Are we seeing “humanitarian” anti-Semitism applied against Israel? That is to say, a campaign to delegitimize and eradicate Israel for being the Jewish state by creating a Palestinian nationalism in its place, a campaign that hides its anti-Semitic nature by dressing up in humanitarian clothes. Or are we seeing a campaign to destroy Israel disguised in liberal language?
The perception is familiar. The dire “plight” of the Palestinians has gained resonance, even as Arabs living in disputed territories prosper and live safely, compared with their brethren in Syria, Egypt, Yemen, and many other places. Just drive from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea and you will find yourself sharing the road with Palestinian cars, many of them more expensive models than yours. You will also witness the massive construction of luxury homes and new apartment buildings for Palestinian Arabs that never make headlines or shown in photo-shots. It spoils the editorial image of the conflict.
Global sympathy has swung away from Israel in support of a narrative that is strongly built on the myth of sufferance. Hard-line pro-Palestinians, who have couched their anti-Israel venom in humanitarian language, have gained the ear and support of liberal-minded people who empathize with the tone of their narrative. They see things in simplistic and persuasive terms. They have adopted the view that the Palestinians are the underdog, suffering under the weight of a powerful Israel, the metaphorical David against the Israeli Goliath. Even Jews who profess to be pro-Israel are joining causes to peg back the Jewish State to the extent of calling for boycotts and acting against Israeli actions that rub up against their naïve sense of injustice. The other side of their compassion for what is projected as Palestinian “victimhood” is the demonization and condemnation of an Israel perceived to be the “victimizer” in this perceived asymmetrical imbalance of power.
The maneuvering of the hundred year old, often violent, struggle by Arab and Islamic regimes against Jewish liberation, endeavor, and reconstitution of their land, known as Zionism, has tactically been reduced to the microcosm of a Palestinian struggle in humanitarian terms. Five aggressive Arab wars against the nascent Jewish State have been airbrushed out of the narrative. Even decades of criminal and deadly Palestinian terrorism is swept under the rug of a refined carpet that appeals to the eye and the ear of a liberal world; the carpet of humanitarianism. Palestinian apologists throw the guilt of suicide bombers and thousands of Palestinian rockets hurled indiscriminately at Israeli civilians on to Israeli shoulders, and their lame accusation is accepted at face value by people who should know better. Their guilt is tempered with mercy in the court of public opinion. But this should beg the question, why do Palestinians constantly choose violence over compromise? It should also beg the question to genuine humanitarians, what is the root cause of the ongoing crisis between the Arabs, of which the Palestinians are the spearhead, and Israel? Can the decades-old conflict be anchored in something other than a humanitarian concern for Palestinians, and Israeli bad behavior? Could it be that the Palestinian nationalistic/humanitarian cause is a smokescreen for something else, something that dare not speak its name, something that exposes its cause as being something more sinister, more malevolent?
Most fair-minded people, even among liberals who sympathize with the humanitarian perception of the conflict, admit that they find the repeated rejection of sweeping Israeli concessions by the Palestinians troubling and unreasonable. If they really wanted their independence surely they would be banging on the door of the negotiating room? Surely they would be pragmatic and flexible in their desire for their oft-stated goal of achieving a better life for their people in a state of their own? Had they done so they would, surely, have reached their destiny decades ago. Isn’t that what the Zionists did when they eventually achieved their dream of building a national home for the Jewish people in what was once Palestine? Didn’t they make enormous land concessions and accept a truncated sovereignty at that time, and aren’t they proven themselves willing to sacrifice even more land today? Isn’t that a sign of the true humanitarian liberal character of Israel? Isn’t that sufficient reason to stand with them and publicly demonstrate against ongoing Palestinian aggression and rejectionism?
The positioning today of the black and white morality of humanism, described in Philip Cunliffe’s “Israel, Gaza, and the politics of victimhood” as depicting one side (Palestinians) as hapless innocents and the other (Israel) as thoroughly evil, is radically incorrect. It not only expresses a clear form of demonization against the Jewish state, it exposes a worrying prejudice formed by ill intent by the “remove Israel” mob, or by naïve and shallow thinking from misguided liberals who profess to have the “best interests” of both parties at heart.
If the leading ideological cause today is “Free Palestine” one needs to ask why this has gained preference over disasters that simple common sense would make the Palestinian issue a side show when weighed against the colossal and genuine humanitarian crises taking place elsewhere. When viewed in these terms, the positioning of Israel, and only Israel, as the foremost rogue state is absurd. When compared to the lives of millions in Africa and Asia, the Palestinians are doing fine, thank you very much. In a previous article, I wrote about South Africa supporting the Palestinian cause over all other world causes. Yet, when I was in South Africa last year, I saw the apartheid of poverty perpetrated in that country where millions are left to survive in tin shacks, many without sanitary ware or electricity in what they describe as “townships.” Show me one Palestinian Arab living in a tin shack. On the contrary, many live in homes that South African township dwellers will never attain, an example was mentioned earlier in this article. The Palestinian townships put the South Africans to shame. In comparison to the South African poor, Palestinian Arabs have a middle class existence.
It is common for those of us fighting and explaining the Zionist dream to be confronted with people who demand the eradication of Israel. They argue, in humanitarian terms, that Israel is a racist regime. They argue for one state from the river to the sea in which everybody is equal and that the one obstacle to achieving that utopian goal is the racist Israel. They argue the notion that the notion of a Jewish state automatically turns non-Jews into second class citizens. They try to project an Israel that imposes, by its character, a dhimmi status on its non-Jewish citizens. Perversely, this message resonates on unthinking and malevolent ears. To expose the racism of this claim I usually begin by contending that the Israel grants full civil and religious rights to all its citizens that are protected in law. This tends to extract an adamant rearguard response that the very notion of a Jewish state is basically racist, to which the charge can be made that if it is acceptable for other countries to be Islamic, Christian, or even atheistic, then it is perfectly permissible to have a singular democratic state based on Jewish history, heritage, and demographics, and (here comes the zinger) to deny Israel—and only Israel—its raison d’être, or to act to change the status quo in order to overturn that unique Jewish quality, is to be intrinsically racist, even if that racism is expressed in humanitarian and Western liberal terms.
Here we come to the source of the trouble. In universal terms, both Christianity and Judaism has been marginalized, localized, made to feel irrelevant, denuded of having any resonance. They seem to have little collective value, save for congregational prayer gatherings. There are few landmark locations where a religion or a people can say this is my worldly center except, perhaps, for places like the Vatican and Westminster Abbey for the Catholics and British Christians. The Muslims have Mecca and Medina and, oh yes,the Jews have Israel, the Holy Land. “Next Year in Jerusalem,” that ancient Jewish prayer that resonates down the ages is not a racist chant, but it does have enormous religious and political relevance today for Jews in light of centuries of persecution against them that were often couched in humanitarian and legal terms. Just remove the Jews and everything will be fine. Sound familiar?
The writer is the Special Consultant on Delegitimization Issues to the Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya Academic College. He is also the author of Israel: Reclaiming the Narrative. www.israelnarrative.com