Media tycoon Ted Turner said that the Israelis and the Palestinians are using terror tactics against each other. Cherie Blair, wife of the British prime minister, stated that progress in the Middle East is not possible as long as the Palestinian suicide bombers feel there is no hope; and Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh asserted that Israel is guilty of "crimes against humanity." All this in one week.
What was the reaction of Israel and the Jewish world? They threatened boycotts and pressure campaigns. What was the result of the threats? Turner and Blair recanted and apologized. Israel won. But this is a very dubious victory. Does anyone seriously think that they changed their minds?
The reaction to Turner's comment, made on June 18 to The Guardian newspaper in Britain, was the harshest of all. In Israel, which has traditionally opposed politically based boycotts as long as they affect Israel, a debate sprang up about whether cable television should continue to broadcast CNN, the Cable News Network, which Turner founded. In any case, Jerusalem does not like CNN - so let the world watch CNN while we bury our heads in the sand. MK Avraham Hirchson (Likud) wrote a letter, which initially had the support of the communications minister, Reuven Rivlin (Likud); the Yesha Council of settlements announced that it was cutting itself off from CNN; one of the cable companies began broadcasting CNN's archrival, Fox News, as a veiled threat; and the subject of boycott became a hot topic of discussion on the talk shows on Israeli radio and television. A former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, labeled Turner a "fool" (and, he joked, "maybe also a drinker" - the words are homonyms in Hebrew), the Israeli press carried descriptions of his way of dressing (he was once seen walking around in a housecoat), and there were hints of an alleged unstable mental state. Israel showed Turner what's what. The reaction was quick in coming: the next day he issued an apology, in which he explained that he had only wanted to emphasize that he condemns all forms of violence. The latest storm in a teacup abated.
Cherie Blair, wife to the second friendliest leader to Israel in the world, also learned her lesson. In Israel the talk was of a "slip of the tongue" and an "unfortunate incident," and Israelis were reminded that she had also evicted - in an equally scandalous move - the cat Humphrey from 10 Downing Street and that she gets her suits from an Israeli designer. The day after making her remark, Blair said she was sorry if she had given anyone offense. But the devil was at work and a few hours later the foreign secretary in Blair's government, Jack Straw, said he felt compassion for the suicide bombers while abhorring their deeds. As far as is known, no demand has been put to Straw to apologize, perhaps because none other than Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer made a similar comment after meeting with a woman terrorist who regretted her action (see the cover story in Ha'aretz Magazine, June 21).
What all these statements have in common is that they reflect the true frame of mind that exists almost everywhere in the world, apart from the United States. No apologies will alter that fact. If international status is an element in a country's strategic strength, we have to take into account that part of the price of Israel's occupation of the territories is a weakening of its standing in the international community. Turner, Lindh and Blair did not make comments like these during the period of the Oslo accord or the Camp David meeting, when Israel was bent on achieving peace. Even if the motives of the critics are not always pure and innocent, that does not mean that Israel is not providing reasons aplenty for criticism. And even if the international community is not showing the same attitude toward the Palestinian terrorists, that cannot diminish Israel's responsibility for its actions.
When Turner says that Israel is using terror tactics, Israel has to address that criticism on its merits. Can the incarceration of an entire nation for more than a year and a half be considered a form of terrorism? What about preventing the ill from getting to a hospital, or systematic assassinations, or house demolitions, or the killing of children? Terrorism is violence that is applied against innocent civilians - and today both sides, Israel and the Palestinians, are killing innocent civilians. The Israeli argument that it is not killing them deliberately is insufficient: It is the result that counts. Nor does the brutal series of terrorist acts last week reduce the burden we bear.
As for Cherie Blair's comment, it's true that as long as young people feel that they have no hope other than to blow themselves up, no progress is going to be made. What is so terrible about what she said, and what is it that is incorrect about her statement? Not even the cruelest of the suicide bombers was born to kill; it is despair that brought them to that moral abyss. Their actions cannot be justified but their despair must be recognized, and it must be understood that as long as it is not eradicated their appalling deeds will not stop. And as regards the Swedish foreign minister's remark about "crimes against humanity" - what should we call incidents in which Israeli soldiers prevent pregnant women from passing checkpoints, thus bringing about the death of the newborn child? True, the acts of the suicide bombers are more cruel, and Lindh should be called upon to say that, too.
Entrenched and isolated as it has probably never before been, both because of its policy and because of its enemies, Israel is not responding with a sharp attack against all its critics, even the fairest among them. That is not only a sign of weakness, it is also perhaps something of an admission, a partial one at least, that the critics are right in what they say. Deep in our hearts we are perhaps beginning to understand that we, too, have a part in the deterioration that has brought us and the Palestinians to our present state, which is more fraught with despair than anything in the past, and to which our only response is to attack.
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