Thursday, March 22, 2012

Plucky little Israel: deeply offended again!

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, really. Well before it became clear that Catherine Ashton did in fact mention the children of Sderot, Zionists at Harry’s Place were up in arms about the perceived atrocity that she hadn’t. HP cheerleader on this occasion was Sarah AB, coming up with the hyperbole “Unbelievable: Baroness Ashton on Toulouse” as her Righteously Indignified position on this largely non-event. Except it transpired that Ashton had been misquoted and that she had in fact mentioned the children of Sderot. Sarah AB provided full transcript and video as proof (full sagette here – JsF).

By then Israel had smelled blood, as Gideon Levy describes here (he appears blissfully unaware of the misquotation prelude). It’s a little naïve in parts but basically hits the spot:
As if the horror in Toulouse wasn't enough, as if the suspicion that Al-Qaida was involved in the attack wasn't enough, and as if the constant criticism of Israel wasn't enough, we've invented another imaginary enemy: Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief.

Ashton made some distasteful remarks about the cruel fate of children who had been killed, unintentionally mixing road-accident victims (Belgium), war victims (Syria, Gaza and Sderot) and hate-crime victims (France). And immediately, I mean immediately, Israel fomented an international scandal, despite France's very impressive stand with the Jewish community, first and foremost by its president.

Ashton is of course not an ‘invented imaginary enemy [of Israel]’, at least not a new one: Ashton’s stance on I/P, soft and non-controversial as it is, is enough to get the Israeli establishment seriously worked up, as we shall soon see. So it's not this particular episode that makes Ashton a perceived enemy, rather it's perceived past enmity to the Zionist State that fueled this latest insincere spat.

Nor were her remarks distasteful: slightly populist rhetoric you would hear from many a mediocre politician the world around when they feel the need to sound profound (Sarkozy e.g. pulled out all the stops on the Toulouse tragedy).
Not a very important stateswoman, but apparently a good-intentioned one, Ashton misspoke. We realize that her intentions weren't bad, certainly not anti-Israel. Listening to her full remarks proves this. Ashton bemoaned the fate of children killed for nothing, as politicians like to do. But the thunderous attack from Jerusalem (and Tel Aviv), orchestrated by the prime minister and the foreign minister, and backed up by a chorus of journalists and pundits, was wrong and unnecessary, no less than Ashton's remarks.

Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein said that if he weren't a minister, his attack on Ashton would have been even harsher than his "Israel is the most moral country in the world" (no less). Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman let loose with another nationalist pronouncement, and they all demanded that Ashton get down on her knees and beg for forgiveness.

As far as I’m concerned Ashton would have been well within her rights to not have mentioned the children of Sderot. But that would not have been her sin: the real wrongdoing here is in the past for not having passed the ‘with us or against us’ test. Period.
[snip] It's enough that we suspect that an unfortunate remark has been made, especially if it comes from a relatively weak politician who isn't American. No one would have ferociously attacked Ashton if she had been a representative of the United States.

This attack on Ashton and others like her is suspect; it probably wasn't sincere. Perhaps once again we're cynically using a statesman's faux pas to wring more and more guilt feelings about Israel, to instill more and more fear into the world's statesmen and to make more and more worthless political hay.

Israel hunts down such remarks as if it were the Anti-Defamation League. The long-term implications are dangerous. Ashton, who was never perceived as an enemy of Israel, but rather a typical European stateswoman who believes that the Israeli occupation should end, might watch her tongue, but now she'll hold a big grudge against Israel for humiliating her. That's not good for Israel.

Israel must never be compared to anything else - not to apartheid and not to other oppressors of freedom around the world, not to other occupation regimes and not to other colonialism. We're always something else. The children of Sderot must not be compared to the children of Gaza, the children of Toulouse must not be compared to other children who are slaughtered elsewhere in nationalist hate crimes.

Our children are different, not only to us - that's natural. But they must be different to the whole world. That's our uncompromising demand. Neither must the Palestinian struggle be compared to any other fight for liberation elsewhere around the world. Anyone who dares compare Israel to anything else - their fate is sealed.

The Ashton mini-storm will be forgotten in a day. Israel will celebrate another minuscule victory, but the residue will build up. It wasn't Ashton who lost her senses, but rather Israel, which is playing the role of the eternally offended party, once again seen in a maudlin light. And this happened just as the world was responding compassionately to the victims and was remarkably empathetic toward Israel.


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