THE DISTASTE FOR ISRAEL EVIDENT in coverage of the current crisis is a mystery to me. I'm not talking about the Arabs, who have their own obvious reasons for hating Israel, not the least being that Israel is a living reproach to Islamic civilization's inability to adapt to the modern world. The weakness of Islam vis-à-vis a West it once terrified and dominated is exposed daily by the strength and confidence and prosperity of a tiny nation dwarfed by the population and resources and armies of its adversaries.
I'm speaking rather about Israel's critics in Europe and the United States, where the media's double standard in judging Israel, and their failure to acknowledge the historical circumstances that have created the current crisis and explain it, are so commonplace that it usually goes unnoticed. It is testimony to the bizarre mental universe of many in the Islamic world that an American media that has made the Palestinians their pet victims "of color" instead continue to be seen as the puppets of some Zionist conspiracy.
The answer to this disgust can't be that Israel is as uniquely oppressive as it is claimed to be, setting aside for the moment the reasons why Israel has to do what it does. Given the bloodshed, violence, ethnic cleansing, seizure of territory, and genocidal rampages occurring daily across the planet, Israel's offences, even if they were as horrible as their enemies claim, are pretty small beer, and certainly not as destructive as those of many Arab regimes in the Middle East.
For example, if seizing territory and interfering with national autonomy and self-determination are such a crime, why isn't the international community bombarding Syria, which controls Lebanon, with demands to end the "illegal occupation" and withdraw its thousands of troops? Or if killing Arabs justifies such criticism, why don't we have marches in solidarity with Saddam Hussein's Islamic victims, which must number in the hundreds of thousands? Or if abusing Palestinians is the specific charge, why aren't there movements to isolate Jordan, which has probably killed more Palestinians than the Israelis have?
And of course, what's ignored is that Israel's actions have all been reactions to unceasing attempts to destroy it. Israel does what it does to survive, rather than to create an empire or acquire more wealth for a ruling elite or gain access to precious resources. Some in Israel may dream of a return to the Biblical borders of David and Solomon's kingdom, but most Israelis think about the West Bank solely in terms of security. Just compare the number of Israelis killed when Israel controlled the West Bank to the number killed since the Palestinians have controlled it, and you'll see their point.
Yet this necessary context for evaluating Israel's actions is usually ignored or dismissed. Instead Israel is judged by some absolute standard of behavior never applied to any Third-World country that's not to the right of Attila the Hun. An obvious reason for this phenomenon is that Israel is a Western society, and so it is held to the same utopian expectations for behavior that all Western nations are subject to. That critics strain out the Western gnat and swallow whole the Third-World camels of oppression and violence is a continuing scandal. I suspect that such critics are in reality ethnocentric chauvinists, and believe the West is superior, more civilized and advanced, and so should be held to a higher standard. Westerners, in other words, should know better because they are better.
There's another dimension, though, to this unfair standard. Just imagine for a moment that Israel was a communist country like Cuba. Do you think they'd be the evil villains they've been made out to be? You can answer that question by contemplating the relatively good press that Castro's regime enjoys. Compared to the obsessive attention paid to every move Israel makes in defending itself, we hear little outside of Miami about human rights violations in Cuba, which serve to maintain an autocrat's power rather than to prevent maniacs from blowing up children. Yet the same "progressive" Americans who sneak into Castro's island to gape at the socialist paradise join marches condemning Israeli "genocide."
So Israel is fair game because it's "capitalist," a client of the world's Great Satan, the United States, the premier colonial and imperial exploiter of the abused "other." We see here at work the same weird logic that allows right-thinking leftists to shrug off Communism's 100 million corpses at the same time they scream about the accidental killing of a civilian. Not all people's lives, it seems, are equally precious--just those playing the proper role in the Marxist historical operetta.
Israel is attacked, then, because it is a Western liberal democracy tarred with the brush of all the West's crimes against humanity. But let's not forget another obvious point--Israelis are Jews. A residual anti-Semitism has lately joined up with guilt-fatigue, particularly in Europe. As the generation responsible for the Holocaust dies off, I think we'll see more and more Europeans simply getting sick of the whole thing, sick of the guilt, the reminders of barbarity, the museums testifying to the insane depths to which presumably civilized people can descend.
In short, they'll want to forget, and the existence of Israel itself, its determination never again to be a despised and pitied victim, is a constant irritating reminder that won't let them forget.