Israelis have to face the truth

Israelis have to face the truth

Turkey and Israel should have seen the “big picture” and acted accordingly, instead of watching their ties plummet at a time of turmoil in the Middle East. But both sides have turned the Mavi Marmara incident into a matter of national honor and will not budge from entrenched positions.

Looking at the “big picture,” though, developments in the region are clearly making life harder for Israel than for Turkey. Unlike Israel, Turkey, after all, is being discussed in the world today as a positive regional influence.

Meanwhile, Israel has started showing that it is not immune to the negative tendencies it generally attributes to the Arabs. It is not just a Turk saying this either. Abraham Foxman, the chairman of the Anti-Defamation League in the United States, is also worried that Israel’s democracy is “eroding.”
In an opinion piece for the Huffington Post on Dec. 1, Foxman acknowledged the legitimacy of Israeli concerns, but issued the following warning:

“When, however, laws are passed that stifle free expression, seek to undermine the independence of the judiciary and, in the name of defending a Jewish state, seek to undermine the rights of Arabs and other minorities, then the very democratic character of the state is being eroded,” he said.
But it seems it is not just democracy being “eroded” in Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted by the Israeli media as telling a forum in Washington recently that she was dismayed over the rise of intrusive and invasive religious fundamentalism in Israel.

Daily Yediot Aharonot, for example, said Clinton had “described shock at hearing that some buses in Jerusalem were gender-segregated and that some religious Israeli soldiers refused to attend events where women would sing.” Other papers quoted Clinton as saying one expects such things from Iran, not Israel.

The bottom line is there is a growing awareness in Washington and other Western capitals about what Israel is, and what it is not. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on record, albeit inadvertently due to a “microphone accident,” as telling President Barack Obama that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is a liar.”

Obama, in turn, is on record due to the same microphone accident in expressing his own frustration in dealing with Netanyahu. Now we have the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressing his deep frustration with Israeli intransigence.

Addressing a forum in Washington, Panetta, who is expected in Ankara soon, urged Israel to “Just get to the damn table,” saying that “The problem right now is we can’t get ‘em to the damn table, to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences.” Pointing to Israel’s growing isolation, Panetta urged Israeli officials to reach out to Turkey, Egypt and Jordan.

Panetta also rejected the idea of a military operation against Iran, no doubt to the annoyance of hard-line Israelis. “A strike could disrupt the already-fragile economies of Europe and the United States, trigger Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces, and ultimately spark a popular backlash in Iran that would bolster its rulers,” he said.

These are truths which have been obvious for some time, even if some still refused to acknowledge them to due to their pro-Israeli blinkers. These are also truths most Israelis still refuse to accept. The key point, however, is that regional and internal developments do not portend well for Israel, and moderate Israelis must be worried.

Whether the Israel government will see this and change tack according to the emerging situation in the region remains an open question. What is clear is that not many would put any money on that bet.