Analysis

The prejudice and double standards of Israel's critics

Asher Susser

Israel is a country locked in conflict with some of its neighbours. It is not the epitome of evil on earth.

Israel is not above the law and not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. Israel’s blockade of Gaza, together with Egypt, it should be recalled (though Egypt is never condemned in this regard), is probably not the wisest policy ever implemented by Israel. After the international outcry over the flotilla to Gaza that was poorly handled by the Israelis, and with tragic consequences, it is high time this policy was reviewed.

The issue, however, is not this or some other specific Israeli policy, but Israel-bashing, or the prejudicial way in which Israel is usually treated by the international community and the world media. Prejudice is recognised by its three constituent practices: it singles out the subject; it then applies a double standard; and, of course, the subject is always guilty. Israel is indeed singled out for special treatment and the double standard is also reflected in a specific vocabulary that is applied only to Israel.

The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Israel’s behavior in the flotilla incident and called for the formation of an international commission of inquiry. Surely the order should have been the reverse, an inquiry first and condemnation later, if and when justified by the investigation. The resolution was so obviously biased that the US and other democratic nations either voted against it or abstained. Since 2006 this council has adopted 40 condemnations of countries, of which 33 have focused on Israel. This is perverse. Israel is a country locked in conflict with some of its neighbours. It is not the epitome of evil on earth.

There was much international outrage because of the flotilla incident. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary General, condemned the violence and said that it was “vital that there is a full investigation” and Israel, he said, “must urgently provide a full explanation”. Oddly enough no similar international outrage and demand for explanations was recently evident in reference to other even more tragic events: not when Iran again hanged political dissidents, bringing the total to nearly 300 since early 2009; nor when the North Koreans sunk a South Korean ship killing 46 seamen; nor when attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore killed at least 93 worshipers. International outrage is awfully selective.

The recall of South Africa’s ambassador to Israel is typical of this double standard. As more information becomes available on the flotilla it is pretty obvious to any fair minded person that the Turks, and certainly the men on the ship who attacked the Israeli commandos, bear no small measure of responsibility for the tragic outcome. But South Africa could not wait to be bothered by all the facts and has already made its judgement. South Africa took no similar action after the genocide in Darfur, the repeated killing of tens of protesters and the hangings of dissidents in Iran, the horrendous human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and many other instances infinitely worse than the flotilla incident.

As a rule and long before the recent events, just about every Israeli act of self defence has been criminalised. When Israel targeted operatives responsible for the dispatch of suicide bombers or for the rocketing of Israeli civilians, it was frequently condemned for what was described as extra-judicial killing, assassination or murder, as if this kind of warfare was a judicial proceeding and Israel was operating against innocents. The US currently carries out identical operations against its enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but these are charitably described by the media as drone operations.

After the suicide bombings in Israel at the beginning of this decade Israel built a security barrier which its detractors like to call the “apartheid wall”. That, of course, is to suggest that the barrier was constructed for racist reasons. The barrier/fence/wall was erected after hundreds of Israelis had been slaughtered in the restaurants and the buses by suicide bombers. Since its construction Israelis are safe, at least from the ravages of the bombers. Referring to the barrier as if it were a racist exercise ignores Israeli losses as if Israeli lives were no more than human dust.

Placing the barrier in a context of racial discrimination removes it entirely from its real context of conflict, completely dehumanising the Israelis in the process. Many states, some of which are great democracies, have fences and walls along their borders. None are condemned for apartheid. Walls separate the communities in Northern Ireland, but there they are called “peace walls”. Some say the apartheid charge is levelled against Israel because the barrier protrudes in certain areas into the West Bank. That is true, and is a real problem, but what does that have to do with apartheid?

After eight years of rocketry on its civilian population Israel went to war against Hamas in Gaza. In such a densely populated battle zone, when enemy operatives are embedded among civilians, as the US and its Nato allies in Iraq and Afghanistan know only too well, the unfortunate loss of civilian lives is unavoidable. Israel, like the US and its allies, surely made mistakes and errors of judgement in the heat of battle. But only the Israelis face international commissions of inquiry and charges of war crimes, even though the civilian losses in both Iraq and Afghanistan have continued over a longer period of time and are far higher than in Gaza.

As aforesaid, Israel is not above the law, but the law should not apply only to Israel. The law should apply to Israel just as it applies to all other countries. Instead of demonisation, criminalisation and dehumanisation Israel should be judged just like everybody else. The jurisprudence of democracies upholds the principles of equality before the law and innocence until proven guilty. Israel should enjoy these rights too rather than constantly having to face selective prosecution.

  • Professor Asher Susser is a Senior Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University and is presently a Visiting Professor at Brandeis University in the United States

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