Britons loathe Israel more than any other country in the world save for North Korea according to a survey conducted by the British think tank the Royal Institute of International Affairs. The survey was taken in August at the height of the most recent conflict with Gaza. In addition the 2014 BBC World Service country poll ranked Israel as the 4th least popular country. In that poll Israel was ranked as having an influence in the world that was mainly negative, better only than Pakistan, North Korea and Iran.
The question Zionists and Israelis have been asking themselves is why?
The Middle East in turmoil, hundreds of thousands dead in what was once Syria and Iraq, millions of refugees in the Middle East alone, blood letting by the Boko Haram in Nigeria and a world where more people live without the benefit of democracy why is a country that is the bastion of Western liberal democratic values so hated by the citizens of the very countries it has most in common with?
For anyone in any doubt as to just how much people dislike Israel, last Summer 50,000 people took to the streets to demonstrate against Israel in London alone. This was hardly an exception, across Europe demonstrations numbering in the thousands of people marched with demands ranging from calling on Israel not to attack Gaza, to withdrawing from the West Bank to a whole range of other measures. Israel is regarded in such an appalling light that even the killing of Israeli soldiers is seen as cause for celebration. The most recent example of this was in a meeting jointly organised by the Palestine Society and the Feminist Society at the prestigious London School of Economics. On Holocaust Memorial Day one Rana Baker said that female suicide bomber in Lebanon deserved “a standing ovation”.
In fact one doesn’t have to look far to find examples where the Israeli Palestinian conflict has been conflated with anti-Semitism. From the killing of Jews in Paris to demonstrations against Israel the crossover is clear for all to see. The BBC presenter Tim Willcox is currently being investigated by the BBC for comments he made to a daughter of Holocaust survivors in Paris. In response to her comments about anti-Semitism in Paris, he said “Palestinians are suffering hugely at Jewish hands.”
Sky News found it appropriate to show images of the Israeli attack on Gaza while interviewing the UK Chief Rabbi on Holocaust Memorial Day and even question him at such a time about Israeli policies.
The former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman has stated emphatically that his time working for the international press has convinced him that the story is Israel is the root of all evil and will be portrayed as such. This to the detriment of news stories about the Palestinians that would change the framework within which the Israel Palestine conflict is viewed around the world. There is no doubt that people depend upon the news they see online and on television to educate them about what happens around the world, if media is skewed inevitably the understanding of the people watching will be similarly skewed.
But is that the only reason? Is it a media conspiracy to portray Israel in a consistently negative light that is responsible for Israel being so unpopular?
The media doesn’t report in a vacuum. Perhaps the Israeli occupation of Palestinians and the long, drawn out peace process is also to blame. Every visitor to the Palestinian territories, every journalist, aid worker, UN staff member, pilgrim and tourist goes through Israeli checkpoints, sees the effect of military occupation with their own eyes and there can be no doubt that it has an affect on them. In such a context these people become deaf and blind to Israeli concerns for security, they find it difficult to see any argument explaining Israeli settlements. To maintain the occupation, in full view of a Western world that wants it to end, is to court the very unpopularity Israelis are at pains to understand.
Israel isn’t the only country in the world occupying others. In fact the very citizens of the European countries criticising Israel so harshly are occupying other countries around the world including, up until recently, Iraq and Afghanistan. Those counties have seen tens of thousands of their citizens killed in the upheaval caused by Western invasions. More people were killed in these occupations and the spiralling wars than were killed in the entire Israeli Arab conflict. Despite this, criticism of Israel continues at a greater level than ever.
So is it just the occupation?
Well no. Turkey occupies Northern Cyprus and invades Iraqi territory regularly as well as persecuting the Kurds and no one says a word. It’s worth remembering that Israeli failure to convince Europeans that they are a positive force in the world is a Palestinian success. Whereas Israeli is working to look good in Europe so Palestinians are working to ensure Israel looks bad. Palestinian terror in Europe captivated the world in the 1970s and put a face on the Palestinian nation. The Soviet sponsored terrorists were often feted as heroes in left wing European circles. They still are. The Palestinian tactics have changed from acts of terror on European soil to touring universities but the strategy is the same and they are successful at it; damn Israel, remain the underdog.
Palestinian speakers tour around Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States, they talk about the occupation they live under and strike a nerve among Western, liberal students. They speak in terms of human rights, colonialism and democratic values. Pro-Israel societies are constantly playing catchup when it comes to dealing with them. The reason being that Palestinians have no country to run. Any pointing to their own human rights records, their own lack of democracy, their failings when it comes to creating liberal institutions will be consistently and effectively repudiated by the simple argument that they have no country to rule, no area to govern.
The tactic is effective but only in as far as it allows them to win an argument. The larger aim of creating national self determination for the Palestinian people is lost in the tactic. Israelis aren’t blind to this and it makes us even less likely to believe they will negotiate in good faith. This ultimately ensures that Palestinians won’t attain statehood and Israel is doomed to become less and less popular as time goes on for lack of a solution.
The United States and United Kingdom have the option of simply removing themselves from whatever conflict they have gotten themselves entangled in. Once the latest military entanglement becomes too unpopular the politicians will simply withdraw the army. Israel simply doesn’t have the luxury of quietly declaring mission accomplished in the West Bank and withdrawing all forces. Unlike when the USA left Vietnam, the West Bank will follow Israelis into Israel proper. This leaves Israel little choice but to swallow the continued misery of an appalling image among the very people it has most in common with. The liberal democracies of the West should be, are, Israel’s natural allies, far more so than the whispers of alliances with Saudi Arabia or the cold peace made with Egypt. Yet any affinity is going to be lost in the quagmire of an occupation Israel doesn’t have the luxury of arbitrarily ending.
Furthermore there are no guarantees that in the wake of the end of the occupation of the West Bank the media would become more objective in its view of the Jewish state. Just as there are no guarantees Israel would reap the rewards of greater security nor that anyone in Europe would be better disposed towards Israel than they are now. In short it’s difficult for Israelis to see the point of negotiating a deal that sees them give up land for promises.
Furthermore when it comes to the argument that Israel is singled out because of anti-Semitism it is worth remembering that not everyone who hates Israel hates Jews but everyone who hates Jews hates Israel. This goes a long way towards explaining why hatred of Israel can be found in ideologies ranging from Communism to Islamism to Fascism to Nazism. Ideologies with nothing in common, save their desire to create a utopia and their agreement that Israel cannot play a part in it.