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Column: Rethinking anti-Israel reactions


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War is back in Israel, with Hamas rockets striking Tel Aviv, Israeli missiles pounding Gaza, and Israeli troops massing for possible ground war.

The sights and stories of human suffering in the news are devastating, and in sheer numbers the suffering has been far more severe on the Palestinian side. The outpouring of popular support around the world has been mostly for the Palestinians, too — except in the United States, where pro-Israeli sympathies prevail. And, despite mistakes the Israeli government may have committed, American sympathies are in the right place.

The usual chorus of anti-Israel condemnation is a grand show of hypocrisy and double standards. Critics of Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force in response to Hamas attacks include Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose war on separatists in Chechnya a decade ago included the carpet-bombing of cities and atrocities against civilians. The plight of the Chechens drew a fair amount of attention and support, like that of the Syrians under assault by their government today, or of the Kurds under Saddam Hussein’s regime — but nothing like the sustained worldwide passion for the cause of the Palestinians in refugee camps and occupied territories.

The double standard is defended on the grounds that Israel, as our ally and a country that prides itself on its democracy, must be held to a higher standard than dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. Whatever the logic of this argument, the result is that a country that sets a higher standard for itself is all the more viciously bashed for it.

While Israel hardly has a perfect human rights record — something no country facing constant terrorist threats could achieve — the rhetoric against it is what is disproportionate. Comparisons to Nazi Germany are particularly inflammatory, implying the Jews, victims 70 years ago, have become the new Nazis victimizing the Palestinians.

Never mind that this rhetoric is far removed from reality. The Gaza strip has been likened to a concentration camp, conjuring images of extermination — even though its population has grown steadily, and the hardships don’t come close to denial of basic necessities. The fact that Israel’s military has consistently tried to minimize civilian casualties, even warning residents to leave neighborhoods where militants are being targeted, has been ignored.

Anti-Israel bias also includes giving quick credit to the most Israel-blaming version of events, which often endures in public opinion even after it is wholly or partially refuted. Examples include the alleged massacre in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002 (a claim eventually found false by Human Rights Watch) and the 2009 Goldstone report alleging Israeli war crimes in Gaza, later retracted by its own author, Judge Richard Goldstone.

The same skewed reporting is evident today. Israel is widely blamed for triggering the latest round of hostilities by assassinating Ahmed Jabari, the head of the Hamas military wing, who some assert could have enforced a ceasefire. Yet the strike that killed Jabari followed four days of Hamas lobbing rockets at Israel — and Jabari had been the architect of the escalation of rocket attacks 10 years ago.

No decent person can remain unmoved by the pain of the Palestinians. Yet they are, first and foremost, victims of intransigent Arab leaders who have used them as pawns in the struggle against Israel, the object of their intractable, ideological hatred.

There’s a good reason many public figures who are sometimes critical of Israel’s policies, from President Barack Obama to German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Union leaders, are staunchly defending Israel’s right to self-defense. So-called progressives should take note — and rethink their knee-jerk reactions.

Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and the website RealClearPolitics. She wrote this column for Newsday. Comments can be sent to editorial@therepublic.com.

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