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It’s a myth that Israel is singled out for criticism

Israel’s apologists also accuse the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement of being anti-Semitic because it singles out their beloved state; why not look at Iran, North Korea or Russia, they ask?

August 30, 2016 at 6:10 pm

Apologists for a failing and unethical national security policy in Israel; excuse-fabricators for anti-Palestinian war crimes committed regularly by the Israeli security services; and what are commonly known as “hard-line Zionists” all make few arguments as forcefully and frequently as the one that Israel is singled out unfairly for criticism. The unconvincing rhetoric of the advocates that there is such a thing as “New Anti-Semitism” relies heavily on the claim that criticising Israel is merely a continuation of pre-existing anti-Semitic thought; they argue that it is curious that Israel is apparently singled out. “Is it because Israel is a Jewish state?” they ask.

There is one element of this hypothesis that is initially convincing, which is the extraordinary number of UN resolutions adopted against Israel. This, though, becomes slightly less extraordinary when you consider that most countries in the world have suffered at one time or another under the same kind of colonialism that characterises Israel’s activities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip; indeed, when you consider the nature of the Israeli project in the first place.

Just as many but by no means all Jews feel solidarity with Israelis, many but by no means all Muslims feel solidarity with Palestinians. It is also because developing countries significantly outnumber developed countries at the UN – and there are more designated “Muslim” than “Jewish” and “Christian” states – that Israel complains about receiving so many adverse UN resolutions.

Incapable of understanding that such resolutions are not proposed by the UN per se but by individual member states, its critics not only accuse the world body of anti-Semitism, but also seem to be baffled by the very idea that their project is not wildly popular. The answer to this lies not in a skyscraper in New York – where the UN has its headquarters – but at home.

Israelis should try acting with a little humility and recognise that their safety and security has been bought at the expense of millions of Palestinians; do this and the UN may become a little more sympathetic to the Israeli way. Stopping rampant (and illegal) settlement building on occupied land, for example, might reduce some of the irritation that countries all over the world who have themselves suffered from such colonial schemes feel towards Israel, a country whose still-undeclared borders seem to be expanding at a pace of its own choosing.

Israeli government apologists often argue that human rights organisations focus disproportionately on Israel. Does the evidence stack up? Let’s take a look at Human Rights Watch as an example. The organisation’s 2016 global report is 659 pages long; the section dedicated to “Israel/Palestine” occupies eleven pages and covers alleged abuse by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and the kidnappings and shootings of Israeli civilians; it notes that both sides are lacking energy in prosecuting anyone for these transgressions; and, of course, it deals with alleged abuses by Israel. This degree of coverage is little different to that given over to Iran (six pages for one country), Egypt (eight pages for one country), Saudi Arabia (six pages for one country) and Libya (ten pages for one country); “Israel/Palestine” gets eleven pages for two countries. This hardly suggests a screaming case of bias against Israel.

In fact, Human Rights Watch issues numerous reports chiding the Palestinians for their own human rights record. Just this weekend, HRW accused the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank of “arresting, abusing, and criminally charging journalists and activists who express peaceful criticism of the authorities.” The Kurdish authorities were accused of similar abuses only the week before, while Bahrain, Syria (four times), Iraq (twice), Saudi Arabia (twice), Afghanistan, Egypt, Oman, Iran, Jordan, Turkey – a selection of what’s on offer – have all come under the HRW spotlight. I have been receiving dozens of Human Rights Watch press releases for years now, and the above is a pattern that repeats itself nearly every month. Indeed, it is striking how little attention Israel actually does get when you start adding in the organisation’s extraordinarily extensive work in Russia, China, Europe, Latin America and the rest of the world. Sorry to be the one to tell you, Israel, but you aren’t being singled out.

Aside from international bodies representing heartfelt international opinion, and human rights organisations simply reporting what they are being told on the ground, there is a political element to the allegation of “singling out” Israel. This applies largely to the Western radical left, but takes a simplified view of this global and disparate, yet internationalist, movement that doesn’t take into account regional variations of focus. The occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco, for example, is a favoured cause for the Spanish left. The Australian left has long been obsessed by the unjust occupation of West Papua for decades. Radical British fighters in the “Bob Crow Brigade” – named after the late British trade union leader – have travelled to the Middle East to fight the good fight, but they are not in Palestine with Hamas; they are fighting Daesh. The British and American left is equally obsessed with Israel as it is with their respective governments’ support for Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, while keeping a very close eye on Latin America. We should not condemn the American left in particular for obsessing over Israel, given that the tiny country receives approximately one-fifth of the US taxpayers’ annual aid budget. Israel has in fact received more aid than any other country since the Second World War, amounting to nearly $100 billion.

Israel’s apologists also accuse the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement of being anti-Semitic because it singles out their beloved state; why not look at Iran, North Korea or Russia, they ask? Surely, there are victims of worse oppression than the Palestinians? This may be news to narcissistic Israel and its fans, but Iran, North Korea and Russia already face international sanctions. The BDS movement is simply filling in the gaps; in any case, the movement was formed in Palestine by Palestinians, not left-wing activists in the West.

The problem, therefore, really isn’t that Israel is singled out for criticism and obsessed over; it’s that Israel and its apologists obsess over themselves. Of course, if all you read about is news relating to Israel, then all you will see is criticism of Israel when it arises. It is a fact that the UN, human rights organisations and political activists opposed to the Israeli occupation have plenty of other injustices that they are also interested in. I would suggest that pro-Israel individuals and groups broaden their own horizons; they might be surprised at how little attention they are actually getting. It really is a myth that Israel gets treated unfairly.

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