Friday, November 28, 2014

Why Israel?

TEL AVIV – Israel’s latest war in Gaza has echoed through Europe’s capitals in a powerful and destructive way. In Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, and elsewhere, Israel is being denounced as a “terrorist state.” Angry demonstrators burned synagogues in France and, of all places, Germany, with some even chanting “Jews to the gas!” The grotesque coupling of legitimate solidarity with Palestine and anti-Jewish invective seems to have forged a politically correct form of anti-Semitism – one that, 70 years after the Holocaust, is raising the specter of Kristallnacht over Europe’s Jewish communities.

Israelis are struggling to comprehend why five million refugees and 200,000 deaths in Syria mean so much less to the Western conscience than the 2,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza. They cannot quite grasp how European demonstrators can denounce Israel’s wars as “genocide” – a term that has never been applied to the Syrian hecatomb, the obliteration of Grozny by Russia, the 500,000 casualties in Iraq since the United States-led invasion in 2003, or US airstrikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In fact, the answer is simple: Defining Israel’s sins in terms borrowed from the Holocaust is Europe’s righteous way to rid itself of its Jewish complex. “The Holocaust,” as Thomas Keneally wrote in Schindler’s Ark, “is a Gentile problem, not a Jewish one.” Or, as the psychiatrist Zvi Rex famously quipped, “Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”

There is no denying that Gaza’s agony is a humanitarian disaster. But it does not even approach other humanitarian crises of recent decades, including those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In fact, since 1882, the entire Arab-Jewish/Israeli conflict has produced barely half the number of casualties that Syria has in just three years. Since 1950, the Arab-Israeli conflict ranks 49th in terms of fatalities.

This does not square with the global vilification of Israel that is drowning out legitimate criticism. When other countries falter, their policies are questioned; when Israel’s behavior is controversial or problematic, its right to exist comes under fire. There are more United Nations resolutions devoted to human rights abuses committed by Israel than to abuses by all other countries combined.

Stories about Israel focus almost exclusively on the Palestinian conflict. Joyce Karam, the Washington bureau chief of the Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, believes that this is because “Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.” Syrian, Libyan, and Yemenite victims are faceless; the lionization of the incomparably fewer Gazan casualties makes them unique.

This is not to say that Israel should be consoled by the macabre arithmetic of bloodshed. The hypocrisy of some of Israel’s critics in no way vindicates its colonial encroachment on Palestinian space, which makes it the last developed, “Western” country occupying and manhandling a non-Western people. Most of today’s conflicts – in Colombia, Somalia, the DRC, Sudan, and now even Iraq and Afghanistan – are internal. Even a major power like Russia faces punishing sanctions for refusing to end its occupation of a foreign land.

Israel’s clash with Palestine represents a particularly compelling drama for the West. The story of Israel extends far beyond the current conflict, to recount an extraordinary symbiosis between Jewish heritage and European civilization that ended in calamity. From its birth, Israel has borne the scars of the greatest crime ever committed on Europe’s soil. The plight of the Palestinians – the victims of Zionism’s triumph – touches another neuralgic point in the European mind.

Nonetheless, the Israel-Palestine tragedy is unique. It is an absorbing odyssey of two nations with mutually exclusive claims on sacred lands and religious shrines that are central in the lives of millions of people worldwide.

It is also a war of conflicting images, in which both parties claim a monopoly on justice and martyrdom. Jewish persecution, and the way that Zionism has employed it, has become a model for Palestinian nationalism. Catchwords like “exile,” “diaspora,” “Holocaust,” “return,” and “genocide” are now an inextricable component of the Palestinian national ethos.

It is important to note that the Holocaust does not give Israel immunity from criticism, nor can every attack on Israel’s policies be dismissed as anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Israel is rightly perceived as a status quo state that aspires to have it all: continued control over and settlement of the Palestinian territories and “quiet for quiet” from the Palestinians.

But Hamas’s control within Gaza is equally problematic. In order to end its fatal flirtation with jihadism and bolster stability, Gaza must pursue an economic and political deal with Israel that represses the temptation of war. Just as the rehabilitation of the Egyptian towns along the Suez Canal in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur war paved the way for an Israeli-Egyptian peace, a prosperous Gaza would serve the interests of all parties involved – beginning with Israel.

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    1. CommentedJohn Pope

      For all of South Africa's post-apartheid difficulties, the country is better off for taking the long-hard road to equality. We get stronger every day. Hopefully the lessons from Zimbabwe are learned by all stakeholders.

      As for the nub of the essay - the disproportionate umbrage allegedly inflicted on Israel by the West - oh my God, get over yourself Schlomo. The fact that South Africa's greatest apartheid critic, Australia, had a less than savoury treatment of the Australian Aboriginal, did in no way lessen apartheid's sins. Thankfully. The two countries today are the greatest of competitors, and the greatest of friends, and I wish for Israel to feel the respect that South Africans get today, not just from Aussies, but the rest of the world - in sport and in business.

    2. CommentedJohn Pope

      Yea look - interesting question. I'm white South African, and I grew up in the time of apartheid - realising that it was immoral and, just as importantly, unsustainable. I'm also pro Jewish, very pro Jewish, but I can only see the Israeli oppression of Palestine ending in tears and bloodshed unless the Palestinians find themselves a Mandela and Israel grows themselves a De Klerk. Two folk who understood simple arithmetic of the human spirit.

      Israelis and Israel's supporters abroad fail to recognise that Israel commits a form of apartheid. The very definition of Israel as a Jewish state - oblivious to their 20% Arab component - oblivious to their intergenerational displacement of Arabs from foundation day onwards - creates a calculus that the country will never escape from. The slow, inexorable Israeli suffocation of Palestine is disgusting and therefore won't work.

      For all of South Africa's post-apartheid difficulties,

    3. CommentedNum Sabo

      State rights? I don't think so. Some people are for environmental rights, which makes sense, because we depend so much on a healthy environment. But if there are any state rights, it should never trump human rights. Human rights should always prevail. The very creation of Israel violated the human rights of Palestinians to own, inhabit and manage their own land and resources.
      There was an invasion, expulsion, killing and terrorizing of the natives, and an ongoing occupation, that needs to be redressed. That needs to happen first, before any talk of Israel's right to exist.

    4. CommentedXavier Ayora

      The essay answers its own question (Why Israel?):

      "This is not to say that Israel should be consoled by the macabre arithmetic of bloodshed. The hypocrisy of some of Israel’s critics in no way vindicates its colonial encroachment on Palestinian space, which makes it the last developed, “Western” country occupying and manhandling a non-Western people. Most of today’s conflicts – in Colombia, Somalia, the DRC, Sudan, and now even Iraq and Afghanistan – are internal. Even a major power like Russia faces punishing sanctions for refusing to end its occupation of a foreign land."

      While it is true that some use this conflict to justify their racism against either party, legitimate critics of Israel are not necessarily displaying hypocrisy by paying more attention to its conflict with the Palestinians than they do to other conflicts, if they do. As the author points out, this conflict is a case of colonial encroachment by a "Western" country, one that claims to be "one of us" (Western in values and democratic). It is engaging in a type of colonialism (other types still exist, unfortunately) that European countries practiced centuries ago, and which we now (alas, way too late in some cases, e.g., American indigenous peoples) recognise as abominable. This, as the author recognises, separates this conflict from others. In addition, many people in the West do not debate events in some of the other conflicts the author mentions because, for the most part, most already agree that they represent crimes against humanity. Furthermore, there is no shortage of criticism of American intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. Lastly, "we're not as bad as the other guy" has always been a pretty lame argument.

    5. CommentedMelody Burton

      A major reason for Israel being the focus of Western criticism is the fact that, unlike Syria, Israel receives billions of dollars of US support. As a Brit, I also feel that my country caused a lot of the problem with the Balfour Declaration and so I'm more interested in what happens in Palestine than elsewhere in the Middle East.

      I think many people feel the same as I do. I recognise Israel's right to exist and to defend itself. But .i also recognise The Palestinian's right to resist the Occupation of the West Bank, the illegal settlement building, and the blockade of Gaza.

      I don't support terrorism but I do recognise that, in many places in the world, former terrorists have formed legitimate governments. I find it hypocritical of Israel to make so much of Hamas being terrorists when quite a few of their early leaders also belonged to terrorist organisations, such as ?Irgun and the Stern Gang.

    6. Commentedjohn public

      The reason Israelis on the left have no ability to steer Israeli society towards seeking peace is that those who cr8ticize Israeli policies by labelling them as apartheid and genocidal lack any moral authority. In the most recent conflict no Israeli troops were occupying any part of Gaza yet for its own political reasons Hama's started shooting rockets at Israeli civilians. In response, Israel, as would any government, even one not run by evil Jews, shot back. The difference is that the Israeli military response was measured and surgically calculated to strike military and not civilian targets as much as possible as attested by military analysts and experts around the world. And yet, as seen in these comments, it is Israel which is accused of genocide by a Europe which wishes to wash its own hands of guilt for the brutal slaughter in which it participated by saying "serv d you right". It is Europe and not Israel which has squandered its moral authority.

    7. CommentedPaulo Sérgio

      Anti-Semitism is a form of racism and/or xenophobia towards people specifically of Jewish ethnicity. I always find it quite strange how much the term gets used to describe people who question - and question Israels position in a more acceptable manner than the author has shown here - the bombing of Palestinians and the "claiming" of Palestinian territory for Israeli settlements by Israel.

      No, I think Israel is being held to account for this humanitarian tragedy because it professes to hold the moral high ground in our times. There must be a better path to peace -- if such an end really is the intention -- than the road currently traveled.

        CommentedPatrik Willot

        Merriam-Webster: Semite
        noun (Concise Encyclopedia)

        Person speaking one of a group of related languages, presumably derived from a common language, Semitic (see Semitic languages). The term came to include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, some Ethiopians, and Aramaean tribes including Hebrews. Semitic tribes migrated from the Arabian Peninsula, beginning c. 2500 BC, to the Mediterranean coast, Mesopotamia, and the Nile River delta. In Phoenicia, they became seafarers. In Mesopotamia, they blended with the civilization of Sumer. The Hebrews settled at last with other Semites in Palestine.

    8. CommentedIsabel Ma

      (i'm myself a jew, white and right wing and my grandparents lost more than 50% of their family in Poland)

      Found this article disgraceful.
      Think it's more than time Israel stops capitalizing on the horror from WWII and using Shoa card every time is without valid arguments to justify it's unjustifiable actions. My grandparents time is long gone. Stop embarrassing us and stop using the shoa marketing tool. Everyone detests it.

      Second, as a white, I hate the skin color code Israel public officials so much enjoy to use so frequently. It's disgusting and utterly miserable to see such behaviors in the 21 century.

      As a jew, we all know jews have been hated for centuries. They've been killed for centuries (Iberia Peninsula, Brazil, etc) - you cannot simply erase hate you commit hateful actas against others.

      People do not have a preference for hamas, they really hate to see the constant abuse being inflicted on other.

        CommentedNum Sabo

        Having said the corporate Brazilian media is pro-Israel, I know that many Jews are not pro-Israel and even protest against its brutality.

        CommentedNum Sabo

        "As a jew, we all know jews have been hated for centuries. They've been killed for centuries (Iberia Peninsula, Brazil, etc)"

        You clearly have no idea what you're talking about. I'm from Brazil and never heard of any kind of mistreatment or prejudice against Jews in our country. So I did a quick search online and this came up: chazit dot com/cybersio/olam/brasil.html

        It's a brief history of Jewish immigrants in Brazil. The only harassment towards Jews came from Portugal, before Brazil was a republic and was still a colony. Portugal was persecuting not only Jews but the Moors, way before they even set foot in South America, in the 1400s.

        There was never a persecution of the kind you had in Europe. Actually, many European Jews sought refuge in Brazil, during the Nazi years. And they have been benefiting, much more than the average population. The corporate Brazilian media have been pro israel to a fault, misleading the public about the facts.

        Cannot say the same for the natives and the kidnapped Africans that were made slaves - those were the persecuted people throughout all of the Americas.

        I fully applaud the current President, removing the ambassador of Brazil from Tel Aviv. And Tel Aviv should remain without a Brazilian embassy, until the violation of the human rights of Palestinians are redressed. Until then, there should be not talk of a state's right to exist.

    9. CommentedPatrik Willot

      Time for the Jewish State, as it likes to put it, to move on from the marketing of Shoa and guilt feeling. But of course it would need more Chutzpah to dig heads out of the sand and face the evidence of "one-side cannot be right all the time". The planet is watching you and knows that both sides need compromise, security and sustainable living. And please don't use the easy "anti semitic" argument on the grounds of my words. First of all I also love Israel and second all semitic people are not jews. A gentile gentile.

    10. CommentedSuhayl 53

      Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of Israel in the way it carries itself militarily and politically. I am one of those who tweeted so vehemently against Israel's "war crimes" in Gaza recently. My views, I suspect, represent those of many an outsider who fundamentally feels for the problems that Jews had faced mainly from Christian societies throughout the ages, akin to what the Muslims are facing now, post 9/11. However, the reason why people question Israel's existence when it goes on a military rampage is purely because we (the people of the world) had agreed to give Palestine to the Jews, so that they can make Israel their home. What we did not want or expect is that Jews would discriminate against the Arabs, take away their land and make them prisoners in their own land (like the blacks in old Apartheid South Africa). That's why we question the existence of Israel - because it is wrong for Israel to behave like this. After all, the Jews suffered horribly in the Holocaust, so we expect the Jews to understand the plight of the Palestinians who were reduced to make way for Israel (which was a great wrong had done by the British). I am of the belief that all religions wherever they live ought to be able to live without discrimination. I believe that Israel should be a land for the Jews and Arabs, living in peace, with equal rights and privileges. A two-state solution may be an interim stage towards this final solution. The people of the world yearns for there to be peace in the Middle East.

    11. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Mr. Shlomo Ben-Ami asks why demonstrators in European capitals reacted angrily to Israel's heavy bombardment of Gaza last month and denounced it as a "terrorist state", calling its aggression "genocide". He says the anti-Semitic sentiments in France and Germany were reminiscent of "Kristallnacht" some 75 years ago.
      Mr. Ben-Ami doesn't understand why "five million refugees and 200,000 deaths in Syria mean so much less to the Western conscience than the 2,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza". And why "the Syrian hecatomb, the obliteration of Grozny by Russia, the 500,000 casualties in Iraq since the United States-led invasion in 2003, or US airstrikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan" evoked equally stark emotions.
      It's not true that “Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.” It's cynical to say that "Syrian, Libyan, and Yemenite victims are faceless; the lionization of the incomparably fewer Gazan casualties makes them unique". Indeed the list of atrocities and crimes against humanity is endless.....
      Mr. Ben-Ami doesn't seem to realise that many see Israel as an occupier and an aggressor. The creation in 1948 of a homeland for Jews scattered all over the world had forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes. No doubt the desire of Holocaust victims to have a state of their own was conceivable, but the Palestinians got the short end of the stick. Relationship with the Palestinians had been fraught because those in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem have lived under Israeli occupation since 1967.
      The settlements that Israel built in the West Bank are seen as illegal under international law. Yet Israel ignores it. Israel evacuated its settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and withdrew its forces. Despite the handover of Gaza and parts of the West Bank to Palestinian control, a final agreement has not yet been reached.
      However, after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007, Israel intensified its economic blockade of the Strip. Since 2008 it launched major military assaults on Gaza to halt cross-border rocket attacks. Nevertheless Gazan civilians had to bear the brunt of bombardment. It's true that Hamas is a destructive force and an obstacle to peace negotiations. But equally destructive are the policies of the ultra-right pro-settler Jewish Home. So "an Israeli-Egyptian peace" with the Palestinians and "a prosperous Gaza" that could "serve the interests of all parties involved" are just a pie in the sky.

    12. CommentedTimothy Naegele

      This is a fine article, as far as it goes. However, it neglects to mention that targeting Jews on a global basis is apt to increase dramatically, not lessen.

      This is what Netanyahu has wrought.

      See ("Ariel Sharon Is Missed")

    13. CommentedStan Paul

      Diplomatic means have been tried and never work. Hamas needs to step up and realize that they need to be a political force more than a military group. They need to be more unified.

    14. CommentedBen Simpson

      The fact that 48 other people in your neighbourhood went on a worse killing spree than you did, doesn’t excuse your killing spree… The bar for winning plaudits, special treatment and international aid as the only functioning democracy in the Middle East should be higher than “at least we aren’t as bad as Bashar al-Assad”.

      I was one of those protesting in London. I did so because the Palestine-Israel conflict will only be solved through diplomatic means. This requires pressure on Israel to negotiate in good faith, rather than by trying to maintain the status quo. That pressure isn’t going to come internally from Israel, given the strident domestic support for the occupation and the IDF. Therefore, international condemnation is critical, because for as long as Israel is a recipient of foreign aid and arms, and products from illegal settlements in the West Bank are exported around the world, the Israeli government will be able to shield its population from the real cost of the ongoing occupation of Palestine.

      What is special about this case then, is that the link between our elected representatives, and the Israeli politicians that are perpetuating this crisis are so strong and deep, and it is a case where western public opinion really can make the difference.

      Finally, do not forget that the protests in London were in part organised by the Stop the War Coalition, a group that came in to being to protest against the forthcoming wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These were then, and still remain, the largest public demonstrations in British history. The people at those protests do care about, and actively campaign against, other wars and atrocities around the world.

    15. CommentedStan Paul

      Good article. As long as Hamas' intention is the destruction of Israel, let the occupation continue.

    16. Commentedhari naidu

      Last week rumor spread across the Jordan Valley that Israel agreed to a confederation of Palestine with Jordan and Israel.
      Haretz considered it an anachronism when Bibi agreed to legal confiscation of more land from West Bank; Cameron, EU and US objected to it.
      Methinks, Ben-Ami, in spite of your good will, Bibi and his rightist regime has lost its moral grounds to settle the conflict with PLA. May be there will be another regime, after Bibi, which will be a bit more morally focused on finding ways and means to justify Israel's de jure existence in the midst of ME.

    17. CommentedAriel Tejera

      From wikipedia: "Hypocrisy is the claim or pretense of holding beliefs, feelings, standards, qualities, opinions, behaviors, virtues, motivations, or other characteristics that one does not in actual fact hold."

      Israelis may find it surprising that outsiders perceive that they have gone from tormented to tormentors, while still claiming the highest moral ground. That - is a demented one-sidedness.

    18. CommentedKenneth Trueman

      Here is another theory. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict generates externalities that affect us in the West and so it is in our collective interest to see it solved, even if neither of the 2 parties actually involved wants that to happen. The Syrian conflict does not create such externalities (speaking of the dynamic with Assad, and not that relative to ISIS, which could eventually lead to foreign fighters returning to the shores from whence they came; the recent intervention by the US supports the latter rationale and in some ways my own).

      This is a funny article in that it attempts to assign some blame or culpability to the West, when the principal actors in the conflict have (a) no desire to solve the problem on their own; (b) clamour for the involvement of the outside world; and then (c) work actively against those trying to help them.

      I learned long ago that caring about the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a mug's game, one that I am not prepared to participate in or care about anymore.

    19. CommentedVivek Chand

      The important questions are - what is Israel's solution to the problem? Does Netanyahu have one or have a plan for one - the answer seems no. Assault seems to be the only response.

      Does Israel consider the effect of an ongoing blockade of Gaza, and continuous incursion into Palestinian lands? These have a serious effect on the lives of Palestinians who see a bleak future, and have little to live for. Cause and effect are critical issues, but gets little attention while media is provided with a lot of spin.

    20. CommentedPaul Daley

      Israel has conducted a coldly calculated policy of racism that has destroyed the lives of millions of Palestinians over a period of generations. It is a very special crime that commands attention, particularly as it shows no sign of ending. Israelis may complain of the attention they've received, but they should also consider carefully the crime they've committed.

    21. CommentedManuel Moldes

      "Gaza must pursue an economic and political deal with Israel..." Is this advice not some 60 years outdated? It was the newborn Israel that chose to "manhandle" the Palestinians out of their land, corner them in unsustainable territorial enclaves and subsequently use them as sources of cheap labor. And it was the quickly developing Israel that chose not to approach the Palestine question through a far-sighted policy of investment and education for some sort of joint economic and social development, instead of the "colonial encroachment on Palestinian space", astonishingly resembling the old relationship between Spartans and Messenians, justly condemned by History.

    22. CommentedCHARLES Solnik

      I think that Hamas control of Gaza is NOT equally problematic.
      There is a big difference between questionable policies of different Israeli governments versus the doctrine of Jihad and the destruction of Israel and genocide of Jews as a non solvable policy by Hamas.

      By creating equivalency between Hamas and Israel the author undermines another wise well written article.

        CommentedKenneth Trueman

        The word "equivalency" has been one of the most abused words in this recent chapter of the conflict and is the sure sign of someone taking a page from talking points. No one talks like that in real life.