Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The well-meaning road to a deep injustice

Most liberals are well-motivated. We decry injustice, we deplore tyranny, we protest at the loss of innocent life in wars, we condemn wrongful imprisonment and the use of torture, we make what Liberation theologians call 'an option for the poor', we hate racism, we are never easy with bigotry, intolerance, or discrimination of any kind, we make a moral stand against religious fanaticism, we defend the weak, we try to do good in the world. Some of us derive our inspiration for these positions from a religious belief, others, like myself, are inspired from more secular convictions.
Of course, we are not always the best of people, whether in our personal lives or in public, but we do try to place ethical considerations above other concerns. In our innocence, we are inclined to believe that the human situation is redeemable, though the more cynical among us tend to accept the lessons of history and just seek to make the best of a bad case.
Yet there is something about Israel that seems to bring out the worst in some liberal people. Their motives are often laudable, but the results can be less than a real liberal might like. I know why most liberals support the Palestinians and condemn the state of Israel, and I have sympathy with those feelings. I just happen to think they are, in large measure, misplaced. The Palestinians have no state, they are a displaced people who suffer poverty, their lives are restricted, many of them die as a result of Israeli military intervention. Internationally, they have acquired a reputation as the world's great resisters, nobly fighting against a brutal occupation, coerced by superior military force to use their own bodies as weapons in their anti-colonial struggle. This presses all the right liberal buttons, and I have to admit that, if I didn't know any better, I might fall for that same representation of Palestinian virtue and Israeli evil. In fact, I do not.
Before I say more about that (and some of this will have to wait for further postings), let me just glance at the most egregious instance of what I consider to be a broad injustice about Israel. Let's for a moment assume that Israel really is the beast she is painted, that Israelis really are brutal occupiers and sadistic oppressors. Fine, you have every right to protest in the streets and put pressure on your governments to do something about this. But wait a moment. Almost every day, liberals and left-wingers are holding solidarity protests, initiating boycotts, signing petitions, and even travelling to the occupied territories to join hands with the Palestinians. Yet when did you last see a protest about the brutal Chinese occupation of Tibet? When were you last asked to sign a petition condemning human rights abuses in Iran? Who last button-holed you about the monstrous regime in North Korea? Who travels to Darfur to show their solidarity with the Christians and animists who are being slaughtered by Arab Muslim forces? Or to other parts of Africa, where cruelty and corruption mar the lives of millions?
In Bangladesh, a journalist called Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has just gone on trial for his life. His crime? To ask Bangladesh to recognize Israel and to take steps to end religious extremism before it leads to further acts of terror. Neither The Guardian nor The Independent have run so much as a news item about this brave man and the likelihood that he will be sentenced to death for seeking peace and non-violence. Nor has the BBC, that great defender of human liberty (and opponent of Israel) mentioned him or the system that may condemn him to death for such horrid 'crimes'. In fact, none of the liberal press has spoken out. Yet these same newspapers and broadcasting organizations feed us a daily diet of anti-Israel propaganda.
That's only one example. It's very hard not to get the impression that much of the left and centre,

urged on by a series of post-modern political convictions (some of merit, others not), has actually become negligent in its commitment to justice and human rights for all, using a heavy-handed approach to the Middle East problem as an excuse for a collective loss of vision when it comes to other parts of the world. What is worse, to make the Palestinians the only truly worthy cause and commitment to them the only real badge of honour on the left and middle ground, serves to erase much if not all of the moral capital that such convictions may have built up.
There is no consistency in any of this. Left-wing academics call for a boycott of Israeli universities, despite the fact that Israeli universities operate a policy that allows entry to all races and religions, do not accept government censorship, encourage open debate, and are not used as centres for Zionist propaganda. They do not seek to boycott Arab universities that forbid entry to Jews, or Iranian universities that are closed to the Baha'is, the country's largest religious minority, Egyptian universities that are (according to a report by Human Rights Watch) drowning in censorship, Muslim universities in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere where the very idea of open debate is anathema, Chinese universities that control what students can and cannot learn and what teachers can and cannot teach, or any of the genuine human rights abuses affecting higher education worldwide. Only Israel. Only Israeli institutions. Only Israeli academics who refuse to condemn their own country.
Israel has an internationally-criticized security fence. It was built for one purpose only: to reduce or eliminate incursions into Israel by Palestinian terrorists, including suicide/homicide bombers. In that respect, it has been eminently successful, cutting attacks by 80 percent and more where it has been built. Even the Palestinians admit that it now forms a virtually insuperable barrier to their murder operations. In an interview with Hizbullah's al-Manar TV channel (15/11/06), Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah stated that the Palestinian terror organizations had every intention of continuing their suicide missions, but that there were factors that interfered with this. 'For example,' he explained, 'there is the separation fence, which is an obstacle to the resistance, and if it were not there the situation would be entirely different'. In other words, the fence saves lives. Why any liberal would want to see it torn down is quite beyond me.
But there's another aspect to this fence issue. This is that — whatever the media might want you to believe — it's not the only security barrier in the world. I don't know exactly how many there are, but the first one I ever became aware of was in my home town of Belfast, where the 'peace wall' kept Protestants and Catholics apart (and, asd far as I know, still does in places). Another is the concrete and barbed wire barrier being built by the Chinese government along part of its border with North Korea. Then there's the extensive fence being built by India to keep out terrorists operating from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, and which will eventually stretch to several hundred killometres. Closer to Israel, the Saudis are building a 550-mile fence to shut their border with Iraq. This will consist of a barbed-wire topped fence, backed by barbed-wire pyramids, sand berms, underground movement sensors, command posts, sniffer-dog patrols, and all manner of other surveillance techniques. At 550 miles, it will be considerably longer than the 73-mile Hadrian's Wall a couple of miles from where I'm writing. And, if any American liberals should be reading this, do please note that your government is about to start work on an even longer (700-mile) barrier along the Mexican border, not to stop terrorists, but to prevent illegal immigrants getting into US territory. An earlier barrier built in the 1990s near San Diego is a ten-foot high wall of welded steel.
Yet one fence and one fence alone figures in news stories, on banners of protest, in political speeches. One fence and that one fence only is forever on the lips of liberals, not in praise of its life-saving properties, but in condemnation of its very existence. A fence designed to save the lives of innocents has become an 'Apartheid Wall', an affront to civilization, a symbol of oppression and racism. Why? Given so many fences (and those I have listed are by no means the only ones), why does the one fence that has shown itself capable of keeping terrorists away from schools and caf├ęs and shopping malls come in for this disproportionate criticism? Why would liberals be so discriminatory? Is it not racist to say that, of all peoples in the world, the Jews have no right to defend their lives and homes? It's fine for Indians, it's fine for the Chinese, it's fine for the Saudi Arabs, it's fine for the Northern Irish, it's fine for the Americans to build their fences, but not for the Israelis? Now, I don't doubt that many liberals may find some fault in those other barriers; but they never say so. They never take to the streets waving placards denouncing those fences. Just the one in Israel. They call the other barriers fences, but the one in Israel a wall. If you can't see that this is ugly, racist, discriminatory, and offensive, I must ask just what sort of liberal you take yourself to be.
In the same way the fence is singled out, so the very state of Israel is singled out. As a liberal, I don't doubt that you support the whole post-colonial enterprise, whereby peoples round the world have asserted their independence, created autonomous states, and now govern themselves, some well, some badly. We Irish know this better than anyone, for we were the first people in the world to throw off the yoke of imperialism. We started our battle for independence a couple of centuries before anyone else. So I sympathize with all people who seek to create viable states for themselves. It is, indeed, a matter of honour for liberals and left-wingers to speak out on behalf of all legitimate nationalist aspirations.
But it seems that sympathy for nationalist aspirations ends when it comes to the Jews. Only the Jews, it seems, have no right to build a nation state on their ancestral and religious homeland. Only the Jews are to be condemned to wander the earth for ever, persecuted, driven from land to land as the mood takes one territory or another. Hooray for the IRA and their bold struggle for a united Ireland, hooray for ETA and the claims of the Basques, hooray for the Tamil Tigers and the Tamil people, above all, hooray for Hamas and Hizbullah and their noble endeavours to take back all the lands that ever belonged to them, historically or mythically, it doesn't matter which. But to oblivion with the Jews for even daring to create a national home where they might be safe from persecution. Let's march with banners that say 'We're all Hizbullah now', condemning Zionism as the greatest evil that ever walked the earth.
So everyone is allowed to have a state except the Jews. If you will take care to read their literature, you will see that the Palestinians do not just want a state of their own. They want the Jews out. Every last one of them, from every inch of Israel. If the Jews won't leave, they will kill them. They will leave no trace of them, their synagogues, their kibbutzim, their hopes, their aspirations, their love for their Holy Land. And all those people-supporting left-wingers and liberals out there shake hands with that aspiration, saying Israel has no right to exist, denouncing the very idea of Zionism as fascist and evil, endorsing the idea that the Jews are behind every conspiracy, that Zionists control the media, tell the US how to frame its foreign policy, and are the masterminds behind the global economy.
If you think that, or half of that, or a quarter, let me explain something to you, very calmly, very quietly, and in short words. You may think you are a liberal, but you are not. You may think you are an internationalist, but you are not. You may think you are a socialist, but you are not. You are an anti-Semite. Think it through. How much of your anti-Israel rhetoric would Adolf Hitler have found hard to stomach? How would the notion that Jews alone of all the earth's peoples have no right to govern themselves or to protect themselves from those who seek to kill them run in the far reaches of the far right? How would the Palestinian aspiration to commit a second Holocaust play in the degenerate middens of totalitarian fascism?


Dr Irene Lancaster said...

Dear Denis

Thank you for putting into words what so many of us think. Since moving to Israel myself, and to Haifa, probably the city best known for co-existence in Israel, the backlash I have received for just becoming an Israeli from people posting on blogs, such as Ruth Gledhill's Times' Articles of Faith blog, is quite dreadful and defamatory.

These people do not want to believe that there is co-existence in Israel or that Jews want to meet and talk with Palestinians, but are prevented from doing so by HAMAS, who as you rightly say, wants to kill every last one of us and destroy Israel.

What is really worrying is that many bloggers will write individually in confidential e-mails and agree with everything you say, in private, but do not dare do this in public.

Can you explain this?

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