Humanity's good neighour

Is the 19th-century missionary movement the historic impulse behind Anglo and European anti-Israel NGOs?

anti-israel 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
anti-israel 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
A Westerner recently told me, "I feel I must support the Palestinians as much as I would support my own neighbor. In this world we are responsible for everyone's rights no matter how far away." This is the classic tone of those who feel they are "citizens of the world." It is a very common feeling, especially among university students in Europe, the US and Canada. A pervasive "I am responsible for humanity" theme runs through many protest movements, charities, NGOs and volunteer organizations. The interconnectedness of the world is a product of modernity. The first such societies that gathered together like-minded wealthy Westerners to support causes in far-off lands were formed in the early 19th century. These were primarily missionary movements such as the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews (London Jews Society), which was founded in 1809 and which by 1900 had 52 missionary stations in a dozen countries. The legacy of international efforts by British citizens to missionize and save others can be found in Anglo countries and Western Europe among those who belong to such anti-Israel organizations as the International Solidarity Movement. Since we know that some of the first to take up the belief that "I must save humanity" and "I am responsible to humanity" were Christian missionaries devoted to converting the Jews, we must ask, "To what degree is today's belief in saving the world stem from a sense that it is Westerners who can save the world - and that it is permissible for them to interfere in places where they do not belong?" THE NEIGHBOR analogy is an interesting one. Someone has argued that due to the inter-connectedness of the world today one has as much responsibility for a person 2,000 miles away as 100 feet away. Thus the harm done to a Palestinian due to the "occupation" must be seen by the average resident of Boston or Toronto as if it was being done to him personally. But the real question should be: Does a person have the right to go into his neighbor's house and protest how his neighbor lives? This is, in fact, the ultimate irony. The quiet Canadian I met who claimed he had a duty to defend Palestinians against Israel (who furthermore informed me that new "research" has shown that the Jews of today are not ethnically linked to the Jews of the Second Temple and thus have no "right" to Israel) would not break down his neighbor's door and tell his neighbor how to live. In fact the opposite is true in the West, where multiculturalism is held up as a virtue: The Westerner would bring his neighbor some food, take off his shoes at the door, welcome him to the neighborhood, and express interest in his neighbor's culture. If Canadian, European, American and other activists believe they have a duty to fight as hard for the rights of the Palestinians as they do for the rights of their neighbor, they should first consider that under their own logic, Israel and its people are also their neighbors, and they should first take off their shoes and give some respect to Israel, rather then arriving in a foreign land, refusing to have their passports stamped and then going on to join a protest throwing rocks at young men and women doing their national service. In September 1938 the Nazi flag was raised above Cardiff in England after the lord mayor, Cuthbert Purnell, declared that there was a "dawn of peace" in Europe. His ancestors could have participated in the London Jews Society's attempt to convert the Jews and his descendants can today help with the olive harvest on the West Bank in the name of fighting the "apartheid" State of Israel. All under the banner of peace and helping humanity. And in each case the Jews are the victims of whatever fad humanity has decided to embrace. Good fences make good neighbors and foreign activists whether in Israel or elsewhere have not made good neighbors. Nor have their standards been the same for Jews and others. The writer is a doctoral student at the Hebrew University.