The next few weeks will see a lot of temporary insanity on the issue of the Middle East. Let’s hope that ends in a few weeks. In the meantime, here are some rather unmeasured words against both sides of the irrationality which will be engendered about this war in the next few weeks. If enough people don’t say them, they will control discourse about Israel. And if they do, this war will never end.
To the excessively pro-Palestine crowd: No, it’s not anti-semitic to criticize Israel. Israel is deserving of much criticism, and routinely gets more of it than any other country in the world. It is, however, anti-semitic to criticize Israel while ignoring far worse human rights violations around the world. If you are inflamed by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, then why weren't you more inflamed about the state sponsored murders in Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Iraq, Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Algeria, Syria, Russia, Myanmar, Liberia, Rwanda, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Congo, Zaire, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Turkey and North Korea? In the last twenty-five years, all of these countries have been responsible for more state-sponsored murder than Israel, sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands more; or the hundreds of state-created refugee crises over the last sixty-five years that are at least as great as the badness Israel visits on the Palestinians? To say that is not tantamount to saying that the Palestinian cause should be ignored, or that Israel should not be criticized. It merely says that far worse humanitarian crises are being ignored because the larger public insists on focusing on this one humanitarian crisis to the exclusion far worse ones all over the world. Of all these deserving humanitarian causes, it’s the Palestinian cause that’s the greatest rallying cry for so many people of our generation who fancy themselves progressives.
Why is this?
Because unlike all of these other causes, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have successfully waged a violent and bloody war – not only against Israel but also against its own people; the ratio of non-judicial murders among Palestinians between the Israeli government and the Palestinian government(s) is roughly 1-to-1, and that ratio does not count the number of civilians which Palestinian governments have put into harm’s way by making them into human shields against Israeli fire (and if you’re wondering how so many Palestinians who are killed are children, that’s because it is Hamas’s policy to place rocket launchers, weapons depots, and military encampments in places where schools are used for cover - a strategy they learned from Fatah and the Palestinian Authority). All throughout its history, Israel’s human rights violations are smaller than those of their neighbors, not only towards Israel, but towards their own people. All throughout it history, Israel has been faced with neighbors whose governments have genocidal intentions – and make no mistake, many members of every Islamist and pan-Arabist government have always wanted to wipe out every Jew in Israel and pursue that goal to this day. And yet the world pretends that if Israel changes its policies, so will the regimes who wish it dead.
All of this wouldn’t matter though if the Palestinians had a Nelson Mandela as their historic leader rather than Yassir Arafat. Had they a Mandela who persuaded them to forswear violence, the morality of their cause would be unimpeachable, and who knows? They might have had a state thirty years ago without their government fashioning their people as the world’s cause célèbre with pictures of dead children in place of infrastructure, and permanent refugee camps in place of investment. Instead, the Palestinian cause has drawn out as many of the worst progressive traditions as the campaign against South African apartheid brought out the best. If you want to be among people who’s idea of changing the world is fashionable sloganeering, the desire to be seen taking a stand rather than implementing results; believing that religious fanatics will listen to reason, and magical thinking that totalitarians will renounce violence if their demands are met; then take up the Palestinian cause. You will never have to do a day of serious work for peace in your life. And if you want your particular Middle East cause to be taken seriously by world opinion, the only way is to provoke Israel into joining the opposing side.
Israel’s history has had instances of every type of leader: from great men to war criminals. Within its ranks are every type of good and bad policy, and every type of good and bad soldier. Yet most criticism of Israel has always remained at the same vituperative level from its inception to the present day and shall remain so well beyond. Such criticism has absolutely nothing to do with Israel’s record of action. There can only be one explanation for this, and that is a combination of the anti-semitism of Israel’s enemies and with the prominence of Jewish suffering in modern Western history forms a noxious brew that makes the idea of Jewish moral failure a particularly sexy story in the modern historical narrative, and one which makes Israel a cause for protest beyond any other country in the world. Thanks to the unending Jewish history of suffering, Israel is now the Jew among nations, held to a standard of accountability to which no other country in the world would ever be held. Believing that Israel ought to be prevented from engaging in operations to keep its citizens safe is the racism of the anti-racists. Believing that Palestinians ought to have a state at all costs and at the expense of another country’s security is the nationalism of the anti-nationalists. Therefore, if you are more interested in disapproving of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians rather than countries who do far worse things to those they oppress, you are not a serious person, and the fact that other people take you seriously is a tragedy for the world. And even if you don’t think of yourself as an anti-semite, history will.