Are they kidding?

Are they kidding?, which we turn to for (what else?) New Jersey news, has ventured beyond state and national borders into the no-man’s-land of the Middle East. Big mistake. The editors don’t know the players. Rather than “fair and balanced” reportage of Israel’s raid on the Gaza flotilla – noting, for example, the reasons behind the blockade and the reasons to be suspicious of the flotilla’s cargo – the Website has posted an anti-Israel screed.

From IPS News Agency – the IPS stands for Inter Press Service, but until we looked it up, we thought the “P” stood for Palestinian – the screed is datelined Ramallah. Its writer, the Australian journalist Mel Frykberg, has many anti-Israel notches on his belt. Even a May 26 story headed “Hamas demolishes Palestinian homes” morphed into a broadside lambasting Israel.

First off, the June 1 IPS story inflates the number of dead – claiming there were 19 instead of nine. And not only are the “facts” distorted, but the rhetoric is overblown and accusatory: “IDF forces continue to show their contempt for international peace activists and their confidence in being immune to prosecution.” Good Lord.

Even more, the writer shows his ignorance – and inadvertently raises a laugh – by wondering “whether Israel’s slick and well-oiled publicity machine … will be able to overcome the huge international fallout….” Slick? Well-oiled? Maybe IPS stands for Interplanetary Service.

The quotes he supplies show just how slick Israel’s “publicity machine” is not: “Israel has shot itself yet again in the foot”; “the freedom flotilla trapping the Israeli ship of fools in a sea of stupidity”; “Israel’s behavior has given Hamas more positive publicity than the organization could ever give itself.”

All of that, actually, has some truth to it. Israel has damaged its reputation far more than it damaged the flotilla; Israel did indeed enter a trap (and should have known better); and Hamas can play the innocent here.

The Arabs are better at this PR game, unfortunately, and it is difficult to know why. But this is a game with mortal stakes, and Israel must – must – get better at it to survive.

We join with Israel in its anguish over the nine deaths, the botched raid, and the world’s condemnation, but we wish the raid had never been undertaken – or that it had been undertaken with more seichel.

Ironically, Iran and Hamas are leading the international charge against Israel in the United Nations – on humanitarian grounds. This incident effectively refocuses world attention away from the Islamic regime’s nuclear pursuits, and it is hard not to imagine that Iran, which pulls the strings of Hamas, did not play some role in orchestrating these events, or at least in spinning them.

New ships are on their way – and the world is watching to see how Israel responds. These are treacherous waters and Israel needs to navigate them carefully. It would be tragic if the country were to fall into another trap. If Israel allows the new boats through, the blockade appears ineffective and Israel’s deterrence capabilities take another hit. If it stops the ships – even in a clean operation without any casualties – it appears heartless to the plight of those allegedly suffering in Gaza.

Talk about a Catch-22.