Belfast Telegraph

It's no use being right when everyone says you're wrong

Israel's flotilla attack played into the media trap set by its foes, writes Alex Benjamin

We fell straight into their trap!" said my good friend Elinadav when I phoned him in Jerusalem on Monday morning.

I did not really get time to absorb his words as, like many Jews and Israel supporters around the world, I was fighting a rearguard action on Facebook, blogs and email, at the all-too-predictable backlash following the shooting on the flotilla.

I was shocked at some of the comments that I was having to rebut: Israeli murdering pirates, innocent peace activists, IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) murderers, parallels with North Korea, to name but a few.

I was more shocked, however, that some of these comments came in spite of footage showing a lynch-mob.

Soldiers armed with paintball guns expected mild resistance. They went straight into a bear-pit, hacked at with knives, thrown overboard, shot at and whipped repeatedly, while on the deck, with metal bars.

People armed and wearing gasmasks who behave in this way are not peaceniks by any stretch of the imagination.

As news emerges of some of the links that many of the unsavoury characters on board had with radical Islam, and further footage shows close up and in glorious technicolour what this peaceful flotilla's reception was like to IDF soldiers, I hope that many will come to understand the decision by the IDF to use live rounds.

The attack by those onboard the ship was undoubtedly premeditated. If the soldiers had just been armed with paintball guns, I have no doubt they would have been killed by the lynch-mob.

I feel not one iota of sympathy for what happened on that deck; this was self-defence. For this view I have been branded as disgusting and repugnant.

I fully support an independent inquiry; in fact, I want the truth to come out so that the real aims of this flotilla, who was onboard, and precisely what happened comes to light.

What concerns me is not the predictable comments from predictable quarters about Israel. These are the same voices who deny Israel's very right to defend itself.

No. What worries me is how ill-prepared Israel was. I can guarantee that Hamas leaders could not have dreamed of a better outcome and will be lapping up and stoking the fire of IDF soldiers killing 'passive' peace-lovers.

"This mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it's about breaking Israel's siege," Greta Berlin, of the Free Gaza Movement and flotilla organiser, told Agence France-Presse on May 27.

As someone who works in PR, I have to ask: what on earth was the Israeli government at? Israel should have been feeding intelligence about who these people were, what they stood for and what their 'peaceful' mission was all about leading up to the flotilla's arrival, not afterwards.

Why send commandos into that situation? There must have been a better way.

And way to go whoever came up with the dumb decision to send Danny Ayalon in front of the TV cameras - a man who only recently caused a massive diplomatic row with our only Islamic ally by insulting a Turkish envoy as he sat in a low chair.

Sticking Danny out was, said Israeli journalist, Sima Kadmon, "just like throwing a red rag into an arena of hungry bulls."

Amein to that, Sima.

I despair at how useless the government and powers-that-be are at the public relations and public perception game. We always react after the event and after the media consensus has been decided.

This week we played into Hamas's hands in a pathetic way. If Israel is to rebuild support after this fiasco and mend bridges, it needs to wake up, get active and be on the front foot.

It's all very good being right. But it's about being smart, too.

No more traps please.

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