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Senator Chuck Schumer exposed just how fragile Israel is

March 19, 2024 at 7:04 pm

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to the press alongside other members of Senate Democratic leadership during a press conference following weekly policy luncheons on March 12, 2024 in Washington, DC. [Nathan Posner – Anadolu Agency]

What did US Senator Chuck Schumer mean when he said that “Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah?” Schumer, a Democrat of New York, and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the US made the comment last week while delivering a pointed speech on the Senate floor excoriating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a major obstacle to peace in the Middle East and calling for new leadership in Israel.

Of the 206 states recognised by the UN, many are widely considered to be a pariah. North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, Syria are just some of the countries that have been castigated as pariahs. And yet no one would suggest that Russia, despite its pariah status, will not “survive”. Iran, isolated and sanctioned since the 1979 revolution, cannot be said to be facing an existential threat even though it’s seen as a pariah. So-called pariah states have developed an “antifragile” quality which Israel appears to lack. What is it about Israel that puts the survival of the apartheid regime at risk if it becomes a pariah?

For many, Israel’s status as a pariah state is not a matter of debate, and Schumer’s recent warning, which framed Israel’s potential future as a pariah in the conditional tense, is seen as yet another example of how supporters of the apartheid state are disconnected from reality. A pariah state is defined as one that is considered an outcast in the international community due to its consistent violation of international norms, human rights abuses and aggressive actions towards other nations. By this definition, Israel at least in the eyes of the vast majority of the world’s population, undoubtedly qualifies.

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Israel’s extensive history of disregarding UN resolutions, flouting international law, attacking its neighbours, maintaining an illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and, according to every major human rights groups, enforcing an apartheid system that discriminates against non-Jewish individuals, should have long ago resulted in its classification as a pariah state, long before the genocidal violence in Gaza. Israel’s massacre of more than 32,000 Palestinians – the highest rate of killing of any conflict in recent history – has only served to reinforce its status as an outcast in the eyes of the international community.

Schumer is right to warn that Israel risks becoming a pariah state, and he is correct in his assessment that such a status can pose existential threats to the country. The consequences of being labelled a pariah state are far-reaching and can manifest in several ways, each of which can contribute to the ultimate destruction of the state.

Firstly, pariah states, like Iran, often face international isolation and sanctions, which can lead to severe economic hardships. As trade and foreign investment dwindle, the state may find itself struggling to sustain its economy and, over time, this mounting pressure can jeopardise the stability and survival of the ruling regime.

In extreme cases, pariah states may also be subjected to military intervention by other nations or international coalitions. As was the case with Iraq under Saddam Hussain, this can occur when the state is perceived as a threat to regional or global security, or when its actions are deemed so egregious that military action is considered necessary. Such interventions can result in the overthrow of the ruling regime and the dismantling of the state’s institutions.

Moreover, the very policies and actions that contribute to a state’s pariah status can also foment internal unrest and opposition. As citizens become increasingly disillusioned with the ruling regime, they may seek to overthrow it through protests, rebellion, or revolution. The economic hardships and international pressure faced by the state can further exacerbate this internal instability.

Lastly, pariah states often lack strong allies who can provide support and protection during times of crisis. This absence of allies can leave the state vulnerable to external threats and limit its ability to defend itself militarily or diplomatically.

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When assessing Israel’s present circumstances, it is helpful to reflect on which of the challenges the apartheid state is grappling with. Even though Israel’s persistent occupation of Palestinian lands, its egregious human rights violations, and its apartheid practices have already garnered extensive denunciation from the global community, it is crucial to question why Israel has not faced the same punitive consequences as other pariah states. This glaring disparity in treatment underscores the double standards that have long shielded Israel from being held accountable for its actions.

One reason why Israel has been shielded from facing any repercussions is because of the carefully crafted image of itself as a liberal democracy in the eyes of the West. Schumer’s worry about Israel becoming a pariah state isn’t primarily rooted in the fear that it will be subjected to the same treatment as Iran or Russia. Instead, his concern stems from the unparalleled levels of opposition to Israel that are making it increasingly challenging for politicians like himself to maintain their unwavering support for the country. It is this growing dissatisfaction with the conduct of America’s key ally that leaves Israel especially susceptible to the repercussions of being labelled a pariah state.

As Saree Makdisi argues in his book “Tolerance is a Wasteland,” Israel has managed to maintain support among Western liberal communities despite its human rights abuses, violations of international law and the practice of apartheid. This support is crucial to Israel’s existence, and the threat of losing it poses a significant risk to the country’s future.

Makdisi explains that Israel has been able to preserve its image through a unique form of denial, which he calls the “denial of denial” or “double denial”. This mechanism allows Israel to repackage its colonial dispossession and racial discrimination into something that can be perceived as the embodiment of progressive values such as tolerance, plurality, inclusivity and democracy. By affirming these positive values, Israel effectively occludes its inherent racism and anti-liberal practices.

However, if Israel’s status as a pariah state becomes widely acknowledged, this carefully constructed image will crumble. The “double denial” that has shielded Israel from the consequences of its actions will no longer be effective, and Western liberal communities will find it increasingly difficult to justify their support for a country that openly violates the very values they claim to uphold.

Moreover, Israel’s economy is deeply intertwined with that of the US and Europe. A significant portion of Israel’s GDP comes from exports to these markets, and many Israeli companies rely on investments and partnerships with Western firms. If Israel becomes a pariah state, it may face economic sanctions, divestment campaigns and a general reluctance from Western businesses to engage with the country, leading to a severe economic downturn, not to mention a country under investigation by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for genocide.

In addition to economic consequences, Israel’s military superiority in the region is largely due to the advanced weapons and technology it receives from the US. If this military support were to be withdrawn or significantly reduced, Israel’s ability to maintain its occupation of Palestinian territories and defend itself against potential threats would be compromised.

The loss of Western support would have severe consequences for Israel. Unlike other pariah states, Israel heavily relies on the political, economic and military backing of the US and European countries. If this support were to diminish or disappear entirely, Israel would find itself isolated and vulnerable on the international stage.

Unlike Iran and Russia, which have demonstrated the resilience to withstand the political and economic repercussions that accompany the pariah label, it appears highly improbable that Israel possesses the antifragile characteristics necessary to operate as a state without the support of its Western allies. While Iran and Russia have adapted to their status as outcasts, developing strategies to maintain their power and influence despite international pressure, Israel’s reliance on its Western backers leaves it vulnerable to the potential consequences of becoming a pariah state, as it has not cultivated the same level of antifragility.

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