The war that Israel isn't winning (Part 1)

European “pro-Palestinian activists” recently attempted to descend en masse on Ben-Gurion Airport for a “spontaneous” protest to disrupt service. Protesters then planned to join West Bank activities designed to embarrass Israel by provoking reactions while cameras and cellphones were poised to record and instantly upload images to the Internet.

Israeli security and diplomatic efforts thwarted the airport protest. Many of the would-be gate-crashers were not permitted to board flights into Israel; of those who arrived in Israel, most were picked up at the gate and immediately sent back to their points of origin. Those who succeeded in getting through quietly headed for West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. There the Europeans participated in orchestrated activities designed to appear spontaneous.

These tactics have become a potent weapon in the newest war – the war to delegitimize Israel.

A Danish citizen received his 15 minutes of fame when he joined about 200 Europeans and Palestinians in a bike-riding protest. Israeli soldiers blocked the riders when they attempted to enter an area in the Jordan Valley that is well demarcated as being off-limits. To provoke a reaction, the riders ignored soldiers’ requests to halt and tried to bypass the roadblock with Palestinian Broadcasting Authority cameras rolling. They received a prize beyond their imagination when the Israeli platoon commander struck the Danish protester in the mouth with the magazine of his rifle.

The officer’s behavior caused immediate outrage in Israel. All the news services opened with the video, and, it was the main story for several days. The officer was suspended from active duty and is no longer eligible for a prestigious promotion he was in line to receive. Further disciplinary measures are possible. The prime minister and president immediately condemned the act.

Most Israelis believe such behavior contradicts the moral code of the Army and is unacceptable for any IDF soldier, especially officers. At the same time, most of us understand these protesters are not really pro-Palestinian but anti-Israel. Most reject the concept of a sovereign people who define themselves by a common religion. The Palestinian cause is more palatable to world opinion than demanding the elimination of the Jewish state.

This hypocrisy was best summed up in a letter prepared by the prime minister’s office in advance of the “fly-in” and distributed to the activists before they were put on return flights:

Dear activist,

We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns. We know there were many other worthy choices.

You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime’s daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives, or the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world.

You could have chosen to protest Hamas rule in Gaza, where terror organizations commit a double war crime by firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians.

But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy, where women are equal, the press criticizes the government, human rights organizations can operate freely, religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear.

We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight.

This welcome initiative came from the most media-savvy prime minister in the history of Israel. But his deep understanding of the media is precisely the reason we should be critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Israel is woefully unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the new war being waged against it.

Following this recent incident, former chief IDF spokesmen Avi Benayahu said: “The camera has become the new obstacle which is preventing Israel from being able to defend itself.”

What the Palestinians and the Muslim world have failed to achieve in war and terrorism, they are beginning to achieve through a well-orchestrated campaign to delegitimize and demonize Israel. The simplistic and deceptive message resonates strongly in liberal Western nations because it diverts the focus from the conflict’s core problems to “occupation” and settlements, which are symptoms, not causes, of the problem. These issues are served up internationally on TV and the Internet in easily digested portions to a public who does not understand the Middle East.

The official anti-Semitic incitement of the PA continues unabated. As the Israeli mother of a suicide bomber’s victim said a few years ago: “Until Palestinian mothers love their children more than they hate us, there can never be peace.”

As an Israeli, I feel the government must allow the military and security forces to defend the country with every available resource. The priority placed on the defense of our citizens is the reason Israel has survived and prospered despite seven decades of war and terror.

But Israel’s lack of preparation to fight this new war is incomprehensible. This war poses an existential threat no less lethal than the Iranian nuclear threat. Israel has no international platform to combat this threat. Israel is portrayed as a relic of the colonial past. Supposedly objective news sources such as CNN, BBC and Reuters have joined Arab-owned outlets such as Al-Jazeera in using monikers like “war-mongering,” “trigger-happy” and “racist.” Lost in this landslide of Israel bashing is the fact that Israel is based on the rule of law, democracy and freedom and serves all of its citizens. Yes, more could be done for certain groups, but Israel is fundamentally a state of equality, which is perhaps what makes us so unwelcome in this region.

Rockets fired on Israeli civilians from Gaza to provoke Israeli retaliation, the organization of flotillas to Gaza or incidents like the one in the Jordan Valley are all part of this new effort to damage Israel’s image. Unfettered access to global media is eroding the crucial pillars of support on which Israel depends.

Last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comparison of Gaza to a prison camp prompted Jerusalem Post columnist Jeff Barak to write: “The greatest threat to Israel right now comes not on the battlefield, but from the diplomatic assault on Israel’s legitimacy and the country’s sovereign right to act in self-defense. The understanding for Israel’s position that world leaders displayed immediately after the end of the Gaza operation has evaporated over time … but even so, the description of Gaza as a ‘prison camp’ is not the rhetoric Israel is accustomed to hearing from the leader of one of the European countries more friendly to Israel.”

Like most Israelis, I certainly know how to complain about a problem. The key is to propose a solution. In my next column, I will outline what I believe needs to be done by Israel to meet this challenge to our survival.

Mylan Tanzer is a Portland native who moved to Israel in 1981. He was the founding CEO of the first Israeli cable and satellite sports channel. Since 2005, he has launched, managed and consulted for channels and companies in Israel and Europe. Tanzer lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and five children. He can be reached at mylantanz@gmail.com.

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