Decade of Demonisation
The outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 has lead to an almost unprecedented outpouring of international hostility to Israel. To be sure, the situation is not as bad as that of the mid-to-late 1970s. To date, there has been no United Nations motion declaring Zionism to be racism. Nor have UK or Australian student unions widely called for the banning of Jewish student groups on the grounds that they support Israel and are allegedly racist. And many mainstream conservatives and social democrats in Australia and elsewhere strongly defend Israel on the obvious grounds that Israel is the canary in the Islamist mine.
Nevertheless, the situation is bad enough. There is a shrill and aggressive pro-Palestinian lobby everywhere that paints a binary view of the conflict based on good and bad nations, demands that Israel and all Israelis (and implicitly any Jewish supporters of Israel) be exposed as evil oppressors, and uses under-handed tactics to attack anyone who opposes their emotive message. Many reasonable people who aren’t ideological extremists are naively convinced by their one-sided arguments.
The contrast with the earlier period of the Oslo Peace Accord from September 1993 to September 2000 is almost incredible. Then virtually nobody other than radical Arab or Islamic groups contested Israel’s existence. Many Arab states formed ties with Israel, and many longstanding pro-Palestinian lobbyists abandoned their earlier anti-Zionist fundamentalism, and accepted a two-state solution. So how do we account for this radical change in public opinion?
I believe there are roughly four factors that have contributed to this swing in international attitudes.
One is an extreme disappointment that the intractable Middle East conflict has not been resolved, and an associated tendency to look for someone to blame. This search for scapegoats has always been a tendency of partisans on both sides. But what has happened in the last nine years is that many previously neutral or dispassionate people have abandoned a balanced approach based on urging mutual compromise from both sides, and have instead suggested that if only Israel concedes all Palestinian demands then this will fix the problem.
A second factor was undoubtedly the election of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister of Israel. Sharon was a classic hate figure for supporters of the Palestinians as the initiator of the horrible 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and terrible for Israel’s international image. I say this even though in my opinion, his actual actions (notwithstanding the massacre that wasn’t at Jenin) and policies (the welcome withdrawal from Gaza) as Prime Minister were pretty moderate. Sharon didn’t need to prove he was tough. In contrast, I suspect a Labor Prime Minister would have responded far more roughly to the brutal suicide bombings of the Second Intifada.
A third factor is that there is a genuine international fear of Arab hatred, violence and terrorism. Nobody wants to experience another September 11 or July 2005 or Bali. There is consequently a willingness on the part of many scared people to sacrifice Israel if necessary to pacify Arab anger and save their lives just as Chamberlain sacrificed Czechoslovakia in 1938 to ostensibly prevent a world war. And there is the associated dangerous belief based on rational western political culture which has almost nil influence in the Middle East that much of this Arab anger and violence against Israel – the so-called “root causes” theory – must be a justified response to Israeli behaviour and actions. For those who are interested, I previously refuted this theory in my paper “Suicide Bombings: Oppression is no Justification” in Jewish Currents, September-October 2003, pp.6-7.
A final factor is that many Jews don’t realize the nature of the debate has irrevocably changed. One group on the rational Left genuinely support Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation via a two-state solution, but naively make unilateral concessions, and try to find common ground with pro-Palestinian lobbyists whose only aim is to obliterate Israel from the earth. This group need to chant to themselves over and over again “zero tolerance for those who brand Israel an apartheid or Nazi-like state”.
And then there are the Jewish conservatives who never accepted the Oslo Accord in the first place, and keep preaching in favour of a Greater Israel with no national rights for Palestinians good or bad. This group need to realize that they are wasting their time and energy, and get a grip on reality.
The international debate today is solely about whether there will eventually be a Palestinian State co-existing peacefully alongside Israel, or a Palestinian State instead of Israel.
* Image source: zombietime.com