Being Right - All the Way to the Abyss

For all its efforts to pursue a rational foreign policy, Israel finds itself repeatedly in that corner where the more right and victimized it seems to itself, the more cruel and aggressive it appears to the world.

The BBC anchorwoman leaned toward Sderot mayor Eli Moyal, who came to London for public relations purposes (that is, to put on a show of misery that might compete with that of the Palestinians). "So what are you saying?" she asked in the didactic tone reserved for third-world interviewees. "The entire world is wrong, and only you are right?"

She repeated this rhetorical question over and over, as if by habit, without explaining in what sense the world was "right" about Hamas and the Qassam rockets, and regardless of what Moyal himself was saying. The latter, for his part, kept counting the thousands of rockets that have landed on his city, even more since the "disengagement." He asked his own rhetorical question over and over - "Why are they firing?" - thus grasping at the last straw we have since the "disengagement" - that "there is no more occupation in Gaza." But this overwhelmingly correct fact seemed to fly right by the interviewer, as though by the "entire world."

The interview as a whole was not particularly hostile, and Moyal's performance was articulate. But that is precisely why there was something touching about the oh-so-familiar and tired Israeli display of "deep conviction in our rightness, and a no-less-deep despair of explaining it." This, after all, is the corner Israel has backed itself into for decades, regardless of what it has done or what has happened in the region.

No less constant is the convoluted, clever rhetoric of our international public relations, in which the word "but" always plays a central role: "I would be willing to talk even with the devil, not only with Hamas," Moyal too declared, before returning to the official spin. "But how can you talk with someone who wants to eradicate you?" Here is another winning, defiant public relations gambit, the kind we have used for 40 years on all fronts alongside our numerous operational successes. ("We are willing to talk to Syria, but...")

But for all its efforts to pursue a rational foreign policy, Israel finds itself repeatedly in that corner where the more right and victimized it seems to itself, the more cruel and aggressive it appears to the world. It has gotten here mainly as a result of atrophied principles and military action, performed as though out of inertia. And here the problem is not public relations. On the contrary: Perhaps it is because of that magical belief words' ability to explain and justify every last contradiction that Israel can no longer see what it communicates beyond the words, and where it has wound up after all these years.

Is it not clear that the more the conflict in our region becomes chronic and incurable, the less point and purpose there is to all the PR nuances about who is right in renewing the bloody cycle? The same question can be asked about explaining which old score an Israeli infantry unit has settled with which Palestinian organization, or which decade-old bombing was being punished when someone was assassinated and his home destroyed, costing us another round of warfare.

Because in the meantime, while we are declaiming our rightness and the nastiness and stubbornness of our enemies, time is passing by. Almost without noticing it, we are becoming entangled in the same lethal embrace with the very worst among our enemies; plummeting together into the same abyss, with the same gang-like mentality of "dignity" and "bringing to justice" and "settling the score."

Even if it seems "right" to settle an old bloody score - as part of the same pedagogical outlook that keeps boomeranging anyway - where does it lead us, in practical terms, in moral terms, vis-a-vis our image? While one spin knockout is followed by a terrorist attack and then the retaliation for the attack, Israel and Palestine are merging into a single, distasteful mass. And the distaste toward Israel is greater, perhaps precisely because there are some remaining shreds of expectation toward it.

The maxim "it is better to be smart than right" has never been more urgent and vital for Israel, especially when it wants to maintain the distinction between itself and its enemy and not become associated with its methods. Our most pressing need is not another battlefield "accomplishment" or PR "triumph," but a swift exit from the cycle of bloodshed in a cease-fire or some reasonable arrangement that will at least suspend the slide toward chaos.

Otherwise, the day is not far when we will be asked not what we are doing in Gaza and Nablus, but why we are living in Sderot. (Wait a second, why say "the day is not far"? That, after all, was one of the questions the BBC asked Moyal this week).