Why single Israel out? This is a question often posed to those of us, Jews and non-Jews, who oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and advocate for Palestinian rights. After all, Israel is, as they say, the only democracy in the region, and even as an occupying power, it’s hardly the most brutal in the world. How about China’s abysmal record in Tibet or Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds? Why should Israel be held to a higher standard than China or Turkey? Why the double standard?
One answer is, of course, that a democracy is indeed held to a higher standard than authoritarian dictatorships. But the same question could be posed to anyone involved in any protest or advocacy action. Why this cause and not some other cause? Why did some Americans get so passionately involved in the American Civil Rights movement? After all, many minorities around the world have suffered and continue to suffer much worse conditions than African Americans. Why did many Jews and others focus on the plight of Soviet Jews and not on the much worse plight of Iraqi Kurds?
The reasons for involvement in any human rights struggle are varied and often highly subjective. Obviously, many Americans feel a personal responsibility for the persistence of racism in the U.S. Similarly, many Jews feel a personal responsibility for the abuse Palestinians suffer daily under an occupation that has lasted now for nearly fifty years.
But is there a double standard applied to Israel? Journalist Larry Derfner has argued convincingly that there is indeed a double standard, but it works in Israel’s favour. http://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor/84499/
Much of Israeli reality runs counter to the dominant values of diaspora Jews. There is even an acronym—PEBI—to describe Jews who are progressive about everything but Israel. But it is getting harder for Jews in the diaspora to sustain this contradiction. A growing number of diaspora Jews find the human rights abuses of the occupation abhorrent and the ultra-religious and ultra-nationalist sentiments that fan racist attitudes and actions within Israel unpalatable. The leadership of major Jewish organizations in the diaspora may continue to reflexively support whatever Israel does, but there are signs that their influence is waning. One such sign is Open Hillel, a Jewish student organization that operates on many American college campuses. Open Hillel describes itself as a “student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels.” The founding of Open Hillel was a reaction to Hillel International’s policy of forbidding Hillel organizations to invite speakers who are critical of Israel. http://www.openhillel.org/
But why would non-Jews take up the Palestinian cause? Progressive Jews who are critical of Israel sometimes find anti-Israel sentiments on the left a little too enthusiastic and suspect an underlying anti-Semitism. There may indeed be pockets of anti-Semitism in the European left, but much of the anti-Israel animus on the left probably has more to do with anti-Americanism than with anti-Semitism.
Many Americans justifiably object to their government’s essentially underwriting the Israeli occupation by providing billions of dollars in aid much of which subsidizes the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the relentless expropriation of Palestinian land. Others may focus on the plight of the Palestinians because it is a cause on which one may really hope to see progress. One can envision changing the slavishly pro-Israel stance of the American government much more easily than one can envision having any impact on, say, China’s support for North Korea.
Opposing Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinians is a legitimate cause for Jews and non-Jews alike. It is also a legitimate cause for anyone who cares about the future of Israel.