[originally published on Bloomberg, 11 June 2010]
To many observers, Israel’s deadly assault on a civilian ship in international waters came as a final confirmation of a developing international consensus that Israel is a state that stops at no limit, recognizes no law, defers to no power and bows to no authority.
This consensus was largely consolidated by the bombardment of the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009, in which Israel killed one out of every thousand residents, damaged or destroyed thousands of family homes and other buildings, targeted schools, hospitals and ambulances, and reduced to rubble much of the territory’s agricultural, industrial and communications infrastructure — already broken by years of isolation and siege.
The consensus was only reinforced last spring, when Israel dismissed the Obama administration’s call for it to freeze its illegal colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem; and again this spring, when it seemed to taunt Vice President Joe Biden by greeting his visit with an announcement of yet more settlements.
The new consensus was further strengthened by Israel’s vehement denunciation of the United Nations inquiry into the Gaza war, chaired by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, which found that it had committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in the conduct of its assault on the civilian population of that territory.
Because Israel refuses to relinquish its control over Gaza, as last month’s tragic events so clearly illustrated, it remains an occupying power there, and international law holds it accountable for the welfare of the population.
Israel has subjected Gaza’s people — most of whom are children — to indiscriminate bombardments and a cruel and illegal siege, severely limiting the supplies of construction materials, medicines, schoolbooks, and food, and thereby putting the entire population on what a senior Israeli official once only half-jokingly called “a diet.”
It was in order to break this siege and bring urgently needed supplies to Gaza that the so-called Freedom Flotilla set sail, only to end in a bloody shambles.
Immediately, a well-oiled publicity machine went into high gear. Israel and its supporters in the U.S. have been doing everything possible to counteract the widening recognition of the dismal reality that Israel stands for.
An army of volunteers scours the Internet looking for stories to post on. Hasbara (Hebrew for “explanation”) organizations — like the media monitoring outfit Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, whose clumsily literalist retorts are unintentionally comical — try in vain to mask the ugly truth.
Scholarly criticism of Israeli policy is met by orchestrated campaigns of vilification and intimidation. A wave of new Israel studies centers is being established on college campuses, often as little more than fronts for propaganda.
And, according to the New Yorker magazine, one defender of Israel — the Hollywood mogul Haim Saban — has embarked on a plan to simply buy up media outfits, apparently in order to stanch the flow of unflattering stories about Israel.
But it is far too late for such maneuvers. People around the world now see Israel for what it is. No propaganda machine, no matter how well-oiled, can convince decent people that it’s acceptable for children to be forcibly malnourished and live unschooled and amid unreconstructed ruins, as in Gaza.
Hardly anyone took seriously Israel’s carefully crafted excuses for the lethal outcome of an assault by heavily armed, albeit bungling, commandos on an unarmed ship sailing on a humanitarian mission in international waters. People around the world saw the raid as essentially an act of state piracy on the high seas.
It was to no avail that the Israelis tried to spin the story, even to turn it on its head, presenting the raiders as innocent victims and the humanitarian volunteers as villains trying to “kidnap” and “lynch” them.
Only an ever-narrower and largely self-indoctrinating audience in the U.S. continues to takes this kind of desperate spin at face value.
True, the Obama administration fell back on the default script — quietly using its veto power in the UN to protect Israel — even though the attack involved U.S.-made military equipment paid for by billions of taxpayer dollars that could be put to far better use in saving California’s schools or Louisiana’s coastline.
This default mode is getting old, and it is under severe strain as more and more Americans, including many in positions of power and influence, join countless others around the world in questioning their government’s unlimited support for a nuclear-armed state that, by refusing to heed any kind of law — while periodically going berserk — endangers not merely its neighbors, but the stability and security of the whole world.
A change of policy, as well as of perceptions, is now only a matter of time.