Warning Signs

Has Friendship With Israel Become a Casualty of War?

Israel is not a country that can afford to lose friends. But that’s what it’s doing with its ‘heartless’ bombing campaign in Gaza.

Israel is not a nation that can afford to lose its good friends, yet I suspect that will be one of the long-term consequences of what is happening now in Gaza.

I believe that many millions of Israel’s quiet friends, people all over the world that have had a strong emotional bond with the country, suddenly feel as I do now: disillusioned, angry, and in a sense, betrayed. Prime Minster Netanyahu will not wring his hands over this and global friendships will never be counted as casualties of war, but I think this could have subtle, long-term consequences for Israel.

Obviously Hamas is a terrorist organization and must be stopped. No thinking person would suggest that Israel is wrong to defend its borders. But I feel that Israel’s response has too often been unnecessarily heartless, arrogant and cruel. You can’t effectively fight terrorists by killing kids playing on a beach or by bombing families who are sheltering in United Nations schools. Israel crossed a moral line and its leaders clearly don’t care what its friends throughout the world think about that.

I have long been one of those friends and until now have had good reason to admire Israel and feel deeply attached to the country. For 12 years I created the advertising for Israel as the creative director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism. In my many trips to Israel I have been with Israeli crews filming in every corner of the country. I loved Israel. To me, this seemed to be a country that was overflowing with interesting, smart, enormously talented people. Over the years I developed a special fondness for almost everyone I met there. I even enjoyed working with the government. My last campaign—“There’s a little bit of Israel in all of us”—honestly expressed my own feelings and the strong emotional bond that so many non-Jews have for the country.

But that bond has been broken. Until now I have tried to excuse Israel’s West Bank settlements, its refusal to agree to a two-state solution, its blockade of Gaza, the bluster of Mr. Netanyahu. I thought these things could be worked out somehow. But this is very different. The architects of Israel’s attacks obviously don’t care what the world thinks—they have even publicly insulted our Secretary of State, a longtime supporter of Israel—because they know America will bail them out, provide more cash for equipment and do whatever Israel wants them to do.

This is not the Israel I knew. I feel the intractable, “We don’t care” attitude of its leaders has drastically changed the character of their country—from brave, smart, sophisticated Israel to cruel, arrogant, uncaring Israel. This is something much more than a loss of “brand image.” It is something that could well affect the way Israel is perceived throughout the world for many years to come.

I am not referring to the protests against Israel that are now springing up in France and many other countries. Israel can afford to ignore those. There are foolish people everywhere, and certainly the strong people of Israel have learned to handle hatred far better than the rest of us. I believe that the real damage to Israel is the loss of good friends around the world who could make a difference in securing the long-term future of the country.

In recent days, The Daily Beast has featured a thoughtful, well-considered article on how the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza will affect the future lives of the children who are growing up there. Properly, the article did not attempt to discuss the right or wrong of the issue. It simply presented the sobering reality.

Loss of friendship is another sobering reality. It is not something that can be measured or calculated in polls and research projects. It is far too subtle for that. No one is going to admit that they have lost interest in visiting Israel, no businessperson is going to decide that doing business with Israel is not such a good idea after all. But I believe that is what is going to happen

The government of Israel is not going to overcome this with a slogan or a quick sweetness-and-light campaign. It will certainly take a new attitude, new priorities, and new policies. And it will probably take a generation before many of Israel’s good friends can feel good about Israel again.

This will hurt Israel. It is not a country that can afford to lose its friends.