I find a 1,000-to-1 fatality rule generally applies: Each person killed by the Israel Defense Forces warrants about as much international attention as 1,000 people killed by Africans, Russians, Indians, Chinese, or Arabs.
That’s Victor Davis Hanson’s estimate, and, to put things mildly, he’s skeptical about the disproportionate scrutiny that Israel has received from an unforgiving world, going back to its founding. Referring to recent headlines and controversies concerning Helen Thomas and Turkey, Hanson settles on the obvious explanation:
Anti-Semitism as displayed by both Thomas and Turkey’s leaders is not predicated on criticizing Israel, much less disagreeing with its foreign policy. Instead, it hinges upon focusing singularly on Israeli behavior, and applying a standard to it that is never extended to any other nation.
The villains are located exactly where you’d expect a National Review columnist to find them:
[I]n the last two decades especially, the Left has made anti-Semitism respectable in intellectual circles. The fascistic nature of various Palestinian liberation groups was forgotten, as the “occupied” Palestinians grafted their cause onto that of American blacks, Mexican-Americans, and Asian-Americans. Slurring post-Holocaust Jews was still infra dig, but damning the nation-state of Israel as imperialistic and oppressive was considered principled. No one ever cared to ask: Why Israel and not other, far more egregious examples? In other words, one could now focus inordinately on the Jews by emphasizing that one’s criticism was predicated on cosmic issues of human rights and justice. And by defaming Israel the nation, one could vent one’s dislike of Jews without being stuck with the traditional boorish label of anti-Semite.
Hanson has, I believe, at absolute most, around 50% of the truth here, awaiting deductions for reliance on hyperbole, one-sided and reductive logic, and myopic hypocrisy.
First, it’s simply not true that “no one” ever asked, “Why Israel and not other, far more egregious examples?” The question is a cliché, not a secret spell. Friends of Israel have been pleading double standard at least since the dust cleared after 1967, and criticism of the occupation commenced. Over the ensuing decades, Israel as occupier, intermittent invader, and long-term expropriator of militarily and economically desirable land inevitably lost its position on the commanding PR heights. “Gutty little Israel” became house-demolishing, Beirut-bombarding, strategic settlement-building, buffer zone-creating, nuclear deterrent-possessing, blockading Israel.
Recalling this history does not imply and certainly does not prove that Israel had exclusively better choices on these or other scores, or generally, but ignoring it marks the observer as an ideologue and special pleader. Israel has done and likely will still do many great and impressive things. Repealing the law of physics regarding equal and opposite reactions is highly unlikely to be one of them.
To adopt Hanson’s logic in full, you have to take the position that “Palestinian liberation groups” have no as in absolutely zero legitimacy or justification, that “human rights and justice” can be dismissed as ineffably “cosmic” in this context, and that opposition to Israeli policy is otherwise so thoughtless, so weakly grounded, that it must derive from anti-Semitism. You don’t have to embrace any of several leftwing and allied critiques of Israel or Israeli policy (liberal internationalist, anti-imperialist, anti-militarist, anti-American, anti-capitalist, pan-Islamist, pan-Arabist, etc., etc.) , in order to recognize the hypocrisy of Hanson’s charge. A leftist reflexively re-writes the concluding sentence of the last excerpt as follows: “And by defaming the left as a whole, Hanson can vent his dislike of his political opponents without being stuck with actually having to address their arguments.”
When I say Hanson is half-right, what I mean is that anti-Semitism may explain about half of whatever inordinate attention on Israel. The other half would be explained by one or another species of philo-Semitism, encouraged first by conservative Jews with a perfectly natural rooting interest, second by dispensationalist/dual covenant Christians, and third by American neo-conservatives who view modern Israel as a front-line state in an epochal clash of civilizations. Hanson fits in the last group, and, to sketch an analogy that may fit him in turn, it doesn’t make much sense to give the Israeli phalanx a key position in your line of battle, and then criticize the other side’s bowmen for concentrating their fire on it.
Taking a longer view, what’s historically new is the state of Israel – that is, the movement of the drama back to its earlier setting – not the dramatic subject or its themes. In this sense, there cannot be “inordinate” attention on Israel. It’s already at center stage, and seeking an objective, neither anti- nor philo-, position is probably hopeless. Like a few neo-isolationists, more than a few average citizens, including those whom you would expect to fall in one or the other army, you might want to fantasize about the the possible effects of x generations of benign neglect, but neither neutrality nor looking away is a relevant option.
Addressing Hanson’s mathematics (and following up on conversation we’ve had under George’s “South Koreans Hate Israel” thread), we can ask whether 1,000 to 1 isn’t a low rating for the Holy Land, the seat of the Abrahamic faiths, the spiritual cradle and capital of what we call Western civilization, as compared against any other piece of ground of similar size. It’s where it started for us, and re-started, and it’s where, according to still quite widely and fervently held belief and suspicion, it‘s supposed to end, too.
Maybe VDH wishes the world cared as much about classical thought and history as he does, instead of caring about what it does care about, but there’s no point in protesting or complaining about the situation, or writing articles that criticize the phenomenon while marginally contributing to and somewhat exemplifying it. Hardly anyone cares about what happens in Southeastern Siberia because hardly anyone cares about what happens in Southeastern Siberia. Same explanation for why everyone – lots of people and all the really important people – cares about Israel and its immediate environs: Because everyone does.