In defence of ‘whataboutery”

Israel’s recent military response to Palestinian riots at its Gaza border have captured the world’s attention— with the media running daily updates and analyses, and passing judgement on both nation’s actions.

Many are those whose verdict have been that Israel responded with disproportionate force, whose military response created needless fatalities. This criticism has primarily been countered in two ways.

Many have pointed out that it was Hamas and the Palestinian people who— by choosing brutishly and with murderous intent to threaten both Israel’s sovereignty and the lives of its citizens who reside close to its border— placed such a fate upon themselves, forcibly leaving Israel with no choice other than to react militarily.

There is a second defence— in addition to the first one just mentioned— that both commentators and laymen alike have also mentioned in defence of Israel’s actions.

They have cited brutal regimes around the Middle East and the globe who are currently slaughtering thousands if not hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and exerted strongly to those that point accusingly towards Israel to instead focus their condemnations on these other countries, being far more suited recipients of both human rights activism and denunciations. It is this second response in support of Israel that I wish to clarify here.

This second approach is often labelled as “whataboutery” and instantly discarded. It is claimed that such a defence of Israel is merely an attempt to deflect genuine, valid criticism and distract those justified campaigners of human rights to ignore the abuses that Israel commit. If there is something morally wrong with Israel’s measures than is there not an obligation to cry out against them, irrespective of other issues around the globe?

Yet this answer is in fact a misunderstanding of “whataboutery’s” true and intended argument. Pointing at conflicts and wars far larger in both scale and brutality than the Israel-Palestine one is not a fickle attempt at making people look away from the Israel-Palestine conflict, rather it is a way of asking them the all-important question of: “why are you even looking at this conflict in the first place?

There is a glaring question that lurks behind the headlines and news-stories of the world’s press that have been devoted to this recent clash, and indeed to the entire Israel saga from its very beginning. Why such large, continuous coverage of such a small state? Why devote so many articles, spill so much ink, on a country and such a low-intensity, low-fatality conflict, esspecially when compared to the stomach-churning massacres of Syria and the extreme human rights violations of China, North Korea and a whole slew of both Arab and African countries?

The overwhelming attention and scrutiny that Israel receives is most certainly peculiar, and demands questioning. Perhaps it is fuelled by the world’s fascination, maybe even mythic fixation with the Jewish People, or, more sinisterly, by anti-Semitism. Other, more favourable answers have been given justifying the world’s very real, disproportionate obsession towards Israel.

What these defenders of Israel really want to know is do you possess any undisclosed motives or biases? This valid question may reveal some important, unpleasant truths as to what the real opinions and intentions of many of those who vigorously protest against the Jewish state’s actions are. That latent in the accusations of many could lie something altogether different and far darker, which may in fact put into to question the validity of the charges themselves.


About the Author
I am a first year university student at UCL studying Hebrew and Jewish Studies.
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