Shai Franklin
Partner with Gotham Government Relations

Must Afghans’ human tragedy be Israel’s PR triumph?

Even on his deathbed, the story goes, Niccolo Macchiavelli refused the bishops’ entreaties to renounce the devil, declaring that “this is no time to start making new enemies.”

In the hours since the horrific and jarring U.S. attack on an Afghan hospital, Jewish cyberspace has been inundated with retweets and Facebook shares of the same few blog posts. The basic message is that the U.S. State Department is morally unfit to criticize Israel when it shells a hospital, because Foggy Bottom refuses to pass judgment on this U.S. attack. The explicit challenge: “Imagine” if the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued the same level of condemnation as the State Department has leveled at Israel in the past…

Touché. Though somewhat apples-and-oranges.

The correct analogy? Imagine if the United States received a significant chunk of its own defense budget from the State of Israel, and that Israel was the lone superpower standing up to defend Israel at every turn, in every international forum including the United Nations. Or imagine if the Israeli Foreign Ministry passed judgment on actions of the government of Israel, which would be highly unusual since it’s not the job of any diplomats to keep their own governments honest (there’s a reason we have different government agencies and branches, not all performing the same tasks).

Israelis bristle at the alacrity with which foreign governments, and yes, the State Department, call them to account for real and perceived offenses. This could have been an opportunity to show the very kind of restraint which friends of Israel consistently demand from all and sundry. Instead, it became just another zinger, a hasbara (public relations) battle won against Israel’s one steadfast ally.

At a time when the Foreign Ministry is headed by a former UN ambassador, whose major accomplishment was delivering self-righteous speeches in the General Assembly. His boss, the Prime Minister, paved that path before him, and still returns annually to proclaim Israel as the state with no friends and no moral peers.

Their new successor at the UN, Danny Danon, has so far found it in his heart to renounce the path of peace that even the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, still claims to abide by. Ambassador Danon’s words for the Obama administration don’t even merit a paraphrase here. Let’s just say, he makes Netanyahu seem subtle by comparison.

And let’s not even pretend these tactics will somehow benefit the advantage of the aggrieved Afghans or Médécins sans Frontierès, which ran the hospital.

So, as Israelis are being attacked on their own streets, the sarcasm and overdue irony are simply too powerful to resist? Let’s at least recall the call of Ecclesiastes, just recited in synagogues last Saturday: To everything there is a time, and a season under the heavens. A time to hate, a time to cry, a time to gather.

Perhaps we can devote the next 24 hours to worrying more about the tragedy on the ground — and how to bring accountability for its own sake — and not trumpet our own sense of righteousness bordering on schadenfreude.

About the Author
Shai Franklin, a consultant and lobbyist with U.S. and overseas clients, has served as an executive with American and international Jewish organizations and is a Senior Fellow with The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Foundation.
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