The macabre prepossession of the international community with the “problem” of Israel is now so widespread that it has become like a cultural neurosis or even a fact of nature, that is, something that is habitual, taken for granted and rarely questioned. One drinks it in with the morning coffee, if not with one’s mother’s milk. It is treated as the central issue in the geopolitical world beside which every other consideration fades into comparative insignificance.
The People’s Republic of China has overrun Tibet, resettled it with its own citizens and imposed autocratic rule? Not on the radar. Zimbabwe has forcefully dispossessed its white farmers and mercilessly persecuted its own people? Of no account. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptian Copts are fleeing the country to avoid killings, rapes, church burnings and forced conversions? A mere bagatelle. Islamist and Salafist factions are emerging in Egypt in the wake of the much-touted “Arab Spring,” promising renewed violence whether in Helwan, Imbaba, Tahrir Square or Alexandria? A tepid reproof by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and so on to other things, mainly Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood is making inroads into the Islamic world and promulgating Sharia law in the West? Of little interest. Iran is brutally suppressing its own population and Syria is indiscriminately slaughtering its people? No flotillas. Russia is systematically murdering and imprisoning investigative journalists? It’s an internal Russian matter. Reports indicate that Venezuela and Cuba may construct missile emplacements targeting the U.S.? Forget about it. Libyan rebels are massacring black Africans? Nothing to worry about. Sudan is conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur? It doesn’t register. Somalia is imploding owing to the bombings and depredations of the al-Shabaab terrorist network? Not our problem. Pakistan-sponsored terrorists wreak havoc in India? It merits a passing headline and is then dismissed. The Taliban is again turning Afghanistan into a killing field? Unfortunate, but there it is. Turkey refuses to acknowledge and apologize for the Armenian genocide it carried out? Well, that was long ago.
But when it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian nexus, the focus is unswerving. The UN debates the issue endlessly and propagates one denunciation of the Jewish state after another. The EU and the U.S. are fixated on a resolution to what they appear to consider a planetary imbroglio. Something called the “Quartet,” which has been aptly called a “chorus of jackals,” has been concocted to deal with the matter to the exclusion of far more pressing concerns. The media are pitching in with obscene insistence. NGOs, churches and labor unions have exceeded their mandates and competencies in engaging with a Levantine quarrel. And public opinion, especially in Europe, has been galvanized by what is in essence a parochial dispute and really none of its business.
The media and the political class are especially culpable. As James Fallows argues in Breaking the News, the media are busy practicing what is called predictive journalism and engaging in professional spin, disguising editorial opinion as impartial news coverage and thus adding political prejudice to the ostensibly neutral transmission of facts. The political class is given to what Michael Freund has dubbed “selective provocation syndrome,” that is, “when one deems Israel’s actions to be provocative while ignoring similar moves by the Palestinians.” The Palestinians, he points out, are building thirteen times the number of dwellings in Samaria and Judea as are being built by Jews, in order to establish facts on the ground in the disputed territories. “So why,” he asks, “is this too not regarded as a ‘provocation’ that undermines peace efforts?” And replies: “I guess not all ‘provocations’ are considered equal.”
Clearly, the debate is intensively weighted on the side of the Palestinians, which means that the Israelis are regularly condemned for defending themselves, for acting in accordance with historical and legal principles, and for their reluctance to sign away legitimate territory and, in effect, to jeopardize their very survival. There is little recognition of the fact that Israel has constantly signaled its willingness to embark upon realistic negotiations. As Barry Rubin writes, “So if the world isn’t going to listen to Israel’s proposals, won’t credit its eagerness to negotiate and won’t accept plans that also include Israel getting something for its troubles, there is no way Israel is ever going to satisfy it.”
The situation is frankly preposterous and provokes two salient questions: why such an unrelenting convergence of interest on this tiny slice of the world’s geography, so scarce in natural resources and constantly threatened with destruction, called Israel?; and in the context of consensual advocacy, why Palestine?
The world remains focused on Israel because Israel is a Jewish state, the Jewish family on the international block, a distinctive presence which activates the latent—as well as the manifest—content of a malingering and inexcisable anti-Semitism. For this is anti-Semitism pure and simple and it would be disingenuous to try and mitigate the truth by seeking for nuanced and textured evasions intended to downplay mankind’s longest hatred. Jews, the feeling goes, do not deserve their own state. They presumably form a collection of wandering tribes and disruptive social interlopers, justly scattered among the nations and deserving of marginalization, a historical “fossil” according to the celebrated historian Arnold Toynbee and, according to the anti-Zionist delator Tony Judt, an “anachronism.” But such pronouncements and convictions are merely an attempt to launder one’s irrational bigotries or dissemble one’s innate aversions. The current situation makes this blatantly evident. The name of the game is Judeophobia.
For the disproportion between the world’s response to a healthy, robust, legitimate and embattled democratic state the size of New Jersey and the vast cesspools of tyranny, oppression, insurgence, violence and depredation that litter the globe is incommensurable. With only occasional exceptions, the world trains its gaze almost exclusively on Israel. “One wonders,” writes Matthew Hausman, “how they can be so consumed with Israel’s alleged indiscretions and yet ignore the totalitarian and theocratic tendencies of the nations comprising the Arab-Muslim world.” Good question.
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