As the World Cup progresses, Israelis might consider sending thank-you bouquets to the national soccer teams of Switzerland and Greece, who knocked Israel out at the qualifying stage.
Of course, it would be nice to wrap ourselves in blue and white, and cheer on the likes of Yossi, Guy and Ben. But on this occasion, one should probably be thankful that we didn’t make it.
There were large demonstrations in Cape Town last week following the Mavi Marmara incident. An Israeli presence at this greatest of global sporting spectacles would have been guaranteed to attract an unrelenting wave of protests, PR stunts and bad publicity.
In the days since Operation Sky Winds, Israel has been able to get a glimpse of the future and into the abyss that awaits if we continue on our current course. It is a future replete with both insecurity and the indignity of global opprobrium and sanctions.
Palestine has now irrefutably become a global cause. That is certainly inconvenient for Israel and maybe unfair.
Popular consumer, labor union, and cultural boycotts are gathering new momentum. Israel’s predicament will not be rectified by better PR or a new foreign minister; it has become structural and therefore far more worrying.
The logic of the kind of unarmed resistance represented by flotillas to Gaza is to shine a light on the wrongdoings of an offending party. Ideally, one will succeed in appealing to the better nature, to the humanity, of the offending party (Israel), and its behavior (in this case, the blockade on Gaza) will be corrected. If not, then one may seek to shame that party in the court of global public opinion. Any over-reaction or additional offensive behavior will only serve to strengthen the case of the light-shiner and “prove” the original premise of wrongdoing.
In this instance, Israel’s leadership played its role with Lionel Messi-like perfection.
In short, the game is up. This is not defeatism – it’s an acknowledgment of a reality that, by ignoring, causes Israel to imperil itself. It cannot be reversed by a good YouTube video or by cloning President Peres. An occupation that just entered its 44th year and entails denying basic rights to millions of Palestinians can no longer be sanitized. As long as Israel maintains that occupation, the costs will become increasingly burdensome.
Having lost the world, Israel’s focus turns in on itself. The country’s leadership has to work harder to keep its own public on board for the occupation project. This requires a growing suppression of dissent, further ostracizing Israel’s Palestinian minority, and ever-more aggressive appeals to Jewish national pride. Democratic norms are thereby eroded, further feeding the tarnishing of Israel’s image. This is the vicious cycle in which Israel is embroiled.
It is true that there will almost certainly always be unjustified prejudice toward Israel. Whatever it does, some people will always be out to get us. But prejudice is not what motivates the vast majority of those mobilizing in solidarity with the Palestinians. The occupation is the oxygen of their campaign, and the vast majority seek an end to it – not to Israel itself. An Israel that fails to appreciate this and which sustains the occupation is the single most proximate cause of its own delegitimization.
It is still in our power, however, to change all of this. We can genuinely end the 1967 occupation and live up to our declared democratic ideals.
But if Israel does not take the lead, then let us at least hope that our remaining friends in the world will step forward with their own proposals and that we in turn will have the wisdom to say yes to them.
Enjoy the World Cup, and let’s look forward to Israel’s qualification in 2014 being all about soccer and blissfully devoid of politics.