Last Thursday – after most Jewish newspapers, including this one, had gone to press carrying a JTA brief bannered “Lieberman: Israel not obligated by Annapolis” – JTA editor Ami Eden did a mea culpa, apologizing for “passing along the mistakes of others.”
Acknowledging that by relying on the initial reports, without looking at the full text of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s statement, JTA played up Lieberman’s rejection of Annapolis, Eden noted that the brief seized on that one element of the speech, overlooking what would should have been the more meaningful take-away: “Lieberman endorses Palestinian state.” Indeed, he said, Lieberman’s speech also contained the statement that Israel is bound to follow the “road map,” which calls for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Eden’s day-after reflections are illuminating in many ways, illustrating the way most of us read the news and judge the actions of others. We are very quick to impugn the motives of people with whom we generally disagree, and slow to admit that these people, or groups, may not be wrong in every case.
Another example. As we reported last week, the Israel Defense Forces now say that two accounts by Israeli soldiers alleging misconduct by their comrades in Gaza were based on hearsay rather than fact. However, as pointed out by the IDF’s advocate general, Brig. Gen Avichai Mendelblit, the initial allegations, first aired last month at a conference at an Israeli military college and then published two weeks ago in the college’s bulletin, have already sparked a firestorm of controversy in Israel and criticism of the Jewish state overseas.
Said Mendelblit, “It seems that it will be difficult to evaluate the damage done to the image and morals of the IDF and its soldiers who had participated in Operation Cast Lead.”
This has wide implications, not just for the IDF.
Last week, the Israeli army released its own figures of those killed in the Gaza fighting, holding that 25 percent, or 295, of 1,166 Palestinians killed were civilians. Palestinian officials and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights claim that of the 1,417 people killed, more than 900 were civilians – approximately 65 percent. Given the “firestorm” over the Israeli soldiers’ supposed misconduct, it seems likely that most people will, without further investigation, believe the Palestinian figures. And that, once again, will influence the way Israel is viewed, making forums like Durban II even more hate-filled and biased.
Whatever the merits of such venues, it is important for Israel’s image – and even survival – to be seen as the humane country that it is.