Saturday, June 5, 2010

Reversing a Positive Spin

The latest news concerning the Gaza blockade involves the interception of the Irish-owned Rachel Corrie. In terms of defensive objectives, the result was pretty much the same as that for the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. In both cases the vessel was forced to divert its course under military escort and to dock in the Israeli port of Ashdod. Since Israel continues to stress the risk of arms being smuggled into Gaza, presumably the cargos of both vessels have been inspected for arms; but we have heard nothing about the humanitarian aid intended for Gaza. If it is left abandoned in Ashdod, then Israel will have a hard time making the case that they are only worried about guns.

On the other hand when the buck stops at the Prime Minister's desk, it is unclear that, as a matter of national policy, Israeli cares whether or not it makes this case. The most important news about the interception of the Rachel Corrie is that there was no violence, nor were there any fatalities. At the very least this is somewhat of a sign that Israel realizes the world is watching, and it may even recognize that many of its own citizens were not happy with what happened on the Mavi Marmara. Thus, the Rachel Corrie provided Israel with at least the sliver of an opportunity for positive spin; and what we really learned from this second episode is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thought of that opportunity.

According to the BBC News report, the following text comes from the statement released by Netanyahu's office:

We saw today the difference between a ship of peace activists, with whom we don't agree but respect their right to a different opinion from ours, and between a ship of hate organised by violent Turkish terror extremists.

Were the media imposing a distorted bias because the only passengers they approached from the Mavi Marmara for interview were not even Turkish, let alone "violent terror extremists?" Usually, when a terrorist act is thwarted, we still get a claim for responsibility from the organization behind the plot, usually as preface to some form of we-shall-try-again rhetoric; and those "official" statements are like blood in the water for just about every media shark. No such statements have been reported, making this a case when no dog was barking in this night, which means that there must be some degree of viability to the hypothesis that there was never a dog in the first place. Netanyahu, however, seems to have little interest in such academic matters as hypotheses, claims, warrants, and any other tools required to come up with a logically sound argument. His approach reminds me of an expression that was very popular around mathematics departments in my students days: He applied proof by intimidation! In so doing, he has pretty much guaranteed that the protest rallies in Turkey (and the encouragement of those rallies by the current Administration) will continue and will probably grow in numbers, just the sort of situation Israel needs right now.

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