Despite leveling criticism at Israel for “excessive force,” the report could and should have been a major prize for Israel’s public diplomacy. How often, and particularly at a time of precious few PR gifts, does a UN-sponsored investigation uphold the legitimacy of Israel’s naval blockade and highlight the danger of Hamas from Gaza?
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Israel’s government failed to enunciate a cogent message playing up the positives from the Palmer Report to avoid escalating tensions with Turkey.
Turkish PM Erdogan, however, took full advantage, using the hours before the report’s release to hijack the news cycle and reframe the story, aided by a compliant international media.
Even without Erdogan’s help, some media deliberately focused on Palmer’s criticism of Israel, ignoring the justification for the Israeli blockade and Turkish responsibility for the flotilla incident. The main headlines in the following days, however, belonged to Erdogan’s increasingly vitriolic attacks on Israel.
Despite the Palmer Report’s recommendation that Israel express regret over the Mavi Marmara incident, the story morphed into claims that Israel’s refusal to apologize was the reason for Turkish anger and the ever-widening rift between the two countries.
More accurately, the Turkish demand for an apology and Erdogan’s escalatory language should have been emphasized as the reason for diplomatic breakdown.
And Erdogan has continued to play to the media, stating: "The attack that took place in international waters did not comply with any international law. In fact, it was grounds for war."
While only too happy to broadcast inflammatory Turkish rhetoric, the media seems unprepared to revisit the Palmer Report as a point of reference. Despite Erdogan’s claims that Israel had broken international law, the Palmer Report concluded the exact opposite, stating that Israel had every right to board the flotilla in international waters.
Removing all contextLook at the way two different UN investigations have been presented. The harsh and one-sided Goldstone Report received mass media attention. Since then, with far less fanfare, Judge Goldstone himself has distanced himself from the findings, saying that if he knew then what he knows now, the conclusions would have been very different.
The Palmer Report, much like Goldstone’s retraction, has been systematically ignored or deliberately skewed by a media that cannot deviate from the accepted narrative of Israel as the sole bad guy on the block.
But it isn’t just Turkish anger that has been reframed in the media. Following the attack on Israel’s Cairo embassy, the media was quick to pounce on the anti-Israel sentiment of the Egyptian street.
In particular, the inadvertent killing of Egyptian soldiers by Israeli forces pursuing Palestinian terrorists responsible for a deadly attack near the southern city of Eilat, was held up as an immediate reason.
Yet, even the Palestinian terror attack was reframed by some media. An Egyptian analyst quoted by Sky News claimed: “This action shows the state of anger and frustration the young Egyptian revolutionaries feel against Israel, especially after the recent Israeli attacks on the Egyptian borders that led to the killing of Egyptian soldiers.”
The Guardian’s Peter Preston stated in a similar vein: “It (the Egyptian street) doesn’t like five Egyptian border guards shot dead as the hapless byproduct of yet another Israeli reprisal raid.”
So, a deadly terrorist attack on Israeli soil is transformed into a “reprisal raid” or “Israeli attack” on Egypt, removing all context and presenting Israel as the aggressor. Like the Palmer Report, anything that could elicit any understanding or even sympathy for Israel, in this case a terrorist attack, is buried by the media.
In addition, claiming the deaths of Egyptian soldiers as the origin for the Israeli embassy attack fails to address decades of state-sanctioned anti-Israel incitement and anti-Semitism in Egyptian media. Not to mention the best-selling status of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf, readily available in Cairo bookshops.
In the end, it all comes down to a simple line promulgated by the media – Israeli actions are ultimately responsible for anti-Israel feelings from Turkey’s PM Erdogan all the way to the Egyptian masses.
Will Israel be able to recapture the narrative in the coming weeks? Judging by recent developments, optimism will be in short supply.
Simon Plosker is the managing editor of Honest Reporting
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