Ambassadors of ill will
In recent years human rights have become of paramount value in the political culture of Europe, and upholding those rights has become a central goal of foreign policy. As far as Israel is concerned, however, human rights are still perceived primarily as an obstacle to security policies.
No one in Israel has ever heard of Anna Danielsson, Yvonne Fredriksson, Lars Jerdoen or Margareta Sjoedberg. But last week, in their country of Sweden, there was hardly a television program that did not tell the story of the four - two of whom are physicians - and how they were rudely locked up and then deported in disgrace from Israel without even being permitted to contact the Swedish consulate.
The four, who belong to the Palestinian Solidarity Association in Sweden, came to Israel with the intention of proffering medical aid. No harm of any kind would have befallen Israel if the authorities had allowed them to do just that. A Japanese physician, Toshi Insushima, who arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport with a similar purpose, documented his expulsion in a letter he sent to his colleagues in the Physicians for Human Rights group: "I am sorry I did not succeed in entering Israel; I wanted to help you. I will not try again." A group of physicians from the School of Public Health at the University of Brussels encountered a similar fate here. And a delegation from Doctors of the World, which has been in Israel for some time, would also have been thrown out were it not for intervention at a senior level.
As though the brutal images being broadcast around the world from the occupied territories were not enough, these acts of expulsion are adding more fuel to the flames of criticism of Israeli policy. The order issued by Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) to prevent the entry into Israel of anyone suspected of being a supporter of the Palestinians is being carried out in full and to the letter; and it is creating a growing number of ambassadors of ill will.
With the thought police at the airport, even the few who still turn up are compelled to convince the officials of the Interior Ministry that they are lovers of Zion and answer an embarrassing volley of questions. So the interior minister, who represents a party known for its enlightened approach and its openness to the world, becomes a destructive factor in Israel's foreign relations. Now Israel is not only demolishing houses in Jenin with the occupants inside, it is also throwing out guests who don't agree with its policies. This is not the behavior one expects from an open country that takes pride in being a democracy. The amazing thing is that no one here seems to care what impression we create, otherwise it is difficult to understand the expulsion policy.
The ability to shape Israel's image as an enlightened and open state is an asset that is no less important than the arrest of another dozen wanted individuals. Israel's current image as a country that is closing itself off to the world and is lashing out at its critics while throwing out its guests is harmful to its own interests. The only benefit is that we get to return to that familiar and beloved niche called: "The whole world is against us."
In recent years, Europe has been speaking in a new language, which Israel is unwilling to accept. Human rights have become of paramount value in the political culture of Europe, and upholding those rights has become a central goal of foreign policy. As far as Israel is concerned, however, human rights are still perceived primarily as an obstacle to security policies. The new world is not ready to accept this, just as it was not ready to accept it in the Balkans.
Israel, for its part, reacts aggressively. Terje Roed-Larsen, a friend to Israel and the Palestinians who devoted 10 years to establishing peace between the two sides, immediately becomes an enemy of the people only because he made a few justified critical remarks in Jenin about Israel's blocking of humanitarian aid (he never said there had been a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp). The United Nations commission of inquiry into the Jenin case is instantly vilified as hostile to Israel solely because its members are experts on human rights. The director of the Government Press Office, Danny Seaman, an official who is responsible for Israel's image, sullies the head of the important international organization, Reporters Without Borders, only because it dared to criticize Israel's attitude toward media correspondents; and human rights activists who come to Israel are promptly kicked out. Anyone who does not accept the uniform voice coming out of Israel is declared an enemy.
From this point of view, singer Yaffa Yarkoni, Yossi Beilin, Terje Roed-Larsen and the Swedish physicians are all in the same boat. Internally and externally, Israel is now talking in one voice, which is threatening and frightening: All critics - out!