If Israel were an Arab country, it would receive near-universal praise as a paragon of justice.
Its robust protections of freedom of speech, along with frequent and open elections, would make it the only Arab state in which people have a real say in the operation of their government. Israel would be celebrated as the only gay-friendly state in a region of rampant anti-gay persecution. Its strict prohibition of the traditional practice of honor killings — where women accused of disgracing the family name are murdered by their male relatives — would be lauded as proof of its progressive and egalitarian values. And its modern capitalist economy, driven by a dynamic high-tech sector, would be the model for other Arab nations seeking to lift their people from the depths of poverty.
Of course, Israel isn’t an Arab nation, and it is treated according to this double-standard. It is the world’s only majority-Jewish state, and it is surrounded by Arab theocracies, dictatorships and monarchies, each of which have gone to war in a failed bid to end its existence.
And yet, Israel’s remarkable history of repeated triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity receives little sympathy among some “left-wing” segments of communities across the nation.
It is not immediately obvious why this is so. Israel’s history reads like a liberal success story.
The Jewish people have refused to consent to their exile from the land of Israel, perpetrated by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. Rather than submit to oppression and injustice, Jews returned home over the centuries. In the 19th century, this movement for national liberation, called Zionism, sought to establish a modern state in the Jewish national homeland. This place would be a refuge from the forces of bigotry and hatred — a place where Jews from around the world could gather for collective security whenever their lives or livelihoods came under threat. To this day, thousands of Jews migrate to Israel annually — most recently from France — for safety from the resurgence of anti-Semitism.
But you will not hear any of this from Israel’s detractors. They subject Israel to a constant torrent of demonization, all while applying a moral standard on Israel that is applied to no other country on Earth.
Zionism is equated with racism and Israel is called a terrorist state, even the moral equivalent of apartheid South Africa, a country that maintained a total and systematic separation between Whites and non-Whites. These accusations continue in total disregard of the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Jews and Arabs live alongside one another in substantial numbers, vote in the same elections and serve together in the same national legislature.
While Israel’s actions are put under a microscope — its every flaw magnified to the maximum possible extent — its enemies are given a free pass.
Hamas’ brazenly indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli cities — which even the Palestinian Authority has called war crimes — are either encouraged as necessary for “resistance,” or dismissed as insignificant. Hamas’ genocidal charter, which calls not just for the destruction of Israel but for the murder of Jews worldwide, is attributed to a harmless overreaction to Israel’s non-existent “occupation” of the Gaza Strip, not to be taken seriously. Where else is the threat of genocide not to be taken seriously?
So why can’t Israel get a fair hearing in certain segments of campus communities and elsewhere? It comes down to Israel’s character.
Israel’s first crime is that it is a Western nation. In the minds of Israel’s critics, to be Western is to be suspect, especially when your country is juxtaposed with non-Western nations. Israeli actions are confused with colonialism by those who erroneously insist that, to this day, imperialism drives relations between Western and non-Western peoples. To attack Israel is to give non-Westerners a leg up in these supposedly colonial interactions.
Israel’s second offense is that it is pro-American. It is little surprise that Israel’s fiercest opponents are also militant critics of the United States. They deride America’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as modern-day imperialism and look forward to a day when America will be forced to relinquish its superpower status.
Because Israel and America have such strong links, Israel is tarred as a mere instrument of America’s supposedly nefarious interests abroad. Bashing Israel is just their way of expressing contempt for the policies of the United States, and as such serves as an outlet for virulent anti-Americanism. They treat the Jewish State as America in the Middle East.
Israel’s third “flaw” is that it is economically and politically successful. To far-left academics, students and activists, success must necessarily come at the expense of others. They adhere to the discredited, primitive notion that development is a zero-sum game. If someone becomes rich, someone else must have been made poor as a result. To them, accomplishment is synonymous with an oppressor status.
Palestinians serve as the victim in Israel’s success story.
As Israel became wealthier — thus supposedly freeing itself from the “oppression” of relative poverty — it increasingly became the villain, the persecutors of the unfortunate Palestinians. Ironically, this perspective degrades the Palestinians by treating them as mere victims rather than historical actors capable of exercising their own judgment and taking control of their own future.
And finally, of course, Israel is Jewish. Casting aside all pretense that they could distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, a South African student union recently voted to expel its Jewish students for being Jewish, adding that this expulsion applied especially (but not exclusively) to “Jews who do not support the Palestinian cause.”
This typical anti-Semitic scapegoating demonstrates that opposition to Israel is often driven by the ancient anti-Semitic belief that Jews ought to be denied the right to self-determination and rendered permanently stateless. Attacking Israel is a convenient way for anti-Semites to target Jews while simultaneously reinforcing their supposedly “progressive,” anti-Zionist label.
Whenever I discuss the ongoing vilification of Israel, I am usually met with the same questions: Where are the protests against Israel’s immediate neighbors? Why is there no talk of the repression of gays and women throughout the Middle East, or of modern-day slavery and gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia? And are these self-appointed moralists aware of China’s occupation of Tibet, Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus or Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara?
The answer? Those countries aren’t Israel.
[Featured Image: Speech by Roger Ferguson of TIAA-Cref at Cornell Business School disrupted by anti-Israel activists, 2013]
Julius Kairey is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences of Cornell University, majoring in Government, and writes for the Cornell Daily Sun, where this column originally ran on February 25, 2015.DONATE
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