If Japan has Godzilla, Israel has flotillas and flytillas – mythical creatures that come to wreak havoc on our fragile society. Last week saw another failed attempt at a mass flytilla – a projected 1,500 people flying to Israel to protest Palestinian rights. In the end only about 100 arrived, and were again welcomed by a mass security presence at Ben Gurion airport. There has been mixed reaction in Israel at our policy of halting these flytillas, with former Foreign Ministry D-G Alon Liel asking “"I don't understand what the big deal is. Why are we so afraid of… a bunch of students and elderly ladies from Europe, who only wanted to hoist a sign in favor of a Palestinian state?”
Those protestors that did make it into Israel were handed a mock thank you letter from the Prime Minister’s office – see below:
While the letter does make some important points about the disproportionate interest among political activists in Israel, it has not won hearts and minds with anyone outside of the Hasbaristas.
Last Sunday I was invited to speak to a group of students from Bard College who are taking part in the Bard Palestinian Youth Initiative (BPYI), a summer program which takes American college students and embeds them in the Palestinian village of Mas’ha. I agreed, but was apprehensive that the encounter would be confrontational. What I found was quite the opposite: a group of serious, sensitive and thoughtful students who had varied opinions but seemed unanimous on the State of Israel’s right to exist and to exist with security. There was no demagogic anti-Israel rhetoric, no talk of apartheid or fascism, rather legitimate criticism moderated by a willingness to understand the complex Israeli reality. The softly spoken Palestinian coordinator voiced his support for a Jewish State to exist, others shared that they felt that a secure State of Israel would be positive for the potential of a future Palestinian State. This level-headedness manifests itself in the program they take part in, as this summer (as in previous years) they will be accompanying 20 Palestinians of their own age on a tour of Yad VaShem in Jerusalem.
The notion that any criticism of the conflict that exists in Israel is a direct attack on our right to exist is incorrect. We cannot preach to social activists which cause to take-up, or deflect them to Save the Whale instead. The global interest in our problems is to be expected, and maybe the letter from the Prime Minister’s Office should have thanked the activists (sincerely) for their interest, explained why we feel their actions are counterproductive and direct them to projects which build civil society, engender positive conversation and plant the seeds of Peace. I would put the BPYI on that list.