To the Chorus of Chronic, Compulsive Critics of Israel

This is a cross-post by David Harris, Executive Director of The American Jewish Committee.  His essay appeared in The Huffington Post.

You just can’t contain your rage against Israel, can you?

A mere mention of Israel and you’re out of the starting gate in record time with another tirade accusing it, and its defenders, of every conceivable evil in the world – from Nazism to Apartheid, from blood libel to mass murder.

The facts be damned–they only get in the way of your outrageous assertions and gross distortions. You follow the approach recommended by Lenin: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

Your narrative is pre-cooked, airtight, and impervious to reason. It’s filled with a hatred of Israel that eludes logical explanation, a blindness that shuts out any contrary evidence.

For you, Israel can do no right other than to close up shop and call it quits, while the Palestinians, your hallowed victims on a pedestal, can do no wrong.

Strikingly, all this is done in the name of such vaunted values as democracy, legitimacy, and an end to occupation.

Yet you interpret and apply those values in rather strange ways.

Take democracy.

Israel is a democracy. Much as you may breathlessly try to dismiss the notion, it’s a fact.

Israel has free and fair elections, smooth transfers of power, and an independent judiciary. It has a wide array of political parties, a freewheeling parliament, including members who have openly cavorted with the country’s enemies, and a feisty press. It has a well-developed civil society and countless human-rights and civil-rights groups. It protects freedom of worship for all. It has a vibrant gay community. It has strong labor unions. And minority communities enjoy legal protections.

No, Israel may not be perfect — and I would never suggest otherwise — but, then again, what democracy is, especially one so young and subjected to so many challenges to its very existence? But democracies, by their very nature, invite self-criticism and improvement.

Now take a look at Israel’s neighborhood.

For all your purported concern about defending democracy — or freedom or human dignity — why is your voice on mute?

Could it be that your real ideal is a Hamas-run society, with its all-enveloping political and religious suffocation, relegation of women to the status of virtual male property, intimidation of the tiny Christian community, unadulterated anti-Semitism, and reverence for the cult of violence?

If your world view is defined by the belief that Palestinians are mistreated, then why not a peep about their condition in, say, Lebanon?

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lived in Lebanon for decades, yet by law they are excluded from working in dozens of professions, have no right to own property, and have limited access to healthcare. Is this acceptable to you? Have you petitioned the Lebanese government to respect their human dignity? If so, please don’t keep it a secret.

In fact, why not go a step further and expose the absurdity of a flotilla heading from Lebanon to Gaza to “assist” the Palestinians? Whatever happened to the notion that “charity begins at home”?

And, dare I ask, when was the last time you spoke out in protest against the treatment of women, gays, religious minorities, labor activists, and human-rights defenders in the larger Middle East?

You talk about legitimacy, accusing Israel of being an “illegitimate” state.

Israel is an entirely legitimate state.

From the Balfour Declaration to the League of Nations Mandate, from the recommendation of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine to the overwhelming vote of the UN General Assembly, Israel’s foundation is rock-solid. In fact, it’s far stronger than that of most other countries.

And I’m not even invoking the Jewish people’s ancient history and literature, and the findings of archaeology to support it, relevant though they are.

Not only is the nation entirely legitimate, but so is its government, a product of the periodic expression of the will of its people.

But if you’re truly seized by questions of legitimacy, why not examine some of Israel’s neighbors?

You’ll discover a few uncomfortable truths.

First, their historical legitimacy is questionable, the result either of conquest or cynical European leaders drawing borders at will. And second — as in Syria, for instance — political legitimacy derives more from the bullet than the ballot, and from the entrenched notion of filial dynasties.

Either way, it doesn’t do much for the legitimacy case.

And then there is the “end to occupation.”

Since the 1967 war, Israel, unlike many nations victorious in battles of self-defense, has withdrawn from lands it seized.

It gave back to Egypt the vast Sinai region, with its oil fields and strategic depth, withdrew from Gaza, and yielded to Jordan on border issues. It has also pulled all its troops out of southern Lebanon and dramatically lowered its profile in much of the West Bank. And it has repeatedly declared its readiness to embrace a far-reaching two-state solution with the Palestinians that would entail further territorial sacrifices.

Israel, so small that it’s barely a speck on world maps, has one overriding preoccupation — security. Until the Palestinians finally get their act together and pursue peace seriously and credibly, Israel has every right to act against groups operating in Gaza and the West Bank that stockpile weapons and plot terrorist attacks.

Any other nation defending itself would act similarly — or, perhaps, more ruthlessly and with less regard for the well-being of civilians cynically used by enemies as human shields.

But those of you in the chorus of chronic, compulsive critics of Israel blithely ignore Israel’s withdrawals to date and repeated offers of peace, instead robotically hammering away at the “evils of occupation” — by which you presumably mean Israel’s very existence, irrespective of its borders.

Yet again revealing your rank hypocrisy, the chorus is strangely silent when it comes to other occupations.

Take, for instance, Cyprus. The island has been divided since 1974, there are tens of thousands of Turkish troops in the northern part, and it is an open secret that the Turkish government generously encourages thousands of settlers — yes, settlers — to move there from Turkey and shift the demographic balance.

Any chance that the chorus will speak up? It hasn’t since 1974, and is unlikely to start now. After all, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has positioned himself as the champion of Hamas — and, for the chorus, that must be a dream come true. Why jeopardize it?

Winston Churchill faced his own chorus of chronic, compulsive critics who willfully tuned out obvious truths when he sought to alert the world to the great dangers of the 20th century.

He famously said: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”

Sounds as if he had people like you in mind.

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