June 29, 2010, 1:49 AM
To the roaring cheers of the local media, on Sunday the Schalit family embarked on a cross-country march to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's residence. They set out two days after the fourth anniversary of IDF Sgt. Gilad Schalit's captivity.
Outside their home in the North on Sunday, Gilad's father Noam Schalit pledged not to return home without his son. The Schalit family intends to camp out outside of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's home until the government reunites them with Gilad.
For weeks the local media - and especially Ma'ariv and Yediot Ahronot - have portrayed the Schalit family's trek to Netanyahu as a reenactment of Moses' journey to Pharaoh. Like Pharaoh, the media insinuates that Netanyahu is evil because he refuses to free Gilad from bondage.
The only drawback to this dramatic, newspaper-selling story is that it is wrong. Gilad Schalit is not a hostage in Jerusalem. He is a hostage in Gaza. His captor is not Netanyahu. His captor is Hamas.
And because the story is wrong, the media-organized cavalcade of ten thousand well intentioned Israelis is moving in the wrong direction. And not only is it going in the wrong direction, it is doing so at Gilad Schalit's expense.
The truth that Yediot and Ma'ariv's marketing departments ignore is that Schalit's continued captivity is a function of Hamas's growing strength. To bring him home, Israel shouldn't release a thousand terrorists from prison. It shouldn't strengthen Hamas.
To bring Gilad Schalit home a free man, Israel must weaken Hamas. And this is an eminently achievable goal. Gilad's father Noam knows it is an achievable goal. That is why last week Noam Schalit was the most outspoken critic of Netanyahu's decision to abandon Israel's economic sanctions against Hamas-controlled Gaza. That is why over the past four years the Schalit family has staged countless protests against Israel's massive and continuous assistance to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
If anything positive is to come from this march, then when the Schalit family arrives in Jerusalem they should abandon the newspapers' demand that Israel surrender to all of Hamas's demands. They should acknowledge that doing so will only guarantee that more Israelis will be kidnapped and murdered by Hamas and its allies.
If the Schalits wish to criticize the government, they should criticize Netanyahu and his government for the steps they have taken to strengthen Hamas. The Schalits should demand that the government reinstate and tighten Israel's economic sanctions against Gaza. They should demand that Israel end its supply of electricity and gasoline to Gaza and take more effective action to block smuggling into Gaza through the tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border. All of these actions will weaken Hamas, and so contribute to the prospect of Hamas being forced by the Gazans themselves to release Schalit to his family.
ONE OF the important truths ignored by Israel's pathological media is that Hamas and its Iranian sponsor are not all powerful. They are vulnerable to criticism from their own publics. And Israel is capable of fomenting such criticism.
For example, the imprisoned terrorists whose release Hamas demands in exchange for releasing Schalit have consistently responded rationally to Israeli threats. The Knesset is slowly debating a bill that would worsen prison conditions of terrorists. And the terrorists are worried. Their worry provoked them to demand that Hamas be more forthcoming with Schalit.
By the same token, were Israel to cut off electricity to Gaza - an act that is not merely lawful, but arguably required by international law - we could expect residents of Gaza to express a similarly rational demand to Hamas. That is, were Israel to weaken public support for Hamas, Hamas would be more likely to bow to Israel's will.
And if Hamas is vulnerable to public criticism, the Iranian regime is downright terrified of public criticism. Take the regime's behavior in the wake of the Turkish-Hamas flotilla campaign. In the days that followed Israel's bungled May 31 takeover of the Mavi Marmara terror ship, Iran announced it was sending two of its own ships to Gaza. Israel responded rationally and forthrightly. The government warned that any Iranian ship would be viewed as an enemy ship and Israel would respond in accordance with the rules of war.
As Iran expert Michael Ledeen has argued repeatedly, the Iranian regime is terrified of getting the Iranian people angry over its radical foreign policy. In light of its precarious standing with its own public, Israel's forthright threat of war brought the regime to its knees.
Last Thursday Hossein Sheikholdslam, the Iranian regime functionary responsible for the Gaza-bound ships told the Iranian news service IRNA that plans to send the ships were scrapped because Israel "sent a letter to the United Nations saying that the presence of Iranian and Lebanese ships in the Gaza area will be considered a declaration of war on [Israel] and it will confront it."
During the war with Iran's Hizbullah proxy in 2006, thousands of Iranians demonstrated against Hizbullah. They demanded that the regime invest its money in the local economy and not in Hizbullah and the Palestinians. Were Israel to present Schalit as an Israeli victim of the Iranian regime, it could provoke a similar popular outcry against Iran's support for Hamas.
The media-manipulated Schalits are not the only ones acting precisely against their own interests. The government is acting with similar madness in its relations with the Obama administration. Indeed, Netanyahu ended Israel's lawful economic sanctions against Hamas-controlled Gaza, (sanctions that served, among other things as a bargaining chip for freeing Schalit), because the Obama administration placed overwhelming pressure on him to do so.
Not wishing to let the Mavi Marmara crisis go to waste, US President Barack Obama has used it as a means to weaken Israel against Hamas. Obama announced that he is giving Hamas-controlled Gaza $400 million in US aid. He forced Netanyahu to end Israel's economic sanctions against the illegal Hamas regime. And he continues to threaten to abandon US support for Israel at the UN. Moreover, according to remarks by a senior Hamas terrorist to the London-based al Quds al Arabi newspaper on Friday, the Obama administration maintains direct ties to the Hamas leadership in Syria.
When Netanyahu entered office last spring his desire to appease Obama was understandable. At the time, he was operating under the hope that perhaps Obama could be appeased into ending his onslaught against the Jewish state. But the events of the past year have made clear that Obama is unappeasable . Every concession Israel has made to Obama has merely whetted the US President's appetite for more.
The policy implications of this state of affairs are clear. First, Israel must strive to weaken Obama. Since Israeli concessions to Obama strengthen him, Israel must first and foremost stop giving him concessions.
Weakening Obama does not involve openly attacking him. It means Israel should act in a way that advances its interests and forces Obama to reconsider the desirability of his current foreign policy.
Regionally, Israel should make common cause with the Kurds of Iran, Iraq and Syria who are now being assaulted by Iran, Turkey and Syria. Doing so is not simply the moral thing to do. It weakens Iran, Syria and Turkey and demonstrates that Obama's appeasement policies are harming those who love freedom and empowering those who hate it.
By the same token, Israel should do everything it can to strengthen the Iranian Green movement. Every anti-regime action in Iran - regardless of its size - harms the regime and therefore helps Israel. And every anti-regime action in Iran exposes the moral depravity and strategic idiocy of Obama's policy of appeasing the mullocracy.
As for the US domestic political realm, in Ambassador Michael Oren's all but schizophrenic recent statements about the Obama administration's policy towards Israel we may at last be witnessing an embrace of political sanity on the part of the government. For the past several months, Oren has acted as the Obama administration's most energetic cheerleader to the US Jewish community. Oren has repeatedly and wrongly reassured US Jewish audiences that Obama is a great friend of Israel, that his Democratic Party remains loyal to the US-Israel alliance and that the Republicans are wrong to claim that there is a difference between the two major US political parties when it comes to supporting Israel.
The pinnacle of Oren's pro-Obama campaign came with his interview last week with the Jerusalem Post. There he brought all of these false and counter-productive claims into the public realm. Apparently Oren's decision to make his adulation of the Obama administration public finally forced his bosses in Jerusalem to order him to cease, desist and do an about face.
And so, last week, Oren told a closed audience of Israeli diplomats the truth. Under Obama, Oren whispered, there has been a "tectonic rift" in US relations with Israel. While some of Obama's advisors are sympathetic to Israel, these advisors have no influence on Obama's positions on Israel. No doubt recognizing how silly his about face made him look, Oren tried to deny his statements at the Foreign Ministry. But it is hard to imagine anyone will take him seriously.
During his visit to the White House next week, Netanyahu should follow the path set by Oren's quickly leaked remarks. Netanyahu should abstain from praising Obama for his friendship and speak instead about the fact that the US-Israel alliance is vital for both countries' national security.
NETANYAHU SHOULD insist on the right to call on questioners at his joint appearance with Obama. And he should use those questions and those appearances to discuss why Israel's actions are not only legal and necessary for Israel, but vital for US national security. During his stay in the US, Netanyahu should discuss the global jihad, Islamic terrorism, the freedom loving Kurds and the freedom loving Iranian people every chance he gets. Indeed, he should create opportunities to discuss them.
Here we see a crucial point of convergence between the Schalit family march to Jerusalem and Netanyahu's trip to Washington. To increase the effectiveness of their efforts on behalf of Gilad, ahead of Netanyahu's visit to Washington, the marchers should split into two groups.
The first group should continue to Jerusalem and demand that Israel take a firmer stand against Hamas. The second group should walk to Tel Aviv and camp out outside the US Embassy. There they should demand that the administration end its contacts with Hamas, end its pressure on the Israeli government to strengthen Hamas, cancel Obama's plan to give an additional $400 million dollars in aid to Hamas and use the US's position on the UN Security Council to condemn Turkey for its material support for Hamas.
For too long, by allowing themselves to be led by our deranged media, Israeli citizens and governments alike have ignored the basic fact that the answer to every question is not more Israeli concessions. Contrary to what our tabloids would have us believe, surrender is only one option among many. It is time we try out some alternatives.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post