Hillel Halkin, contributing editor of the New York Sun, reflects on a seemingly lost talent in Israel, occasioned by a reunion of surviving passengers of the Exodus, made famous by the fictional treatment, and exaggeration, of Leon Uris’ book and Otto Preminger’s film. Halkin writes:
But bringing significant numbers of Jews to Palestine was never the real purpose of Aliyah Bet, whose planners understood that they were no match for the British navy. The purpose was public relations, or, to use a less pleasant term, propaganda — and in this, Aliyah Bet succeeded brilliantly. Each turned-back boatload of homeless Holocaust survivors, their families murdered by the Nazis, their tragedy-lined faces staring with longing at the land they were not allowed to enter; each doomed and sometimes violent struggle with the British shore police to reach that land, sometimes by jumping into the water; each newspaper photograph of the detainees in Cyprus, looking at the camera through barbed wire as if they had been returned to Auschwitz or Treblinka — every such story and image was another blow struck in world public opinion against the continuation of the British Mandate and for the creation of a Jewish state. Nothing did more to create sympathy for Zionism in those years than the “failure” of Aliyah Bet.
Today, by contrast:
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Israel today has forgotten not only the American boys who manned the Wedgewood, the Haganah, the Arlosoroff, the Ben Hecht, the Hatikvah, the Exodus, the Geula, the Jewish State, the Pan York, and the Pan Crescent. It has forgotten the lessons of Aliyah Bet as well. It’s not only the immediate results of what you do or don’t do that matters, it’s also how it looks. Too often despairing of winning the world’s understanding or sympathy, Israelis have developed the attitude that there is no point in fostering their own image or making photogenic gestures, since the world will not appreciate it anyway. They will do what needs to be done and the world can like it or lump it.
This is shooting oneself in the foot. For better or for worse, the world sees images first, what lies behind them only later. An image without a positive truth behind it will sooner or later collapse, but a truth without a positive image may take unaffordably long to register.
(cross-posted at Democracy-Project)