Credibility, once shredded, is impossible to piece together again

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“The man who ordered the attack on the aid flotilla to Gaza, set up the inquiry, chose its members and determined its mandate, has announced its outcome even before it has started,” wrote Chris Doyle, noting Benjamin Netanyahu’s visible satisfaction, confident that he has mounted an effective response to international pressure.

If the only audience the Israeli prime minister needed to satisfy was made up by the likes of Jeremy Ben-Ami and Barack Obama, Netanyahu could indeed take satisfaction as he proves how easy it is to win unprincipled support.

On the day of the Mavi Marmara massacre, J Street’s president Ben-Ami issued a statement which included this:

There will undoubtedly be calls in the coming days for a UN investigation into today’s events. A credible, independent commission appointed by the Israeli government should provide the world with a full and complete report into the causes and circumstances surrounding the day’s events and establish responsibility for the violence and bloodshed.

The world? And which world would that be?

There is nothing mysterious about the nature of credibility, but if the Israeli government and members of the pro-Israel lobby and the Obama administration assign themselves the exclusive role of being the arbiters of “credibility” then the term as applied has itself lost credibility.

The real arbiters of credibility have to include the Turkish government and the Turkish people. In its May 31 statement and a statement issued yesterday, J Street makes no explicit reference to them.

Indeed, echoing those who see all Israeli violence as justifiable we hear J Street repeat the mantra, Israel has the right to self-defense.

Given that there has not been a single call for Israel to renounce its right to self-defense, this reiteration of Israel’s “defensive” posture implicitly endorses the claim that the attack on the Mavi Marmara in international waters was itself an act of self-defense.

The New York Times editorial board — not renowned for its political courage — managed to be bold enough to say that on this matter Israel cannot simply investigate itself. The paper has called for an inquiry overseen by The Quartet and says that Israeli and Turkish representation would have to be included: “That is in Israel’s clear interest. And it is in Turkey’s clear interest. The Obama administration should be pressing both its allies to embrace the idea.”

Anyone who now holds the position that this is Israel’s business and Israel can somehow impartially investigate itself, apparently regards the families of the dead as irrelevant.

But as an editorial in Haaretz makes clear, a move by Netanyahu that J Street, the Obama administration and other Israeli apologists have welcomed, does not meet the credibility test even inside Israel:

The government’s efforts to avoid a thorough and credible investigation of the flotilla affair seem more and more like a farce. The conclusions of an ostensible probe are intended to justify retroactively the decision to blockade Gaza, to forcibly stop the Turkish aid flotilla in international waters and to use deadly force on the deck of the Mavi Marmara.

To make the costume seem credible, the Prime Minister’s Bureau asked a retired Supreme Court justice, Yaakov Tirkel, to chair the committee. Alongside him will sit foreign observers in order to legitimize the conclusions in international public opinion. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even pledged to testify before the committee, together with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, other ministers and the chief of staff, so “the truth will come out.”

The truth that Netanyahu wishes to bring out involves the identity of the flotilla’s organizers, its sources of funding and the knives and rods that were brought aboard. He does not intend to probe the decision-making process that preceded the takeover of the ship and the shortcomings that were uncovered. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, it will be enough for television channels to broadcast footage of dark-suited jurists, and politicians addressing them, to present the semblance of an “examination.”

But Netanyahu’s panel will have no powers, not even those of a government probe, and its proposed chairman does not believe in such a panel. In an interview to Army Radio, Tirkel said there is no choice but to establish a state committee of inquiry. He opposed bringing in foreign observers and made clear that he is not a devotee of drawing conclusions about individuals and dismissing those responsible for failures. When a Haaretz reporter confronted Tirkel about these remarks, the former justice evaded the question saying, “I don’t remember what I said.”

The disagreements that erupted at the week’s end between Netanyahu and his deputy, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, over the question of whether Ya’alon was updated in time about the action underscored the suspicion of serious faults in the decision-making process with regard to the flotilla. Instead of being part of the whitewash, Tirkel, whose dodging of his earlier statements does him no honor, should return his mandate to the prime minister and demand that Netanyahu establish a government committee of inquiry with real powers. The public, as Netanyahu said, has a right to know the truth.

(This is cross-posted at Woodward’s site, War in Context.)

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