Israel Campaigned on False Hope to Rally Diaspora Support

Did the army and government cynically fuel the baseless narrative that the kidnapped boys were still alive, exploiting the families and Diaspora solidarity?

Daniella Peled
Daniella Peled
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Israeli soldiers taking part in the search efforts for the kidnapped yeshiva students, June 15, 2014.
Israeli soldiers taking part in the search efforts for the kidnapped yeshiva students, June 15, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Daniella Peled
Daniella Peled

As well as taking advantage of the horrific murder of three Israeli teenagers to torpedo the Palestinian unity government and cut a swathe through Hamas, Israel’s government also used them as a particularly shoddy way of shoring up the bond between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.

Israel needs to perpetuate the myth that the Jewish state is one family that grieves and celebrates together, despite its deep political, economic, ethnic and religious fractures. Diaspora unity, too, is a troubling creature. And so, although there was really no hope at all, an ersatz atmosphere of national hope and anticipation was fueled for nearly three weeks.

A willing Diaspora was recruited into the campaigning maelstrom, its members bombarded with calls for public action, hastily organizing prayer meetings; Israel’s London embassy offered help “to raise awareness.”

This awareness-raising seems to have become a means unto itself. The kidnaps, however ghoulishly, offered a nonpartisan issue for the Diaspora to rally around, inspiring a unity that most other Israel-related matters, like the peace process and Orthodox-Reform relations, signally fail to do.

I recall all too well a previous example of this manipulative, but now standard, feature of Diaspora outreach.

In London in 2006, I met Karnit Goldwasser, the wife – even then, the widow – of Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser who, along with fellow reservist Eldad Regev, was seized by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid that sparked the Second Lebanon War. Forensic evidence clearly indicated they could not have survived; when their bodies were returned two years later, an autopsy revealed they had indeed been killed when they were taken.

Did Israeli Military Intelligence have any reason to think otherwise? Yet Karnit, a sweetly-spoken, gentle presence, was recruited to spread this hopeless message, to tour Jewish communities abroad, give media interviews, emphasizing all the while that her husband was just an ordinary guy, and all she and her family wanted was to have him home. And all that was true, and I had the utmost sympathy for her, as I do for the families mourning their sons now.

We now know gunshots were heard at the end of the emergency call that kidnapped teenager Gilad Shaar made on the evening of June 12. The car used in the kidnap had blood and bullet holes. As Amos Harel wrote — as tactfully as possible — the history of West Bank kidnappings was not encouraging. It’s true that you can’t announce death without proof, but the working assumption for the Shin Bet, for the army, for the Israeli media — which knew about the gunfire heard in the phone call but weren’t allowed to report it — was that the teens were killed soon after they were kidnapped.

As much as they are being eulogized in the finest tradition of Israel’s historic martyrs – including settlements to be founded in their names — the teens were in fact noncombatants who never set out to be heroes of the Jewish nation. For the parents, being active participants in the search for their children through public campaigning and awareness-raising must have been of great help.

But how much of this had anything to do with finding the three boys, whose fate was clearly known very soon after they were taken, I fail to understand. And there is something awfully distasteful about using this horror not only as an instrument of hasbara, or public diplomacy, but also for engineering Diaspora solidarity.

In the territories and across a surprisingly large spectrum of supporters of the Palestinian cause, there was a growing consensus that the whole affair was a false-flag operation. Qui bono, they asked – who benefits from these murders?

I don’t believe for a minute there’s an iota of truth in this absurd conspiracy theory. What I do ask, when I look at the hype and near-hysteria, the cruel succoring of false hope among family and community – is, who sought to benefit? Did the army or the government feed the families a baseless narrative that their children were still alive? If so, that’s unforgiveable.

Perhaps we are now seeing the results of the ramping up of public emotion over the course of nearly three weeks in the reports of the first grisly revenge attacks (if you exclude the Palestinian casualties of the “search” operations from that category). These tragedies are a powerful and dangerous tool for nationalism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is capitalizing on this horror to boost his public support. I guess that is what politicians do. But this cynicism in the name of Jewish unity, and in the name of the Diaspora, is sickening.

The author is editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and has written widely from across the Middle East and Afghanistan.

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