like so many of Israel’s critics–right and left– of the Mavi Marmara mess, or the Shalit kidnapping, or the Lebanon war, there’s in Michael Chabon’s op-ed an implicit anti-Arab racism. (What?? me leftist progressive, a racist against Arabs? no can be!!!)
Yes, if your whole thing is about how stupid Israel is, you are patronizingly ignoring the fact that Israel’s enemies–the Turkish IHH who prepared the thugs on the Marmara, the leaders and soldiers of Hezbollah, for example–can actually be smart! Can figure out how to outsmart Israel! And everyone is falling into this trap. Right-wing critics are furious at Israel for not outsmarting the IHH and the Mavi Marmara thugs. Left-wing critics claim Israel was stupidly and murderously lashing out. Even dispassionate observers agree that Israel was manipulated into killing several club-wielding activists, taking a big PR hit worldwide. But the emphasis, from all sides, is on Israel’s action only.
It’s not a simple equation, as Israel is far stronger than any current enemy (including non-‘peace’ groups like the ISM and IHH), but Israel is usually not simply trying to destroy them. Israel has many, many weaknesses, as an actual nation-state with an address, civilians it actually cares about protecting, accountability, and moral and human rights standards. Finding weakness and forcing Israel to uncomfortably fail to balance those many needs is not necessarily so difficult, but it takes strategic thinking. Let’s actually give some credit to the IHH and Hezbollah et al. Smarts plus willingness to die can win them some victories. In this case it did.
Israel was NOT necessarily so stupid–it tried to use non-lethal force to ensure ships were searched (NOT to stop aid shipments, which all reached Gaza in the end anyway). It had worked 40 times before. It finally failed. Sure, Israel should have prepared better etc.– but remember, defense is harder than offense: thinking creatively about every of thousands of weak spots is tough, while attackers can put all their effort into the one place they know they’re attacking, as the IHH could. Why can’t Muslims ever be smart? Let’s give some credit. They won a battle, not necessarily because Israel was stupid or brutal, but because they found a weakness and a creative way to surprise Israel.
If all– left, right, Israeli or western– continue to deny the agency and accountability of Israel’s enemies, there is no hope for peace (or, for that matter, victory). Let’s give them understanding and, in a sense, respect. The Mavi Marmara club-wielding assailants prepared to die and some probably chose to die, to win a PR battle with Israel, with no hope of defeating the blockade– only hoping Israel would kill them so she would look bad. They succeeded. Can’t we give credit? And blame? Also, can’t we hold Turkey accountable for allowing this armed, provocative flotilla to launch? (Greece and Cyprus notably refused.)