Screenshot 2015-04-29 02.55.03

Source: CNN

Like many, I was cheered by the news that aid for victims of the tragic earthquake in Nepal was quick in coming from many quarters, including Israel.

But as the saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished,” so I was not surprised to see that the opponents of Israel’s existence were soon out in force denouncing the aid effort on social media. For them, it could be nothing but a blatant attempt to cover up Israel’s horrendous crimes.

Propaganda . . . to improve Israel’s blood-soaked image

Max Blumenthal tweeted (somewhat opaquely), “For a country responsible for so many man-made catastrophes, natural disasters can’t come often enough”

And from Ali Abunimah: “Propaganda operation goes into high gear to exploit Nepal earthquake to improve Israel’s blood-soaked image”

(I won’t even bother to cite the many similar or cruder utterances by their minions and epigones.)

a . . . disturbing attempt to brand literally every socially progressive policy or humanitarian action of Israel as its moral opposite

Ridiculous as these pronouncements are, they are nonetheless part of a larger and equally disturbing attempt to brand literally every socially progressive policy or humanitarian action of Israel as its moral opposite.

The notion of “greenwashing,” derived from the traditional “whitewashing,” arose as a laudable attempt to call attention to the hypocrisy of large corporations that loudly publicized some purportedly earth-friendly action or product even as the profile of their overall activity was overwhelmingly deleterious to the environment.

In recent years, however, anti-Israel activists appropriated the meme and applied it across the board to any praiseworthy policy of the Jewish state. A crucial difference is that, in the original case, there was an intimate relation between the touted activity and the corporation’s actual impact—and in a single field. Here, by contrast, every action is construed as a deliberate attempt to distract attention from a single and entirely unrelated issue, namely the situation of the Palestinians under occupation.

Israeli policies advancing the interests of the environment and sustainability are thus condemned as “greenwashing apartheid” or an exercise in “environmental colonialism and eco-apartheid.” (Sometimes, it seems, the generic slur is just not subtle enough.)

The fact that Israel, alone in the Middle East, guarantees an extensive range of rights to its gay citizens is transformed into a new sort of vice: the virtue that dare not speak its name.

Even the New York Times provided a platform for the charge of “pinkwashing,” which, as several gay-rights advocates pointed out, reflected a peculiar lapse of logic as well as judgment. (1, 2)

It was not as obvious what color to use in condemning Israel’s worldwide humanitarian relief efforts, from Haiti to Japan, its advances in science, or sundry policies and inventions that benefit others around the globe. The activists thus appropriated another preexisting term, “bluewashing” (I suppose “blue-and-white-washing” sounded too awkward and unsubtle even for this tone-deaf crew.)

Among the ironies that go unmentioned: one reason that Israel is a leader in providing aid to victims of natural disasters is because it has the advantage—as well as misfortune—of decades of medical experience: the types of crush injuries caused by collapsing buildings are the same whether the cause is an earthquake or a terrorist bombing.

It is however a leaping non sequitur to go from the realization that nations seek to burnish their image to the accusation that absolutely everything a nation does is for cynical reasons of propaganda

Now, as a historian, I like to think that I have a coolly rational and sober understanding of how the world works, without naiveté or illusion. (Edward Gibbon, after all, famously characterized history as “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.”) Of course nations act out of self-interest as well as altruism. Anyone who finds this surprising or disturbing really has no business commenting on public affairs. In fact, we individuals are not so different: we give to charities because we approve of the good works that they do, but the fact that our donations earn us a deduction on our US income tax is a nice incentive, too.

It is however a leaping non sequitur to go from the realization that nations seek to burnish their image to the accusation that absolutely everything a nation does is for cynical reasons of propaganda and as part of a systematic—even conspiratorial—attempt to conceal vast crimes. All the more so, when this accusation is leveled repeatedly and obsessively against only one country.

No person in his or her right mind would argue that Israel’s positive achievements in one area should immunize it against criticism of its treatment of the Palestinians, or any other failing. Yet the purveyors of the “washing” charge seem to think Israel is so retrograde and so deranged as to believe precisely this.

One is accustomed to this sort of nonsense from the likes of Blumenthal—whose screed on Israel even a critic for the left-leaning Nation said could have been a Hamas Book-of-the-Month-Club selection and who has been banned from the German Parliament because of his anti-Israel antics, or from Abunimah, who, even while disingenuously presenting his one-state solution as some sort of pluralistic utopia, regularly trucks in antisemitic memes.

However, I was shocked—but not surprised (as I like to say)—to see otherwise “respectable” parties joining in, notably: Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch. He promptly and helpfully tweeted, “Easier to address a far-away humanitarian disaster than the nearby one of Israel’s making in Gaza. End the blockade!”

Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

Without getting into the details of just who is responsible for which suffering in Gaza, suffice it to say that remarks such as this certainly do not convey the gravitas or “high standards of accuracy and fairness,” “multiple perspectives,” and “in- depth, analytic understanding of events” that this once-respected organization claims for itself.

Would Ken Roth have so sneeringly denounced the $10 million in US aid to Nepal as an attempt to distract attention from—what: Ferguson? Guantanamo? drone strikes? That line of argumentation (if one can dignify it with that noun) would have been too preposterous to take seriously. So why do we tolerate it in the case of Israel?

The most appropriate response is the withering one that U.S. Army Counsel Joseph Welch gave to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the anti-communist witch hunt in 1954:

Until this moment . . . I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. . . .

Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

We have now reached the deplorable point at which Israel can get literally no credit for any good that it does in the world.

We have now reached the deplorable point at which Israel can get literally no credit for any good that it does in the world. Even leaving aside the sheer cynicism and inhumanity of such a view, we should pause to ponder the practical consequences.

At least some of those who proffer these charges claim they do so in order to bring about a change in Israel’s behavior. Taking them at their word, we may legitimately ask: will Israel, finding that even its most admirable actions are condemned out of hand, be more or less willing to make the difficult compromises needed for peace? And if and when peace comes, will those who have pumped out or breathed in these toxic charges for years really be able to shed their condemnatory views and accept Israel as a normal nation and partner? There is such a thing as unintended consequences. Of course, for some, these consequences may be precisely the ones intended.

One has to ask, who is being more cynically exploitative here

One has to ask, who is being more cynically exploitative here: Israel, which is sending aid to the stricken—or her enemies, who sit on the sidelines and sneer?

More than five thousand people are dead. Eight million—including one million children–are in dire need. Can we not agree that the need for action is sacrosanct and that all action that helps to end the suffering is intrinsically good?

There will be plenty of time for the old arguments later.