Consul Battles to Get Israel’s Message to Public

Inside the Israeli consulate in Center City, Jerusalem's top diplomat to the region has been working overtime to get his country's message out.

Consul General Daniel Kutner says that it's not just a public-relations problem, but a more fundamental effort to delegitimitze Israel.

He takes issue with those who suggest that all Israel needs to do is explain its position better.

"You can bring the horse to the water, but you can't make it drink," said Kutner, who was in Louisville, Ky., the day after the May 31 Israeli raid on a ship attempting to break the blockade of Gaza.

Speaking there at an event of the World Affairs Council — organizers changed the location to the local JCC because of expected protests — Kutner found himself the target of adversaries outside the talk, along with hecklers inside, some of whom had to be escorted from the program.

Since his return, he and his staff have been inundated with requests for interviews and information. It's the second time since he began his tenure in late 2008 that Israel is under the microscope; the first came during Israel's operation in Gaza in the winter of 2008-09.

In an interview at his office before he met with local organizational leaders last week, Kutner said that Israel had scored an early advantage in the immediate aftermath of the flotilla raid with the Israeli-made video showing militants on the ship attacking the Israeli commandos as they rappelled onto the deck. The clip, which spread through the Internet and general media, gave "credence to our version of events" — that some passengers were radical activists whose mission went beyond delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza.

"This was not about aid to the Gaza Strip. It was an operation with a political agenda, to give help to a terrorist entity."

Israel, said Kutner, is now engaged in an internal debate over whether to revise its strategy over the blockade, and to determine which ways and which goods should be allowed into Gaza.

No matter what is decided on these matters, he said, it would not alter Israel's policy toward Hamas, the terrorist group that refuses to recognize Israel and continues to engage in armed struggle.

"I don't think our policy toward Hamas will change as long as the policies of Hamas don't change," said Kutner.

He faulted Turkey for allowing the Mavi Marmara, which was operated by IHH, a Turkish agency with reported terrorist ties, to leave port in the first place.

"The Turkish government was unwilling to do anything to stop it," he said. Now, in the aftermath of the flotilla affair, Turkey is "taking a very militant position vis-à-vis Israel."

"Relations between our two countries have suffered a blow from which it will be hard to recover," he said.

And the repercussions go on, he said: "The military event is over, but the diplomatic struggle will continue for awhile." 



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