination and the Failure of U.S. Jewish Leadership

Haaretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer has a very important piece in the Friday paper that looks at the Gaza Flotilla incident and the yawning gap between Israeli and international perceptions of the affair — and then connects it to Peter Beinart’s “breathtaking” New York Review of Books essay, “The failure of the American Jewish establishment.”

In Israeli commentary on the raid, Pfeffer writes,

One sentence that was repeated over and over to justify the final outcome was: “And what if they had succeeded in killing one of our soldiers?” This is a rhetorical argument that is unanswerable in any discussion held in Israel. No matter how many combatants we have lost in all the wars, operations, accidents and other foul-ups, every time the radio announces the death of yet another an IDF soldier, something dies within every one of us.

That is a noble sentiment, a feeling of a society with a shared responsibility and destiny, but we have lost any other perspectives and are incapable of realizing that it is only we Israelis who feel this. We have hunkered down deep inside our collective bunker and have lost sight of any suffering or loss on the other side…

Say that two IDF commandos had been killed in the confrontation. It would have been another national tragedy for us, but would anyone outside of Israel have been moved? Not a bit: They would simply have been two heavily armed soldiers carrying out an illegal raid who were killed by brave civilians defending a ship bearing humanitarian aid. None of Israel’s arguments — that the members of the Turkish relief organization IHH were actually murderous jihadis, that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, that Israel was prepared to allow the cargo to go through its own port and that the blockade is justified as the only way to keep more missiles from reaching Hamas — would have been any more persuasive. Not because they were badly presented or inaccurate, but simply because moral people around the world see almost everything that happens in the region as a result of a deeply immoral situation that the Israeli leadership and the great majority of the Israeli public is doing nothing whatsoever to change…

The real blame lies with successive Israeli governments and the broad public that are not brave enough to end the 42-year-old occupation and prefer instead to throw the army at the problem. As good as our army is, the result will only be more and more bloodshed. So how do we deal with it? By convincing ourselves that we are the moral ones and everyone else just wants to kill us.

Peter Beinart’s essay, says the British-born, yeshiva-educated Pfeffer, “describes how the leaders of America’s major Jewish organizations have succeeded in estranging an entire generation of young Jews from Israel ‘by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does’.”

But there is another damaging aspect to this cheerleading. Every Israeli cabinet minister who is greeted by cheering audiences during visits abroad fails to see all those who, disgusted, prefer to stay at home.

They return to Israel convinced that at least the Jewish people are still behind us and that our opponents are simply anti-Semitic…

When the history of the Jewish people in the early 21st century is written, the conclusion will be unavoidable. In its hour of need Israel was let down by the Diaspora.

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