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January 4, 2015 1:14 pm

Exploring How the World Turned Against Israel

avatar by Joshua Muravchik


Benjamin Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton, and Mahmoud Abbas meet in September 2010. Photo: State Department.

Below is an excerpt from “Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel” by Joshua Muravchik.

In October 2009 a UN investigatory commission chaired by the Jewish jurist, Richard Goldstone, accused Israel of “crimes against humanity” during the war in Gaza the previous winter.  This extraordinary category of crime was invented for the Nuremberg tribunal following World War Two that had condemned the surviving leaders of the Nazi regime for systematic mass murder of Jews and others. Now, the Jews themselves stood accused.

This moment underlined a dramatic change in international opinion that would have seemed unthinkable a generation earlier.  Little more than 40 years had elapsed since underdog Israel had fought a six-day war against its Arab neighbors in which the Western world had cheered for its victory.  For example, in Great Britain virtually every major newspaper editorialized in support of the Jewish state and polls showed sympathy for Israel over the Arabs by a margin more lopsided than in the US.

But by 2009, this sympathy had long since disappeared in the UK and almost everywhere else. The UN Human Rights Council, which had created the Goldstone Commission, had already in the few years since it was created adopted multiple resolutions condemning Israel for one thing or another, while rarely rebuking any other government even once.  Its predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights, had practiced the same one-sidedness, as did the General Assembly, which lacerated Israel in countless resolutions, even going so far as to endorse terrorist attacks on Israel as legitimate “resistance.”

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Meanwhile, British teacher unions proclaimed academic boycotts of Israel; mainline Protestant churches divested from companies doing business with Israel; Norwegian supermarkets boycotted Israeli goods; reputable international human rights organizations focused more on Israel than on the world’s most egregious tyrannies; and a former president of the United States issued a book accusing Israel of practicing “apartheid.”

In short, the “global community” had stamped Israel as an outcast.  What had happened in the intervening decades to occasion such a dramatic turnaround?

The Arab cause, once openly reactionary and overtly homicidal in its objectives, had been replaced by the far more sympathetic and “progressive” Palestinian cause.  Instead of proclaiming openly their determination to deny the Jews a state, Israel’s enemies now accused the Jews of denying that same right to another people.

While superficially plausible, this explanation was insufficient to account for the vehemence with which world opinion turned against Israel.  Perhaps Israel stood in the way of Palestinian national aspirations, but the justice of those aspirations was surpassed by those of others for whom world opinion showed little sympathy.  The Kurds yearned for a state of their own, and by every measure their claim was more compelling than that of the Palestinians: they were five times more numerous, they spoke a language of their own, and their distinct ethnicity traced back roughly a millennium. But who spoke up for the Kurdish cause?

Perhaps Israel was occupying land that most of the world thought should be ruled by Palestinians, but at the very moment that the Goldstone Commission was being called into existence, the People’s Republic of China was suppressing protests in the captive nation of Tibet by means of mass arrests and executions. This evoked scarcely a whisper of international protest although Israeli abuses of Palestinians paled in comparison to the Chinese treatment of Tibet.  Indeed, were China to grant the Tibetans what Israel had offered the Palestinians, the Dalai Lama would have danced for joy.

The contrast between the world’s treatment of China and of Israel suggested that the true reason for the anathemas heaped upon the Jewish state was not that Israel was so strong but that it was not strong enough.

For every Jew in the world, there are 100 Muslims. While Israel is the only Jewish state, 57 states belong to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The Arabs had been unable to translate these advantages into military strength, but they learned to make them pay off in political clout. They threatened those who crossed them with terrorism, oil cutoffs, and economic boycotts; and the power of their diplomatic bloc, which largely controlled the UN through the Non-Aligned Movement.

While people and countries quite often respond cravenly to such incentives, they seldom like to admit it even to themselves. What made it easier in this case was the rise of a new paradigm of progressive thought: multiculturalism or race-consciousness. The struggle of “the rest against the West,” or of “people of color” against “the white man” replaced the older model of proletariat versus bourgeoisie as the central moral drama of world history.  In this paradigm, the Arabs, notwithstanding their regressive social and political practices, assumed a place among the forces of virtue and progress while the Israelis were consigned to the ranks of the villains and reactionaries.

Championed by the Left’s networks of organizations and intellectuals, a Palestinian state became a kind of Holy Grail to enlightened opinion, even while almost no one gave a fig for the aspirations of the Kurds or Tibetans or numerous other bereft peoples. Whether this state would rise alongside Israel or in place of it was of secondary concern.

Joshua Muravchik, a Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies, is the author of many articles and eleven books, most recently Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel, from which this is adapted, and the eBook, Liberal Oasis: The Truth About Israel.

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