Is Israel a normal country?

This article starts with a brave question, and I think for most people the answer is apparent with the asking of the question.

But like the famous line of T.S. Elliot, the piece ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.

After asking a question which would never pass the lips of Israel’s establishment, the article makes the very claims and assertions the Israeli government would make.

“Israel has never done anything comparable to the late Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad’s 1982 massacre of more than 20,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama.”

While I’m the last to defend dictators, this is a completely unsubstantiated claim of what happened in Syria. Perhaps worse, the assertion about Israel is just false. Israel’s first invasion of Lebanon was just about that bloody.

And what of the achievements of the Six Day War, a war deliberately calculated by Israel’s establishment to win the land of the self-defined Greater Israel –” all the Palestinian territories plus slices of Syria and Lebanon – it had failed to grab at its founding?

Israel went so far as to attack ruthlessly an American intelligence ship to suppress information of General Dayan’s movements of armor, the general’s purpose being the quick seizure of all the lands Israel desired and then presenting the world with a fait accompli.

And how do you reckon the toll of misery of decade after decade of hundreds of thousands of refugees plus the forty-plus years of truly abusive occupation?

I could continue, for unquestionably the invasion of Iraq was about and for Israel’s benefit. That’s million people killed and a couple of million refugees, refugees taken, in large part, by poor Syria.

“So is it true, as many defenders of Israel claim, that the Jewish state is judged by different standards from other countries? I believe it is.”

This completely ignores the fact of Israel’s establishment constantly claiming that is the only democracy and representative of human rights in its part of the world.

If you claim one standard but behave by another –” truly indistinguishable from the region’s dictators –” I do think the world is entitled to comment. Israel holds ten thousand illegal prisoners, imposes a ghastly blockade for over three years, imposes countless checkpoints on people’s ordinary lives in the West Bank, regularly assassinates those with whom it disagrees, and uses every underhanded technical gimmick it can think of to keep stealing other people’s land.

Indeed, it could be well argued that the kind of Israel we see has effectively retarded the development of democracy in the Arab world. Israel’s cooperative friend Mubarak, a dictator of thirty years, is supported by everything the United States can think of, suppressing all genuine democratic movements. For a long time, it was the same with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Opposing Israel’s excesses has provided a rallying cry for every dictator in the region. At the same time, the United States and Israel would prefer these populations suppressed by dictators who in private mind their own business or are even rather cooperative, a la Mubarak.

“That all Jews, including Israeli Jews, should remain haunted by a horrible past is understandable. But it must never be used to justify aggression against others.”

But that is precisely what Israel’s establishment and its army of apologists abroad do, day and night. It is, if you will, a ghastly form of special pleading.

“There are other reasons, however, for the double standard directed at Israel. One is what the liberal Israeli philosopher and peace activist Avishai Margalit has called “moral racism.” The bloodlust of an African or Asian people is not taken as seriously that of a European –” or other white –” people.”

But isn’t that exactly what happens inside Israel? Day in and out in countless ways, Sephardic Jews are not treated with the same respect and regard as Ashkenazi Jews. And the poor small lot of dark-skinned African Jews are treated with palpable contempt. The world should have higher standards than Israel itself in these matters?

“…the legacy of colonialism works against Israel in another way, too.”

Oh please, this is tiresome old idea to trot out. Besides, in the eyes of most Arabs, Israel is itself an example of colonialism. Here is a tiny enclave –” truly a garrison state – living in the midst of many tens of millions of people for whose cultures and aspirations it has absolutely no understanding or sympathy. You could draw a parallel to Israel’s position today with that of European Crusaders who built massive forts in the Middle East at places like Acre.

In the end, if Israel expects to be treated as a normal country, it must behave like one.

Surely, most people, including likely most Jews, know Israel has yet to behave as anything resembling a normal country.


Note: Response to the comment of a reader

"Islam is the problem behind virtually all the problems that Israel faces."

What a preposterous statement.

Does the author realize that there are more than a billion Muslims in the world?

How can any thinking person speak this way, condemning with one glib sentence about a fifth of the world’s population?

There is no history, also, of Muslims being especially hostile to Jews. Indeed, Islam adopted many of Judaism’s prophets and customs as its own.

Further still, until the creation of modern Israel, most Muslims in the Middle East treated Jews decently.

Israel, since its inception, has practiced a behavior towards its neighbors summed up by the Zionist slogan, “the iron wall.”

“The iron wall” means ignoring neighbors as legitimate residents of the region, treating neighbors with contempt and violence – in effect, a very hostile form of shunning.

Who can defend such treatment instead of living in peace and respect?

Yes, there were always bound to be some hostilities – after all, Israel proper is on land taken from people who lived there for countless generations – but I think a different approach would have achieved different results.

Israel could easily have made it worth the Palestinians’ while with assistance and compensation instead of spending vast sums on armaments in a mini-Cold War.


Critique of an article with the same title in Toronto’s Globe and Mail by Ian Buruma