The state of Israel was founded 66 years ago, and not a moment has passed when this small, beleaguered democracy hasn’t assumed a posture of self-defense. Security, not to mention strategy, is not a choice for Israel, but an essential precondition of its existence. Founded on roughly one-sixth of one percent of what was (and is) smugly characterized as “Arab land,” Israel has not known anything resembling peace since the United Nations proposed its partition plan on Nov. 29, 1947. Six months later — May 14, 1948 — David Ben-Gurion declared the existence of the Jewish state, and the next day its Arab neighbors attacked it. The assault would be the first of many attempts since then to obliterate it.
Israel’s current battle with Hamas has yielded the usual ahistorical claptrap about Israeli “aggression,” its “occupation,” and, most specious, references to Israel’s existence as an “apartheid state” that ignorantly consigns 1.2 million Israeli Arabs — who readily enjoy all the rights of full citizenship — to an invisible existence. Such vile language — the kind that calls Israel’s plan to demolish terrorist-accessible tunnels “genocide” — is neither left-wing anti-imperialism nor peace-loving naiveté. it’s a spate of bilious rhetoric perpetuated by many in the Western media and its amen corner (mostly) on the left, even as they offer up rhetoric about the need for a two-state solution and further make dubious delineations between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Most disquieting of all is how strident anti-Israel discourse masquerades as “legitimate” criticism — or, more hypocritically, as “humanism” — while the rest of the world immolates.
Unlike most of the world’s other besieged nations and inhabitants, why is Israel, and its military, uniquely vilified? Why does this Jewish homeland, barely the size of New Jersey and encircled by nations that would relish its annihilation, fall victim not just to double standards but passionate vituperation? World history has hardly been a narrative of kumbaya, and our present chapter is no exception. So again I ask: Why Israel? What accounts for the rabid emotions of otherwise muted peaceniks and all those Western progressives who painstakingly contort themselves to reconcile their commitment to social justice with chic and pseudo-intellectual forms of Jew-bashing? What other country’s actions result in displayed placards in cities around the world reading “Jews to the gas chambers” or “Death to Jews” or Twitter hashtags declaring “Hitler was right”? Boycott Israel campaigns; anti-Israel demonstrations calling for a new Holocaust; the wholesale rejection of Zionism — as demands, these are futile as they are ominous portents, and ironically serve to buttress the case for a strong, indefatigable Israel. Does a democratic redoubt boasting of freedom of speech and assembly, religious tolerance and an independent judiciary in the world’s most volatile region really merit such feverish condemnation?
Genocide in Darfur, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, may generate faux-sympathy from celebrities but not the ostracism for Sudan’s military dictatorship and its thug-cum-president, Omar al-Bashir. France, despite its Arab citizens stepping up their bellicose anti-Semitism and attacking synagogues and Jewish businesses, despite their sordid history in Northern Africa, invades Mali through its Operation Serval and it barely elicits an outcry, let alone a protest march. China represses Tibet for decades, deporting innocents to laogai (“reform through labor”) camps, the Chinese gulag, and we barely hear a whimper. Russia becomes the first nation since World War II to annex territory from another European country (here’s looking at you, Crimea), and what does it engender but sanctions and antiwar pleas from Obama and other Western leaders? Nothing — nothing — resembles the energy of the resurgent global anti-Israel movement. Not U.N. member states like Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Uganda endorsing Russia’s imperialist actions. Not the Russians massacring Chechens back in the 1990s, or invading Georgia in 2008. Not for nothing did the late Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the former U.S. ambassador the U.N., remark some 30 years ago that diplomacy regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict at the U.N.:
…has nothing to do with peace, but is quite simply a continuation of war against Israel by other means…
While the terms “blockade,” “occupation” and “asymmetry” are widely invoked when describing anything related to Israel’s military response to its threats, copious and obscene images of dead children and blood-splattered civilians are used as evidence to justify anti-Zionist immorality. No one, including Israel, sanctions the murder of innocents; to suggest that Jews are the Arabs’ most willing executioners is a scurrilous charge that grossly ignores history and makes for a pernicious reductio ad absurdum. Bashar al Assad slaughters 170,000 of his Syrian countrymen, including 1,800 Palestinians. Where’s the fury about that all of a sudden?
Why would Israel want this war? For a tiny nation consistently lectured by many a world barbarian on the need for “peace,” there is a curious collective amnesia of late. Remember the 1978 Camp David accords, in which Israel returned the Sinai desert to Egypt, then its longtime nemesis and agitator, in exchange for detente? Remember Israel’s 1994 peace treaty with Jordan — signed a year after the Oslo peace process showcased an historic handshake on the White House lawn between then-Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin and then-PLO chief Yasir Arafat? Remember how, after a relatively long period of quiet in the region, U.S. President Bill Clinton and another Israeli leader, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, proposed a monumental offer to the Palestinians that included the very same West Bank that Israel is accused of occupying now? That deal would have yielded all of Gaza (which Israel evacuated in 2005) and 90 percent of the West Bank as well as small land swaps to account for the suburban sprawl of Jerusalem, close to the 1949 armistice line. Arafat, Mr. Nobel Peace Prize-winner, rejected the offer and instead launched an intifada. Nor was this the first intifada, of course. But given what we have faced in recent weeks — grim daily reminders of casualties on both sides — there is a disturbing silence, or more collective amnesia, over all the deaths that resulted from those uprisings, including more than 1,000 Israelis. Those had nothing to do with counterfire. Those had everything to do with an unwanted peace. And more collective amnesia: Jewish parents living with the prospect of Palestinian suicide bombers murdering their children. Assuredly, that’s why Hamas and its thwarted attempts to ambush Jews through subterranean tunnels is what Israel is protecting itself from now.
Contrary to popular ignorance, Hamas did not arise in response to a much maligned blockade by Israel — and Egypt, let’s remember. The blockade was instated after Hamas came to power in Gaza, and it exists for the protection of both Israel and Egypt, but crickets are all that’s heard when this inconvenient fact arises. Egypt, for the record, blames Hamas for the current tensions. Yet, Israel still provides Palestinians with food and humanitarian supplies and, paradoxically, the cement that enabled the construction of those tunnels.
But what use is history or facts when a misguided, dangerous moral equivalency has transformed the Middle East debate into a hodgepodge of double standards, short-sighted idealism and the return of the world’s most enduring and reprehensible hatred? The incendiary language and epithets hurtled at Israel, and consequently Jews writ large, is not just noxious in words only. The rabble-rousing over the conflict in Gaza has let fly some of the most venomous anti-Semitism in Europe since the dawn of the Third Reich. Natan Sharansky, a well-known former Soviet dissident who heads the Jewish Agency, which handles immigration of Jews to Israel, recently offered this declaration:
We are seeing the beginning of the end of Jewish history in Europe.
Indeed, the origins of the ongoing skirmish are no longer of importance. On display is a very incongruous coalition which sees leftist activists and intellectuals, human rights groups and oppressed peoples worldwide finding common cause with an agenda that spurns modernity, women’s equality, LGBT rights and free speech in favor of an Islamic group that desires, without hesitation or qualification, the vanquishing of not just Israel, but Jews themselves. These are the tragic implications that seem to be obscured amid the loss of life on both sides. Call it what you will, but the only history which we can all agree upon is that the hate that dare not speak its name is raising its voice again to such a decibel level that there is already a new exodus of Jews from Europe, yet again in existential terror. A ghastly reprise of panic just 69 years after the soldiers of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.