For the last 50 years one of the familiar patterns of international behavior has been the application of double standards to the policies and practices of the State of Israel. Concepts of fairness or impartiality are rarely applied to the State which is continually assaulted as a criminal state, the greatest violator of human rights, and the principal threat to world peace. One has to assess those who issue these self-righteous condemnations as lacking even a modest amount of moral judgment, or dwelling in a fantasy world in which there is only one nation that is errant or harmful to others.
This is an attitude based on hatred, not one of tolerance for competing opinions.
The Palestinian narrative of victimhood has influenced many to believe that Palestinians are oppressed by an overwhelming colonial power that practices apartheid and exercises white supremacy over the non-white world. Even liberal politicians, such as the British parliamentarian David Ward, compare, if implicitly, Israeli “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians” with the Holocaust.
The novelist Alice Walker goes further. She openly instructs people not to visit Israel because it is an apartheid state, far worse than the “American apartheid” under which she grew up, and is “the greatest terrorist in that part of the world.” She seems uninformed of the 27 million people, more than the number in 1860, of slaves in the world today, many of whom are in the African countries of Mauritania, Congo, Ivory Coast, Sudan, and Niger. Alice Walker has not seen the photo of the new Miss Israel crowned in February 2013, a 21 year-old black woman from Ethiopia, one of the 8,000 Ethiopians who have migrated to Israel. She also appears unfamiliar with the Charter of Hamas and the Iranian leaders who call for the elimination of Israel.
The views of the international community and other individuals and groups who issue endless condemnations of Israel are perplexing. Their obsession with Israel seems bizarre in a world where the educational, cultural, and scientific contributions of Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and al-Qaida are not likely to achieve Nobel Prizes. Nor are Russia, China, and Libya likely to be awarded medals for their advances in human rights or adherence to the rule of law.
That international community perhaps was suffering from political myopia when the United Nations General Assembly in December 2012 adopted 22 resolutions critical of Israel for a variety of misdeeds while using only 4 other resolutions to address the foibles of the rest of the world In a way applicable to only one country, a variety of groups, Churches, cultural and academic individuals and organizations, whether voluntarily or under pressure, are spending their time, energy, and money for a boycott of Israeli institutions, personnel, and the economy.
Forgotten in this moral and political double standard is any recourse to intellectual interchange or integrity. Individuals who have boycotted conferences in Israel have attended conferences in the Soviet Union, Libya and in Iran. This is even more perplexing in view of the fact that a considerable number of Israeli intellectuals are themselves critical of some of Israeli policies, especially on the question of settlements.
Various explanations can be suggested. The first and most obvious one is the continuing prevalence of antisemitism. Some even accept the allegation of a Jewish international conspiracy to control the world, or at least to control American foreign policy. The European Monitoring Center on Racism included as one of its clauses on its definition of antisemitism, “applying double standards by requiring of (Israel) a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
But a new explanation has now been provided by John MacGabhann, the general secretary of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), a union of 14,500 members. That Union in April 2013 at its annual meeting voted for an academic boycott of Israel, including research programs and exchange of scientists. The motion, in strong though inaccurate language, also called on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to increase its campaigning for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against “the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank.”
Mr. MacGabhann said the TUI expects more of Israel that it does of other countries: “to a very significant degree our union and members expect more of the Israeli government, precisely because we would anticipate that Israeli governments would act in all instances and ways to better uphold the rights of others.”
One appreciates the implication that Israel is expected to be a “a light unto the nations.” This alludes to the high ethical standards of Israelis and of Jews as expressed in Jewish theology through the Torah. And these standards are indeed incorporated in Israel and can be seen in the nation’s regard for social justice, concern for human rights, and humanitarian instincts shown not only towards its own citizens but also by its assistance to other nations and peoples when disaster strikes. It is shown by the behavior of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as it attempts to adhere to the concept of purity of arms and humanitarian rules of warfare, in spite of difficulties presented by Palestinian attacks, as Colonel Richard Kemp has illustrated.
The Western world, particularly the United States, coping with the problem of detaining suspected terrorists and the issue of Guantanamo, is familiar with the difficult problem of balancing the maintenance of individual and civil rights and being able to take action against terrorists and their threats which might necessitate intrusion on those rights. Israel has struggled with this problem and its efforts may be useful to democratic countries faced with similar issues of how to balance national security and personal privacy.
Only moral confusion could equate terrorists, Hamas and Hezbollah among others, launching unprovoked attacks against Israel by rockets and missiles with the deliberate intention of killing civilians, with the Israeli attempt to defend itself and protect its citizens. In its response to attacks, Israeli missiles may sometimes miss their target and inadvertently hit civilians, but those unfortunate accidents are a different order of magnitude from the deliberate attacks or the suicide bomber, or the use by Hamas of children as human shields to deter attack.
Honest observers, such as Mr. MacGabhann, expect and see the cultural integrity and openness in Israel, and free and often sharp intellectual exchange. He may also be aware that Palestinian and pro-Palestinian groups attempt to thwart such exchange, both by preventing the appearance of Israelis in events throughout the world, in London, Edinburgh, Montreal, Dublin, and by strong pressure to intimidate performers who wish to visit Israel. This is an attitude based on hatred, not one of tolerance for competing opinions.
It is worth repeating that Mr MacGaghann takes for granted that Israel is not only a pluralistic democracy with free speech, free press, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and free political protest and opposition but also that its citizens have the capacity to influence policy.
Should we take the “double standard” as a compliment?