Why are Western liberals always more offended by Israeli militarism than by any other kind of militarism? It’s extraordinary. France can invade Mali and there won’t be loud, rowdy protests by peaceniks in Paris. David Cameron, backed by a whopping 557 members of parliament, can order airstrikes on Libya and British leftists won’t give over their Twitterfeeds to publishing gruesome pics of the Libyan civilians killed as a consequence. President Obama can resume his drone attacks in Pakistan, killing 13 people in one strike last month, and Washington won’t be besieged by angry anti-war folk demanding ‘Hands off Pakistan’. But the minute Israel fires a rocket into Gaza, the second Israeli politicians say they’re at war again with Hamas, radicals in all these Western nations will take to the streets, wave hyperbolic placards, fulminate on Twitter, publish pictures of dead Palestinian children, publish the names and ages of everyone ‘MURDERED BY ISRAEL’, and generally scream about Israeli ‘bloodletting’. (When the West bombs another country, it’s ‘war’; when Israel does it, it’s ‘bloodletting’.)
Anyone possessed of a critical faculty must at some point have wondered why there’s such a double standard in relation to Israeli militarism, why missiles fired by the Jewish State are apparently more worthy of condemnation than missiles fired by Washington, London, Paris, the Turks, Assad, or just about anyone else on Earth. Parisians who have generally given a Gallic shrug as French troops have basically retaken Francophone Africa, stamping their boots everywhere from the Central African Republic to Mali to Cote d’Ivoire over the past two years, turned out in their thousands at the weekend to condemn Israeli imperialism and barbarism. Americans who didn’t create much fuss last month when the Obama administration announced the resumption of its drone attacks in Pakistan gathered at the Israeli Embassy in Washington to yell about Israeli murder. (Incredibly, they did this just a day after a US drone attack, the 375th such attack in 10 years, killed at least six people in Pakistan. But hey, Obama-led militarism isn’t as bad as Israeli militarism, and dead Pakistanis, unlike dead Palestinians, don’t deserve to have their photos, names and ages published by the concerned liberals of Twitter.) Meanwhile, hundreds of very angry Brits gathered at the Israeli Embassy in London, bringing traffic to a standstill, clambering on to buses, yelling about murder and savagery, in furious, colourful scenes that were notable by their absence three years ago when Britain sent planes to pummel Libya.
Such are the double standards over Israel, so casually entrenched is the idea that Israeli militarism is more bloody and insane than any other kind of militarism, that many Western liberals now call on their own rulers to condemn or even impose sanctions against Israel. That is, they want the invaders and destroyers of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere to rap Israel’s knuckles for bombing Gaza. It’s like asking a great white shark to tell off a seal for eating a fish. America must ‘rein in Israel’, we are told. ‘The international community should intervene to restrain Israel’s army’, says a columnist for the Guardian, and by ‘international community’ he means ‘a meeting of the UN Security Council’ – the Security Council whose permanent members are the US, UK and France, who have done so much to destabilise and devastate vast swathes of the Middle East and North Africa over the past decade; Russia, whose recent military interventions in Georgia and Chechnya suggest it is hardly a devotee of world peace; and China, which might not invade other countries but is pretty adept at brutally suppressing internal dissent. On what planet could nations whose warmongering makes the current assault on Gaza look like a tea party in comparison seriously be asked to ‘rein in’ Israel? On a planet on which Israel is seen as different, as worse than all others, as more criminal and rogue-like than any other state.
The double standards were perfectly summed up last week in the response to an Israeli writer who said in the UK Independent that Israel’s attack on Gaza and its ‘genocidal rhetoric’ made her want to burn her Israeli passport. She got a virtual pat on the back from virtually every British activist and commentator who thinks of him or herself as decent. She was hailed as brave. Her article was shared online thousands of times. This was ‘common sense from one Jew’, people tweeted. No one stopped to wonder if maybe they should have burned their British passports after Yugoslavia in 1999, or Afghanistan in 2001, or Iraq in 2003, where often more civilians were killed in one day than have been killed by Israel over the past week. Why should Israel’s bombing of Gaza induce such shame in Israeli citizens (or Jews, as some prefer) that burning their passports is seen as a perfectly sensible and even laudable course of action whereas it’s perfectly okay to continue bounding about the world on a British passport despite the mayhem unleashed by our military forces over the past decade? Because Israel is different; it’s worse; it’s more criminal.
Of course, Western double standards on Israel have been around for a while now. They can be seen not only in the fact that Israeli militarism makes people get out of bed and get angry in a way that no other form of militarism does, but also in the ugly boycotting of everything Israeli, whether it’s academics or apples, in a way that the people or products of other militaristic or authoritarian regimes are never treated. But during this latest Israeli assault on Gaza, we haven’t only seen these double standards come back into play – we have also witnessed anti-Israel sentiment becoming more visceral, more emotional, more unhinged and even more prejudiced than it has ever been, to such an extent that, sadly, it is now becoming very difficult to tell where anti-Zionism ends and anti-Semitism begins.