Israel is being subjected to obscene double standards

Western leaders have no right to lecture the Jewish State about the conduct of war.

Jake Wallis Simons

Topics Politics World

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In 2021, during the catastrophic allied withdrawal from Afghanistan, an errant US drone strike slaughtered an aid worker and nine members of his family in Kabul, including seven children.

Footage of the attack was later obtained by the New York Times. According to the paper, the footage showed how ‘the military made a life-or-death decision based on imagery that was fuzzy, hard to interpret in real time and prone to confirmation bias’. There were other mitigating circumstances, readers were told. ‘The military had been working that day under extreme pressure to head off another attack on troops and civilians in the middle of the chaotic withdrawal.’

Contrast this with how America’s newspaper of record reported the tragic Israeli airstrikes that claimed the lives of seven aid workers in Gaza on Monday. This, it alleged, was ‘the predictable result of a shoot-first style of engagement Israeli troops have used in their military campaign since the Hamas attacks of 7 October’. The report made no such allowances for ‘extreme pressure’ or ‘fuzzy, hard-to-interpret’ imagery.

The Gray Lady even contrasted the two incidents in a way that painted the American atrocity favourably while casting Israeli intentions in doubt. The Kabul attack, it said, ‘came after a suicide bombing killed at least 182 people, including 13 American troops, during the frantic American withdrawal from the country. Under acute pressure to avert another attack, the US military believed it was tracking a terrorist who might imminently detonate another bomb. Instead, it killed an Afghan aid worker and nine members of his family.’

The Gaza strike, however, ‘adds fuel to accusations that Israel has bombed indiscriminately’, the New York Times said, pre-empting the results of the independent investigation with breathless speculation and a healthy dose of ‘confirmation bias’ of its own. The assumption could not be clearer: whereas the Americans were acting out of panic and confusion, the Israelis were either acting out of disregard for human life or straightforward bloodlust.

Civilian deaths, including those of aid workers, are a tragic reality of modern warfare. Sixty-two humanitarian workers lost their lives in combat zones last year. Although they were mostly killed at the hands of autocratic regimes and militias, during wartime they are also the casualties of democracies, including Britain.

During the Libyan civil war in 2011, when David Cameron had his hands on the joystick, 13 people were killed by a NATO airstrike, including an ambulance driver, three nurses and some friendly troops. (He did not, surprisingly, subject his own government to the type of rhetoric that he has recently been levelling at the Israelis over the mistaken Gaza strike.) That same week, NATO wiped out a family near Ajdabiya in the north of the country. This year, even the Danish military was forced to admit that its aerial assault had claimed the lives of 14 Libyan civilians.

The difference between attitudes towards most Western armed forces and the Israelis could not be sharper. According to the UN, the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in war around the world is one to nine. When Britain, America and our allies battled Islamic State in Mosul in 2016-17, we achieved a much more respectable rate of about one to 2.5. In Gaza, Israel has done better still, reaching about one to 1.5, and possibly even less.

Yet, while there is a willingness to believe that the Americans, British, Danes and others carry out tragic errors while doing their best to avoid harm to innocents, there is an instant suspicion when Jewish hands are on the bomb toggles.

The Israeli army must not, of course, be immune to criticism. There have been some reports of soldiers adopting a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach, which must be thoroughly investigated. There is no reason why the Jewish people must not have their own villains, as other people have them. But overall, the IDF is protecting civilian life more conscientiously than any other army has done.

The world, however, has no space for such subtleties. Whatever Israel does in Gaza, the conclusion is always the same: it is a work of evil.

It is not difficult to understand where these double standards come from. For centuries, culture has been steeped in anti-Semitic tropes that have linked Jews with a taste for gentile blood. Ever since 1144, when the local Jewish community in Norwich was accused of murdering a Christian child to use his blood in ritual cooking, such ideas have been coursing through our collective unconscious.

It’s not about the numbers of the dead. In July 2023, when Israel responded to a wave of deadly attacks by taking out a terrorist cell in Jenin without killing a single civilian, it nonetheless received a tsunami of the most venomous hatred. Shortly afterwards, the BBC was forced to apologise after a presenter insisted that ‘Israeli forces are happy to kill children’.

Given the weight of such underlying assumptions, Hamas’s propagandists are on to a winner. They do not even need to disguise their propaganda methods. They openly refuse to distinguish between combatant and civilian casualties, knowing that the media will parrot their figures anyway.

Hamas engages in blatant manipulation of the data, knowing that complaints from statisticians who have scrutinised their death figures and found them to be bogus – like Professor Abraham Wyner from the University of Pennsylvania, or three academics writing for the Fathom journal last month – will be drowned out by the chorus of condemnation.

Hamas censors footage coming out of Gaza, to create a false portrayal of the scale of civilian casualties. Has nobody in a newsroom anywhere ever wondered why a single dead or wounded terrorist has never been caught on camera? Has no journalist ever thought that it might be a good idea to inform audiences that Hamas-approved footage is far from objective?

We have reached a point in the conflict where facts, morality and a sense of proportion are held by a vanishingly small number of people. It must be possible to deplore all innocent deaths and hate the waging of war while still recognising that Hamas has left Israel little choice. It must be possible to throw our full support behind the Jewish State in its war against Hamas while continuing to be concerned for civilian casualties.

But in this world of polarisation, social media and relentless propaganda, the main casualty of the Gaza war is the truth.

Jake Wallis Simons is a journalist and the author of Israelophobia: The Newest Version of the Oldest Hatred and What To Do About It.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World


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