With all due respect to Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF spokespersons and other hasbara wizards, much of the credit for Israel’s relatively benign international standing during Operation Protective Edge goes to Bashar Assad, the Sunni army of the Islamic State, formerly known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in Iraq and the militiamen of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Assad’s mass murder in the Syrian civil war has made the suffering in Gaza seem like a drop in an ocean of Arab blood; the Islamic State’s insane cruelty seems to have rubbed off in the international arena on Hamas’ already-tarnished image as well; and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, in any case, have turned the world’s attention elsewhere.
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For a few hours on Wednesday it seemed that the filmed killing of four children on a Gaza beach may be tipping the scales against the Israeli operation, but then a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 fell down from the sky and the media’s agenda shifted instantaneously. Despite the much-dreaded Israeli ground invasion that began the next day, the 300 victims of flight MH17 were now vying for attention with the eerily similar number of dead Palestinians, the strategic significance of a possible confrontation with Russia immediately eclipsed the limited ramifications of another Middle East altercation, and journalistic zeal refocused on the crazy catastrophe in Ukraine instead of the showdown in Gaza, which, let’s face it, is more of the same for everyone concerned, including the parties themselves.
It’s not that the U.S. media is ignoring Gaza – far from it. But their reporting often seems to be going through the motions, a contrived intermission before we get back to our main event. Granted, the blogosphere and social media are awash with criticism, rage and protest against what is depicted as Israel’s merciless war on innocent civilians. However, in the established media, in print, TV and web, the voice of Israel’s defenders has been much louder, for the time being, than the demurrals of its detractors.
This is one of the reasons why all of the questions directed at President Obama in his Friday press conference at the White House centered on Ukraine rather than Gaza, despite the fact that Obama had just expressed unusually explicit support, albeit limited and conditional, for an Israeli military operation. The president faces much tougher challenges in Eastern Europe and appears resigned to letting Israel and Egypt deal with Hamas, as long as things are kept under control. Under cover of these two concurrently burning crises, one should note, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have succeeded in extending nuclear talks with Iran without enduring the volley of vocal protests that would have accompanied such a move in calmer days.
The Jewish establishment is also enjoying a summer holiday, away from the harsh, Palestinian-centered disagreements that were tearing it apart a short time ago. Most of the mainstream organizations, from J-Street to the ZOA, lined up in support of Israeli efforts to remove the threat of Hamas rocket attacks, recalling long gone glory days of unity and common goals. In a meeting with Kerry on Friday, some of them showed how an appetite comes along with the eating: Having pocketed the administration’s backing, they were now complaining about its insistence on “balancing” it out with concern about civilian casualties.
Though it may be hard for many gevalt-addicted Jews to acknowledge, a confluence of international circumstances has created a relatively comfortable international environment for Israel to conduct its military campaign in Gaza. But Jerusalem may be living on borrowed time nonetheless: Israel may have avoided serious pushback until now, but its operation in Gaza hasn’t garnered much new sympathy either. The prolongation of the conflict or another tragedy that will be captured on film could quickly turn the tables, as has happened in the past, and weeks of pent resentment and frustration could suddenly come to the surface at the most inopportune time.
Unless, as Mordechai told Queen Esther, “relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place”, which has been happening a lot lately.