The Obama administration plans to use Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla to force Jerusalem to end or at least drastically ease its blockade on Gaza, because “we need to remove the impulse for the flotillas,” a senior administration official told the New York Times. That single statement encapsulates everything that is wrong with Obama’s Mideast policy — and indeed, that of the entire West: willful blindness to facts that inevitably produces counterproductive policies.
First, the statement assumes the flotilla was indeed motivated solely by the blockade. Yet the organizers themselves — the Free Gaza movement and the Turkish group IHH — have both made it clear that their agenda is far broader.
After interviewing Free Gaza co-founder and spokeswoman Greta Berlin last week, the New York Times reported that Berlin “likes to joke” about her two ex-husbands — one Palestinian, one Jewish. “But when she is not joking she says that her detractors in Israel are right, that she does not accept Israel as a Jewish state.”
In short, Berlin isn’t motivated by Gaza’s “humanitarian distress” but rather by a desire to see Israel disappear. Thus her motivation to stage anti-Israel provocations won’t vanish just because the blockade does.
IHH founder Bulent Yildirim, addressing a Hamas rally in Gaza last year, certainly talked a lot about the blockade. But according to MEMRI’s translation, he also declared that “everything is progressing toward Islam”; offered Hamas “the blessings of Saladin,” destroyer of the Crusader Kingdom, to which Islamists often compare Israel; said that if only Hamas hadn’t declared a cease-fire, “all of Turkey would be in Gaza” to help it fight Israel; and warned “the Jews” that “we are here, in Turkey, in Egypt, Syria, and everywhere, and our daughters and our boys can also defeat you.” In short, his agenda, too, is not merely ending the blockade, but ending Israel — unless you assume, as Westerners repeatedly and mistakenly do, that people like Berlin and Yildirim don’t actually mean what they say.
That leads to the second half of the equation: counterproductive policies. Ending the blockade would indeed “remove the impulse” of genuine humanitarian activists, but they were never the problem. Misguided, yes: by letting Hamas rearm freely, ending the blockade would almost certainly lead to war, which would hurt ordinary Gazans far more than the blockade does. But as the Rachel Corrie’s peaceful docking in Ashdod this weekend and previous peaceful dockings by other aid ships show, genuine humanitarians can deliver aid without causing international incidents that inflame the entire world.
People whose goal is Israel’s eradication, however, want to inflame the world against Israel — and also to undermine Israel’s ability to defend itself: both developments further their goal. Last week’s flotilla has already accomplished the first, and ending the Gaza blockade would advance the second.
Thus the administration’s response, far from “removing the impulse” for such provocations, will actually spark more of them, by proving that they are wildly successful. True, they wouldn’t be blockade-busting flotillas anymore. But experienced provocateurs like Berlin and Yildirim will have no trouble devising new forms.