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Is Israel a Normal Country?

NEW YORK -- Israel’s decision in May to drop commandoes onto a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists was brutal. The killing of nine civilians by those commandoes was a terrible consequence. Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestinian territories on the West Bank, not to mention the road blocks, destruction of homes, and other daily torments of the Palestinians, are also a form of institutionalized inhumanity.

Nevertheless, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s description of the Israeli raid on the activists’ boat as “an attack on the conscience of humanity,” which “deserves every kind of curse,” and as a “turning point in history” after which “nothing will be the same,” seems hysterical. Whatever one thinks of various Israeli governments (and I don’t think much of the current one), reactions to Israeli government-sponsored violence tend to be much fiercer – not just in Turkey – than to crimes committed by the leaders of other countries, with the exception perhaps of the United States. But then, in the minds of many critics, the two countries are often conflated.

Israel has never done anything comparable to the late Syrian leader Haffez al-Assad’s 1982 massacre of more than 20,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama. Far more Muslims are still being murdered by fellow Muslims than by Israelis, or indeed by Americans. And if one thinks of the death toll of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (more than four million), talk of turning points in history, after the killing of nine people, sounds a little absurd.

But none of that seems to count as much as what Israel does.