by Adam Keller | The Other Israel | April-May 2004
Nathan Sharansky — former Soviet dissident and "Minister for The Jewish Diaspora" in the Sharon cabinet, has been touring U.S. campuses and European capitals, busily waging the "Campaign Against The New Antisemitism."
One of his arguments deserves special attention. Sharansky claims that even when criticism of Israel's policies is shown to be factually correct, voicing it may still be branded as antisemitic unless the critics can show that they devote an equal amount of time and energy to criticizing and condemning each and everyone else in the world who also deserves to be criticized. In short, "singling Israel out is antisemitism."
Neat and simple. But is it so?
It is unquestionably true that Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab World are getting a disproportionate global attention. In fact, it quite often works in Israel's favor: the killing of twenty Israelis would definitely get far more international attention, a far bigger volume of worldwide sympathy for the victims and condemnation of the perpetrators, than the killing of twenty Africans — often, far more than the killing of 200 or 2000 or even 20,000 Africans. A positive move on the side of Israel would get far more international attention than a similar move by another country, an Israeli leader signing a peace agreement would be more likely to get the Nobel Peace Prize than a leader from a less well-known war-torn country, and so on.
Still, in times like the present, the dominant fact is that official Israeli policies do come under intensive fire in many countries around the world, and that many critics do indeed devote far more attention to Israeli acts of oppression and violations of human rights than to similar acts by other regimes around the globe. Are they all antisemites?
Not necessarily. Several other, plausible explanations could be found to fit the phenomenon:
* Not every state that resorts to oppression claims to be a Western democracy, indeed "the only democracy" in its region, and asks for international support on that basis. Isn't it natural for citizens of other Western democracies to look more closely at the behavior of a family member?
* Not every state that resorts to oppression has been founded by people who were themselves the victims of very cruel oppression, who asked the world for its sympathy and support on that basis, and who often declared that the state they would found would be no ordinary state but "a light unto the nations". Isn't it natural for outsiders to judge the actual Israel by the criteria set by Israel's own Founding Fathers?
* Not every state that resorts to oppression has been founded by an ethnic group which claimed the unique privilege of taking back a land where its ancestors lived 2000 years before and got this enterprise recognized and approved by the League of Nations and later by the United Nations — but with the specific reservation that this enterprise not be at the expense of the people then living in the land. Isn't it natural for outsiders to scrutinize closely whether this stipulation had been adhered to?
* Not every state that resorts to oppression had been founded by people who came from Europe and settled in an already inhabited land. Isn't it natural for people in countries that put such behavior behind them to inquire into the behavior of those who still act in such a manner?
* Not every state that resorts to oppression is the recipient of three billion dollar a year in US aid, or the beneficiary of an almost automatic US veto in the Un Security Council. Nor do other states resorting to oppression enjoy the kind of influence in internal US politics that Israel has. Isn't it natural for US citizens to inquire more closely into the affairs of such a state — and for that matter, the citizens of other countries in a world so dominated by the US?
* Not every state that resorts to oppression is the possessor of a considerable arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles, which it refuses to submit to any international inspection. Isn't it natural for outsiders to look more closely into the doings of such a country?
Still, given all these legitimate reasons, there might well be people and groups who are not motivated by any of them in singling out Israel and its policies, people whose main or only motive is that Israel is a Jewish state, and who would care nothing about its doings were most of its citizens other than Jews. Such people and groups are indeed Antisemites and deserve to be castigated as such. But you need to work at providing a clear proof, Mr. Sharansky!