For many, Operation Protective Edge served to highlight the security, the social resilience and the international media coverage issues Israel faces on a daily basis. This week (November 23, 2014) two conferences bravely took it on: Bar Ilan University’s School of Communication in conjunction with the Center for International Communication hosted “The Scholarly & Professional Convention on International Media Coverage of Operation Protective Edge” and The Institute for National Security Strategies (INSS) in conjunction with The Gush Katif Heritage Center hosted “Between Gush Katif and Operation Protective Edge.”
With an impressive array of high profile guest speakers and compelling topics of discussion, these conferences were well worth attending. The Bar Ilan convention focused on Israeli Public Diplomacy and the International Media during Operation Protective Edge. Since I’m convinced most of us consider Economy Minister Naftali Bennett to be the guy scoring the most points for Israel when it comes to the international media, it’s a pity he wasn’t one of the guest speakers. Bennett stands out so much because the international media coverage stinks so badly. However, as Prof. Eytan Gilboa rightly points out, this anti-Israel attitude has been going on for years. Gilboa’s solution is for Israel’s spokesmen to demand the journalists be professional and take responsibility for their utterances. Israel must continuously point out to the western world how biased their media coverage is.
We might all agree regarding the above issue, but there’s a variety of opinions when it comes to “Between Gush Katif and Operation Protective Edge.” In one interesting discussion, former Gush Katif Regional Council head Zvi Hendel pointed out that during Oslo, in the days of the armed Arab police force and the joint security training, the expectation had been for the Gush Katif population to dwindle; they thought people would leave. Instead, the population grew by 20% due to a happy combination of natural increase and new families coming to reside in Gush Katif. Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yellin responded that during Operation Protective Edge his region also continued to grow. The few families that left, he claimed, were those that had been renting for a year or two, and hadn’t become truly absorbed into the community. Additionally, Eshkol has received a major boost from the Gush Katif expellees who have founded new communities in the region.
Another fascinating discussion arose when an audience member asked the speakers their opinion about the Disengagement, and whether their opinion had changed following Operation Protective Edge. Earlier in the conference, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan had stated where he stood. This staunch Likudnik spoke feelingly of the door-to-door effort before the Likud referendum, and his disgust that PM Sharon had carried out a plan his party had voted against. Whereas, Haim Yellin’s didn’t like the Disengagement Plan due to its unilateral nature; he wished for an agreement, not to give away something and get nothing in return. Prefacing his answer by admitting that his views weren’t going to be very popular with the audience, Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council head Alon Shuster revealed that he’d been in favor of the Disengagement Plan and remained so today. He considers that Israel has the right to decide where to draw the borders, and that for moral reasons Israel shouldn’t be in Gaza.
And yet, if there’s no moral reason for Gush Katif, then there is no moral reason for the rest of Israel. Or as former PM Ariel Sharon succinctly put it, “the fate of Netzarim is the fate of Tel-Aviv.”
Having destroyed Netzarim, we now need to work doubly hard to reclaim the Israeli narrative. I’m convinced we can do it, and the first step has already been achieved: realizing there’s a problem. Now let’s take steps to fix it.