Thursday, September 15, 2016

Snap Judgement: The limits of empathy

Calev Ben-David, "Snap Judgement: The limits of empathy," Jerusalem Post

image (not from article) from

The 9/11 attacks did not noticeably influence discourse abroad on the Israeli/Arab conflict, or generate any additional sense of identification with victims of terrorism here, for several reasons.

[C]ertain Israeli measures against the Palestinians, including collective punishments such as home demolitions and incidents of collateral fatalities from Israeli fire, still draws routine international condemnation; but these have practically become a sort of pro forma diplomatic virtual theater, with little actual significance.
One person who has surely detected this attitude change is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One way he has sought to utilize it is through the several trips he has made over the past year to European countries – including Italy, Germany and the Netherlands – now more likely to prove receptive to the idea of Israel as a full front-line partner in the battle against Islamic terrorism. Before leaving for the Netherlands, Netanyahu said his goal was to create a “new understanding” in Europe of Israel’s central role in “preventing the spread of radical Islamic terrorism,” a mission that perhaps for the first time won’t fall entirely on deaf eyes abroad.
However, there are limits to the empathy Israel can hope for from the international community, no matter how much the global terrorism landscape has changed in recent years – and the prime minister surely pushed beyond those boundaries in his latest English-language video message accusing the Palestinians of demanding “ethnic cleansing” by demanding the removal of all Jewish settlements from a potential Palestinian state in the West Bank.
Netanyahu’s goal here was clear, in wanting to use against the Palestinians some of the some over-heated rhetoric they routinely hurl against Israel, including the spurious “ethnic cleansing” charge. Unfortunately, simply judged as a tactical public diplomacy ploy, this attempt was doomed to fail as a defense of Israel’s settlements policy.
It’s not just all the logical fallacies involved here: Is the prime minister suggesting it would be acceptable in a final-status deal to have those Israelis residing over the Green Line live under Palestinian sovereignty? Is his call for the right of Jews living anywhere they want between the Mediterranean and Jordan not opening the door for a similar concession to all Palestinian refugees, a.k.a. the right of return? Is he fine with making no distinction between Israelis living in east Jerusalem and the settlement blocs, and those in unauthorized, isolated settler outposts specifically erected to thwart any chance of Palestinian statehood?
The even bigger problem here is that anyone abroad who follows the Israeli/Palestinian conflict close enough to understand why the whole “ethnic cleansing” issue is relevant to this debate, is not going to be swayed by any attempt to justify this government’s settlement policy. The prime minister, who knows a thing or two about public diplomacy, seemed to forget here the most basic political messaging rules: Know who your audience is, and K.I.S.S., i.e. Keep it simple, stupid.
Netanyahu is right in believing that he can now win some hearts and minds abroad by selling Israel as a front-line Western state in the war against radical Islamic terrorism; he’s wrong in believing the same atmosphere will support a turn-around in the international community’s position on settlements, no matter how hard he tries to sell it. ...

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