The British government provides for petitions to be listed on a web site that people can sign electronically. If 10,000 people sign, the Government is expected to look into the matter; if 100,000 people sign, it must be considered by Parliament for debate.
Sounds like a lovely way to involve the people in government via the Internet, without imposing any more responsibility for officials than to look into a matter, or consider it for debate.
What is currently riling the Jews of Britain and elsewhere is a petition to arrest Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for war crimes when he arrives in Britain on official business next month. The petition mentions the "massacre" of over 2,000 civilians in Gaza during 2014.
The petition has 64,000 signatures and climbing. It is currently the fourth most popular petition on the government site.
No other current petition getting close to 10,000 signatures deals with a government outside of Britain. Among the popular items are petitions in favor of cannabis, allowing transgender people to define their legal gender, and several dealing with animal rights. A petition with 6,400 signatures would pressure Denmark to stop the whale slaughter in the Faroe Islands.
In the nature of these things, one suspects that Mickey Mouse and a few others have signed more than once, and that lots are not British subjects. Yet one can't deny that many have signed. I suspect that one is a British cousin, who posts on his Facebook some ugly stuff against Israel.
The wording of the petition does not go into the murky issue of how many Palestinian casualties were actually civilians, whatever that means among the terrorists active in Gaza. And it does not mention something like 11,000 rockets fired toward Israeli civilians from Gaza since Israel withdrew its settlements from that area in 2005.
No petitions on the British government site deal with what are estimated at up to 330,000 deaths in Syria since Arab Spring went bad, well over a million deaths in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, and more than 100,000 deaths among Afghans since 2001.
One can find higher and lower estimates for all of these conflicts. We can agree that the numbers are large, but not exact.
Even larger are the estimates for the refugees that have left their countries, or are described as "internally displaced persons." Those numbers for Syria exceed one third of the total pre-war population.
Human rights organizations have expressed their concerns about all of these conflicts, but the incidence and temper of condemnations against Israel seem to exceed by far the proportionate weight of Palestinian casualties, especially when that weight is adjusted (however that might be) by the number of Israelis who have suffered death or injury from Palestinian attacks, or have been told to stay within a 15 second dash from a shelter whenever Palestinians are inclined to fire rockets.
The disproportionate attention that British petitioners give to Israel has a smell of anti-Semitism, even though some of the signers are likely to be Jews.
Some may say that it is fair--with all appropriate considerations--to focus condemnations on Israel. One argument is that all others involved in recent carnage are beyond reach. Those risking the charge of being not politically correct may use the term barbarians, from which no civilized behavior should be expected. Israel, in contrast, is a western democracy, and accepts rules of the game that are not applied elsewhere in the Middle East. If the point of humanitarians is to civilize the world, it is appropriate to begin where there is a good chance of having some influence.
We can argue if an even better target would be the United States, which leads every western democracy on the incidence of violence, guns in private hands, the percentage of residents incarcerated, and the disproportionate suffering of African Americans, many of them at the hands of police.
None of the 685 petitions currently on the British government's site mention the United States.
Whoever is petitioning for good government should also consider Israel's legitimate needs for self defense. Should the country excuse daily efforts at drive-by shootings in the West Bank, fire bombs, or the throwing of stones larger than what infants toss at one another, and the potential of harm (physical and emotional) from the rockets fired toward civilian settlements from Gaza?
Israel trains its soldiers to respond appropriately to threat. A recent updating concerned with opening fire holds a soldier should not shoot at a stone thrower who is running away.
The IDF recognizes that actual combat differs from dealing with demonstrations, no matter how violent they become. When soldiers are acting against well armed combatants, especially in built up urban areas where Palestinians employ civilian housing, schools, hospitals, or other facilities in their tactics, military judges must take care in assigning responsibility for harm to civilians. It's not the stuff for political activists, who've never been close to combat, to assign blame from a distance, after the fires cooled, when relying on claims difficult to verify.
Israeli military courts have tried and punished individual soldiers for unjustified actions against civilians, and military prosecutors have considered numerous charges that were dismissed for lack of justification or were dealt with administratively.
One shouldn't expect British authorities to actually arrest Israel's Prime Minister. There are agreements covering serving officials who travel on diplomatic passports between countries. Former officials who travel on regular passports are another matter. Israelis who have served in military or military-associated civilian capacities have been the subject of international warrants brought by pro-Palestinian activists. Israel's Foreign Office seeks to deal with Palestinian efforts to internationalize its claims, but some Israelis who have held high positions in the government or military have cancelled foreign visits due to expected difficulties entering Britain or some other European country. Others have reported delays or minor annoyances while going through passport control. One suspects that individual officers who examine documents may have used the opportunity for more than casual conversation.
Does the brouhaha surrounding a British petition rate more or less than concern for the economic impact of BDS? Do both indicate an uptick in anti-Semitism along with less caustic concerns that Israel may be overdoing its concern with national security? Does it all impact on Israel beyond feelings that others love to hate us?