It’s easy, and predictable, to dismiss the entire Israeli response to the Gaze flotilla attack as spin. But even after watching the footage (go to yesterday’s Israel wrap for raw footage and an IDF video, and here for a report from Al Jazeera), nothing is clear cut.

The Israeli soldiers seem to have been subjected to violence but the level of threat and whether it justified the response (a response the UN, NATO and others have labelled “disproportionate”) is another thing entirely. The age old question of who started it applies, as does the consideration that this all took place in international waters.

But once again the current Israeli government’s inability to engage in moderate dialogue over anything to do with Gaza continues to undermine its basic case.

Last week Bernard Keane blasted the Israel lobby for “treating us like fools” over their reaction to Australia ousting an Israeli diplomat over the forged passports affair. But what Keane wrote could be applied to some elements of Israel’s response to the Gaza flotilla attack:

“Israel’s persistence in refusing to admit it has erred, the criticism of any government that dares to respond to its transgressions, encapsulates exactly why Israel and the Israel lobby make it so hard for those of us inclined to support it.”

Context is everything. So we’ve made sure to provide the full links to both these exchanges.

Here’s a quote from Israeli foreign affairs spokesman Yigal Palmor speaking with Kerry O’Brien on The 7.30 Report live from Jerusalem on Monday night:

YP: Let’s make something very clear. You’re talking about peace activists, but the major organiser of this sail of this armada, so to speak, is a well-known Turkish Islamic group, the IHH, which has been implicated in terrorist operations already in the ’90s and then at the beginning of this decade and they have been in very, very close ties with Hamas, with controlling Gaza, funding them, sending them other types of assistance. Now, one violent Islamist group says they want to send regularly ships in assistance to another which controls with violence and illegally a territory, and you think that this should be go on as if nothing – as if that was business as usual? I don’t think so. The IHH is a very dangerous Islamist group. I don’t think their intentions were true or innocent. Unfortunately, they embarked with them some people who believed otherwise and people whom the Soviets would have been called “useful idiots”. But the main organisers here were the IHH and no-one should make any mistake about the real aim of this group.

KO: I’m not sure that the highly experienced Middle East correspondent from the Sydney Morning Herald Paul McGeough could be described as a “useful idiot”. I can’t speak for the others …

YP: I’m referring to the journalists. I’m referring to the activists.

And here’s an exchange between ABC 774’s Jon Faine and spokesman for the Prime Minister of Israel Mark Regev this morning:

JF: But this is the crack Israeli commando forces that take on the most aggressive terrorists in the world, and usually successfully, and here  an operation against peace activitists has gone so wrong …

MR: Let’s be fair you use the term peace activists — you think it really is relevant in this case? You’re talking about hardcore IHH members who belong to an extremist Islamic group I don’t think they should be called peace activists …

JF: And yet this is the pride of the Israeli military, the might of the nation …

MR: I think, no, we’re looking into what happened, obviously no one is happy to see pictures of Israeli sailors being attacked with iron bars and with knives, and … crouching on the floor as 12 people around them are striking at them trying to break their backs and their heads …

JF: Crack Israeli commandos Mark R?

MR: Sorry?

JF: Crack Israeli commandos?

MR: Once again no one is happy about those pictures. But I think it’s very clear that the violence that emanated from the crowd was deadly violence.

A consistent failure on Israel’s part to acknowledge the grey area when it comes to this vastly complex, tragic issue does everyone a disservice, including the nine dead.

Peter Fray

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