Stephen Games
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The one topic that enrages the world

Where are 20 million people malnourished and 8 million displaced – and how come no one cares if it's not in Gaza?
A Sudanese combatant with a G3 rifle. Photographer: Steve Evans. Wikimedia Creative Commons.
A Sudanese combatant with a G3 rifle. Photographer: Steve Evans. Wikimedia Creative Commons.

It’s interesting that so many well-meaning people go beyond being understandably sympathetic to the plight of the Gazan Arabs and find themselves also wildly enraged and accusatory about those they regard as the Arabs’ tormentors.

A thousand miles to the south, Sudan—which is mostly Sunni Muslim, like Gaza—is embroiled in a civil war that started last April.

In the last 10 months, 8 million have been driven from their homes by fighting, including 1.7 million who have fled the country. Indiscriminate attacks have been carried out by both sides in densely populated civilian areas, with violence and brutality used especially by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the reincarnation of the Janjaweed militias now supported by the Wagner Group based in Libya. 

There have so far been at least 15,000 deaths and 33,000 injured. Some 20 million are suffering from malnutrition and 70% of hospitals are shut down.

Meanwhile, in London, the BBC quotes the United Nations as saying that Sudan’s suffering has been “wholly ignored”—not least by the BBC.

Sudan is altogether a much larger and wider-ranging disaster than Gaza, but it does not elicit worldwide concern, let alone crazed rage and censoriousness. South Africa has not accused the RSF and Wagner of committing genocide and taken them to the International Court of Justice. Protestors have not projected provocative images onto the sides of public monuments or gone around painting swastikas on buildings owned by Sunnis.

In short, no one cares. One has to wonder why.

A real refugee camp, at the St. Mary Help of Christians Cathedral in Wau, Sudan. Photographer: Jill Craig. Courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons.

One answer is rather shocking because it reflects a strand of acceptable modern racism. In the words of the BBC news host Sarah Montague, Muslim warmongers cannot be expected to operate by Western norms or be held to Western standards. This outrageously smug opinion used to be used to bolster the idea of European white supremacy; today it is used to excuse non-Whites—and, curiously, is used by non-Whites as well as by Whites.

Another explanation, also shocking and also illustrative of acceptable modern racism, is that no one cares because, in the Sudan conflict, Jews are not involved. In Gaza, they are. That makes it much easier to point the finger.

In the case of Sudan, you’d have to know who the players are, and what the relative merits of their arguments are, to blame one side or the other, and that requires a lot of homework. None of that is necessary when talking about Jews because racial bias and groupthink and nationalist self-interest and intersectionality make Jews the guilty party automatically and by definition.

The conventional response to this point is summed up in that much-abused term, “whataboutery”—the slur that alleges that defenders of Israel can make no better case for themselves than to submerge Israel’s infamies within the infamies of others.

Such a slur is frequently accompanied by a history lecture on how Israel is pivotal to the West’s projection of the industrial capitalist liberal democratic colonialist hegemony (or some such combination of terms) and the West’s need to hinge this on Muslim repression.

That is to say, the question of Israeli exceptionalism is never addressed but is instead turned around to amplify, once again, Jewish culpability—a culpability that Jews are rendered unable to argue themselves out of because of terms of reference—whether ideological or cultural—that predetermine their guilt.

As I say, it’s fascinating. Some 20 million people malnourished, 8 million people displaced, and no one mounts the barricades.

Antisemitic graffiti in Huwara, 24 October 2023. Photographer: שילוני. Courtesy Wikimedia Creative Commons.

A third explanation for this has to do with gratification. It’s rewarding for those who rail against Israel to be committed to a single global problem that brings them into global communion with other righteous protestors all sharing the same obsession. There’s righteousness in numbers; there’s no unity in disparate causes.

Besides, there’s a huge adrenalin rush to be had from all getting furious together: it’s much more enjoyable than getting involved in more modest forms of engagement. The repetition of street chants (“Cease-fire-now” or “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” or “Yemen, Yemen make us proud, turn another ship around”) also have what psychologists call an “illusory truth effect”, positively reinforcing the subject of the chant and endorsing its message by the mechanism of group-speak. This is how cults operate and that, effectively, is what we’re talking about here.

Cults inculcate addictive behaviours and once these have built up a pattern of gratification, it is very hard to step back from them.

But maybe the complaint about the obsession with Gaza is unfair. Maybe Sudan—or, say, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where there are 7 million internally displaced people, or Afghanistan, where 6 million Afghans have fled the country or been internally displaced—are simply waiting their turn in the media-attention queue, because newsrooms can only concentrate on one major disaster at a time?

To some extent that’s true: news gathering has only limited resources and there have to be priorities. It is also true, however, that the news agenda is shaped by simplicities. Covering the violence in Sudan or the DRC, for example, does not empower a visiting reporter immediately to assign right and wrong, and that makes such coverage less satisfying.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which some 750,000 Tutsis were killed by Hutus, and as many as 500,000 women raped, in just 100 days, was obviously deplorable, but which was the more guilty party? Hutu violence was unleashed because Tutsi refugees had invaded northern Rwanda. Western media could never determine how to choose between the two groups, except on the basis of how they conducted themselves—but that was a different issue.

In short, it’s never rewarding for the media to cover any of the world’s trouble spots if they can’t decide on the merits of complex claims and counterclaims: every reporter is going to want to ask who the good guys are and who the bad guys are at the start of their assignment.

In the case of Gaza, by contrast, it’s all black and white: the Jews, supposedly, are wrong and bad, and their elimination from the scene will restore the Middle East to the happy state of Pax Arabia that it enjoyed before imperialist Western cartographers wrenched it from the Ottomans after the First World War and then handed it to the wicked “Zionists” after the Second.

In saying all the above, I am not suggesting that Israel is somehow uniquely innocent among the nations of the Earth, nor am I trying to whitewash its political record. Some of its politicians are very mucky and have presided over much that has made me uncomfortable, and with the arrival of Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, things have got a lot worse, in my view. As for settler violence… don’t get me started.

And, by the way, when defending Israel, it really doesn’t help to trumpet its virtues. This odd phenomenon of violent rage against Israel doesn’t care what the country has contributed to the pharmaceutical or IT industries, and isn’t going to be persuaded by your convictions about its biblical claim to the land.

Faced with rage, you have a choice between backing away and inviting a conversation. If you start a conversation, you can afford to make concessions. In fact, you need to. Israel’s record is flawed and of course it needs to be held to account—but held to account by those with a case against it, not by a global court of the partisan and self-righteous who get to feel good by making the Jewish state look bad.

In short, when faced with rage, don’t get intimidated into defending Israel. Rage isn’t about what’s wrong with us; it’s about what’s wrong with them.

About the Author
Stephen Games is a designer, publisher and award-winning architectural journalist, formerly with the Guardian, BBC and Independent. He was until Spring 2018 a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, habitually questioning its unwillingness to raise difficult questions about Israel, and was a board member of his synagogue with responsibility for building maintenance and repair. In his spare time he is involved in editing volumes of the Tanach and is a much-liked barmitzvah teacher with an original approach, having posted several videos to YouTube on the cantillation of haftarot and the Purim Megillah.
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