On June 1, 2010, thousands of Israelis gathered spontaneously in front of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv to demonstrate in support of the Israeli Naval commando unit that killed nine passengers on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-backed boat from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Egged on by the Israeli government and media, the demonstrators lashed out at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his support of the Marmara, accusing him and passengers on the ship of terrorist ties. Besides with the massacre of Turkish aid workers, the spectacle of massive Israeli protests against Turkey threatens to permanently rupture Israel’s ties to its closest Muslim ally and further isolate the country on the world stage.
The rally provided a clear window into the mentality of many Israelis after the raid. International condemnation has deepened the public’s siege mentality, leading many demonstrators to claim that anti-Semitism best explained the world’s motives. The belief that the Mavi Marmara was a terrorist ship with support from an assortment of Islamic evildoers including Al Qaida was nearly unanimous, and was offered by rally participants as an excuse for their killing. Many viewed the incident in the shadow of the Holocaust, convinced that Marmara passengers had shouted at the commandos, “Go back to Auschwitz!”
Such convictions were understandable in light of the aggressive propaganda campaign the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli Foreign Ministry have waged in the wake of the flotilla raid. The IDF has claimed that it discovered 40 “Al Qaeda mercenaries” on the Mavi Marmara and blasted out an audio clip purporting to show flotilla passengers proclaiming to the IDF, “Go back to Auschwitz!” Even though the IDF retracted its claim about Al Qaida operatives and was forced to concede that its “Auschwitz” audio clip was doctored, Israeli and American media outlets that reported the army’s claims have not corrected their stories. Consequently, many Israelis are accepting their government’s view without a second thought. As one demonstrator said, “I believe every word our soldiers. Every word!”
The rally was organized through Israeli Facebook groups and by the notoriously anti-Arab football club Betar Jerusalem. It was only one of many spontaneous outbursts of extreme nationalism that have erupted across Israel since the flotilla raid. Many participants in the rally remarked that they had not seen the public so thoroughly united behind the government in all their lives. As one demonstrator put it, “I’m very happy [about] what happened because it united the country, and not all the Israelis, all the Jewish [sic]; all united for a cause, and it’s against the civil war that we always had.”