Let's talk about "singling out Israel"

10-9 idf.jpg

One of the distinct pleasures of doing research is the occasional brush with “old gold.” This piece by the late Mike Marqusee is from May 2006, but it is spot-on today.

Every advocate for Palestine and Palestinians hears it all the time (especially in the context of BDS): “It’s not fair to single out Israel. It’s by default anti-Semitic.” Marqusee deconstructs the whole argument perfectly. (I removed a few paragraphs that make reference to 2006 current events; the original article in full is here.)

[Whenever people participate in Palestine solidarity events, they are] accused of unfairly singling out Israel. They [are] asked: why not Darfur, Kashmir, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Aceh, Kurdistan, Tibet or Western Sahara? It will be suggested that, in this context, adopting the Palestinian cause can only be a reflection of enduring anti-semitism.

One of the ironies of this charge is that for decades the Palestinians were invisible in the western media; not only was there no visible campaign on their behalf, there was scarcely any acknowledgment of their existence. Now, when their cause has at last been taken up by an international movement, that movement is told that its protest is illegitimate because others now suffer the inattention that was once the fate of the Palestinians.

All campaigns against specific injustices can be said to "single out" one group or another, and indeed this accusation was made in the 1960s against critics of the US in Vietnam (what about Soviet crimes?) and in the 1980s against the anti-apartheid movement (there were dictatorial regimes run by black Africans). If the requirement is that unless one protests (presumably simultaneously) against all injustices one's protest against any particular injustice is discriminatory, then there will be no protests at all, including none against Israel - which seems to be what some of those who decry its "singling out" would prefer.

But who's actually doing the singling out? Israel's advocates argue that its security situation and its role as a Jewish state are unique, and imply that it is therefore permitted to do things that are clearly prohibited to other states (land seizures, house demolitions, assassinations, mass detentions). Those who demand that Israel conform to international law and standards of human decency are challenging this kind of singling out, calling for an end to Israel's special exemption.

The US singles out Israel for military and diplomatic support. Over the last 30 years it has been by far the largest recipient of US foreign aid. The US also regularly uses its security council veto to shield Israel from condemnation. And Israel is the only country in the region permitted by the US to possess nuclear weapons.

Since the US's aggressive global posture provokes extreme disquiet in many parts of the world, it's not surprising, unjustified or anti-semitic that its closest ally in the Middle East is widely viewed not as a rogue regime but as part of a larger system of domination - and as a prime example of western double standards. In a world shaped by western domination and resistance to it, the Israel-Palestine conflict is correctly seen as pivotal.

Yet [our government said that] aid to the PA had to be cut because taxpayers did not want their money funding terrorism. Meanwhile [Israel’s government] declares: "I believe with all my heart in the people of Israel's eternal historic right to the entire land of Israel" - meaning up to (or even beyond) the Jordan - and is praised for a willingness to compromise. Hamas retains a claim to the same territory, with roots in living memory rather than Biblical mythology, and is subject to punitive sanctions.

Our government's complicity in the injustices meted out to the Palestinians is both greater in degree and more immediate than our complicity in Kashmir, Darfur or Tibet. In a sense, that makes it our duty to single out Israel for protest. To deny that duty is to divorce protest from politics, to turn it away from the centers of power and render it abstract and ineffectual.

It is also argued that the anti-Zionist ideology of many in the Palestinian movement singles out Jews by denying them, uniquely, a state of their own. Again, the historical selectivity lies with the accusers… Afrikaaners formed a distinct religious, linguistic and cultural group - yet that didn't entitle them to a state of their own…

If there were as many states as there are ethnic identities, the UN would have to expand exponentially. Crucially, even in the most clear-cut cases of national self-determination, there is no right to build a state on land already inhabited by others, nor to sustain an ethnic majority in a state through the dispossession of others.

Behind the claims that criticisms of Israel are disproportionate or unbalanced lies a willful blindness to both the scale and persistence of Israel's offenses: the occupation itself, now [in its 53rd] year; the illegal settlements and the separation wall, condemned by the international court of justice ; the daily violations of human rights; and the sustained, indiscriminate violence against densely populated areas (in one week in April the Israeli army fired more than 950 artillery tank shells and 46 F16 missiles into Gaza, killing 19 Palestinians, including three children). [NOTE: THIS WAS NOT A WAR. THIS WAS A UNILATERAL ACTION BY ISRAEL.]

While the west punishes Hamas for its rhetoric, Israel is permitted to create facts on the ground, carving out new borders and subjugating the Palestinian population by force.

Israel's treatment of the Palestinians may not be the worst of the crimes against humanity currently being committed, but it is more than horrifying enough to warrant indignation and positive action. At this moment in our society, the prevailing sin is apathy and complicity, not "one-sided condemnation of Israel".

Yes, indiscriminate acts of terrorism against the Israeli population are wrong and a cul-de-sac for Palestinian politics. But why should those acts absolve Israel from its responsibilities or invalidate nonviolent, democratic protests…? The obstruction of peaceful methods of redressing injustice only makes acts of terrorism more likely.

One of the saddest features of the accusation that Israel is being singled out is the assumption that the only reason people around the world would gather behind the Palestinian banner is that they hate Jews. The possibility that support for the Palestinians arises out of an awareness of the injustices they have suffered, out of compassion for the underdog, is discounted out of hand.

Yes, criticism of Israel may be at times be tainted by anti-semitism, and there is no doubt that in parts of the developing world anti-semitic mythology has become intertwined with support for the Palestinians. In this country, however, that can be fairly said of no more than a minute fraction of the Palestine solidarity movement. In contrast, support for Israel is frequently colored by anti-Arab, anti-Muslim or western supremacist sentiments.

By all means, take action on Western Sahara, Burma and Tibet. But don't let the fact that these and other issues enjoy a relatively low profile…prevent you from adding your voice to…protest against Israel's systematic oppression of the Palestinians - carried out with our assistance.