Jewish Journal


Chill out: Israeli news isn’t as dramatic as the language used to describe it

by Shmuel Rosner

March 12, 2014 | 4:25 am

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media in front of a display of M302 rockets, found aboard the Klos C ship, at a navy base in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat March 10, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen

Suggesting to commentators and readers to chill out, to take a deep breath and to relax is a self defeating strategy for a news and opinion organization. Yet I'm going to suggest to Jewish Journal readers to do just that - relax - as they consider the news coming out of Israel in recent days. I suggest relaxing because the two main stories under intensive discussion in recent days are highly hyped in ways verging on the ridiculous. And they are hyped in such ways from both "sides" (since there are always two "sides" to every story).

A capture of a ship carrying weapons to Gaza, for instance, is a simple fact. But really, nothing can be simple these days. It has to either be a highly significant military operation of historic proportions - or an act of blatant government propaganda. You would not be surprised to discover that where Israelis - and non-Israelis - stand politically is also where they stand in regards to the Iranian weapon-ship operation. Of course, no one argues that the capturing of the ship is a negative development. But the focus of the discussion for one side is the amazingly bold support given by Iran to a terror organization, while for the other side it is the bold attempt made by Israel to argue that this successful action is an event of strategic significance.

So the Iranians support terror - did we not know that? Does the capturing of the ship change the perceptions people have of Iran's conduct? Is it going to deter anyone from negotiating with Iran? Or does it just give Israel another reason to feel frustrated by the lack of proper "coverage" of the operation and its meaning?

So Netanyahu has a soft spot for public relations and a tendency to be a bit pompous. Did we not know that? Can we not humor him as we congratulate the IDF on a well executed operation? Can we not agree that while Netanyahu probably overdid it, he is right to argue that shrugging away the continuous involvement of Iran with terrorism is a sign that the world might not be very serious about devising a proper push back?

Chill out. This wasn't Entebbe (young readers, you should know something about Entebbe). It wasn't even the Karine A. The first operation changed the way Israel is seen around the world. The second one marked the end of Arafat's ability to be a legitimate leader of the Palestinian Authority. The capture of the Klos C changes nothing. It doesn't make Israel look different - in fact, it might make some people even more suspicious about Israel overstating its case against Iran. And it certainly doesn't make Iran look different - Iran perpetuates terrorism, and it supports enemies of Israel. The Klos C operation is a reminder of these facts, no more, no less. It's good that Israel could prevent weapons from reaching the wrong hands, and it's good for it to be able to remind the world, occasionally, that Iran hasn't changed. The fact that Israel's politicians don't have the good sense to be more elegant with military successes is unfortunate, but critics of Netanyahu are no less inelegant as they rush to shame the government when it really deserves congratulation and praise.

Observers of Israel should also chill out about what Brent Sasley calls "the three dangerous laws" slated to pass in Israel this week: the governance law, the Haredi draft law, and the referendum bill. The Israeli opposition's hysterical reaction to the expected passage of the laws (boycotting the Knesset debate and vote) is no reason for people to get overexcited about the new legislation. There is nothing "dangerous" about these laws - not even about one of them. The first one alters some of the electoral rules for Israeli elections and governance. By law, Israel will now have a government with less ministers, and a Knesset with no very-small parties. This is an alteration, not a revolution. There are good points to be made against the changes - both changes - and good ones to be made for them.

The same goes for the two other proposed laws. The Haredi draft law is far from perfect. A better law could have been crafted - but this is the only one that was crafted and that reached the point of having a majority willing to support it. Its future impact is unclear, but is sends a signal that something ought to change, and that's a positive signal. The third law, requiring a referendum for any peace agreement in which Israel commits itself to withdrawing from territory, is also not dangerous at all. It can be easily canceled if necessary, and it can also be a way for the government to get legitimacy for an agreement that it supports. The idea that it "ties" the hands of the government is quite weird, as the Israeli public tends to be much more moderate than hard line elements that hold political sway over the coalition.

That is not to say that the three laws are all good. Certainly, there are doubts. I prefer a government that makes decisions rather than constantly asking the public what to do. I'd prefer a much stronger Haredi conscription law. I'm not quite sure if a smaller government - of no more than 18 ministers - is good for Israel's system of governance. In fact, larger governments were created by Prime Ministers in order to get more stable coalitions (when one is a minister, one has a stronger interest in preserving the coalition). Other people have other doubts, other concerns.

Still, a large majority of legislators were convinced to support these laws. They remained adamant in their support of the laws despite of all the criticism - because they find the counter arguments more convincing. Naturally, politics have a lot to do with this. That's the price of democracy.

Legislative errors - if you are one of those who think the new laws are an error - are a price of democracy. A manifestation of democracy. There is nothing undemocratic about the Knesset passing laws that some people dislike or believe to be damaging. There is also nothing dangerous about the specific laws slated to pass this week. Yet, funnily, I get the impression that in many cases the people who shamed Netanyahu for overhyping the Klos C capture are the same people who are overhyping the case against the new legislation.

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