Thursday, June 03, 2010

Screw-Up Nation
Flotilla Crisis

By David Suissa

The biggest PR fiasco in Israeli history would never have happened had somebody up high in Israel pressed the "play" button.

How bad were the first news reports about the Flotilla Fiasco? Put it this way, for the first time in my life, I didn't give the Israelis the benefit of the doubt. How could I? Top-flight Israeli commandos who couldn't stop a bunch of peaceniks without killing them? So here's what went through my head in those first few hours: If I'm enraged at Israel, how will the rest of the world feel? You know, that large majority of the planet who are used to thinking the worst about Israel-the ones who never give Israel the benefit of the doubt?

I got my answer pretty quickly. Within hours of the first news reports of "Israeli Commandos Kill Pro-Palestinian Peace Activists," the world, not surprisingly, was up in flames. It was the abyss of abysses. A global forest fire of condemnation that threatened to engulf the Jewish state.

The harm done to Israel's reputation on that first day of breathless news reports will stain Israel for a long time. No amount of demonstrations or clever PR will undo this damage.

And why? Because the powers that be in Israel decided to wait 12 hours-12 long, agonizing hours of hysterically negative news reporting on Israel-before finally releasing video footage that shows Israeli commandos being ambushed by violent thugs, not kumbaya peaceniks.

The video was disgusting, but even more disgusting was the fact that Israel waited so long to release it. Had the world's press seen this right away-at the same time that they first heard about the killings-the dominating image of the story would have been a grainy mob of thugs attacking Israeli commandos one by one with clubs as they came down from the chopper.

Did I hear anyone say Rodney King? Does anyone remember the billions of impressions made around the world many years ago-way before the era of Youtube-when a group of LAPD officers beat up a man named Rodney King?

Would there ever have been a more powerful image to define a news story about Israel than a bunch of disgusting thugs posing as peaceniks ambushing Israeli commandos with metal clubs while the Israelis are ordered "not to shoot"?

Yes, of course, for all you cynics out there who say that the world will "hate us no matter what," nothing will please you. You know what? Take your cynicism and get out of the way. Stay on the sidelines, where you belong. I'm not going there. I still believe the truth can make a difference.

Especially the truth that comes with an image. God knows the Palestinians have had a whole bunch of those images, and made full use of them. When is the last time you remember seeing an image that helped Israel's case?

Listen to a foreign reporter's reaction after he saw the footage, according to JPost this morning: "I saw it, and I realized I had done Israel an injustice. At that point, and only at that point, I understood what the Israelis had been saying."

Can you imagine? A foreign reporter who admits he did Israel an injustice! And all because Israel decided to wait 12 hours before showing proof of what we were saying (How could we expect anyone-let alone a skeptical reporter-to believe that Israeli commandos were acting in self defense against peaceniks?)

So why did Israel wait so long? This is from David Horovitz in JPost this morning:

"Some of their considerations are not beneath contempt. There was a legitimate concern, for instance, that the footage, showing colleagues in such trouble, might prove demoralizing for Israeli troops. And some of their considerations are utterly contemptible, including the scandalous parochial obsession with local TV-the insistent, misguided desire to hold back dramatic material until late in the Israeli day, so that as many people as possible will see it fresh on the 8 p.m. Hebrew nightly news."

According to Horovitz, this is not the first time "Israel's abysmal official public diplomacy hierarchies have made this kind of criminal misjudgment, to the terrible detriment of the national interest."

It's not easy for me to criticize a country that I so deeply love and admire. And to tell you the truth, even after the beating we took around the world on that first day, I was relieved to see that Israel had not, in fact, indiscriminately killed 10 protestors.

But as someone who is so pained at how Israel is so unfairly portrayed in the world- at how it is hated and condemned beyond any proportion of decency-it killed me to see that we finally had our Rodney King moment-and we blew it.

David Suissa is the founder of OLAM magazine, and a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. You can read his daily blog at and e-mail him at

No comments: