Anti-Semitism “is to be regarded not as the enemy of the Jewish people… but as the common enemy of humanity and of civilization”
~ Christopher Hitchens
~ Christopher Hitchens
Several years ago I had a friend to dinner, a highly educated and cultured man with whom I enjoyed discussing all manner of social and political issues. We agreed on much that was wrong with the world and on what the solutions were but I was shocked when he announced that Israel should be wiped from the face of the earth. He admitted that his views were based mainly on his experiences during a visit to Israel a few years before. I thought it a bit extreme to advocate the destruction of a country based on a few negative experiences as a tourist but when he went on to say, "They are an arrogant people, they think they are superior to everyone else," I realised that, of course, he was not talking about getting rid of Israel but rather the Jews. And I think it is that sentiment that is at the heart of everyone who opposes the state of Israel.
Israel is not a bad country by any measure. It is a democracy with universal suffrage and is a relatively prosperous, uncorrupt and tolerant society. The Basic Laws of Israel define the country as a 'Jewish state' but they protect freedom of religion and establish equal legal rights for the more than 20% of the Israeli population that are Arabs - to an extent that is exceptional in the Middle East. The effectiveness of the Basic Laws has been demonstrated by the willingness of the Israeli Supreme Court to rule against the government in matters such as settlement in the occupied territories, the conduct of the Israeli armed forces in conflict zones, and protecting the rights of its Arab citizens. Successive Israeli governments have repeatedly demonstrated the country wishes to live in peace with its neighbours, having handed back territory it occupied in defensive wars to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.
The reason for the current actions of the Israeli armed forces in Gaza is the legitimate protection of Israeli citizens against the unprovoked aggression of the Hamas government in Gaza. After months of enduring escalating rocket attacks by Hamas against population centres in Israel, the Government of Israel did what any other government would be applauded for doing - sending its armed forces into the aggressor's territory to stop the attacks. The fact that there are inevitable civilian casualties does not make the actions of the Israeli government any less legitimate or any different to any other combat situation. A few media outlets have reported the incredible efforts of the Israeli armed forces to avoid civilian casualties such as telephoning occupants of buildings in advance of bombing and detonating small charges in advance of the main strike. Israel is taking these extraordinary measures to ensure civilian casualties are minimised despite the illegal actions of Hamas in using civilian facilities such as hospitals as launch sites for missile attacks on Israel and despite the likelihood that Hamas combatants are able to escape from the targets before they are hit.
It has been interesting to note that hardly any of Israel's neighbours have condemned its current actions in Gaza. This is because almost all other Arab nations regard Gaza under Hamas as more dangerous than their traditional enemy in the Jewish State. They rightly see Hamas as a puppet of the Iranian regime and it is Iran, not Israel, that they truly fear. Extraordinarily, it has been left to the 'liberal' Western media to condemn Israel in some of the most ill-informed and one-sided reporting of any conflict in modern history. Why has the Western media condemned Israel to an extent that is not evident in the coverage of say, France's intervention in Mali, or Barack Obama's use of drone strikes against targets in Northern Pakistan?
I have recently read some interesting theories that explain this highly selective and biased coverage. Douglas Murray, the British conservative commentator, in this interview with podcaster James Delingpole put forward what I'd term the 'guilt complex' explanation. In short, Murray believes the European commentariat are still trying to live down the Holocaust and by projecting some of the characteristics of the Nazis onto the Israelis they can say that, yes, even Jews can be indiscriminate killers so we're not that bad after all. This explanation has some resonance when you hear the references to 'genocide' that are used in regard to the relatively few civilian casualties of the Israeli military action.
Jonah Goldberg, in his book Liberal Fascism, is more blunt. Western liberalism has its roots in the progressivism of the early 20th Century, which was also the root of...well, that political movement started by Benito Mussolini. Incredible as this may seem after decades of the political left-wing labelling its opponents Fascists, Goldberg makes a pretty good case for the common roots of Fascism and modern liberalism. If you accept his argument it explains a lot, such as why Western liberals find common ground with murderous thugs like Hamas and the ISIS army in Syria rather than with a genuinely liberal country like Israel.
I don't know whether Murray's or Goldberg's theories have any basis in reality but I do know the current vilification of Israel is completely inconsistent with any regard for freedom, democracy and the legitimate rights of a nation state to defend itself. The hypocrisy of Western media and commentators means we must ask ourselves what is so different about Israel. The answer is obvious - it is the Jewish state. Anti-Israeli views cannot be separated from anti-Semitism, despite efforts of some Western liberal commentators to finesse the issue.
I should declare that while I am not Jewish, I have Jewish blood on my mother's side (which - and I cannot escape the sobering thought - would have made me eligible for the gas chambers had I lived under Nazi rule). I like to think I would feel the same way even if I did not have Jewish blood, but I admit I find myself getting angry about the treatment of Israel to an extent that I do with few other issues. My response to my friend's comments over dinner were a little less considered than what I've said above so I won't repeat those words here, but instead I will bookend this post with another quotation - the words of the great David Ben Gurion, the founding prime minister of Israel:
"Let me first tell you one thing: It doesn't matter what the world says about Israel; it doesn't matter what they say about us anywhere else. The only thing that matters is that we can exist here on the land of our forefathers. And unless we show the Arabs that there is a high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won't survive."