Palestinian attacks wound Israel’s reputation



Palestinians’ recent attacks on Israelis are, at first blush, not an existential threat to Israel. Horrific as the losses are, the future of the state is not in question.

Or so it seems. But in a closer look, it appears that this round of violence is costing Israel more than the human toll. As the Palestinians clearly intend, the renewed conflict is doing serious damage to Israel’s international standing.

One of the first indications of this swing in public opinion was a comment by Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, who laid part of the blame for November’s terrorist attacks in Paris on Israel. “To counteract the radicalization we must go back to the situation such as the one in the Middle East of which not the least the Palestinians see that there is no future: We must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence,” she said on Swedish TV.

A tongue-lashing from Sweden was not terribly surprising. Relations between Israel and Sweden have been rather icy since Sweden decided, in October 2014, to recognize Palestine as a state. In response to that declaration, Israel snubbed Wallstrom, who responded by canceling a scheduled trip to Israel. Yet despite the cool relations, blaming Islamic State attacks on Israel seemed a new low for a Swedish official. Israeli officials rebuked Wallstrom, but the public was keenly aware that relations between the Jewish state and parts of Europe had hit a new low.

Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said to the Security Council that “It is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.” Once again, the Israeli government responded with fury. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retorted that the secretary-general had provided “a tailwind for terrorism” and insisted that “those Palestinians who murder do not want to build a state, they want to destroy a state and they say this openly.”

In this case, even moderates joined the condemnation. After a New York Times op-ed article in which Ban defended his remarks, the centrist columnist Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted that he was “eagerly awaiting Ban Ki-moon’s New York Times op-ed criticizing Russia’s intervention in Syria.”

The momentum, however, was with Wallstrom and Ban. Last Wednesday, three Palestinian killed one border policewoman and critically wounded another. After the three terrorists were killed by Israeli security forces, CBS News’s website posted a headline that read “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on.” Israeli officials responded with outrage, so CBS emended the headline to “Israeli police kill 3 alleged Palestinian attackers.” Still, though, the attackers were only “alleged,” and the two assaulted women were nowhere mentioned. Finally, CBS changed the headline again, this time to “Palestinians kill Israeli officer, wound another before being killed.”

The relentless Palestinian attacks are beginning to evoke policy disagreements inside Israel’s leadership. Netanyahu continues to blame Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for inciting the violence — and to some extent, he is clearly correct.

But Israeli military and security services have been insisting that while Abbas is far from innocent, there are socioeconomic factors contributing to the violence. “The motivation for action is based on feelings of national, economic and personal discrimination,” a report from the Shin Bet security agency stated last month. “For some of the assailants an attack provides an escape from a desperate reality they believe cannot be changed.” The irony — and the danger — is that the Israeli security analysis sounds very much like that of the Swedish foreign minister. Netanyahu can get away with insisting (probably quite rightly) that Wallstrom is simply a foe of Israel, but he cannot say the same of the Shin Bet. So why not make some accommodation to defuse the tension? The prime minister is clearly worried that any change in Israeli policy now will convince the Palestinians that violence works. For indeed, it does. The First Intifada led Israel to the Madrid Conference and subsequent Oslo Accords, while Gazan violence got Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. So Netanyahu, eager to undo that lesson, is holding fast.

But that may not work for long; there are indications that the violence may be picking up. At the funeral of Amjad Sakari, a Palestinian security officer who opened fire on Israeli soldiers at West Bank checkpoint, wounding two of them seriously before being killed himself, the thousands of mourners chanted “It is time for the machine gun, to shoot 500 people.” That may not be just talk. The three terrorists who were the subject of CBS’s headline were carrying explosives — a reminder of the horrendous bloodletting of the Second Intifada.

Netanyahu is thus in a bind. He can stand firm, as he has so far, refusing to reward terrorism with changes in Israel’s policy. If he does so, however, stabbings and individual shootings may soon be remembered as the mere beginning of something much worse.

Daniel Gordis is senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. He is the author of “Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul” and “The Promise of Israel.”

  • Robert Skinner

    WWII America forced Japanese, American Citizens into internment camps and we (USA) dropped atomic bombs on Japan. We were at war with Japan.
    Japan today is among the most productive nations on earth. Japan has risen from the ashes of WWII to be the great nation it is today. A nation respected globally. When I hear Israel saying how Jews are discriminated against I think of Japan. I think of what they are and what Israel is. I look at them through the lens of what they do.
    Israel spends a lot of time telling the world how they invent stuff. I can’t hear what Israel says over the the pain of Israeli crimes against humanity.
    Japan I see doing great works, doing it in humility. Israel I see stealing and murdering people while saying they are god’s chosen.
    Japan has earned the respect is deserves. Israel has earned a trip to the ICC it has earned.

    • Olivia DavidaBernstein

      I agree – the author’s article is not correct and leaves out that there are over 150 UN Resolutions including UN Security Council Resolutions 476 and 478 on Jerusalem – all of which Israel rejects. Israel rejects the ruling of the International Court of Justice regarding the monstrous 421 mile “wall”. The ICJ, EU and UN condemned Israel’s “wall”. Moreover Palestine is a State under occupation. Palestine has bilateral relations with over 130 countries in the world. Israel rejects this and continues to build illegal settler colonies on stolen Palestinian land. The EU, UN and ICJ view settlements as illegal and the US Government views settlements as illegitimate. Israel ignores this. Palestine was recognised as UN non-member STATE in 2012 by a massive 138 countries. The Vatican recognises Palestine too.

  • Ovida Yosef

    Netanyahu’s intransigence is losing him ,and ultimately,Israels credibility on the world stage,his we are victims mantra loses power with every eviction,land expropriation,house demolition and settler attack ,with daily film of his ‘most moral’ army standing by while settlers creat havok and violence is stripping Israel of all shreds of legitimacy it has left

  • Philly Blunt

    This article seems to be very biased and seems almost deliberately leaving out the other side of the equation. What apartheid government should be in existence in 2016?

  • Marta Neely

    Mr. Gordis is very clever in his use of anecdote and verbal tit-for-tat to divert attention from the actual facts on the ground — the overwhelming violence by Israel against Palestinians, with a life taken on average every four days. The objective of ethnic cleansing is promoted by Israel proclaiming that they are the victims of terrorism! What so-and-so said that offended someone else is irrelevant compared to each life stolen, each home bulldozed, each school bombed, each village wiped off the map. But more and more Jewish and Christian and Muslim voices are joining together to demand peace with justice, an end to occupation of the West Bank, closure of Gaza’s borders/ blockade of economic livelihood, war atrocities every few years, apartheid and ethnic cleansing — all crimes against humanity and/or violations of the Genocide Conventions. Israel’s public relations and public image? Who really cares?

    • Philly Blunt

      Wow, rare indeed to see something so brutally honest shared with such eloquence. This piece of propaganda disguised as an objective piece of journalism leads me to doubt the source’s intentions, to say the least. Thanks for being the voice of reason here, Marta.

  • Jahn McCallister

    This piece reads like the propaganda generated by Tel Aviv and leaves me wondering who actually wrote this opinion piece.