Gaza flotilla
Israel Navy personnel board one of the ships of the Gaza aid flotilla on Monday May 31, 2010. Photo by Getty Images
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A colloquium in London on Obama’s foreign policy and the supposed “gifts” it will provide to its enemies. My thesis? A choice selection of quotations from Sun Tzu, a Chinese general from the period of the warring kingdoms who has remained in the annals of history for the genial manual of military strategy he prepared for King Helu: “The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities” ‏(Ahmadinejad’s Iran‏). Or, “War is like fire. Those who cannot bring hostilities to a close burn themselves out” ‏(the planned withdrawal of the expeditionary force from Iraq‏). Or, “The general who emerges victorious is the one who is the most knowledgeable.” ‏(What else could the 44th president of the United States have had in mind when he took it upon himself, in the first days of his presidency, to put America’s intelligence agencies in order?‏). Or, “Treat your prisoners well; feed them as if they were your own soldiers” ‏(Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib ...‏). I think that Obama is a very complex individual: métis, Kenya, Hawaii, a little bit of Islam, Indonesia ... But, nonetheless, I believe that it is impossible to understand either his personality or his conduct of foreign policy without factoring in an additional dimension, an additional complication: He is the most Chinese president in American history.


“Jews against Israel” was the headline that this morning’s Liberation gave to another colloquium that I will be opening tomorrow, Sunday, in Tel Aviv, and which, under the joint sponsorship of Haaretz and the French Embassy in Israel, intends to focus on the democratic ideal shared by our two countries. In that context − the call that is being made by JCall and which I signed together with other individuals especially affirms that the solidarity with which Theodor Herzl baptized the Jewish State − a solidarity in principle that, according to that principle, must be unconditional − cannot function without freedom of speech in the face of the eventual errors that will be made by this or that government.


Of course, Liberation’s headline is absurd. Totally and regrettably absurd. Because it was not against but rather for Israel that the signatories to that call were mobilized. One signatory, your humble servant, who, in the summer of 2007, ever since the first day of that war which Hezbollah’s iranosaurs, triggered and brought into being, tried to share, on the front line of Israel’s northern frontier, the daily routine of those Israeli citizens who were being bombarded. These signatories affirm two things. First, unconditionality in any dialogue is neither democracy nor Zionism. Second, there are certain situations where, to paraphrase the title of one of Amos Oz’s books, nations need others to help them to divorce. This, of course, does not mean imposing something on the two nations − and it certainly does not mean any sort of boycott ‏(an idea that I have fought against all my life‏). However, it does mean the appointment of ambassadors, peacemakers, mediators who are motivated by good will − I am referring specifically to President Barack Obama or another friend of Israel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, or to Europe.


While in Tel Aviv I learned of the catastrophic interception on the high seas by the Israel Defense Forces of six boats that had sailed from Turkey and were trying to run the blockade on Gaza. As I write these words, I, like the rest of the world, have only a few shreds of information about what really happened. Furthermore, I am convinced that it will soon be learned that this so-called humanitarian flotilla was humanitarian in name only, and that its organizers and implementers were exploiting the signs and symbols of humanitarian aid and essentially exploiting the media, rather than expressing any real concern for the suffering of the people of Gaza. And I am also convinced that the initiators of this provocation − the Turkish branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is indeed a part of the government in Turkey − had very good reasons for refusing the suggestion that the boats enter the Israeli port of Ashdod so that the real nature of their cargo could be verified.


I am equally convinced that the IDF I know does everything it can to avoid civilian casualties and its soldiers and officers are careful to observe purity of arms. Furthermore, I am convinced that the IDF, which is not only a highly sophisticated army but profoundly democratic, and whose conduct in wartime I have saluted on many occasions ‏(I did so last night as well‏), had other modes of operation at its disposal and could have used them rather than causing this bloodbath. If I had had any hesitation about offering an opportunity to Israel’s friends to redouble their vigilance, and if I had had any doubt regarding the importance of Jcall’s demand for a distinguishing between continued, consistent support of Israel and the criticism for the poor actions of a poor government, this initiative, which was so foolish, irresponsible and criminal and which − for Israel − was so disastrous, has put all such hesitations and doubts to rest. Grief, sadness, and yes, anger are the feelings that have emerged in the face of a temptation that I know exists in the hearts of some Israeli leaders − a temptation to believe that the “whole world is against us” and that “we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t” and to therefore act accordingly. Autism can never be a government policy and it most certainly can never be a strategy. This is a statement that must be made. And it must be made emphatically.


Bernard-Henri Lévy’s latest book, “Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism,” was published in 2009.