Explaining the Israel-bashers: Ignorance, the failure to imagine, and anti-Semitism

Having been involved in debates about Israel since the days of the Second Intifada over a decade ago, I really shouldn’t still be surprised by the hate-filled, foaming-at-the-mouth reaction of seemingly intelligent and thoughtful people to Israeli military operations.

A couple of illustrative examples from the past couple of weeks:

  1. An old school friend from the UK posts on Facebook an article reporting that the UN is considering sanctioning Israel for war crimes. It’s clear he approves. I write a very polite rejoinder giving my perspective as an Israeli citizen who, the night before, had to take my two-year old daughter out of bed and scurry down with her to the bomb shelter as a siren shrieked overhead. His response was a far less polite rant that included a reference to Israelis as “psycho-killers of children”.
  2. Veteran British news anchor Jon Snow is interviewing Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev about the situation. As the interview progresses it becomes clear that Snow has lost all objectivity and is furious at Regev. By the end he is no longer asking actual questions, but is simply accusing Israel of being cowards and of not caring about the deaths of Palestinian children.

These are indicative of much of the tone of what I’ve read and heard from the anti-Israel (ahem… sorry… “pro-Palestinian”) camp and I want to suggest three possible, overlapping explanations for this.

Before I do, I will say that some of those slamming Israel are at least starting with noble intentions. I daresay that if I had no personal attachment to Israel, and I was constantly exposed to images of dead and injured Palestinian children, I’d also be looking to go after who was responsible. I would put two and two together, and I might very possibly also get five; blaming Israel rather than Hamas. (As it is, I have nothing but contempt for anyone on “my side” of the debate who genuinely doesn’t care that Palestinian civilians are getting killed.)

My first explanation then is the simplest: Ignorance.

The average person seeing those terrible pictures and reading the news reports probably doesn’t know the following:

  1. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the infrastructure was there for the Palestinian population to genuinely prosper, and there were generous offers of aid to assist in developing what was the first independent Palestinian Arab territory in history. Those enviable circumstances were criminally squandered by Hamas who won elections in 2006 and took over the Strip by force in 2007, building an oppressive Islamic mini-state with the terrorizing of Israel as its raison d’etre.
  2. To that end, Gaza became a huge launching-pad for rockets against Israelis civilians. Israel’s blockade of Gaza, closing its crossings into the Strip to all but food and humanitarian and medical supplies, was a response to the rockets. People tend to believe the exact opposite, that rockets were a response to the blockade.
  3. Despite Hamas’s ostensible desperation to lift the blockade, they have had the power to do so since 2006 when it was first imposed. Israel’s conditions for lifting the blockade – supported at the time by the ‘Quartet’ of the US, the EU, the UN and Russia – were that Hamas abandon terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist and sign up to the accords already agreed between Israel and the PLO. Hamas still rejects each one of these demands.

Martin Luther King warned against “sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”. There’s an awful lot of that coming from many of Israel’s critics. What’s inexcusable though is the refusal to revisit their assumptions even when they discover the truth. Many for example have discovered that Hamas encourages, and sometimes forces, civilians to stay close to rocket launching sites, forcing Israel into a grim choice between harming innocent Palestinians and abandoning its protection of its own citizens. They have now learned that the IDF employs measures not taken by any other army in the world to warn civilians to vacate target areas.

But why let the facts get in the way of one’s self-righteous indignation?

Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in my second explanation, which is best described as “a failure of imagination”.

It has been 70 years since Europe was pushed to the brink of the abyss by a fanatical ideology, willing to slaughter as many innocent people as required in pursuit of its aims. Today’s Europeans, and many other Westerners, simply cannot imagine a worldview so entirely different from their own with regard to the sanctity of human life and the basic tenet that all human beings should have equal rights. They cannot fathom a regime that would deliberately place its own people in the line of fire as a military tactic. They cannot comprehend a belief system that indoctrinates children to blow themselves up as a method of mass-murdering its opponents.

This failure of imagination has led to the calls that Israel negotiate with Hamas. Forget that Hamas’s very clearly stated aim is the destruction of Israel and the death of as many Jews as possible. Never mind that every short-term “truce” with Hamas has simply been a time-out for it to rearm and strengthen ahead of the next round.

My final suggestion for why Israel receives such disproportionate and hateful condemnation from its critics is, at the same time, the most obvious and the most controversial: Anti-Semitism.

Having mentioned the ‘A’-word in the context of Israel-bashing I now of course have to knock down that old straw man: No, obviously criticism of Israel is not intrinsically anti-Semitic. (How many of the pro-Israel camp actually say that it is?) But you would have to be setting an impossibly high threshold for anti-Semitism if you didn’t see the oldest of hatreds in the anti-Israel demonstration in Paris which culminated in French Muslims screaming “death to the Jews” outside a synagogue.

British anti-Semites are – of course! – much more refined than their Gallic cousins. At their rally for “A Free Palestine” (as if Gazans are “free” living under Hamas) they merely called for the end of the Jewish state and held up banners equating Israel with Nazi Germany – that subtlest of anti-Semitic tropes: the Jews transmogrified into their own torturers, visiting genocide on another people.

And then there’s the double standard. As the British political commentator Douglas Murray wrote in his account of the London protest:

“These are the people who stayed at home throughout the Syrian civil war, stayed at home when ISIS rampaged across Iraq, stayed at home when Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab carried out their atrocities across central Africa and showed no concern whatsoever when the Muslim Brotherhood was running Egypt into the ground. Yet they pretend to care about Muslims.”

Indeed. And they should be asked why only Israel deserves such an en masse outpouring of vitriol when so many countries have routinely committed atrocities that dwarf anything Israel could possibly have done on its worst days. Perhaps some of them would have the honesty to acknowledge that they were singling out the world’s only Jewish state for demonization, and that that prejudice has a name.

Israel has certainly made mistakes and done things that I as an Israeli am not proud of, and I am not shy about criticizing my government. But though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, this current manifestation in Gaza is actually a pretty straightforward case of a terror organization with a genocidal agenda attacking the civilians of a democratic state that has no option but to fight back. Too many of Israel’s critics are turning this reality on its head. They are, at best, apologists for the fascism of today, while the worst cases have sunk so far into the swamp of Jew-hatred that Hamas would welcome them as fellow travelers.

About the Author
Before moving to Israel from the UK, Paul worked at the Embassy of Israel to the UK in the Public Affairs department, and as the Ambassador's speechwriter. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Politics from the University of London. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem - though he writes this blog in a personal capacity. He has lectured to a variety of groups on Israeli history and politics and his articles have been published in a variety of media outlets in Israel, the UK, the US and Canada.
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