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Jewish World Review Jan. 21, 2002 / 8 Shevat, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Shipping out

Why the 'Karine A' story failed to register on some radar screens -- IN the aftermath of the seizure of the Palestinian arms boat Karine A, many in Israel are wasting a lot of energy and ink blaming each other.

Why, you might ask, should anyone in Israel be worrying? After all, wasn't the capture of the ship laden with tons of explosives, mines, grenades, mortars and sniper rifles a great victory for Israel?

While perhaps not quite a victory on the scale of the great 1976 Entebbe rescue mission, the Karine A mission was an incredible triumph for the Israeli military. No lives were lost in the assault by the naval commandos, and the ship's crew and their cargo of death-dealing munitions were captured intact. A few days later, all of the damning evidence was presented to the world on a silver platter in Eilat.

Many in Israel believed this caper would prove, once and for all, that Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat was intent on war and not peace. Presented with such overwhelming evidence, surely the rest of the world would acknowledge what the majority of Israelis have long since accepted: that the Oslo peace process is dead, and that it has been replaced by Arafat's war.


The only problem with this scenario is that a great many people around the world just didn't seem to be too excited about it. Sure, it was good for a few headlines for a day or two. But even by the here today, gone tomorrow 24-hour news cycle of our time, the Karine A was a relatively brief blip on the consciousness of the world's media.

You might think that after all we have been through in the last eight years since "peace" was achieved on the White House lawn, this might not have been necessary. After all, if Arafat's rejection of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's ridiculously generous peace offer in July 2000 wasn't proof of his intentions, what could be?

But the failure of the media to make a meal out of the story left many Israelis upset. The first target for their anger, however, was, predictably, themselves.

Almost immediately, local pundits laced into the Israeli military establishment for botching the presentation of the booty to the world press. Apparently, no one in Jerusalem thought about chartering a plane to take the foreign media down to Eilat, which left many scribes scrambling to get there in time. Nor were they smart to keep promising more evidence top-echelon P.A. involvement while not forking over anything.

The confession of the Palestinian naval officer in charge of the smuggling ship helped make things worse for the Arabs, but by then, a lot of the world's attention was already moving on.

While the Israelis waited for everyone to draw appropriate conclusions and slap sanctions on the P.A. or cut ties with Arafat, nothing of that sort happened.

Though all major American newspapers ran stories on the Karine A, neither The New York Times, The Washington Post nor The Philadelphia Inquirer chose to publish an editorial on the subject. That was significant, given the predilection of all three of those editorial pages to seize on even the slimmest of pretexts to write on the peace process whenever Israel can be blamed for some alleged misdeed. Since the Karine A didn't validate their presumptions about the need for Israeli concessions, they simply ignored it. While the incident was, on its face, harmful to the Palestinians and Arafat, the Israelis failed to get the media boost they were looking for. Within a week, the same newspapers and broadcast outlets that undersold the Karine A were busy printing atrocity stories about Israeli demolitions of Arab houses used by terrorists along the border with Gaza.

But blaming this failure on Israeli bumbling and obnoxiousness only goes so far. Yes, the Israeli government is not easy to deal with and the stereotypically arrogant press officers assigned to work the media probably did a lousy job, yet the problem goes a lot deeper than maladroit public relations.


The answer to the problem could be found in the lead of an Associated Press wire story on the Palestinian captain's confession, that was published on The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jan. 4 front page.

The piece led with the assertion of the ship's captain that he was a P.A. officer on an official mission. The story characterized that mission as one whose purpose was to "help the outgunned Palestinians defend themselves."

Ironically, instead than dispelling the myth that Israel is attacking the Palestinians during Arafat's 16-month war, that line reinforced it. The ship story was thus distorted to look a bit like heroic Palestinian resistance to Israeli "occupation."

Like some of the coverage on television, that story and many others seemed to approach it from a very different frame of reference.

It didn't highlight the flagrant violation of the Oslo accords that showed the Palestinians preparing for further violence against Israel and an escalation of the war. Instead of a story of terror avoided, the coverage often appeared to start from the point of view that the Palestinians were justified in finding better ways to kill Israelis.

Even worse, some on the far left in Israel and the Diaspora are working overtime to undermine the effort to get out the truth. A perusal of some of the things said - and not said - about this story on the left was revealing. Few of those urging more Israeli concessions were distracted from their daily routine of blackguarding Prime Minister Ariel Sharon or accusing the Israeli Defense Force of war crimes to comment on the ship.

True, a few, such as Forward columnist Leonard Fein, did say that this was another example of Arafat's unsuitability. But his war games weren't enough to persuade the left that they still hadn't been right to promote Oslo all along. Rather than taking responsibility for a tragic blunder that has cost so many lives, the Oslo-maniac clique here and in Israel is ready to blame anyone and anything, except their own bungled ideas.

Even more bizarre was that some on the far left were aping the paranoid mad ness of the Arab press and claiming the Karine A story was an Israeli fabrication.

Uri Avnery, the aging Israeli enfant terrible who is a regular feature of the American Jewish lecture circuit, made just that claim in a column circulated on the Internet by the Gush Shalom extremists. He went on to state that even if the story was true, he thought the Palestinians had every right to use these lethal weapons on Israelis.

Whether or not he or others of this ilk (like the local Jews who regularly demonstrate against Israel's "occupation" at the Liberty Bell here in Philadelphia) think they will be spared when the Arabs finish killing the "bad" Jews is left to our imagination.

Though there is a difference between the studied indifference of the editorial writers and the ravings coming from the fever swamps of the Jewish left, both phenomena speak to an unwillingness to look at evidence and draw logical conclusions.

The good news is that outside of the chattering classes, the hard left and some cubby holes in the State Department, the debate about Arafat, the peace process and the war being waged against Israel is largely finished.

The task for those who care about the survival of Israel is to make sure that everyone else knows it.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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