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February 8, 2022 1:12 pm
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The Moral Mismatch: Democratic Israel vs. Palestinian Dictatorship

avatar by Gil Troy

Opinion

President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/Pool

Sometimes headlines don’t mislead.

Consider the contrast: June 7, 2021: “Palestinian Authority pays $42,000 to family of terrorist who killed 2 Israelis.” February 1, 2022: “IDF’s Kochavi: ‘Immoral, Reprehensible’ Conduct by Soldiers in Death of Palestinian-American.”

These dueling headlines pit Israel’s imperfect democracy against the Palestinians’ perfectly awful dictatorships.

Anyone expecting their country to be perfect is a fool; anyone claiming their country is perfect is a liar. Life is messy. No nation lacks scoundrels. You cannot judge a democracy by its criminal citizens, or by every evil that occurs on its watch.

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Instead, you judge a democracy by how it responds when people sin — and whether its politics or culture encouraged the wrongdoing.

Notice the stunning gap in the discourse about Israel’s enemies and Israel.

No one expects autocracies like the Palestinian Authority (PA) — let alone the Hamas regime oppressing Gaza — to investigate when a Palestinian kills an Israeli.

The request, which Western democracies make meekly and infrequently, is essentially: “please stop cheering, please stop calling murderers heroes, and please stop paying them off or naming streets after them.”

Half of the PA’s foreign aid budget subsidizes convicted terrorists — what they call “martyrs” — and they are the supposed “moderates.”

In 2016, the American Task Force on Palestine’s founding president, Ziad Asali, told Bloombergs Eli Lake that these payments are “sacred in Palestinian politics.”

By contrast, what’s sacred in Israeli politics is the Israel Defense Forces’ Code of Honor.

Israeli soldiers are taught the notion of “Purity of Arms,” which the army enforces. Those troops that recently manhandled, handcuffed, and abandoned Omar As’ad — a 78-year-old Palestinian-American — triggering his fatal heart attack, violated that code.

The IDF’s Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi, condemned this “careless act that runs contrary to the values of the IDF, at the center of which is the requirement to protect the sanctity of any human life.” Cleaning house, the army dismissed two commanders and reprimanded a battalion commander.

Israelis must be vigilant, backing up the army when it roots out renegades, and encouraging the police to ferret out those outlaws who bully Palestinians — or anyone else in Israel. No one in a functional democracy should apologize for calling out individuals, soldiers, or politicians who lapse, who foment violence, or who perpetrate it, no matter what their motives or ideological affiliations are.

But that vigilance can be mixed with pride — among the extended family of Israelis and their supporters. No other country today must defend itself so vigorously, yet scrutinizes itself so critically. I would rather live in a democracy with a conscience than under a dictatorial regime without one. And I willingly endure the occasional PR black eye to keep our country’s conscience clean.

Given that tension-inducing mix of self-defense and self-criticism, given the moral mismatch between Palestinian dictatorship and Israeli democracy, how is Israel still the world’s Pinata, being smashed again and again, from Amnesty International’s latest ideological Israel-is-Apartheid libel to the UN’s latest institutional Israel-is-our favorite target disgrace?

How could a people who celebrate killing be celebrated — and a people who hate killing be hated? How could a people who keep choosing war over peace be so coddled, and a people who keep choosing peace over war be so attacked? In short, how could the world favor Palestinian terrorists over democratic Israelis?

Is it really just antisemitism?

For starters,  there really is a Palestinian problem. Just because the Palestinian leadership seems better at perpetuating the problem than solving it, it is still not healthy for a democracy to control hundreds of thousands of non-citizens. In making peace with other Arab countries, Israel has shown that it is not anti-Arab. And more and more Israeli-Arabs prefer the rights and opportunities they get as constructive Israeli citizens. But the ideological stalemate and the security dilemmas Israel faces in the territories, regularly provides ammunition for the Blame-Israel-Firsters.

Far more skilled and successful in bashing Israel than serving their people, Palestinian leaders have cleverly framed the conflict to seduce European and American radicals. Branding themselves as the brown, indigenous, victimized minority, displaced by white, racist, colonialist, imperialist, outsiders, is a propaganda double-play. It exploits European guilt about imperialism and colonialism, and American guilt about racism and privilege.

Filled with self-loathing, these radicals virtue-signal, working through their own guilt cost-free by targeting supposed sinners who supposedly look like them thousands of miles from their homes. And Israel is a convenient target: small enough to be bullied, the Jewish State nevertheless looms large in the Western imagination.

That’s where antisemitism comes in. All these attacks might not have sprouted into a global campaign and mass obsession if planted elsewhere, rather than in the fertile ground of Jew-hatred. Jew-hatred provides this critique with its imagery, with its intensity, and with many of its story lines. The Jew as aggressor, as bully, as trickster, as monster, as defiler of the Jesus-like innocents, and as greedy, graspy, grating, all play out in the anti-Zionist attack. And the fact that Jews confuse, being this mix of religious and national, pious and secular, unapologetically, proudly, particular but universally-oriented, drives these critics crazy.

As an added bonus, some of these Zionophobes are not just non-Jews — but Jews themselves. Ultimately, with Israel such an inviting target, it’s no wonder that the inconvenient facts about Israel’s morality and Palestinian terrorist immorality get shoved aside.

Gil Troy is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American History and three books on Zionism. His book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and  My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by Public Affairs of Hachette.

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