After months of censure for the IDF’s actions on the Gaza border, the pro-Israel sphere of social media could take solace in an unabashed show of international solidarity for one brief moment last week. A barrage of rockets and mortars launched from the Strip, hitting multiple targets including an empty kindergarten and injuring civilians and soldiers was quickly followed by condemnation from a variety of sources: while the U.S. was naturally expected with alacrity to issue a statement, a number of major international players chimed in as well, including France, Italy, the European Union, and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. Even the foreign minister of Ireland, a country long depicted as being hopelessly hostile to Israeli interests made clear his frustration, claiming that these attacks did nothing to alleviate the suffering of Gaza’s residents.
It’s always heartening to receive international support from allies and to be reminded, despite routine insistence from the political right, that world is in fact not out to get us. Just as it is necessary for the EU and the United States to feel free in criticizing Israeli actions when they believe it has erred, as was made clear following the Gaza border violence on May 14, it is no less important they speak out unequivocally in Israel’s defense when it comes under attack.
Nor should the Israeli Foreign Ministry be criticized, prime facie, for directing its diplomats to bring to attention the events and push the international community to condemn the actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. There is nothing even remotely propagandistic about a government, even one as right-leaning as the current coalition, to demand protection of its civilian population and expect its friends to speak out in its defense. That elements on the right will cynically exploit such incidents to bolster their claims about dealing with Gaza in an uncompromising manner is hardly an excuse to suspect that every action is undertaken under dishonest pretenses.
But a disconcerting pattern has played itself out over the last few years during flares ups of violence that often boils down to pro-Israel partisans spending an inordinate amount of time framing the conflict and attempting to shape outsiders’ perceptions of it, then taking an undue amount of pride when it appears as though members of the international community suddenly see the light. This, of course, has been a perennial issue for years now, that it has led to millions being invested (and, depending on who you ask, squandered) on “Hasbara” (meaning “explanation”)-based organizations whose primary goal is to either embrace the Israeli government’s actions or give them a modicum of context, regardless of their being right or wrong. On the face of it, there’s certainly nothing odd with wanting to both refute what one believes to be false charges made against the country, and to present its multifaceted nature that often gets swallowed up by a seeming obsession with the conflict.
There is no doubt context is important, as too often do we see Israel’s behavior being explained away as a manifestation of its deliberately cruel nature, sometimes out of shear malice, but also simply due to intellectual laziness. Additionally, Israel offers far more to the casual observer than some headlines would have you believe; it is a real country full of flesh and blood people, and seeing it routinely reduced to nothing but intractable conflict is understandably frustrating. Nor should we dismiss optics as totally inconsequential. Coverage of the conflict shapes many if not most people’s perceptions of events on the ground and one should feel free to criticize what might be perceived as a problematic narrative. Nonetheless, while such a heavy emphasis on trying to change the hearts and minds of outsiders doesn’t exactly miss the point, it does act as a distraction from much larger problems looming on the horizon.
It’s easy to find comfort in fighting off the hordes of anti-Israel Internet trolls given the acrimonious scenes on social media greeting each outbreak of violence. Having to read the millionth comparison of Zionism to Nazism or a long-winded screed describing Jewish national self-determination as nothing but another form of white supremacy is not only grating, but emotionally exhausting. It can sometimes feel tempting, given the cacophony of voices spewing out such ugly vitriol, to accept the right’s pessimistic embrace of a world in which Israel will always be judged with undue harshness due to some innate hostility. Worse still, it may lead to a complete disengagement from Israel itself. But even if we were to accept such a worldview at face value, it doesn’t change the fact that, at present, the situation in the Strip is still incredibly dire and the Israeli government has not decided on a concrete plan of action going forward.
Angry vitriol directed at Israel’s actions regarding Gaza may be unfair and off-putting but it is ultimately symptomatic of much larger and deep-seated malaise, and it will continue to rear its head so long as a long-term strategy is not devised that leads to Gaza’s eventual rehabilitation, however that may look. Focusing on defending Israel’s image is far easier than we might care to admit; it provides us with a sense of self-satisfaction and a false sense of victory, lulling us into a dangerous complacency that views the status-quo as acceptable. But treading water for the last few years has not stopped the slow erosion of progressive support for Israel (and Netanyahu’s embrace of President Trump has certainly sped up the process), nor has it convinced the international community that a never-ending blockade of the Strip is a sustainable course of action.
It might be assumed that those most guilty of falling prey to this behavior are those on the right who truly believe Israel is simply incapable of making mistakes. That the coalition and its many supporters are doing Israel no favors by repeatedly dismissing criticism as illegitimate, thinly-veiled anti-Semitism should be depressingly familiar by now. Yet too often, we find those defenders of Israel with a painstakingly nuanced view of the conflict expending massive amounts of energy trying to convince those partisan observers who don’t want to be convinced. The end goal of some to control the narrative of what happens in Gaza, and, more broadly in all interactions vis-a-vis the Palestinians is ultimately no substitute for the hard work required to change a situation that routinely lends itself to recurring problems. Convincing disinterested parties to “stand with Israel” is all well and good, but blind support absent initiatives looking to improve the situation is a short-term salve, and a dangerously misleading one at that.