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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Israel turns mice into elephants


Increasingly isolated, Israel put its siege mentality on full display on Friday. In the process it turned a mouse into an elephant.

Israel’s response to a planned fly-in at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport by several hundred Western pro-Palestinian activists is nothing less than disproportionate and hysterical.
The planned fly-in, by any stretch of the imagination, did not pose a security threat to Israel. It involved at best several hundred activists coming to Israel from friendly states.

The activists were traveling moreover from airports that conduct extensive security checks on all flights, including those to Israel. With other words, the chance that any of them would have been able to smuggle even a nail file into Israel was not even remote.

Essentially by equating a noisy demonstration at the airport or a mass lie-in in front of passport control to an encounter with stone-throwing Palestinians highlights Israel’s total loss of perspective and once brilliant notion of public relations. In fact, quick on your feet thinking and deft PR could have taken the sting out of the protest and worked in Israel’s favour.

Instead, following on the heels of having to backtrack on a threat to ban journalists from Israel who had planned to accompany an aid to flotilla, the fly-in has turned into a public relations fiasco. Israel handed the activists victory on a silver platter.

Both the attempted blacklisting of journalists and the barring of the activists puts Israel’s claim to being the only democratic state in the Middle East committed to freedom of expression to shame. It reduces the match of wits between authorities and the media to a zero-sum game. It’s a game Israel can’t win.

Israel’s tunnel vision hurts no one but itself and plays into the cards of its opponents. The tunnel vision increasingly makes it more difficult for its friends to support it, and perhaps even more importantly, prevents it from taking a real look at what is happening around it. The Arab revolt offers opportunities that Israel wearing blinders fails to recognize.

Israel would be doing itself and the region a favor if it invested the amount of energy and determination into finding a solution to the fundamental dispute with its Palestinian neighbours that it puts into fighting the symptoms and turning mice in the process into elephants.

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