By DONNIEL HARTMAN
The Turkish government is angry at Israel’s government. Israeli citizens are angry at Israel’s government. Together they pose significant policy challenges. Here, their similarity comes to an end.
The Turkish government is angry, an anger which, despite claims to the contrary, is not the result of moral indignation at the naval blockade of Gaza. No, the Turkish government is really angry at what it sees as an affront to it, to its sovereignty, national dignity, and rightful role as leaders in the Muslim world. That someone dare harm their citizens, almost regardless of the circumstances, is an affront which needs not merely rectification but an apology and restitution, thus reaffirming Turkey’s standing, primacy, and self-perception.
The Turks, however, seem to forget that we are a sovereign nation, too. One of the great gifts of sovereignty is the ability to protect oneself, to stand up for one’s citizens, and more importantly, those whom we send to defend us. No one in Israel believes that our Army is above criticism and our soldiers incapable of moral failure. While we do not know the exact details of the events that transpired on the Mavi Marmara, we do know the soldiers who were there. We are their character witnesses, and we know that they would shift from paintball fire to live fire only if their or their fellow soldiers’ lives were in danger.
I would certainly and readily express regret at the loss of life which ensued and even be willing to pay reparations, for I believe that the senior officers who planned the takeover should have better prepared for the possibility and subsequent actuality of deadly violence, captured on video for the world to see, which our soldiers confronted. Sovereignty also means responsibility, and we need not shirk that responsibility, nor let our pride get in the way when compromise can serve our long-term interests. That same responsibility, however, requires of us to stand right next to our soldiers who we sent unprepared into harm’s way, and to reaffirm the truth of their experience and the responsibility of the haters of Israel, members of the IHH, who sought their harm. The gift of sovereignty is that we can fulfill this responsibility.
The responsibility to our citizens, to stand with them when they are in harm’s way, must not, however, stop at the decks of flotilla boats. The hundreds of thousands of citizens who marched and gave voice to a deep anger at the Israeli government must be listened to. That, too, is the gift of sovereignty, the gift not to merely be able to protect oneself, but to build a society of the people, by the people, and, most importantly for the people. Here, too, we must serve as each other’s character witnesses. The voices of anger are real and reflect a deep-seated pain, a pain of not being heard. A pain from an economic policy which does not adequately reflect principles of justice, compassion, and a relative fair share in the goods distributed by society. Many have critiqued the demonstrations as being unfocused and without either a clear agenda or at least a clearly achievable one. In its weakness, however, lies its greatest strength. The task of the average citizen is not to determine the specifics of an economic policy but rather to determine the core values and priorities which must shape such a policy.
There is a general sense that under the umbrella of fiscal responsibility, which has led to much prosperity, there were too many paths not taken that could have ensured a fairer distribution of wealth and a more robust social safety net for the weakest members of society.
Israeli society will stand behind our government as it expresses the gift of sovereignty in the face of the anger of the Turkish government. Israeli society will stand with our government in the face of the anger of our citizens only to the extent that the government expresses its sovereign power to both listen and change some of the internal economic and moral policies of our country. What is most difficult is that there is no litmus test which needs to be passed, no specific policy changed, which will count as “reparations” for past injustice. The government itself needs to change its culture from sectarian policies and coalition loyalties to be a government for the people. There must be a shift in attitude, language, communication, and compassion. There must be a sense of true listening, a listening which ultimately leads to action. The gift of sovereignty is that we have the power to protect ourselves, stand up for our citizens, and shape the values and priorities which define our society. It is time for us fully to embrace all the gifts and responsibilities of sovereignty.