On Monday, the Israeli Navy boarded a humanitarian flotilla in international waters, to prevent the flotilla from breaking Israel and Egypt's blockade of the Gaza Strip. According to Israel, their soldiers were attacked as soon as they boarded the first ship; the soldiers opened fire, and at least nine civilians were killed. Four Israeli soldiers were injured.
As usual, public opinion seems to be divided between most of the world, which denounces Israel's actions; and Americans, many of whom are defending Israel.
I don't know the correct answer. As much as I want to weigh in, the situation is too recent and too complex for me to fully digest right away.
That said, I have a question for those - often like me - who instinctively defend Israel in every situation:
Do you give America the same free pass? Do you assume that every decision made by American leaders is well-intentioned and well-executed?
If not, then why assume that every decision made by Israel’s leaders is well-intentioned and well-executed? Are Israel’s leaders always good? Are they always right?
Israel is currently led by Benjamin Netanyahu, a belligerent right-winger who, as an American politician, would be tremendously unpopular among America’s Jews. Yet too many Americans who would never have voted for Netanyahu nevertheless support nearly everything he does as Israeli Prime Minister.
It's important to remember that the best, most well-intentioned leaders in the world still make awful, even criminal mistakes. Franklin Roosevelt interned thousands of Americans in camps simply because they were of Japanese ancestry. Did this make him a “bad” leader, or America a “bad” country? I’d argue “no” on both counts. Roosevelt was a good leader, and America is a good country. But who today would defend internment?
Similarly, one can admire Menachem Begin's signing of the peace treaty with Egypt while criticizing his disastrous 1982 war with Lebanon.
Many democratically-elected leaders in what I call “good” countries – like Israel and America - aren’t even well-intentioned or competent. They commit acts that are either poorly intentioned, hopelessly bungled, or both. Witness Dick Cheney’s torture program, or George W. Bush’s Iraq war. These were American acts committed by American leaders. Should they be defended solely for that reason?
Even flag-wavin' Sarah Palin has no problem criticizing her country's actions when she doesn't like the current President. That may be the one thing we have in common. But she and many others immediately jump to Israel's defense, after every blockade and shooting and lopsided war.
This is blind approval that no country deserves or even needs. Sometimes an Israeli act may have been committed by a bad leader - and sometimes Israelis just screw up. Everybody does.
When George W. Bush screwed up, plenty of Americans were willing to criticize their country's actions. When Benjamin Netanyahu screws up, plenty of Israelis are willing to do the same.
But from America, we lose perspective when Israel does something controversial. Many of us assume that every Israeli act, no matter how grisly, must have been nobly conceived and flawlessly executed. At the least, the flotilla incident seems lacking in at least one of those categories.
Israel does face legitimate threats to its security. And it's my belief that much world criticism of Israel, however justified in the moment, is rooted in irrational antisemitic hatred. I'd go so far as to say that when the world starts shouting at Israel, its supporters should shout back just as loudly. But our shouted message should be "Wait for the facts" - not "Israel is always right".
"Always right" is blind approval we don’t give our own leaders - and nor should we. It’s blind approval Israelis don’t give their own leaders, and nor should they. In fact, it’s blind approval that no country or leader deserves, even the best of them. When Americans condone Israeli actions - right or wrong - we do Israel no favors.