The perils of a bad deal

Policy decisions cannot be swayed solely by the emotions of hostages’ families and friends, as exemplified by the case of Gilad Shalit.

By Ruthie Blum, JNS

Whenever I sit down to craft a piece on the “Bring Them Home Now” protests, a call I received at my office in 2009 haunts me into changing or tweaking topics.

The person initiating the conversation that day introduced himself as the grandfather of Gilad Shalit.

No further clarification was required. By this point, the Israel Defense Forces soldier who’d been captured by Hamas terrorists nearly three years earlier had become a household name. So, too, had his family.

“How dare you?” Tzvi Shalit began, going on to berate me for jeopardizing the campaign for Gilad’s release.

My latest column, he said, was not only insensitive; it was downright dangerous.

Stunned by his accusation and intimidated by his understandable pain, I stuttered a sympathetic response.

Yet, neither my apology for having caused unintended offense, nor my explanation that the article in question was actually a critique of the media for stifling debate, did any good.

As far as he was concerned, I was siding with the enemy—not the organization holding his grandson in Gaza, mind you, but the then-caretaker government of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

After his resignation over corruption charges, he was replaced by Tzipi Livni as head of Kadima in the party’s September 2008 primaries.

Her inability to form a coalition in the following weeks spurred the February 2009 general election.

Read  Gantz says, 'Israel can destroy Hezbollah in days'

And though Kadima garnered a majority of Knesset seats, Livni still couldn’t form a government.

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded where she failed, and thus it was he who succeeded Olmert as prime minister.

Ironically—given the current demonstrations against him for “purposely preventing” the return of the hostages in Hamas captivity—it was Netanyahu who signed the disastrous 2011 deal that saw the release from Israeli jails of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit’s freedom.

Among these terrorists, many with rivers of Jewish blood on their hands, was mass murderer Yahya Sinwar, mastermind of the Oct. 7 massacre.

The “Media Matters” column that aroused Tzvi Shalit’s rage was published well before the disastrous deal was sealed.

Despite my opposition to its horrible terms, I shared in the nation’s relief at Gilad’s arrival on Israeli soil.

My joy was magnified by having kids in his age group and stage of military service.

Ditto for the tears I wept while watching the 100 or so hostages be delivered in late November to the arms of their loved ones—the ones who survived slaughter on Oct. 7 by Sinwar’s sadistic army of proud rapists and gleeful arsonists.

Nevertheless, we cannot let policy be dictated by the feelings of the families and friends of the hostages, however understandable.

The displays of raw emotion, and insinuation that Netanyahu and his government aren’t acting to satisfy Sinwar’s demands, are having the opposite of the desired effect.

It’s not a coincidence that Hamas released three hostage videos—that of Hersh Goldberg-Polin on Wednesday, and those of Omri Miran and Keith Siegal on Saturday—precisely when IDF troops are amassing in preparation for the Rafah ground invasion.

Read  Israel expecting Palestinian rockets to be launched from Judea and Samaria

Pressuring the government, which keeps softening its stance, to cave to an increasingly intransigent Hamas is not merely counter-productive, however.

It’s far worse than that, as the Shalit deal proved.

Passages from what I wrote 15 years ago about the role of the press in an identical crusade are worth repeating here.

“[T]he Shalit frenzy that has characterized the local coverage of the captured soldier of late … reached fever pitch this week, during the lead-up to a potentially massive prisoner swap to bring the boy home to his mother and father. The position of the press—with few exceptions—has been that Gilad should be brought back, ‘at any cost.’

“According to this mantra, no soldier will be willing to go to battle from now on, knowing that if he gets captured, the government is liable to leave him in the hands of the enemy. … Coupled with constant coverage of the tent pitched by Aviva and Noam Shalit across from the prime minister’s residence, the media’s campaign has been so comprehensive that all other voices are virtually drowned out. And when some do manage to make a dent, they are not silenced, but rather amplified as right-wing fanatical or—worse—unfeeling.

“This puts any pundit or politician who disagrees on the defensive. Even those who try to point out that Hamas is also watching Israeli broadcasts, which only serve to strengthen its sense that it need not soften its bargaining position even one iota, have to preface their statements by assuring everybody that, of course, they, too, want to see Gilad home as soon as possible.

Read  How the NY Times misreports the Gaza war

“Even those who attempt to suggest that releasing hundreds of the worst terrorists who are sure to strike again, both by slaughtering innocent Israelis and by kidnapping additional ones for future trades, are forced first to reiterate that they also would be acting as the Shalit family has been if it were their own child in captivity.

“The purpose of this kind of emotional blackmail and manipulation on the part of the media is to award them a monopoly on goodness. … [T]hey behave as though they have cornered the market on wanting to rescue Shalit—while the rest of us would prefer war and embrace heartlessness.

“This is as preposterous as it is dangerous—the former because everybody in this country wants both peace and Shalit’s safe return, and the latter because it leads to confusion about who the real culprit is. When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert receives more criticism from the Hebrew press about Shalit’s predicament than Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, it’s time for it to undergo some serious scrutiny and sorely needed soul-searching.”

This time around, I hope not to cower when confronted by an irate reader.

>