Israel and Gaza: a ‘guide to the confused’
Let us not kid ourselves: the expressions of hatred against Israel seen in the past few weeks are nothing but outbursts of anti-Jewish prejudice, which found in the Gaza conflict both opportunity to manifest and convenient cover. I am not talking only about the shouts of ‘Jews to the gas’ heard at ‘humanitarian protests’ in France and Germany; or about the smashing of synagogue windows in Belfast; or about the verbal abuse and threats against yarmulke-wearing Jews on the streets of London. No, I am also referring to the one-sided media coverage and the venom-laced words of some ‘journalists’ and politicians; all of which have become essential components of a self-sustaining vicious spiral of hatred. I am also talking about the general atmosphere of mass hysteria which so resembles the beginnings of a pogrom.
There are various levels of anti-Jewish prejudice: from the subliminal and very rarely externalised distaste to the overt, militant Judeophobia; from the concealed tendency to judge harsher anything Jewish, to berserk, murderous rage; and all the shades in-between.
We have seen all these unmistakable manifestations; we have also heard the usual attempts at denial: ‘it’s anti-Zionism, not anti-Semitism’, ‘it’s against Israel, not against the Jews’, etc., etc. Prejudice makes people so oblivious – some just can’t understand that ‘anti-Zionism’ is inherently anti-Semitic, because it denies Jews a right awarded all other peoples: that of national self-determination; that Jerusalem and the Land of Israel are woven into the Jewish religion and secular culture even more tightly than Mecca and Medina are into the Islamic religion and culture; that, wherever they live, the vast majority of Jews perceive Israel not just as a place their relatives live in, but also as the embodiment of their national aspirations, the torch-bearer and safe-keeper of their distinct, ancestral culture.
European Jews listen in disbelief to those denials: they don’t just sound false, they are fundamentally absurd. Hence the reaction, which ranges from deep concern and unease – to decisions to make aliya. A record number of 5,000 French Jews will immigrate to Israel this year, despite the war and daily rockets; the others are busy organising themselves for self-defence.
Let us not, however, paint everything with the same brush: while a large proportion of the ‘pro-Palestinian’ mob harbours various levels of anti-Jewish prejudice, there may be people who join-in out of misconstrued good intentions, duped by groupthink or brainwashed by the media offensive. To these people we owe an opportunity to learn the facts; a chance to change their mind before they become accomplices to this modern version of pogrom. The following brief, structured as a Q & A session, is meant for them.
Question: why did Israel attack Gaza?
Answer: Israel didn’t. The previous ceasefire, achieved on 21 November 2012, held after a fashion until the second half of June 2014. ‘After a fashion’ meaning that ‘only’ 70 rockets and mortar bombs were launched from Gaza in 2013 and 132 in January-May 2014. But 65 rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza in June 2014 alone. This bombardment intensified in the first week of July. Israel started Operation Protective Edge on July 8, initially with air strikes targeting Hamas objectives. It did so because the intensity of rocket attacks could no longer be tolerated.
Q: But it wasn’t Hamas. The rockets were launched by other Palestinian factions.
A: Hamas is the de-facto government of Gaza. They control by far the largest and best armed militia in the territory and have demonstrated that are capable to stop other factions from firing, when they perceive that as being in their own interest. In any case, Hamas has admitted that rockets fired on July 7 had been launched by its own ‘fighters’.
Q: But Israel has provoked Hamas by arresting scores of Hamas members in the West Bank.
A: There was no provocation. On 12 June 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank. In an effort to find them, Israeli security forces did what many police forces do, even in less compelling circumstances: it rounded up the usual suspects. Such ‘usual suspects’ naturally included Hamas militants, since Hamas has consistently called for kidnapping Israelis.
Q: But the Israelis knew that the youngsters had already been killed; there were sounds of gun fire after one of them called the police. It was recorded, I heard the tape. And the Israelis found the car with blood in it. So those arrests were just collective punishment against the Palestinians.
A: Not true. There was no proof that the youngsters (all of them or any of them) were dead. They could have been wounded; the whole thing (gun fire, blood, etc.) could have been staged by the kidnappers as a means to divert the search and allow them time to get away. If your child had been among the three, how would you have felt? Should the police have called off the search? Should it not done everything in its power to find the boys?
Q: In any case, Hamas did not order the kidnapping. I read somewhere that this was a lone cell, a rogue clan who did not follow instructions from Hamas’s leadership, but acted on their own. Israel knew that, but Netanyahu still blamed it on Hamas.
A: That ‘Hamas did not order it’ was an unproven supposition. Hamas leadership denied involvement, but also congratulated the perpetrators and called them ‘heroes’. Like Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations, Hamas in the West Bank consists of cells that are not necessarily in permanent contact with the central leadership. They do not necessarily receive specific orders for each and every ‘operation’, but rather general instructions. For years now, Hamas leaders have called on their operatives to kidnap Israelis. Update: as this article was being published Hamas ‘political’ leader Khaled Meshaal has admitted, in an interview with Yahoo News, that it was Hamas operatives that kidnapped and murdered the Israeli teenagers. He claimed that
We [the Hamas ‘political’ leadership] were not aware of this action taken by this group of Hamas members in advance […] We learned about these confessions from the Israeli investigation…
I.e. the investigation and confessions of Hamas members arrested by Israel in the West Bank (the same arrests Palestinian Authority called ‘collective punishment’ and Hamas indicated as ‘provocation’).
In the same interview, Meshaal also condoned the killing of the Israeli teenagers and justified it in the name of the Palestinian ‘right to resist’.
Q: Well, Hamas wants to kidnap Israelis in order to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners, who languish in prison for decades, often for throwing stones at soldiers.
A: That’s just cheap propaganda. While Palestinians throwing stones may go to prison for a few months or a year (as they would if they threw stones at the police in any democratic country), the ones that are in prison for decades had killed or attempted to kill people. There are still IRA terrorists in British prisons. How would you feel towards an organisation that would advocate kidnapping YOUR kids so that they can be exchanged for convicted criminals?
Q: Israelis have also kidnapped and killed a Palestinian boy…
A: That is, unfortunately, true. But Israel’s leaders have never called for revenge against innocents; when the Palestinian boy was found dead, they condemned the act with disgust, in unequivocal terms. Israel’s police has found and apprehended the perpetrators, who will face trial for their crime.
Q: Maybe Hamas started all this. But because of the Israeli siege, the situation was becoming unbearable for the population in Gaza. Hamas acted out of desperation.
A: Anti-Israel propagandists misuse the term ‘siege’. A siege is meant to conquer a fortress or territory. Israeli military and civilians left Gaza in 2005 and Israel has no wish to re- conquer it. Israel’s control of its borders with Gaza and of Gaza’s maritime traffic is neither a ‘siege’ nor ‘occupation’; it is defined in international law as a ‘blockade’ – a legal war tactic. Its purpose is to limit the ability of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc. to smuggle in weaponry and materials (such as steel, metal pipes, chemicals, cement) which can be used to produce weapons, build fortifications and other military applications.
The situation in Gaza did recently take a turn for the worse; but not so much for the population – it turned much worse for Hamas. In addition to its conflict with Israel, Hamas fell out with Iran and Syria, because it sided with the Syrian rebels against Iran’s ally Assad. Worst of all from its point of view, the new Egyptian government has little sympathy for Hamas, because of its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood and its past acts against Egypt sovereignty and the Egyptian army in Sinai. Egypt has closed most tunnels at its border with Gaza. This has not only prevented Hamas from further arming, but denied it a major source of money, as Hamas had been taxing goods smuggled through the tunnels.
An additional problem for Hamas was the failure to form a ‘national unity government’ with Palestinian rival organisation PLO. The PLO receives considerable financial aid from the international community – mostly USA and Europe; it receives Palestinian taxes collected by Israel. As a partner in the ‘national unity government’, Hamas had hoped to get a share of the money, in order to pay its employees, who act as ‘civil servants’ in Gaza. But these ‘civil servants’ were appointed by Hamas, after firing many of the previous PLO people. The PLO had no intention to pay for these Hamas ‘civil servants’. Unable to pay its supporters, Hamas feared the resulting loss of popularity, coupled with PLO’s desire to regain control over the Gaza Strip. Hamas hoped that another bout of violence with Israel would boost its popularity and force the PLO to support it.
Q: Even if we accept that Hamas started all this, why did Israel have to respond to the provocation? Hamas may have launched many rockets, but they caused little real damage. Israel could just have ignored it.
A: Actually, 6 Israelis were injured in June as a result of rockets and mortar bombs. Hamas was increasing the number and range of missiles launched every day. While Israel’s Iron Dome rocket interceptor is effective (it destroys 80-90% of the targeted rockets), it is not infallible. Any failed interception means a rocket that can hit a house, a kindergarten, a school or a hospital. To further reduce the risk, in many areas schools are cancelled, families sleep in bomb shelters, factories and offices are idle. The economy is brought to a halt, flights are cancelled, the very fabric of life is torn. No country can simply ‘ignore’ such things; no democratic government can play ‘Russian roulette’ with the lives of its citizens. Either it fulfils its most basic purpose (to deliver security) or it’s replaced with one that will.
Q: Even so, Israel’s response was disproportionate. However bad, Hamas is really very weak. They can only launch those ineffective, primitive rockets, while Israel ‘whacks’ Gaza with all its might, using its sophisticated weaponry.
A: Iranian rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza have reached Haifa – 100 miles away. These rockets are only ‘primitive’ insofar as they are unguided – they can be aimed at a city, but not at a particular building. They are only ‘ineffective’ because Israel has deployed extraordinary means of defence: in addition to the (extremely expensive to build and operate) Iron Dome rocket interception system, it has installed warning sirens, shelters and safety areas built with reinforced concrete. These greatly reduce Israeli casualties, but do not allow normal life to continue.
Israel could, in principle, respond in a like-for-like fashion, e.g. one strike for each Hamas rocket. But such tactic is exactly what Hamas is hoping for. It would allow the terrorist organisation to conduct a war of attrition that would continue for months and perhaps years. Such war would ultimately not result in fewer Palestinian casualties: since Hamas builds no bomb shelters for its population, civilian casualties would continue to be inevitable on the Palestinian side; but they would eventually mount up also on the Israeli side, in addition to causing economic collapse.
Q: But why did Israel also have to mount a ground invasion? This needlessly increased the number of innocent Palestinian victims.
A: Actually, as any military expert will confirm, the opposite is true. From a purely military point of view, it would have been very easy for Israel to carpet bomb Gaza, much like the allied forces did against German cities in World War II, following the launching of V1 and V2 rockets against London. But those bombardments caused hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. By fighting on the ground, Israel has placed its own soldiers in jeopardy (more than 60 were killed and circa 150 wounded, all of them on the ground); but it has minimised Palestinian casualties, compared to the air-bombardment alternative.
Q: The bottom line is that 1,900 Palestinian died, versus less than 70 Israelis. Surely this is disproportionate and therefore illegal.
A: There is nothing in international law that requires ‘proportionality’ of casualties. Many more Germans died in World War II, compared to British losses. War is horrific and should be avoided if at all possible. But when it is unavoidable, any army will try to cause maximum casualties among the opposing combatants, while minimising its own losses. The term ‘proportionality’ in international treaties refers to something completely different. It requires loss of life and injury to civilians to be proportional NOT in relation to the loss of life on the other side, but in relation to the military advantage anticipated.
Q: But that’s precisely the problem. 80% of Palestinian victims were innocent civilians, women and children…
A: That oft-repeated statement is demonstrably false. It is an item of propaganda promoted by Hamas and parroted by lazy and biased journalists.
If ‘80% of Palestinian victims were innocent civilians’, then the laws of statistics would ensure that the demographic composition (age, gender) of the fatalities are similar to those of the general population of Gaza. For the latter, see the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.
A list of Gazan fatalities has been published by Al-Jazeera. It is sourced from a Hamas official, so if anything it is slanted against Israel, not in its favour.
An analysis of the Al-Jazeera/Hamas list shows that 80% of the Gazan fatalities are male, despite the fact that men represent circa 50% of the population. More than 80% are 15 and above, although this age group represents just 56% of Gaza’s population.
The demographic composition of the fatalities is utterly incompatible with the ‘80% innocent civilians’ proposition. In fact, even if we accept the Hamas count as accurate, the large proportion of adult males among the fatalities is inexplicable unless we assume that at least 50% of the victims were in fact combatants. Eliminating those 50% adult males from the count, we are left with a population demographically similar to Gaza’s general population.
Q: But even if 50% of the victims are civilians, that is terrible. It’s criminal!
A: It is indeed horrific. But it’s neither criminal, nor indeed unique. Speaking about asymmetrical warfare, Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, remarked:
The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one. In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia. In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.
In fact, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq or Kosovo presented the degree of difficulty that Gaza presents in terms of avoiding civilian casualties: in addition to the high population density and the proportion of children (50% and more, if we take 18 to be the threshold of adulthood), IDF had to fight an organisation which deliberately uses human shields to protect its personnel, weaponry and installations.
Q: Israel keeps claiming that Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields. But there is no evidence of that, it’s just propaganda.
A: The evidence is massive and irrefutable. Patrick Martin, correspondent for the Canadian Globe and Mail, reports from Gaza, in effect describing what international treaties define as use of human shields and perfidy:
The presence of militant fighters in Shejaia became clear Sunday afternoon when, under the cover of a humanitarian truce intended to allow both sides to remove the dead and wounded, several armed Palestinians scurried from the scene.
Some bore their weapons openly, slung over their shoulder, but at least two, disguised as women, were seen walking off with weapons partly concealed under their robes. Another had his weapon wrapped in a baby blanket and held on his chest as if it were an infant.
The shelling of Shejaia took its toll of the civilian population there. While the Israelis had warned citizens two days earlier to leave, many had refused in large part because Hamas said it expected people to remain.
UN official John Ging (certainly no friend of Israel!) confirmed that Hamas is firing rockets into Israel from the vicinity of UN facilities.
An eyewitness (reporter for a Finnish TV station) reports that she just saw a rocket being fired from the parking lot of the Shifa Hospital.
See here more evidence.
Q: I still don’t understand how come that so many civilians were killed, especially since Israel claims that it warns people in advance, etc. And how do you explain that the Israeli army bombed UN schools, hospitals, etc.? I heard a UN official saying that the coordinates of one of these schools has been transmitted to the Israeli army 33 times. Yet the school was hit. How do you explain that?
A: First of all, let us clearly state a truth which, however horrible, is still the truth: innocent civilians are killed in every armed conflict; unfortunately, nobody has so far invented an infallible method of avoiding civilian casualties.
Civilian casualties can be caused by any of the following:
- ‘Returning fire towards the sources of fire’
This is a standing order in IDF and part of the military doctrine of every army in the world. It means that if a soldier or a unit is attacked, the immediate reaction is to return fire towards the attackers. What does that mean, in Gaza? Imagine you are a tank commander, part of an armoured task force which typically also includes APCs (armoured personnel carriers; these vehicles carry troops in combat areas, but are less well protected and carry lighter weapons, compared to tanks). The tank’s mission is, among other things, to protect the more vulnerable APCs. In Gaza, the greatest danger for APCs are anti-tank missiles manufactured in Iran, Syria and N. Korea, of which Hamas has a large stock. These missiles are designed to penetrate armour; they are built using a technology called ‘hollow charge’. Upon contact with the armour, the charge explodes; if it penetrates the armour, it discharges into the vehicle a jet of high pressure burning gases. Typically, none of the soldiers inside the vehicle survives. On 20/07/2014, in Gaza’s Sajaiyeh neighbourhood, an Israeli APC was hit by a Hamas anti-tank missile. All seven soldiers riding in the vehicle were killed. We know this because of DNA analysis, as the bodies were disintegrated by the blast and could not be identified otherwise. Now imagine that you are the commander of the tank charged with escorting and protecting the APCs. An anti-tank rocket has been fired at the unit; it missed, or failed to penetrate the armour. The ‘return fire’ doctrine requires that you immediately fire one, two or three shells at the position from which the anti-tank missile was fired (as identified, for instance, by the smoke trail, or at night by the light trail. Failing to return fire immediately may allow the enemy time to take aim again and fire a second missile. Any delay might cost the lives of your colleagues. However great your desire to avoid civilian casualties, as the tank commander you do not have the time to check the coordinates of scores of UN schools, hospitals, etc. But what happens if the anti-tank rocket has been fired (as the UN has admitted) from the immediate vicinity of a UN school? The tank’s shells (fired with the intention to hit the enemy) might miss and hit the school; or might kill the enemy (as it happened in the latest such incident), but the shrapnel might also kill innocent bystanders.
In Gaza, return fire is the biggest source of civilian casualties; this is why it is so important for the UN not just to make known the coordinates of the school, but also to make sure that no military activities are perpetrated from the vicinity of those UN facilities (for instance, by fencing the area around the facility and allowing only unarmed civilians within the enclosure).
- Secondary explosions or other unforeseen consequences
Hamas rocket launching pits figure prominently among the targets Israel wants to hit in Gaza. The problem is that these are often located within or in the immediate vicinity of civilian locations. Worse, the launching facilities may contain large numbers of rockets and other explosive material. In such cases, hitting the launching pit may cause secondary explosions that are much more damaging than the initial strike. In many instances Israel is able to deliver its strike with sufficient precision, so that just the pit is hit – and not the nearby houses, for instance. But there is just no way to know how many rockets have been stored there and how large the secondary explosion – if any – will be. Often, a precise, ‘surgical’ strike takes out the launching pit; but the resulting secondary explosion may demolish an entire street.
- Target identification errors
Lots of preparation and intelligence work go into identifying targets such as command and control centres, weaponry and ammunition storage facilities, rocket launching pads, training bases, etc.) In the vast majority of cases, they are correctly identified and accurately hit. But war in not a well-organised industrial activity, conducted according to ‘health and safety’ regulations. Combat is conducted under conditions of uncertainty and huge tension. A certain level of errors is inevitable; this is why, in every war, there are ‘friendly fire’ incidents; civilians are also hit because of identification errors.
- Palestinian kills Palestinian
From the point of view of international media, there is only one source for the number of Palestinian casualties: Gaza’s Hamas-controlled Health Ministry. Needless to say, this is a partisan and highly unreliable source. At a minimum, it means that every dead Palestinian is automatically assumed to have been killed by Israeli ordnance. This is, of course, a myth. In reality, many Palestinians fall victim to Hamas ‘friendly fire’. Among other things, a considerable proportion of rockets launched against Israel misfire and land in Gaza (the current estimates are around 10%, which means circa 350 rockets; the proportion typically increases as the Israeli army advances and rockets are fired by Hamas from deeper within Gaza). Even UNRWA spokesman and big-time Israel-hater Chris Gunness had to admit that such rockets fell, for instance, in Beit Hanoun, where the organisation operates a school turned into shelter for refugees. In addition to such mistakes, Hamas is reported to have executed scores of Gazans suspected of ‘collaboration’ with Israel. Needless to say, for Hamas (as for all dictatorial regimes) all opponents are ‘collaborators’; once their bodies arrive at the morgue, these ‘collaborators’ are reported as victims of Israel and are included in the headcount of ‘martyrs’.
Q: Whoever is to blame, it is clear that this needs to be solved. Peace negotiations are held with enemies, not friends. Why does Israel refuse to negotiate directly with Hamas?
A: For the same reason that USA and UK do not negotiate with Al-Qaeda or with ISIS. Not just Israel, but USA, UK, the European Union, Canada and Australia designate Hamas as a terrorist organisation. This is because Hamas has officially claimed responsibility for acts of terrorism and mass murder against civilians.
Hamas’s Constitution includes the following quotations:
Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it
The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say: O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.
Israel does negotiate directly with ‘the enemy’ – the Palestinian Authority. This is the internationally recognised representative of the Palestinian side in the conflict. Hamas is not a ‘normal’ enemy, but a band of criminals advocating ethnic cleansing and genocide and guilty of numerous acts of mass murder.
Q: But Hamas won democratic elections. They are the legitimate Palestinian government!
A: Although often repeated by ‘commentators’ with an axe to grind, this statement is fundamentally false. The 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections cannot be described as ‘democratic’. To start with, no elections can be said to be ‘democratic’ when each ‘political party’ operates its own armed militia. In such cases, the parties can use their militia for actual or implied intimidation tactics in order to influence the elections. The party with the most powerful militia usually wins. Democratic elections are only possible when the military and the police are apolitical.
In addition, the Palestinians lack the basic civil freedoms that would enable elections to be democratic: a free press, freedom of speech, free public debate, etc. How are people supposed to ‘democratically elect’ when they are not even allowed to freely speak their minds without threats and intimidation?
Even had it won truly democratic elections, Hamas would have had to share power with Mahmoud Abbas. According to the Palestinian law, executive power is shared between the President and the Prime Minister. The former is elected directly by the people, while the latter is typically the leader of the major in the parliament (a system similar in principle to the French one). In actuality, however, Hamas refused to share power with Abbas. Instead, it staged a coup, ousting the President and his party from Gaza and assuming totalitarian power.
Finally, even if the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections would have been democratic, that does not in itself confer legitimacy to a fundamentally undemocratic, criminal regime. The Nazis came to power in Germany because a plurality of Germans elected them. Once elected, the Nazis proceeded to cancel every democratic right; there were no more elections. There are also more recent examples: as a result of the 2000 elections, the Austrian government ncluded a party with racist/neo-fascist tendencies. Although this was the result of democratic elections, the European Union decided to impose sanctions against Austria.
To gain legitimacy in government, it is not sufficient for a party to win democratic elections; it also has to govern according to democratic principles. Hamas stands in complete opposition to such principles.
Q: Palestinians voted for Hamas out of exasperation, because of the Israeli blockade.
A: There was no blockade. Following the 2005 withdrawal of Israeli military and settlers from the Gaza Strip, an Agreement on Movement and Access was reached between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the European Union. According to the agreement, people and non-military goods could pass through the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, under the supervision of EU inspectors. When it acceded to power in 2007, Hamas refused to honour that agreement; it seized the border crossing and refused to allow EU supervision. In response to this violation and the rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, Israel declared a land and naval blockade. Although its civilians had not been attacked, Egypt enforced a land blockade at its border with Gaza, in response to Hamas’s violation of the Agreement on Movement and Access.
Q: But Hamas now says that it accepts a ceasefire, provided that the blockade is lifted. Why is this not good enough for Israel?
A: Because lifting the blockade without tight supervision would allow Hamas to smuggle in and amass heavy weaponry, as well as sending its ‘soldiers’ for military training in places like Iran, Iraq or Syria. A much stronger Hamas would then be able to resume terrorist activities against Israel, this time from a much improved position and at a time of its choosing. Israel cannot allow Hamas to grow stronger unhindered, any more than USA or UK would envisage allowing Al-Qaeda or ISIS to accumulate weaponry unimpeded.
Q: I read somewhere that Hamas offered Israel peace – if it withdraws to the 1967 borders.
A: No, Hamas has never issued any peace offer; indeed, the organisation is fundamentally opposed to peace with Israel, claiming that such peace would be against the precepts of Islam. One Hamas leader (Khaled Meshaal) has casually said in 2008 that the organisation might agree to a 10-year truce (‘hudna’), but only if Israel withdraws from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He later clarified that Hamas would also require “full application of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return” (i.e., the ‘return’ to Israel of 5-7 million people of Palestinian descent, mostly born in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria). Even then, he made clear, Hamas would not recognise the State of Israel.
Q: So you’re saying that Israel has done nothing wrong. If so, why is it that it is condemned at the UN? Why is it that it is harshly criticised even by friendly governments such as UK? Even the US Administration has lately been critical of Israel. Are they all wrong?
A: No, they are all politicians. There is just one Jewish state – Israel; there are just about 14 million Jews, half of them scattered around the world. There are 22 Arab states with a total population of almost 400 million; they control a large proportion of the world’s oil and gas reserves. In addition, other 35 countries, with a population exceeding 1.2 billion people, define themselves as ‘Islamic’. Together, the 57 ‘Islamic states’ constitute almost one third of the UN membership – and they vote against Israel on every single subject. Considering also their economic and political influence over other countries (and over Muslim minorities in the West), they represent a very powerful bloc. The condemnations and criticism against Israel have nothing to do with justice; they have everything to do with political power, interest and convenience. Unfortunately, this injustice is echoed and magnified because of anti-Jewish prejudice harboured by many in Europe and elsewhere. Often referred to as anti-Semitism or Judeophobia, this type of prejudice has been present for centuries in Europe and throughout the Middle East. The horrors of the Holocaust (themselves the result of extreme anti-Jewish prejudice) have shocked many Europeans and made overt anti-Semitism ‘unfashionable’ for a while, causing some commentators to believe it ceased to be an issue. But long-held prejudice is stubborn and does not disappear that easily. There is still, for instance, anti-black prejudice in USA, almost two centuries after the emancipation of African Americans.
For many in Europe, out-of-context and out-of-proportion criticism of the Jewish State is nothing but a ‘safe’ way to express subliminal anti-Jewish prejudice.
Q: So one cannot criticise Israel without being called an anti-Semite?
A: Not at all! Feel free to criticise Israel, but in proportion and comparison to other countries. For instance, since the level of civilian casualties in Gaza is similar to or lower than that registered by American and British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, one can subject Israel (at most) to the same level of criticism as that directed at USA and UK. That would in no way be anti-Semitic – in fact it would be completely legitimate. Conversely, it is not legitimate to single out Israel for extreme criticism, exceeding in intensity anything directed in similar circumstances at other countries. That kind of ‘special’ criticism is nothing but discrimination and persecution. Which, when directed at an entire country, nation, etc., are a clear indication of racism. Anti-Jewish racism is called anti-Semitism.