When not to apologize

News item:

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday denied apologizing to Egypt following the deaths of five Egyptian soldiers at the hands of Israeli forces Thursday.

“I didn’t apologize to Egypt, I expressed regret,” Barak said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News, Israel’s most widely-watched TV news network. — Al-Masry al-Youm

Some observers felt that it was a little early even for a non-apology, because very little is known about the incident.  In particular, there are rumors circulating in Israel that there was an incident in which Egyptians — not Palestinians in Egyptian uniforms, but Egyptians — opened fire on Israeli security personnel immediately across the border, and the Israelis returned fire.

Is it true? Who knows? It’s possible. Hatred for Israel in Egypt today is at a fever pitch. Here’s a clip from a demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo this week:

Israel has been quick to apologize in the past when it was wholly inappropriate: for the staged murder of Mohammad al-Dura, for example, and for the Gaza Beach incident. So far, it has resisted heavy pressure from the Obama Administration to apologize for the Mavi Marmara affair, in which Israeli naval commandos enforcing Israel’s legitimate blockade of Gaza defended themselves from being beaten, shot and stabbed to death by Turkish Islamist thugs.

There is more to this then just the desire of Egypt, Turkey, etc. to use Israeli apologies to validate their version of events. We need to see their demands in their Middle Eastern context, in which Arabs and Muslims are humiliated by their defeats at the hands of Jews, whom they see as inferior beings — defeats which appear to them to turn upside down the natural order of things.

Much of the seemingly irrational behavior of Israel’s enemies — mutilating corpses, targeting school buses, the cruelty inherent in the treatment of Gilad Shalit — things which do not help their case in the wider world, can be seen as attempts to regain their honor after punishing defeats. Most Israelis don’t fully grasp this (although I’m sure the older generation of Mizrachi Jews that still remembers life in Arab countries gets it very clearly).

Should Israel ignore this issue? Is it just Arab silliness? After all, an apology is just words — if there is some diplomatic advantage to be gained, why not just say what they want to hear?

Absolutely not. There is a reality to the concepts of respect and honor, and not only in the Middle East. There is such a thing as national self-respect, which is closely related to motivation to bear difficult conditions and to fight back against aggression. How can you fight your enemies if you agree with them that you are despicable?

There is a well-known Jewish tendency to excessive self-criticism, which has become a major liability in the struggle of the Jewish people to survive.  We’ve absorbed so much of it that some of us have come to believe that maybe our enemies are right after all, and we shouldn’t have our own state.


Here are some hints about when not to apologize:

Israel must never apologize for self-defense. Jews have the right of self-defense.

Israel must never apologize for the Jewish state. Jews have the right of self-determination and Israel is entirely legitimate in international law.

Israel must never apologize for defending the right of Jews to live anywhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, which right is also guaranteed in international law.

Israel must never apologize for Israeli culture, although it’s neither entirely Middle Eastern or European (or American).

(h/t for inspiration, ZionistShark).

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2 Responses to “When not to apologize”

  1. Robman says:

    I’ll add one to your list, Vic. Not directly related to the topic at hand, but in a tangential sense, of some relevance all the same.

    – Diaspora Jews must never apologize for celebrating Israel.

    We have the same right to do that as do ethnic Poles who celebrate Poland, ethnic Irish who celebrate Ireland, etc.

    On paper, here in the U.S., this right is ironclad. In practice, it depends on where you are. In Dallas, there is an annual Israel festival that attracts thousands, no problem, no hassles. But try doing that in San Francisco, and see how that works out.

    We are the ONLY ethno/religious group in the U.S. who has to worry about this. For this reason, for me, a large part of my motivation for being involved in Israel advocacy is to have this basic right in practice, and not just on paper.

    And then there’s Europe….don’t even get me started…..

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    There is another negative point about the ‘apology’. It does not achieve its aim. It does not appease the other side, and put things on the path back to the better relations there were in the past. In fact what it often does is causes a demand for an even greater apology. In essence one is asked finally to apologize for existing at all. This too of course will not be accepted when what the other side really wants is for us not to exist.