June 5, 2010
By Rex Murphy
I don’t suppose the world needs to remember Rwanda to note how sluggish in the face of imminent horror the United Nations is and can be. If that is not a sufficient cue, we could bring in other examples of areas of great threat or immiseration or both: Darfur, Tibet, Chechnya, North Korea, Zimbabwe, the Congo or Iran. On these the UN has the patience of a stone but only some of its energy.
But torpid as is its nature, and comatose as are its eternal deliberations, on one subject, and toward one state, the United Nations acquires a strange and uniquely transformative power. Bring Israel under its gaze and the diplomatic sloths at UN headquarters morph into the swiftest of gazelles. From lotus-eaters to adrenalin junkies in the twinkling of an eye. Quite amazing, really.
So naturally when the debacle over the so-called “freedom flotilla” — news media should be wary of letting activists choose the names of things — roared into the headlines, the UN reacted at the diplomatic equivalent of the speed of light. The Security Council issued its “condemnation,” and in a wonderful reversal of cause and effect also called for an investigation into what it had “condemned.” And the cruellest joke on the planet, what the UN with unbounded irony refers to as its Human Rights Council, issued, as unfailingly in every previous international incident involving Israel it has, a condemnation as well.
If the flotilla’s real purpose was to bring aid, then merely by complying with Israel’s request to dock at Ashdod — as five of the ships did, with no blood shed and no international headlines — the supplies on the sixth ship would now be in Gaza. In reality, it was exercise in early 21st century propaganda on the battlefield of world opinion. Its only purpose was to challenge and delegitimize Israel’s blockade of ships travelling to Gaza — a blockade, as too many news reports fail to emphasize, which up until this “incident” was also being maintained by Egypt. That the Egyptian government, until a few days ago, mirrored in its actions Israel’s concerns about what might get shipped into Hamas is the only real obstruction in the otherwise perfectly concentrated anti-Israel narrative.
As to the “peace activists” on that sixth ship, the ones who received the Israeli soldiers boarding the ship with bats, pipes, knives and chains — well, the video footage of the moments preceding the boarding and the boarding itself will make most rational people review their understanding of peace and activism and some of the organizations that fly the flags of these conveniently fungible designations.
Any real investigation of the flotilla will not confine itself to the boarding, but include an equally scrupulous inquiry into the origins of some of its actors, its unstated as well as it stated aims, and the facility and speed with which it revved up the engine of international protest against Israel. It seemed like half the world took to the streets in less than half a day.
This was but one installment in the long and continuous campaign to isolate Israel, and to turn that state in the eyes of international opinion into a pariah, to erode its legitimacy and to break its will. You’ve seen the branding. Apartheid Israel. Israel is the worst thing to happens to Jews since the Holocaust. Racist Israel. Imperialist Israel.
The campaign has been remarkably successful, which is much to Israel’s woe and may be to the world’s woe as well. There are far larger, more egregious causes for the world’s attention than the episode off Gaza last Sunday, greater threats and deeper anxieties. But it is truly worth remarking that when Israel is in the dock, protest rage goes epidemic. To use that vile term so often recently turned upon Israel when it acts in its self-defence, the response is extravagantly “disproportionate.”
I truly do not know why this is so. Israel is a sanctuary state established after one almost successful attempt just two generations ago to rid all the world of Jews. And Israel is now in the shadow of a fundamentalist, ferociously anti-Israel theocracy which is about to equip itself with nuclear weapons. Perhaps, alas, under the threat of a second attempt.
Yet somehow Israel is the rogue, the barbarian nation, the only state on earth that can energize the professionally lethargic diplomats in the great tower of hypocrisy on the East River. Strange and dangerous times.
Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on Canada's leading TV and radio stations.