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Israel, all or nothing

Israel, we are told frequently, is "the only democracy in the Middle East". This is the "Get out of Jail" card used against critics whenever the argument is swinging towards Israel's opponents; it is as if being a democracy implies that the state is incapable of doing the things it is accused of and, even if it did, as a democracy it probably had no alternative, so that's all right then. One of the paradoxes of the Jewish state is that opponents of government policy have been able to express their opposition in a robust and open manner, through the media or in other forms, but that may be about to end if a bill passing through the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) becomes law; freedom to dissent in Israel could soon be a thing of the past.

Israeli distaste for internal opposition to its government's policies is growing to worrying proportions. Reports claim that there is increasing support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, even amongst academics, who use the "academic freedom" argument to include the freedom to support a boycott which would, temporarily it is hoped, limit that freedom. The new law would make it illegal for anyone to support or promote boycotts and be liable to compensate companies and organisations affected by them. A Machiavellian twist is that this law will also apply in the occupied West Bank and Palestinians taking a stand against the illegal occupation of their land would also, if found "guilty" of supporting a boycott, have to compensate the occupiers for their act of resistance. At a stroke, the Israeli government is planning to outlaw one of the few non-violent forms of protest left open to Palestinians. Where is that likely to push them? Into the hands of those who advocate cooperation (critics say collaboration) with the very occupation that is oppressing them? Or towards those who advocate violence against an aggressively military occupation? Or just into blind submission to whatever the Israel occupation forces dictate? No prizes for guessing which the Israel government would prefer.

This is an obvious example of where the Israelis and their supporters want everything their own way. They won't end the occupation, which is surely the only way to guarantee an end to all efforts to resist the occupation, violent, peaceful or otherwise, but they don't want anyone to be able to oppose that occupation; those who do face legal action. It's another example of the "all or nothing" syndrome; if you support Israel in any way you are simply not allowed to stray from that line of support, even a fraction and even when Israel is so way off the mark that its own supporters should be clamouring to offer it good advice to fall back into line with the rest of the civilised world. Being a friend of Israel is all; being a critical friend is nothing, something to be discouraged. That's why we see politicians and journalists in the West lining up to condemn Hamas for the rockets fired into Southern Israel when the Jewish state is accused, for example, of "war crimes and possible crimes against humanity" by the UN's Goldstone Report last year. Instead of encouraging Israel to mend its errant ways, British politicians promise to amend legislation to allow those who are accused of such crimes to visit the UK without fear of prosecution.

Similar diversionary tactics were used after the hijacking of the aid convoy in international waters in May. Israel controlled the media narrative tightly in the first couple of days after the murderous attack to make sure that its side of the story dominated the news bulletins. Critics argue that a democracy should encourage free and open discussion and the media should be given access to both sides of the story; the Israelis pooh-pooh that idea and say that a democracy, naturally, is going to defend its own citizens, and if this means breaking every international law and convention in the book, so be it. The attack on a foreign vessel in international waters carrying humanitarian aid was spun into an act of "self-defence", pulling not only the wool over the eyes of the international community wherein post-Holocaust guilt is still too strong to allow anything more than mild rebukes against poor little Israel, but also fuelling the self-denial that exists in the Jewish state about its occupation of Palestine.

When the going gets too tough for even the most ardent of Zionism's supporters to defend the actions of its rogue state, what do they do? Tackle the issues? No way, because they know that no right-minded person will condone a military occupation, walls, checkpoints, racist laws and indiscriminate violence against a civilian population. So the Zionists resort to the age-old tactic of character assassination. Thus, for example, in the wake of the Freedom Flotilla assault, in a section of a BBC television programme that was not broadcast "for technical reasons", pro-justice for Palestinians activist Ismail Patel – a passenger on the flotilla was, in the words of the Jewish Chronicle, "forced to defend himself against allegations of Holocaust denial" made by Zionists on the programme ostensibly there to debate "Is Israel acting immorally?". Unable to tackle the question in a logical manner, the three concerned aimed to discredit Mr. Patel's credibility as both a witness to the events that had taken place in the eastern Mediterranean and as a decent human being.

When all else fails, of course, Zionists just lie: "Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was abiding with international practice and none of the flotilla passengers were being held against their will." The passengers were in prison, having been taken to Israel tied up and at gunpoint, and this Australian masquerading as a Middle Easterner claims that they were not being "held against their will". That's what he is paid for, to lie his government's way out of the spotlight, or divert that spotlight elsewhere so that they can get on with their dirty work in the dark. The sad thing is that his statement was not challenged by the media. This was on the day after the assault in which Israeli soldiers killed nine activists at point blank range and Israel was in full control of the information available to the journalists and many journalists were accepting at face value what Israeli spin-doctors spewed out. This particular example of Regev's duplicity was published in the Daily Telegraph whose "Security Correspondent" did not see fit to question what Regev said; if he did, it wasn't published.

The latest example of Israeli all or nothing expectations followed the death of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah in Lebanon. A senior editor at CNN lost her job and the British Ambassador has had what is in effect a public dressing-down by the government for voicing their thoughts that the late ayatollah was in some way in possession of any good qualities. Interestingly, both referred to Ayatollah Fadlallah's support for women's rights as something that raised him in their estimation. According to the Guardian, Ambassador Frances "Guy's comment's drew outrage in Israel". You are not allowed to be on side with Israel – as Britain is, obviously – and show any sympathy for or empathy with Israel's enemies. It has to be Israel right or wrong, and Israel, all or nothing. And such an attitude is neither democratic nor prone to be open for peace.

Following the meeting between US President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an editorial in the New York Times on July 7 said, "We would like to have confidence in Mr. Netanyahu's declaration that he is 'committed to that peace' with Palestinians and President Obama's assertion that the Israeli leader is 'willing to take risks for peace.' Mr. Netanyahu didn't offer any specifics about what he will do to help move peace negotiations forward. Unlike Mr. Obama, the Israeli prime minister did not publicly mention a two-state solution. Mr. Netanyahu committed to that goal in June 2009 — but only under pressure from Washington. Each time he neglects to repeat it, he feeds doubts about his government's sincerity."

This generally very positive Editorial from the NYT includes amongst the straight-forward talking about what many suspect is Netanyahu's insincerity about peace with the Palestinians, something that is all too common, what might be called the victims must pay syndrome: "President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and his government also must do their part, doing more to discourage incitement against Israel — and seriously preparing to make the hard choices that peace will inevitably require." Just as Israel's Prime Minister is, astonishingly, able to "negotiate" about illegal activity – the Jewish settlements on occupied land in the West Bank and Jerusalem, regarded as illegal by the international community – so too must the victims of that illegality be prepared to make "hard choices" and prepare "for the tough compromises ahead" if they want peace.

I struggle to think of any other case where the law has been violated so frequently and with such impunity, and where the victim is the one expected to make the "tough compromises". But that's Israel for you; it wants it all, but is prepared to give nothing in return. And the rest of us are supposed to accept it.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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