Let’s begin by stating what should be obvious: Israel, like all countries, should not of course be immune to criticism. However, those of us who comment on the disproportionate criticism the Jewish state receives are often struck by how this obsessive and often myopic opprobrium serves to drown out attention to other conflicts and, especially, to other victims deserving of our sympathy. Israel (the most progressive state in the region by far) and Syria (the most brutal, repressive and violent regime) present great examples within this paradigm.
Former AP Jerusalem correspondent Matti Friedman made the following argument in his viral 2014 analysis at Tablet:
To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel…Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.
The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000* lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago. (*The death toll since the date of Friedman’s report has more than doubled by some estimates.)
This disproportionate focus on Israel is of course not limited to the media. In the UK – whose capital city is a major hub in the international delegitimization campaign against Israel – activists, union leaders, academics and politicians routinely incite against Israel, often employing vitriolic terms of abuse not used in any other conflict.
Among British politicians who don’t even try to hide their malign Israel obsession (and include antisemitic tropes in their repertoire of anti-Israel agitprop), Baroness Jenny Tonge is in a class of her own. The latest scandal involving Tonge involves a House of Lords speech in which she claimed Israel’s oppression of Palestinians was a “major cause” of ISIS.
Though Tonge’s latest outburst didn’t at all surprise us, we were struck by the the contrast, in the Middle East section of the Independent, of two seemingly unrelated stories which appear next to each other on their site. The one on top is about Tonge’s latest remarks on Israel and the Palestinians. The one below is a video story about a Syrian (non-Palestinian) boy trying desperately to get the world’s attention:
The article features Syrian children in holding pictures of popular Pokemon characters in hopes that an evocative image of innocent children victims of Syrian violence juxtaposed with the culturally iconic picture will get the attention of the international community.
Some may note that photos of the Syrian children holding Pokemon characters were staged – designed specifically to elicit sympathy and media attention. But, of course, that’s exactly the point. There are a finite number of reporters within any news organization, and an equally limited quantity of space in any newspaper It is a zero-sum game. Disproportionate, obsessive coverage of one conflict necessarily results in less coverage of another conflict.
Whilst Tonge’s claim that Israel causes ISIS has been rightly criticized as the kind of extreme rhetoric which fuels antisemitism, let’s not forgot the broader harm done by Tonge and people of her ilk who possess a bizarre fixation only on suffering putatively meted out by Jews. We should ask not only why the world is so obsessed with Jews, but also why on earth child victims in one of the most bloody conflicts in history have to resort to such gimmicks to get the attention of journalists and ‘progressive’ activists around the globe.