Israel’s Public Relations Disaster and Limited Options


Israel has always gotten a free pass from the American press, but it seems like that day may be coming to an end. In the past two weeks, there has been a sudden and unprecedented burst of “objectivity” from the American press. Early in January, there were two very critical pieces in the New York Times and an op-ed by Jimmy Carter in the Washington Post. Bill Moyers followed shortly thereafter, and then Bob Simon appeared on the Charlie Rose Show discussing the bleak future of the peace process.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes did its Bob Simon expose on whether peace was out of reach and discussing the de facto Apartheid in Israel. Later in the week, President Carter appeared again, this time on the NewsHour, echoing Bob Simon’s assessment of the situation. According to Simon, 60 Minutes and Carter, as a two state solution becomes less likely – mainly due to the Israeli settlements on the West Bank – Israel is left with three options:

  1. Ethnic Cleansing. Further exile the Palestinians from any lands that Israelis wish to occupy.
  2. Democracy. Allow the Palestinians to become full-fledged citizens of Israel with voting rights and civil liberties. This threatens Israel because the Arab and Christian Palestinians would be in the majority.
  3. Apartheid. One state but with complete segregation.

There mere fact that the words Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing are even mentioned in the American press and furthermore by respected figures is in itself a revolutionary turn of events. On the other hand, what has been unreported in the U.S. is the universal public outrage throughout not just the Arab street but also the European street about the carnage in Gaza (regardless of the fact that most European and Middle Eastern countries tacitly supported Israel in Gaza).

As if the recent bout of scrutiny in the American media wasn’t enough, two more events this week have further stained Israel’s “public image”. First, a Spanish judge (don’t even ask me how Spain has jurisdiction to try the case or how the judge has the authority to prosecute ex oficio) has brought charges against Israeli soldiers for crimes against humanity in Gaza in 2002. And finally, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan stormed out of a panel discussion with Simon Peres at Davos for what he says was not being given equal time as Peres. But in what limited time he was given, Erdogan was clearly frustrated by Peres’ rationalization of the civilian deaths in Gaza and expressed so by saying to Peres, “when it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.”

The problem with this episode is that it puts the U.S. (and consequently Israel) in a complicated position. After Israel, Turkey is one of the largest receivers of U.S. economic aid, and while Israel is one of the U.S.’s most important allies for cultural and ideological reasons, Turkey is one of the U.S.’s most vital allies for strategic geopolitical reasons. Furthermore, Turkey is playing a key role in brokering a treaty between Israel and Syria. This all makes you wonder what options are left on the table for Israel. While it did have the quiet support of it neighbors and the Americans and Europeans, Israel’s heavy-handed and disproportionate Gaza incursion has been a public relations disaster. With most of the world, especially in Middle Eastern and European streets outraged, it is no surprise that eventually the power balance could be tipped dangerously from one side to the other. Remember the major international crisis Joe Biden had eluded to during the campaign? Well, this may just be it. It’s time Mr. Obama demands that America’s friends, to whom we give so much economically and politically, give us a little of their friendship back — for the good of us all: Zero tolerance for Hamas and restraint from Israel.


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